Chip Kelly doesn’t just want his skill players to have speed. He places a high premium on athletic offensive linemen who can execute their blocks both at the line of scrimmage and in space. It is easy to see how Lane Johnson‘s rare athletic ability convinced Kelly to select the Oklahoma offensive tackle with the fourth overall pick last year. In his rookie season, Johnson even lined up split wide or in the slot to provide his coach with mismatches in space.
The most famous of these plays was unveiled in the season opener against the Washington Redskins. Johnson and left tackle Jason Peters are both split wide in the Emory and Henry formation (below), which is just a variation of the Double Stack formation. Peters is athletically gifted in his own right with a 40-time of 4.93 seconds, compared to Johnson’s 4.71 seconds.
This formation puts Johnson against cornerback Josh Wilson, while inside linebacker Perry Riley slides over to face Peters.
This play is a packaged run-pass option. Quarterback Michael Vick makes a pre-snap read to see if he will throw a screen pass to either Riley Cooper or DeSean Jackson. The Redskins have six men in coverage, so they only have five in the box. This narrows Vick’s post-snap read to two options: he can keep the ball or hand it off to LeSean McCoy. Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans each block a defensive lineman, and Vick’s read neutralizes outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan.
Vick correctly hands the ball to McCoy who identifies a huge cutback lane. The fast tempo caught the Redskins defense off-guard and spread them thin, which opened up the running game. Even if the Redskins loaded the box, Peters and Johnson would simply block defenders out wide and open up a lane in a screen pass.
Oregon fans saw this formation in 2012 against Stanford. Marcus Mariota threw a low screen pass to De’Anthony Thomas, which caused the play to be dead when his knee hit the ground. The blocking on this play was outstanding. Josh Huff drove a defender into the end zone and right tackle Jake Fisher made an excellent block in space.
Kelly added a twist to this look against the New York Giants. Johnson lined up wide left, while Peters remained in his usual spot at left tackle. The right side of the offensive line was unbalanced as tight end Brent Celek lined up next to Herremans. In a sense, this formation is a variation of the “Tackle Over” look Kelly uses frequently to add more beef to the play-side. Think of it as if Kelly is using an astronomically large split between Johnson and Peters.
The inside zone read is packaged with a screen pass. Vick makes a pre-snap read (likely on the Giants’ single-high safety). This means the post-snap read of the unblocked defensive end is irrelevant as Vick will attempt to exploit the two-on-two blocking matchup on the outside.
Wide receiver Jeff Maehl and Johnson become the lead blockers for tight end James Casey.
Maehl and Johnson must seal the defenders and create a lane for Casey to charge up the field.
Safety Antrel Rolle disengages from Johnson by using a rip move. Though Johnson has a significant size advantage, his failure to gain advantageous hand position costs him.
The Giants’ defenders collapse the running lane from both sides and bring Casey down. Still, this play resulted in an 11-yard gain for a first down. Vick recognized a potential mismatch on the outside, which could have resulted in an even greater gain – but Johnson needed to execute his block better for that to happen.
Kelly sent Johnson out wide on a second play in this game, in which he fared better. The Eagles line up in Trips formation again with McCoy in the backfield. Notice that Peters is lined up on the right side this time, just like he would be in the Tackle Over formation.
Quarterback Matt Barkley is throwing a regular screen pass instead of executing a packaged play. Johnson and wide receiver Jason Avant are the lead blockers for Jackson.
Johnson does an excellent job using his feet to seal off the inside.
He takes the defensive back out of the play, which results in an eight-yard gain for Jackson. This was a play where Johnson’s athleticism in space was on display.
Kelly’s ability to send Johnson out wide also opens up the running game. On this packaged play, Kelly uses the Trips formation with Johnson lined up in the slot. In another twist, he sends Jackson in motion to the left. This leaves one less defender to cover the play-side of the inside zone.
Quarterback Nick Foles makes a pre-snap read and sees there are four defenders cheating to cover the bubble screen. This leaves seven defenders in the box, five of whom are assigned to the offensive line and one will be “blocked” by Foles on the zone read.
When Foles sees that the edge rusher does not crash down, he recognizes a one-on-one matchup for McCoy in space.
Johnson exploits a huge mismatch in a one-on-one matchup with cornerback Patrick Peterson. He cheats to the inside in advance, so Johnson simply drives him towards the sideline and takes him out of the play.
Johnson is a unique specimen at offensive tackle — one who gives Kelly the ability to use many unconventional looks. He remains a work in progress and will need to bounce back from a four-game suspension at the beginning of the regular season. Nevertheless, he will be a crucial component of the offense’s success for many years. The advantages of his freakish athletic skill set should increase with experience, giving him the potential in the future to be an All-Pro offensive lineman.
Top photo from video