As Tight Ends Coach Bob Casullo explains, the success of some goal-line plays depends on making your opponent expect the opposite of what is coming
(Editor's Note: The following piece of insider football analysis was first printed in Volume 2, Issue 10 of *Buccaneers Review, Tampa Bay's ground-breaking game day program. The "Fundamentally Speaking" series enlisted the aid of Buccaneer assistant coaches to explain some of the fundamentals of the game, the basic building blocks of successful football. The series examined position assignments and responsibilities, specific plays you will find in any offense or defense and even the surprisingly specific movements and keys that are at the heart of those plays.)*
In this edition of Fundamentally Speaking, Tight Ends Coach Bob Casullo breaks down a play commonly seen in short-yardage or goal-line situations – the tight end release. Generally, this play involves a play-action fake, where the offense sells a run before throwing to what is hopefully a wide-open man. It is necessary for the defenders to believe that the tight end is intending to block, so that his eventual pass route off the end of the line catches the defense by surprise. Casullo breaks down the importance of misdirection in the play and also explains why the Buccaneers, in particular, have been able to use this play effectively.
"The thing to keep in mind about this play call is that, since it comes in short-yardage and goal-line situations, it's success or failure is magnified. Teams study each other's tendencies and try to be ready for what their opponent is most likely to do in these situations.
"Most teams tend to lean on either the run or the pass in short-yardage situations, depending on what they're particularly good at. If you talk to a defensive coach for another team and ask him, 'What do you do you defend when the Buccaneers are in their short-yardage, goal-line package?' I think he would say that you have to stop the run and the pass. The point he would be making is that most teams are either run-oriented or pass-oriented in that situation; we have the luxury of being both.
"And that helps explain why we've had success in that situation. I really think that's where our tight end corps makes us a unique, successful third and fourth-down team; it explains the goal-line success rate that we have. With Anthony Becht, Jerramy Stevens and Alex Smith, we had three tight ends in 2007 that were good blockers and good pass receivers. We have the best of both worlds with our tight ends, and that's important because when you put a tight end group on the field – whether it is one, two or three tight ends – that will dictate the defensive personnel alignment. That our three guys can block and receive has been evident – we've run over Anthony Becht or Alex Smith. We've thrown to Anthony Becht, we've thrown to Alex Smith, and we've thrown to Jerramy Stevens. All three scored touchdowns in critical situations this past year.
"Now, to the play. If it's a play-action pass for the tight end, obviously the offense first must make the defense think that it's a run. Everyone on the line, including the tight end, has to take off out of their stances as if it is a run when the ball is snapped. They have to get into their defender so he will think that we're run-blocking. Alternately, you can loosen up your alignment to give the defense a pre-snap read of a pass, and then the ball is snapped and all of the sudden you clamp on them. The defense is reacting to what they've seen on film. They may make their pre-snap read and think, 'Okay, we've seen this, this is a pass,' but we've changed it up during the week and now we run out of that alignment.
"The play-action fake is to get a reaction from the defense. For the tight end, his responsibility in this situation is to recognize the defense in a split-second and react accordingly. If the tight end is going out into a route, he needs to quickly read who has the responsibility to cover him and figure out how he is going to get away from him. All of our guys are very adept at defensive recognition and executing the technique necessary to make that type of play a success.
"It's important for the tight end to run his route precisely as the play is designed. There are no options here. Everything is going to be happening really fast for the quarterback, and he usually has to make a split-second decision when his eyes come around to the receiver. The quarterback is going to be looking to a specific place and he needs to know that the tight end is going to be there. There is a lot of precision involved in this type of play.
"Another part of making a goal-line or short-yardage play work is the film study and planning we do during the week. The offensive coaches get together and review those situations and see the defense's tendencies. What do we do well, and what do they maybe do not so well? Is there a marriage between those two things? Or, perhaps, does what they do well happen to match up with something we don't do well? If so, we need to adjust. There is a lot that goes into making this seemingly simple play a success."
- Short-yardage – A third or fourth-down play in which the offense has to make a small gain in order to get a first down. * Run Over – To send a running play in the direction of a specific blocker, who is expected to create a push on the defense. * Play-Action, Play-Action Fake – An offensive play on which the offense tries to make the defense believe it is a run before throwing the ball. * Get Into the Defender – The act of an offensive blocker quickly blocking forward on the defender before the defender can react. * Pre-Snap Read – The diagnosis, by the defense, of an offensive play before it is run, based on the offense's alignment and other clues. * Defensive Recognition – For an offensive player, the act of determining what sort of defense the opposition is running.