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Saturday, September 25, 2010
Football Scientist: Keys to stopping CJ2K

By KC Joyner

Stopping Chris Johnson is a task that is obviously easier said than done, but the task is doubly difficult because of how creative Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger is at run play calling.

The bulk of his calls are the typical fare -- counters, stretch and slant runs, isolations and sweeps. Those certainly work well (Johnson is explosive regardless of the play type) but Heimerdinger also uses them as set-up plays for the potential home run calls.

I covered this trend in detail in an ESPN.com Insider article back in July, but for the sake of those who might not have seen it, the gist of it is that Heimerdinger likes to add counter fakes to just about every type of run. He also gets his linemen to integrate fakes into their blocking that add to the backfield counter sell by Johnson.

Here is a write-up from that article explaining how he did a very creative job of adding a second set of counter fakes to a counter play in the 2009 Bills-Titans game:

"This play started out as a basic counter, with the fullback crossing the backfield to operate as a lead blocker and the left guard pulling for the same purpose. Johnson also took his usual false step to the left to sell the defense that the play was going that way.

"In addition to the backfield and pulling motions, the rest of the offensive line also sold the counter run. RG Jake Scott and right tackle David Stewart started what looked to be the beginning of combination block on the defensive tackle to their side and C Kevin Mawae blocked down on the defensive tackle on his side. TE Alge Crumpler also got into the act with a block on the middle linebacker. These fakes worked so well that the Bills' weakside linebacker started running to the opposite side of the field to pursue the counter to that side.

"The beauty of this play was not just in the double fakes, but how well all of the Titans' blockers sold them. For example, Crumpler set up his block in such a way that it looked like he was trying to keep the middle linebacker from getting past him. Once the linebacker fought his way through, however, Crumpler then angled his body to wall the defender off from pursuing the run to the left.

"Mawae did a similar thing to the defensive tackle, but he actually took it one step further by holding his block until Scott could disengage from his initial block on the other side. If Mawae wasn't able to do this, his defender could have stuffed the play at the line of scrimmage, but he held his ground perfectly until Scott arrived to take over. Mawae then had to get upfield to wall off the strong safety, but his and Scott's perfect execution allowed that to happen without a hitch, and it led to Johnson gaining 22 yards on the play." (Insider subscribers can see a motion-based schematic that gives an X's and O's visual of the blocking)

The good news for the Giants defense is that they are used to seeing some of the most creative run blocking in the NFL in practice every day. If they can use that experience properly, they might be able to keep their gaps against these double counter fakes and thus prevent CJ2K from running away with this game.