Illustrating a Falcons’ 15 go-to plays

8:30 AM ET

One of a biggest reasons a Atlanta Falcons softened from an 8-8 deteriorate in 2015 to a Super Bowl is descent coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s ability to filigree his artistic playbook with a high-level talent on a roster. The Falcons led a joining in scoring during a unchanging deteriorate (33.8 points per game) and put adult a sum 80 points in their dual playoff wins over a Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers.

Let’s mangle down Shanahan’s go-to plays: 15 concepts we can demeanour for on Sunday, when a Falcons face a New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI.

Cross-Country Dagger

The Falcons led a NFL in mixed categories when regulating play-action during a unchanging season, such as passes thrown (133), yards per try (11.8) and sum flitting yards (1,531).

That’s what we see here on a cross-country dagger out of a customary pro we container arrangement with far-reaching receivers Julio Jones (Z) and Mohamed Sanu (X) built outside. This is a low clear-out concept, with quarterback Matt Ryan (Q) regulating a weakside play-action to regulating behind Devonta Freeman (H) to move a second-level defenders to a line of scrimmage.

That opens adult an inside throwing window to strike Jones on a 15-yard dig-route (square-in) while Sanu bends a join to run off a tip of a secondary. It’s a high-percentage chuck for Ryan (inside violation route) with Jones operative to a vacated area of a field.

Outside Zone

The Falcons ranked fifth altogether during a unchanging deteriorate with 120.5 rushing yards per game, and a outward section (or stretch) is one of a tip calls in Shanahan’s playbook. It caters to a athleticism of a Falcons’ descent line and a ability set of both Freeman and Tevin Coleman (footwork, vision, speed by a hole).

With a descent line holding a “zone step” (step to play side) and chipping to a second-level linebackers, a regulating backs have options after removing a handoff low in a backfield. Freeman or Coleman (H) can “bounce” a turn outward of a parsimonious finish (Y), strike a “bang” or cut a turn behind on a “bend.” It’s adult to a RB to make a scold review formed on a restraint adult front and a office of a linebackers. This is another reason a prophesy of a Falcons’ regulating backs is so critical. See a field. Make one cut. And go.


Working off a outward section intrigue look, Shanahan will gaunt on a foot concept. This allows Ryan to set a attract for a linebackers with a play-action feign before rolling divided from a initial play side on a foot action.

The thought is to take advantage of bad defensive eye fortify (failure to review run-pass keys) while giving Ryan (and his underrated mobility) a two-level review and purify throwing windows outward of a pocket. Sanu (Z) runs a low out (or comeback), Taylor Gabriel (W) works behind on a channel track and parsimonious finish Austin Hooper (Y) releases late to a flat. Ryan’s initial review is to a front side of a arrangement off a play-action, as Jones (X) expected will occupy dual defenders downfield on a post.

Look for this foot intrigue on Sunday, when a Falcons have a turn in a “strike zone” (Patriots’ 20-35-yard line) or a red zone.


The Falcons adore to use levels concepts. These can be finished into hi-lo reads for Ryan while also formulating healthy “pick” situations for far-reaching receivers and backs to come purify as underneath options.

Here, a Falcons align in an dull set with Freeman (H) private from a formation. This gives Ryan a “levels” judgment to a clever side of a arrangement with Hooper (Y) regulating a puncture track and both Gabriel (Z) and Jones (W) on a pound routes (5-yard in-cuts). This creates a healthy collect for Jones on a inside cut to flog male coverage on a middle-of-the-field throw.

To a weakside, Ryan can chuck a “VO” judgment (vertical-out) with Sanu (X) on a blur and Freeman regulating a prosaic route. But Ryan’s initial review is to a three-WR side of a arrangement — and he can chuck this judgment contra both section and male coverage. Get a turn out and give your receivers room to run after a catch. That’s giveaway money.

Follow Route

Shanahan is a master during regulating garland and built looks to emanate trade off a snap contra man-coverage teams. And a abilities of Freeman and Coleman as receiving threats supplement to Shanahan’s diversion plan.

With Sanu (Z) and Hooper (Y) in reduced splits, and Freeman (H) aligned on a outward leg of a descent tackle, a Falcons emanate a garland arrangement (three players tighten together). This allows Hooper to recover upfield on a dilemma track to beget a disaster of bodies as Sanu runs a shoal crosser and Freeman hits a angle route.

Freeman flog a Seahawks for a large benefit in a local turn with this judgment and scored a TD conflicting a Packers in a red zone. Tough to defend.

Power O

The Falcons are a zone-based regulating team, though that doesn’t meant Shanahan won’t revoke a arrangement to run energy schemes out of two-TE crew (Y and U).

This is a Power O, an old-school judgment with a parsimonious finish (Y) restraint down on a edge, a fullback, Patrick DiMarco (F), heading to flog out a dilemma defender, and left ensure Andy Levitre pulling by a hole.

This creates a line for Freeman or Coleman (H) to run inside a kickout retard and follow a ensure to a second level. Look for this when a Falcons are inside a and 5-yard line or in short-yardage situations. And remember, in a Power O, there is nowhere to hide. Hat on a hat. Put on a big-boy pads and play downhill football.

Yankee Route

The Yankee track traces behind to Shanahan’s time in Washington with Robert Griffin III during quarterback. It’s a low play-action judgment designed to emanate an open throwing line by occupying a tip of a defense. Throw in some combined window dressing, and this is a tough judgment to defend.

The Falcons align a far-reaching receivers in reduced splits parsimonious to a core of a arrangement (false run keys) and use a run movement to mislay a underneath defenders. At a snap, a parsimonious finish (Y) comes behind conflicting a arrangement on a arc block, with Freeman (H) on a downhill section movement and Gabriel on a retreat (W). This allows Ryan (Q) to go by dual play-action fakes while Jones (X) runs a low post. That removes a backside cornerback and occupies a reserve in a low center of a field.

With Sanu (Z) operative behind on a low channel route, Ryan can set his feet off a play-action and aim a receiver in a now-vacated area of a field. This is a classical “shot zone” play for Shanahan (ball between a 40s), formulating an event for a Falcons to flip a margin or allege into scoring position.

RPO Slant

Run-pass options (RPOs) have taken over during a reduce levels of a diversion (high propagandize and college), and we are saying them some-more and some-more in a pros. This is a run judgment interconnected with a flitting play that should make a offense right each time, presumption a QB creates a scold pre-snap read.

In Atlanta, Shanahan pairs a two-back section intrigue with a backside slant. This allows Ryan to count a series of defenders in a box and review a leverage/alignment of a defensive behind contra a container receiver.

Ryan can palm a turn off to Freeman or Coleman (H) in a section scheme, with DiMarco (F) heading on a edge, if a Falcons have a numbers advantage in a box. Ryan can also immediately chuck a discerning one-step indicate to Sanu (Z) if a QB likes a matchup (and defensive look) in a flitting game.

Four Verticals

The 4 true judgment is run via a league, though Shanahan does a unequivocally good pursuit of sauce it adult formed on crew and fixing with an combined reward of an underneath option.

With dual parsimonious ends and dual far-reaching receivers on a field, a Falcons change Coleman (H) from a backfield out wide. This can emanate matchup issues for man-coverage teams (linebacker has to mislay in coverage) with Coleman dire downfield on a inside seam. That gives a Falcons 4 true routes, with Coleman and Hooper (Y) regulating a join routes and Sanu (Z) and Levine Toilolo (U) on a outward fades.

However, don’t forget about Jones (X) regulating a inside pound or shoal crosser. This allows Ryan to use Jones as a checkdown or underneath matchup option. And removing a turn to Jones with space to run after a locate is a calamity for hostile defenses.

Hi-Lo Mesh

The “mesh” judgment is a common track seen on Saturdays in a college diversion with widespread teams, though it’s also a tip call for Shanahan due to a hi-lo multiple and a choice to strike Freeman or Coleman on a discerning circle (or rail) route.

With dual parsimonious ends and dual receivers in a game, aligned in a double-stack look, a Falcons can emanate collect situations during a recover with Toilolo (U) regulating a dilemma track and Jones (X) entrance on a shoal crosser. That gives Ryan a two-level review inside with Jones underneath (low) and Hooper (Y) on a puncture (high).

The key, however, is a recover and track of a regulating behind (H). This army a linebacker in coverage to work by a releases and channel routes to compare a back. That’s difficulty for a invulnerability when Ryan can get a turn out. Get stranded behind a back, and it could meant 6 on a house for a Falcons.

Inside Zone

Along with a “duo” intrigue (straight downhill run with double-teams during a indicate of attack), a Falcons will uncover a inside zone. With a descent line again holding a “zone step” and Ryan aligned in a shotgun, a regulating behind can find illumination on an inside run off a mesh-point movement (quarterback-running behind exchange).

However, a pivotal to a Falcons’ inside section goes behind to a ability of Freeman and Coleman (H). With a finish male on a line of struggle left unblocked, a regulating behind can “bend” a turn behind in a healthy cutback line that is combined off a filigree point, hugging a retard of a right tackle in this example.

Keep an eye on this intrigue when a Falcons get inside a and 5-yard line. And design Coleman to get a ball. He hits a line like a rocket. Target a discerning cutback and get a turn into a finish section for 6 before a finish male can tighten to a ball.


The Falcons will run a customary three-step concepts (slant-flat, curl-flat, stick-outs, etc.) as a rest of NFL offenses do, though we like Shanahan’s ability to use low routes off play-action to aim Jones with max protection.

Again, Shanahan dresses adult this track with a solid or inverted bone demeanour (three backs in a backfield) and Ryan in a pistol alignment. That puts Hooper (Y) and DiMarco (F) in equivalent alignments, with Freeman (H) behind a quarterback. This allows a Falcons to use play-action while also giving Ryan combined insurance off a feign as this track takes some time to develop.

In reality, this is zero some-more than an siege track for Jones (Z) with Gabriel (X) regulating a backside dig. At a snap, Jones releases adult a margin and stems inside to sell a low puncture or post look. This army a cornerback to magnify a mangle while Jones works behind on a low out route. It’s a prolonged chuck for Ryan (outside of a numbers), though with a additional time to set his feet, Ryan can slice this turn to Jones.

This is a good call contra two-man coverage as a cornerback will be sitting inside and a reserve personification top-down. Look for it on Sunday and concentration on a backfield set. This is where Shanahan likes to conflict a matchup with Jones in a one-on-one situation.

WR Screen

The far-reaching receiver shade is a discerning approach to get a turn into a hands of Gabriel. He’s electric in a open margin given his detonate and parallel change-of-direction ability. And it’s zero some-more than a prolonged handoff for Ryan.

With 3 far-reaching receivers on a field, Sanu (X) and Gabriel (W) align in smoke-stack parsimonious to a core of a formation. At a snap, a Falcons use discerning play-action to reason a linebackers in a box, with Freeman (H) faking a zone-run look. This allows Sanu to retard a force defender outward with both a left tackle and left ensure releasing to retard a initial threats.

After that, it’s adult to Gabriel. Read a blocks, find illumination and accelerate adult a field. This is a same intrigue (out of conflicting formations) that Gabriel scored on contra a Arizona Cardinals in a unchanging season. And it’s also a judgment Shanahan will use in a low red section with Freeman aligned as a receiver. Don’t make it difficult here. Just get a turn to your playmakers with blockers out in front on a super high-percentage throw.

Crack Toss

The moment toss is a good call from Shanahan contra man-coverage teams since it army a defensive backs to turn dilemma players with a large guys heading or pulling outside. And it can be roughly involuntary in a low red zone, where perplexity from a invulnerability leads to points.

With dual far-reaching receivers again aligned in smoke-stack parsimonious to a core of a formation, Sanu (X) blocks down on a dilemma (called a “crack” block) and Gabriel (W) blocks a initial second-level threat. This allows a Falcons to lift left tackle Jake Matthews while DiMarco (F) leads outside. Off a toss, Coleman (H) can press a turn to a dilemma or cut adult a margin formed on a precedence of a defenders.

The pivotal here: Will a defensive backs reserved to cover Sanu and Gabriel conflict fast adequate off a blocks (replace on a edge), and are they peaceful to get downhill to take on both Matthews and DiMarco? If a defensive backs follow a receivers inside or dilate contra a blocks, this is a walk-in measure — only as we saw on Coleman’s touchdown run in a NFC Championship Game win over a Packers.

TE Throwback

I saved one of Shanahan’s tip tool calls for final since this could be a vicious play in Super Bowl LI contra a Patriots’ complicated man-coverage schemes.

Why does it work? For starters, it combines dual of a Falcons’ tip calls — outward section and boot. That’s what Shanahan wants to uncover a invulnerability before unctuous a parsimonious finish all a approach behind conflicting a formation.

At a snap, a Falcons use play-action, with Freeman (H) on a section look, and Ryan rolls divided from a play side (boot). This allows a backside parsimonious finish (U) to run a shoal crosser with Jones (X) on a post. The thought is to lift a coverage behind to a conflicting side of a margin while a strongside parsimonious finish (Y), possibly Hooper or Toilolo, blocks before releasing downfield.

Yes, this judgment is on tape. And a Patriots are a many prepared group in a NFL from a defensive perspective. You can gamble they will run by this tool judgment in practice. But during diversion speed? With all a window sauce Shanahan throws into a mix? Maybe a Falcons can get a giveaway one Sunday.

Hey, things happens. And even a tip defenses take a attract from time to time. That’s football.

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