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Offense in Focus: Matt Canada running to set up the pass

Matt Canada integrates passing into his run looks.

Ohio State v Maryland Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

After looking at how Matt Canada uses motion and leverage to help his run game, I wanted to look at him using those looks to set up play-action passing.

For that we are going to go back to 2012 and Matt Canada’s season in Wisconsin. The 2011 Badgers offense was led by Russell Wilson. In 2012 the Badgers handed the offense over to Matt Canada, and freshman quarterback Joel Stave. The Badgers also returned three future NFL running backs, Montee Ball, James White and Melvin Gordon. So while rookie Russell Wilson was quarterbacking the Seattle Seahawks to an 11-5 record and a Wild Card win in 2012, the Badgers were gaining 60% of their total yards on the ground as they went 8-6 and won the Big Ten Championship (Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible that year).

This was Matt Canada’s 5th season as an offensive coordinator, and his first to have more rushing yards than passing yards. In his prior 15 years of coaching, he had been the team’s quarterbacks coach for 12 of those years, including all five times he had previously been a coordinator. His year in Wisconsin, running an offense through three fantastic backs to cover for a true freshman quarterback, showed his ability to build an offense around his running attack. including the passing game.

This play is from early in the 2012 Big Ten Championship game against the favored Nebraska Cornhuskers.

We’ll start like we usually do, looking at the initial formation the Badgers lined up in. The Badgers came out heavy and tight, with one wide receiver, two tight ends and two running backs.

My favorite part of this play is the cornerback to the top of the screen. Nebraska is in man, and the corner is asking his safety who he should cover. The only wide receiver on the field is not the player farthest outside, and that corner will end up in man on RB Melvin Gordon. Watch the small bits of confusion this formation sows into the Nebraska defense as they quickly motion out of it.

Ignore the television telling you #25 Melvin Gordon is #20 James White, James White is motioning into the tailback spot, Gordon is leaving it. Outside of the running backs the changes are WR #4 moving out to a more traditional wide receiver alignment, TE# 85 switching sides of the field and TE#48 moving to an offset-I fullback alignment.

Matt Canada uses his running backs in the passing game, so Melvin Gordon out wide to the bottom of the screen isn't’ someone they can ignore, but he also isn’t a big-time threat lined up out wide. All the other motion, and threat is focused to the offensive left (top of the screen). Three players move to the left in motion, one moves right, and one moves slightly right, but more backwards. The defense reacts to the motion predictably. CB #11, the confused one, moves to follow Gordon, almost everyone else is moving or angling to the strong side of the formation. The initial formation had slightly more weight to the left side, the motion doubles down on it. The actual play will take it even farther.

All that focus to the top of the screen, and then the jet sweep motion moves the cornerback and both safeties farther to that side. The line and the play-fake all go that way, the only exception is the tight end aligned as a fullback, and he outruns the linebacker for a nine yard pickup on first down.

Matt Canada runs to the heavy side, he runs to the weak side, he throws in a lot of misdirection and will throw in plays like this to make sure the defense can’t commit fully to the strength of the formation without paying for it.

Plays like this show the value of a mobile quarterback in Matt Canada’s offense. Obviously, these plays will have to be designed around Ben Roethlisberger, who is much less mobile at this point in his career. But while that may seem like a daunting challenge, we saw in the previous film room that Matt Canada has proven his ability to take plays designed around a mobile quarterback and find ways to make it work well without one.

Previous Offense in Focus Film Rooms: