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Defending the Panthers’ Shovel Triple Option

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The Philadelphia Eagles have a tough task this Thursday: preparing for a Carolina Panthers offense that is built to confuse defenses. Today we will take a look at one play the Panthers used to beat the Detroit Lions in Week 5 and the different plays they can run from a similar look.

On 2nd & Goal from the DET 6 yard-line, the Panthers used a Shovel Triple Option to get rookie RB (#22) Christian McCaffrey to paydirt. The initial Jet-Sweep fake to rookie WR (#10) Curtis Samuel causes the DET linebackers to false step away from the play-side at the snap. Panthers QB (#1) Cam Newton has a man on him and his pitch man RB (#28) Jonathan Stewart as presses the edge, so he flips a shovel pass to McCaffrey, who picks up a block from his pulling guard and shakes an attacking linebacker.

Here’s how the Shovel Triple Option works:

– The QB attacks the outside playside of the formation, putting stress on the DE.

– If the DE widens too far or attacks up-field, the QB will shovel. He can also shuffle if the normally unblocked DE gets picked up by the pulling guard (as seen above).

– If the DE crashes inside, the QB will get to the edge and pitch if a defender (OLB, SAF) flashes in front of him.

– If the DE crashes inside, the QB will get to the edge and keep if a defender (OLB, SAF) widens to take away the pitch man.

There are several different variations of this play and look that the Panthers can use now that they’ve established the Shovel Triple Option. They can add a Jet-Sweep hand-off to add an extra element of misdirection.

They can eliminate the QB as an inside runner, reducing the number of options to two (shovel, pitch) while also protecting Newton against contact. This requires a quicker read, but LSU Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada ran this with success using Pittsburgh QB Nathan Peterman during his stint there.

Another variation that Canada used at Pitt implemented sprint-out passing element. You can attack man coverage by running a “spot” concept, which would release the pitch man into the flats where he benefits from a rub with the WR curl on the outside. In a spot concept you also have a corner route that stretches the defense vertically. Even with a DE flying up-field to attack the QB on the sprint-out, it’s such a quick and easy read, the best you can hope for is a knockdown or tight coverage on the outside.

In the below video, Peterman still dishes the shovel, but the route concept at the top of the screen is what we’re looking for:

The issue with running the Shovel Triple Option with a built-in concept is contained within the NFL Rule Book. If the QB holds onto the ball too long, but still ends up throwing, he’s in danger of incurring a penalty for “ineligible player downfield”. Remember, the linemen are blocking power and if any of the following occurs, it’s a flag:

(From Section 3 – Ineligible Player Downfield – Item 2)

a)he moves more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage without contacting an opponent

b)after losing contact with an opponent within one yard of the line of scrimmage, he advances more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage

c)after losing contact with an opponent more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage, he continues to move in any direction.

Scroll back up to the McCaffrey TD and you’ll see a lineman beyond one yard of the line of scrimmage initiating contact. The zebras can’t always save your defense for you.

I reached out to Diante Lee of Inside the Pylon and asked him the keys to defending against the Shovel Triple Option.

“Technically the only way to beat it is to predetermine the read. Really you’d have to run blitz off the edge and slant inside.

So the 3-Tech and the DE would both have to slant down A gap, the play-side backer would have to scrape exchange to the edge. The play-side safety has to roll down as an extra too.

You’d have to play Cover Zero or 1 and bring heat.” – Diante Lee

Diante was kind enough to describe what this playcall would look like in a thread:

The other method that stops this play is having an athletic freak at DE that can squeeze down while still being able to burst to the QB if he keeps. Looking at the Eagles defensive ends, I would say chasing down Newton isn’t very likely.

Michael is an NFL Draft enthusiast, aspiring scout, and grandson of longtime East Stroudsburg (Pa.) HS football coach John P. Kist. He hosts Locked On Eagles and writes for Inside the Pylon & Breaking Football.

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