I noticed something that the St. Louis Rams did during our preseason game that perfectly illustrated the impact of personnel and formation on the game.
With the game tied at zero, the Browns’ defense found themselves backed up deep in their own territory. The Rams initially set up in a formation with two WRs, a TE and RB Steven Jackson to the right, with one WR tight left. Here, you can see as the Rams doing their "mike points*". Not as visible, the Browns are showing Man coverage with 2 deep safeties:
(*in BoB blocking schemes, the OL is responsible for the 4 down linemen and whoever is designated the "Mike", not necessarily the MLB, who is incidentally also called a "Mike")
QB AJ Feeley notices that if the Browns are indeed in Man underneath and the four Browns showing rush are in fact coming after the Quarterback, that LB Scott Fujita and CB Brandon McDonald are left to cover RB Steven Jackson and TE Daniel Fells.
Basically, what Feeley sees is this:
I smell a mismatch (Feeley does too).
Side note: For the life of me I don’t know why we are in a Dime package here, or why we didn’t do some Maneuvering to get McDonald on a WR (say, playing McDonald on the WR, CB Sheldon Brown at FS and bringing S TJ Ward down to cover the TE).
Even the most unashamed Brandon McDonald apologist cringes at the thought of the cornerback trying to tackle a 272 pound TE or one of the league's most bruising running backs. Repressed as my Browns memories are, I think it is safe to say a few B-Mac "tackles" have qualified as Tosh.0 Web Redemption-worthy.
Seeing that one of his two big guys will be matched up against McDonald, Feeley sends Jackson in motion:
Previously, it was unclear who McDonald was responsible for because Jackson and Fells were so close to each other in the formation. Figuring out which bruising runner had the mismatch may have taken Feeley a second or more, which is all it takes for NFL linemen to get hits on the quarterback. With Jackson spread wide, the matchup becomes clear pre-snap.
Due to this change in formation, the Browns must also adjust. Fujita goes out with Jackson, and McDonald is revealed as being responsible for Fells:
Fujita is now the closest Browns defender to the bottom of the screen, guarding Jackson who is wide to the offense's left by the numbers. After the motion, Feeley sees something more like this:
To me, it looks like the Rams scouted this and knew they could get these matchups. I think they were ready with their play if they saw this look from us. I am not a lip-reader, and I am not even sure I would understand the Rams’ terminology if I knew what they were saying, but I think this was a check that Feeley made.
Regardless of the original play call, the motion itself (formation change) revealed the matchup that the Rams wanted and clarified for them what defense we were in.
The Rams ended up running the Smash concept to both sides of the field. At the simplest level, all the "Smash" concept is is an inside receiver on a corner route, and an outside receiver on a hitch:
If you want to know more about the Smash concept, Chris Brown is one of the best.
Here, with Smash to both sides of the field, I believe Fells runs a Stick route. He will stem his route inside at about a 45 degree angle, then get open according to what the defense is doing. The play looks like this:
McDonald cannot be correct. If he has leverage to the left of Fells, Fells will bounce out right. If McDonald defends Fells on the right, he will bounce left. The best McDonald can do is force a perfect throw, fight the ball, and then try to bring the receiver down if he does catch it.
Effectively, all the Smash concept is doing on either side of the field is clearing space. Look at how much space Fells has to work in and McDonald has to cover!
Fells has three widths of the hashes and from the line of scrimmage to the goal posts to work McDonald.
Sure enough, Fells puts a little juke on McDonald, catches an easy throw, and drags Brandon into the endzone.
Touchdown Rams, thanks in no small part to a skilled use of formation and personnel.