Run-Pass Option and the Cover-2 Chess Match

So, I went down the rabbit hole on that long touchdown over Reggie Floyd. I couldn’t stop watching it. (I guess my lack of a full replay to watch helped that, but anyways.) This was a play that, for a moment there, made less and less sense. Did Greg Stroman blow his assignment and put Floyd in a bad spot? Did Floyd’s inexperience lead him to take a bad angle? Or was it something more?

Floyd (R) and Stroman (C) align in a pre-snap Cover-2 look and stay there on the play. The receiver (W) runs a fly and catches the ball near the sideline. Floyd misses and gives up the touchdown.

The ball ends up going to the left (and into the endzone.) The play-side arrangement has Stroman up in a pseudo-press coverage position on a single receiver, while hanging over the top by the hash is Floyd at Rover. Pre-snap it looks like Tech is in the pro-style defense most teams call Cover-2.* The way Virginia Tech runs this coverage, Stroman has to defend the flat to his side and is the “force” player on running plays, which means he has to stick his nose in and take on blocks if there’s a wide run to his side. In a switch of the usual roles, Floyd doesn’t have an immediate responsibility in the run game. Instead, he has to watch the receiver to his side: if the receiver runs any kind of vertical route, Floyd has to man-up on him; if the receiver stays short, or if it’s a run play, Floyd has to come screaming in to help with the tackle.

ECU’s Play

 It turns out Tech is running Cover-2, which is perfect for ECU. The Pirates run a Run/Pass Option (RPO) play that combines a zone run to the right with a throw to an isolated receiver on the left. The QB is looking to see if that isolated receiver gets single coverage, and if so, he’s getting the ball out to him quickly. The QB sees Stroman come up, so he knows the only defender out there is Floyd coming over from his spot on the hash. He puts up a catchable ball, the receiver runs under it, Floyd goes past him, and the rest is a touchdown.