Anatomy of a Play: Royal times two

Last weekend in Denver, head referee Ed Hochuli made a huge mistake on a call that many are saying cost the San Diego Chargers the game.

Still, after Hochuli's premature whistle, San Diego -- which had already allowed 34 first downs and nearly 500 yards of offense -- had two more chances to win the game. On fourth-and-goal from the 4-yard line, the Broncos went with a spread formation. Brandon Marshall was the only receiver split to Jay Cutler's right. To Cutler's left were three receivers in a bunch: Tony Scheffler in the middle, Brandon Stokley on the inside, and Eddie Royal on the outside.

Anatomy of a Play


NFL Films' Greg Cosell breaks down how the Broncos executed the same play with precision to get a touchdown and the subsequent two-point conversion. More ...

Anatomy of a Play extras:
» The Brandon Marshall factor

More Anatomy of a Play:
» Hardy's size the difference for Bills

Scheffler ran a corner route to the back pylon, Stokley ran a quick out to the flat, and Eddie Royal ran what is referred to as a "jerk route." A jerk route is when the receiver releases hard inside like he will attack across the field, stops as if he will break back to the outside, and then starts again in his original direction. The stopping and starting nature of the route makes it ideal for a quick receiver such as Royal.

The Chargers dropped eight defenders into coverage and rushed Cutler with only three; 309-pound Igor Olshansky was the eighth pass defender. Before the snap, he aligned as a defensive tackle. But after the snap, he dropped into coverage, turned toward the bunch, and looked to cover any underneath route coming at him.

Royal's jerk route was heading right for Olshansky and the defensive lineman was forced to match up. Expecting Olshansky to cover Royal is like asking Shaq to guard Allen Iverson. Saying it's a mismatch is an understatement. When Royal stopped, so did Olshansky. When Royal started again, Olshansky didn't, and Royal was wide open. A so-so pass by Cutler was still an easy touchdown and the Broncos closed the gap to one.

But coach Mike Shanahan didn't want one.

Not only did he go for two, Shanahan called the exact same play as the touchdown. It was the same personnel, formation, and route combination. Again, Eddie Royal was Jay Cutler's primary target, running a jerk route.

The difference was in San Diego's defense. The Chargers dropped seven and rushed four and did a better job guarding Royal. It was a good matchup, with athletic safety Eric Weddle responsible for the jerk route. The four-man rush pressured Cutler, forcing him to slide left and make an off-balance throw. Weddle did a decent job on Royal, but the rookie receiver still managed to make a play.

There are reasons why the Chargers deserved to win the game and reasons why they deserved to lose it, like their inability to cover Eddie Royal on two jerk routes.

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