My first priority on Monday morning, after taking a lot of aspirin, was to diagram Robert Royal’s 20-yard touchdown catch against the Bengals. The Browns used an unusual A-11 type of formation on the play. They also got away with an amazingly illegal downfield block.
As shown in Figure 1, the Browns split tackles Joe Thomas (73) and John St. Clair (78) out as “wide receivers.” The word “receiver” is misleading, because they are not on the ends of the line of scrimmage, which means they are ineligible to catch passes or go downfield on passing plays. Tight ends Royal (84) and Benjamin Watson (82) are on the ends, so they are eligible receivers, with Josh Cribbs (16) and Mohamed Massaquoi (11) stashed behind them.
|Figure 1: Robert Royal Touchdown|
The Bengals do a pretty good job countering this strange formation. No one lines up in man coverage on Thomas or anything. The Bengals appear to be in zone coverage, and they also appear to be wary of a screen pass of some kind. You would be too, with Cribbs hiding behind a lineman and a tight end. At the snap, Cribbs drifts to the sidelines as if running a tunnel screen. Thomas blocks a linebacker. Leon Hall (29) and a linebacker I could not identify both slide into underneath zones; both look ready to chase Cribbs. They let Royal run deep, where Reggie Nelson (20) is a step late picking him up.
While all of this chaos is going on, running back Mike Bell (22), aligned in the slot, runs down field and blocks a linebacker. In the diagram, I have Bell 10 yards downfield, but that is a distortion caused by the background; in real life, he was between the 16 and 15 yard lines, making him four-and-a-half yards downfield. Bell initiates contact before the pass is in the air, and it is not a bump, pick, rub, or wipe. It is a square-shouldered block, in the open field.
In other words, Bell commits flagrant offensive pass interference, and his block has an impact on the play. Nelson, the deep safety, reacts to everything that happens in front of him. He sees the Bell block. As a defender, he must assume that Bell is legally blocking, probably for the Cribbs screen that most of us would expect from this formation. While Nelson freezes, Royal gets past him.
There is so much that officials must worry about on a play like this that you can imagine how a borderline penalty would go unnoticed. Bell did not commit a borderline penalty, but a flagrant one. This A-11 wrinkle is certainly interesting, and I am sure Brian Daboll and his staff have dreamed up a few screens from it, but I do not think Royal would have had an easy touchdown if the Browns played by the rules.