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Eli Sindelar: The First Interception

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This was a uniquely weird play

Northwestern v Purdue Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

There’s no way to sugar coat it. I’ve been one of Eli’s biggest supporters on this site for the last two years, but that was a terrible game. I was planning on breaking down several plays, but I think this first interception is interesting and deserves special attention.

I hope this break down helps you understand what happened on the play, and why Sindelar made such a poor decision. I’m not excusing the throw. He should have hit taken the sack and moved on with his day. At the same time, this was a strange play, and I’m pretty confident I know why he didn’t see the safety waiting in the middle of the field.

INT #1

The situation:

Purdue is putting a solid first series together. They’ve moved the ball from their 15 to the Northwestern 46. This is an area of the field where Jeff Brohm loves to take shots at the end zone. It’s 2nd and 10 after a pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage on 1st down.

First off, this is terrible camera work. You can’t see what Purdue or Norwestern is doing. I’m not sure what this angle brings to the table.

Here are some stills that give you a better look:

Pre-Snap

Northwestern

This is the pre-snap look and as you can see, Northwestern is doing some funky stuff at the line of scrimmage. I’m not great with defensive terminology, but I’ll try to explain what they are up to. They initially line up with 6 defensive players on the line and a single linebacker in the middle. This is their zone blitz look. They are going to drop players off the line and into the underneath zone.

I’ve marked up what I think are the blocking assignments (the dots on the Purdue players correspond with the guy they are supposed to block).

I’ve also marked the zone blitz. The two Northwestern players on the left side of the line engage and then drop into an underneath zone. The linebacker (black) subsequently blitzes the B gap between the RG and RT. This is a sophisticated look from Northwestern, designed to confuse the pass protection, and it works to perfection.

The coverage is interesting, because as you’ll see in a moment, Northwestern actually blows it. They appear to be in man with a deep safety (Cover 1) and an underneath zone. I have no idea what the corner and safety are doing on this play. I can’t tell if the safety is supposed to pick up Moore and the corner is supposed to drop deep, or if the corner is supposed to follow Moore across the formation. I’m not a mind reader, but I’m going to guess that Eli thinks the deep safety is responsible for Moore on the jet sweep, and that’s why he doesn’t account for him.

Purdue

This is Purdue’s version of max protect. You’ve got a 7 man line, with TEs Hopkins and Herdman both staying in to block on the right side of the formation. Moore goes in motion on the jet sweep, and the two tight receivers on the left side of the formation run routes.

This is a two man route. You’ve got a deep post and an underneath drag, with Moore being the dump off. The fact that Purdue is in max protection leads me to believe that the primary receiver on this play is Terry Wright running the deep post.

Post Snap

Nortwestern

Defensive Line/ Linebackers

You can see the zone blitz starting to materialize. The lineman (gray) has already dropped into the underneath zone after starting over the center.

The lineman with the maroon mark is engaged at the moment with the left guard, but he’s about to drop into the underneath zone as well.

The defensive lineman at the far right side of the line (light green) is rushing the passer, his job is to take his blocker wide and open the hole for the linebacker. He does his job.

The defensive lineman on the far left side (white) is rushing the passer.

The key to this play is the lineman with the yellow dot. His job is to crash down the line, across the right tackle’s face in order to bring the right tackle with him to open the gap for the blitzing linebacker. You can see from this shot that he does his job perfectly.

Secondary

This must be a blown coverage. You can see that the two defensive backs lined up with receivers on the bottom left (blue & pink) are clearly playing man. They are following their assigned receiver.

The top of the screen is where things get confusing. The defensive back at the top right (light blue) looks like he’s playing zone. It’s possible that this is a funky mixed coverage but most likely, something is messed up.

The safety (red) is hanging in the deep middle of the field.

As you can see, no one is even looking at Moore on the jet sweep. I’ve drawn in what I think the coverage should be. It’s also possible that the defensive back circled in light blue is supposed to follow Moore across the formation, leaving the safety (red) to cover the deep middle. One of the two players (light blue) or (red) are not where they are supposed to be.

Purdue

Offensive Line

The pass protection is bad on this play. After all the zone blitzing is finished, Northwestern is actually only rushing 4 defensive linemen and blitzing a linebacker. There are 7 Purdue players on the line blocking. There are 5 Northwestern rushers.

Purdue doesn’t account for the overload on the right side of the line created by the zone blitz. Everyone needs to shift down the line to the right, but that doesn’t happen. You end up with the center and the left guard standing around looking for someone to block while a linebacker has a free run at the quarterback.

Recievers

The outside receiver (pink) is running the deep post with a defensive back in man coverage.

The inside receiver (blue) is running a drag route across the formation from left to right.

The receiver running the jet sweep motion (green) continues to the outside. Once again, you can see that no one is paying any attention to him.

Quarterback

Sindelar rolls slight to his right in order to get a better angle on the deep post. Unfortunately, he’s rolling directly into the blitz.

The Breakdown

Northwestern

Defensive Line/Linebackers

You can clearly see the zone blitz on this shot. The two defensive linemen (light blue and dark blue) have dropped off, leaving their original offense linemen blocking air on the left side.

At the same time, the blitz on the right side is working to perfection. Not only does the D-lineman lined up in front of the right tackle (Swingler) pull him to the inside to open the hole, he beats Swingler back to the outside and has a free run to the quarterback.

You can see the blitzing linebacker (dark green) starting to fire into the hole. There is no one to pick him up.

Secondary

Again, you can see the man coverage (black and dark green). That’s an easy read.

What’s still confusing is the defensive back (purple) standing around, appearing to play zone on the right side, while the rest of the secondary looks like they are in Cover 1.

The safety is still hanging in the deep middle.

Purdue

Offensive Line

Things have gone terrible wrong. The center (light blue) and left guard (dark blue) don’t have anyone to block, while the the right tackle (yellow) is dealing with an overload.

The tight ends(red) are obviously assigned to block the defensive end, and they are

What makes everything even more terrible is the right tackle (Swingler, yellow) gets burned by his man. When you see an offensive lineman in pass protection with his belly button pointing towards the sideline, it’s never good. Now Sindelar is having to look at two free rushers instead of only having to worry about the blitzing linebacker.

Receivers

The outside receiver (dark green) has a step on his man. From his perspective, he’s in great position to run the post. He’s about to run across the defensive backs face and put the defensive back on his back side. He’s beaten the man coverage.

The inside receiver (black) is running through the zone with his man in pursuit. He’s not open.

The receiver on the jet sweep (green) is wide open.

Quarterback

I’m guessing that right about now, Eli knows he’s in trouble. He’s looking at 2 free rushers. His primary receiver is in good position , but I don’t think he sees the safety.

I’m guessing his pre-snap read indicated that the safety was supposed to be covering the receiver in the flat, and not hanging in the deep middle. Eli thought he was looking at cover 0 with the safety in man coverage on the wide receiver in motion, but instead he was looking at Cover 1, with Northwestern ignoring the man in motion.

The Throw

Northwestern

The zone blitz has not only worked to perfection, allowing the linebacker a free run at the quarterback, but the defensive lineman also beat the the right tackle, giving them two free rushers.

The safety is still in the deep middle. No one is within 10 yards of the receiver just off the far left of the screen in the flat. If the QB has time to find him, it’s a touchdown, but the 2 unblocked rushers are making that task difficult.

Purdue

Simply put, the right tackle (Swingler, green) got burned on this play. The zone blitz was going to get home because the line didn’t adjust, but Swingler turning his man loose made a things even worse. Throw in the fact that Sindelar is rolling into the blitz, and this is a disaster in the making.

Rondale Moore is wide open on the left side of the screen, but Sindelar is locked on to his primary receiver and doesn’t have time to look for his check down. Northwestern may have blown this coverage, but their pass rush covered it up.

The Interception

Pass Interference

First and foremost, this is pass interference all day. The Northwestern defensive back is clearly beaten to the post, and he’s riding Terry Wright’s back. He’s not allowing Wright to make a play on the ball.

With the way the corner plays Wright, I think the corner doesn’t know he has deep middle help. There’s no reason for him to interfere with Wright because he’s running him directly into the safety. If this is Cover 1, it’s working to perfection. I don’t think this was intended to be Cover 1.

What makes this missed call even more frustrating is the side judge is staring right at the play. He has a clear view of obvious pass interference and for some reason, decides to keep the flag in his pocket. He’s not looking through or around players, he’s watching while the Northwestern corner jumps on Terry Wright’s back while the ball is in the air, and he doesn’t pull the flag.

The Throw

Eli is hit as he throws and floats the ball in the middle of the field. I believe he’s trying to throw the ball between the hashes or closer to the right hash (where I’ve placed the blue dot. That would still give Wright a chance, even with the safety, if he weren’t being ridden to the ground by the defensive back.

Instead, he throws a punt to the safety. Again, I’m not sure he accounted for the safety. I think he throws the check down (for a potential touchdown) if he sees the safety in the deep middle. You don’t throw the post with a safety handing out in the deep middle.

Overall

The difference between a touchdown and interception on this play was razor thin.

If the ball starts in the middle of the field and Eli doesn’t have to roll to his right for a better angle on the post, I’m confident that he hits Rondale Moore on the dump off and I don’t think anyone catches him.

If Northwestern doesn’t blow the coverage and Eli sees that they are in Cover 1 instead of Cover 0, he most likely hits Rondale Moore in the flat for the touchdown.

If the official pulls the flag out of his pocket on the obvious interference, Purdue picks up another first down and no one even remembers this play.

Instead, everything that could go wrong does go wrong.

Football is a cruel game.