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More Offensive Players Making Playcalls, At Least Theoretically

Posted by Matt Terl on October 6, 2008 – 1:06 pm

So on the fourth down to ice the game, Clinton Portis called the play. Here’s Peter King’s summary:

Fourth-and-one at the Eagles’ 38, 2:48 left, Washington up 23-17, Philly out of timeouts. Tricky call here. If Washington gets stopped, the Eagles take over with about 2:40 left and 62 yards to travel for the winning score. If Washington makes it on a running play and stays inbounds and plays its time-strategy cards right, the ‘Skins should be able to run out the clock by kneeling three times and going home with a dramatic win.

Zorn had his thinking cap on, with Jason Campbell and Portis and a couple of the coaches on the sidelines. “I called the formation first,” he said, “and then he called the play.”

In his press conference a few minutes ago, Coach Zorn described thinking about three different plays for the situation. And then “Clinton rolls by me and says, ‘Gimme the draw.'” Thinking about it further, Zorn added, “It wasn’t necessarily there – he WILLED it…. We got the first down because Clinton willed his way to those two yards.”

I wrote at the time that it was “one of the single gutsiest calls I’ve seen in recent memory,” although my original draft described Coach Zorn as possessed of “guts of tungsten,” only I didn’t write “guts.” See the DC Sports Bog’s attempts to find a newspaper-friendly way to describe that playcall for much more in that vein; the point is, it was a heck of a call, and it turns out that Portis was the one who made it.

So I asked around a bit today to see what some other guys would’ve gone for.

“I’d do something crazy,” said Todd Yoder. “It would be a double-reverse to Cooley and then Cooley gets to throw a touchdown to me. I don’t know how we would operate it, but somehow.”

Yoder wasn’t the only one who thought of going to the tight end (although no one else had Chris Cooley passing the ball). “The same scenario? I’d say play-action or a boot,” said Stephon Heyer. “They’re expecting fourth and one, you’re gonna dive the ball up the middle. That’s what everybody does: either quarterback sneak or running back up the middle. So what Clinton did, he went outside the box. He said, let’s make ’em believe that it’s gonna be up to pass, and let’s do the opposite and run the draw. It took them out of their thinking about going hardnose up the middle to stop gaining that one yard.”

Heyer has apparently given some thought to playcalling approaches. He continued, “So a boot works the same way: takes away them thinking ‘They’re gonna run right at us,’ instead of ‘We’re gonna fake it to run right at you and throw it over the top to the tight end.'” At this point, he became visibly sold on his play. “That’d be more than one yard – maybe five or ten … maybe more, depending on what they’ve got up top.”

Devin Thomas was thinking similarly big. “On fourth and one? I call the fade. I’m going for a quick fade. Either a quick fade or a slant, because they’re not expecting that,” he said. “In another situation, something like a double-move or a stutter-go … something where I can beat my guy.”

So it’s coming to you either way? “It’s coming to me. No matter what, it’s coming to me.”

That’s one approach, sure. And then there was Mike Sellers.

“Give Clinton,” he said.

What if it wasn’t fourth and one?

“It don’t matter. Give Clinton the ball.”

No matter what?

“You gotta have faith in your running back. I mean, I know what he can do. I deal with him every day, he follows my blocks.”

Okay. But Clinton called himself a draw – would you run the draw, or something else?

“Any time it comes to crunch time, you give it to Clinton. That’s my thoughts on it.”

It’s hard to argue with the results this week from a very similar approach, that’s for sure.

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