Anatomy of a Failed Fake Punt Attempt

Because the posts have been and will continue to come fast and furious, I'm going to include links to previous ones in each post, so that one can jump around between them at ease.

Previous Breakdowns:

Santonio Holmes' Punt Return
1st Half Review
2nd Half Review
Celebration Thread

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Let's take a look at what went wrong on the Pittsburgh Steelers fake punt attempt near the end of the 2nd quarter with the score kontted at 7-7. Pittsburgh had the ball just about near mid field facing a 4th and 1. Our offense looked good running the ball and Ben was making good decisions with the ball.Tomlin sensed his team had the momentum and wanted to keep possession of the ball and tried the fake. I don't disagree with the decision to go for it, but since we had been running the ball so effectively, I'm not sure it would have not been wiser to just run the ball more conventionally. I'd say we should have just run a QB sneak, but we don't do that for some reason.

Anyway, here was the play in pictures, beginning with the initial pre-snap alignment:

Fakepunt1_medium

The play of course was called for Ryan Clark, shown in the gold box, who as you can see is lined up at about the Steelers 42 yard line, roughly 6 yards back from where the ball was being snapped.

Let's see how the play unfolded after the break...

 

NFL Scores, Schedule and Blog Posts - SB Nation

Fakepunt2_medium

There are three colored arrows above. The gold one is of Lawrence Timmons, who upon the snap of the ball sprinted right to meet some Charger named A. Applewhite. The green arrow is of our long snapper, Jared Retkofsky . As you can see, he went left immediately, leaving Applewhite with basically a free pass at Clarke. It's not clear to me whether Retkofsky flooded left too quickly, or if he was supposed to engage that Applewhite dude before heading that way. We'll never know but even though Applewhite broke free quickly, Timmons is on his way over by design. Does he make it in time?

Fakepunt3_medium

He does not. That gold arrow is pointing to Hines, who as you can see is lunging at Applewhite in a desperate attempt to make a block. It didn't happen though. From the looks ot it the play was designed to give Clark two reads, which are represented by the different black arrows:

1) Head right if Applewhite goes right (heading left from the angle provided here). As you can see, Clark did have a wall of blockers to his right paving the way had that Charger not been all over him. Or.

2) Head the other way where he also had a wall of blockers.

Anyway, it didn't work, but I'll tell you what. All that needed to happen was for Clarke to stand one or two yards further back towards the punter than he did. If he's starting closer to the 45 than the 40 yard line, Timmons makes his way over for the crack block and Clark could have bounced it either way he chose. Even without making a great read (which he didn't here), he still would have had enough real estate to get the necessary one yard. Instead, he had a guy in his face before the play could properly materialize.

A game of inches and a nice example of just how fine a line it is in the NFL between pristine execution and a busted play. There were lanes opening up, but the critical block to make it all work was just one half a second too late. It was interesting to take a closer look after the confusion that set in as the play was happening live.

 

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