Chris Thompson is a super star in the making

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

Chris Thompson might be the most underappreciated player in football. The Washington Redskins running back core has overall been disappointing this year. Rob Kelley hasn’t lived up to expectations, and while Samaje Perine is ok, the Redskins will need better from him to make a legitimate playoff push. Thompson’s name gets lost among the others, but unlike his counterparts, he might be the most important player on the Redskins offense.

Thompson is a quintessential third down back. He has great acceleration and the agility to help him beat defenders with ease. He is a good route runner out of the backfield and has the vision necessary to find holes in the defense. The Redskins know this as well, using him on every single third down during their Sunday night matchup against the Oakland Raiders, save the final third down of the game when it was all but over.

His vision and anticipation make him an excellent target out of the backfield, as he displayed Sunday night.

The running back runs an out route out of the backfield. His route is delayed and he initially fakes as if he was going to block on the play. Thompson chooses the perfect moment to deke out of the backfield, just as the rusher he was pretending to block gets to him. He slips by into the open flat where Kirk Cousins finds him for a quick dump off pass. Washington pulls both of their guards into the flat to lead for their back. Terrelle Pryor throws a good block upfield as well. Thompson does an excellent job navigating through the blocks. He changes his speed and stays light on his feet in order to get find an opening and get far upfield for a huge gain and a first down.

Thompson caught six passes on seven targets for 150 yards and touchdown. He was the Redskins most important weapon and was huge in their dominating victory.

He creates a match up nightmare, especially against zone coverage. It is harder to account for a man coming out of the backfield compared to a wide out, and linebackers sometimes lose him until it is too late.

He runs a late curl route over the middle of the field, as he again stalled as if he was going to block at the beginning of the play. Oakland is playing cover 4, and all of their linebackers disperse in zone coverage. They entirely lose track of the man in the backfield and they pay for it. Thompson quickly heads upfield and runs a perfectly timed curl. He catches a wide open pass then turns upfield for a decent gain.

Versatility is key in today’s NFL. Thompson has the ability to split out wide like a receiver and can make plays and create mismatches out there as well.

The running back is split out wide this play and Cousins gets him the ball instantly. Washington sends out their offensive line to block, but they are far away from the sideline where the ball was caught. The Redskins trusted Thompson to make move and stay on his feet before the cavalry arrived and he proved himself worthy. He finds a crease in the wave of Raiders defenders attacking him, and am impressive jump cut allows him to slip through the cracks and turn upfield. He gets a few blocks and torches the defense for a 74 yard gain.

His skill set makes him a huge threat in the run game just as it does in the air attack. Thompson added 38 yards on eight carries Sunday night, averaging 4.7 yards per carry.

His most impressive run of the night came in the latter stages of the first half.

The same vision, agility and anticipation that make him such a great route runner help him find space to make plays in the backfield as well. Thompson takes a delayed handoff out of the backfield. Washington pulled their center across the line to cover the A gap and create room for him. He finds space on the left side. Initially, he starts making way towards the sideline, but when he see’s the cornerback angling himself there he makes a quick cut upfield. He maintains his balance while making a precision turn around his blocker and then breaking towards the sideline again to avoid the rest of the defenders coming from the center of the field.

His vision and burst even allow him to make something out of a broken play.

The Redskins pull their left guard across the formation, as their right guard heads into the second level to seal the gap for the running back. Both guards get lost on the play, though. A Raiders linebacker now has a free run at Thompson. The running back manages to slip by him and between a small crease in the Raiders defense. It was a minimal gain, but with the atrocious blocking up front, the Redskins are lucky he didn’t get tackled in the backfield.

Chris Thompson will never be the starting running back for the Redskins and he will never be every down back. He is a niche player who has perfectly carved out an important role in this offense. He is a hard player to defend, though, and will be key to any sort of success they have this season.

He expects to see regular play this year and his role should be even larger than last year. The Florida State product did not play much in his first two NFL seasons, but over the past two years has become a major part of the Redskins offense. His career high rushing total (356 yards) and receiving total (231 yards) will probably both be shattered this season, and if Thompson continues his path he may become a superstar in the NFL.

 

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More from Bird Breakdowns:

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Another Week, Another Game Winning Drive for the Lions

Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

For the third straight week, and the fourth time this season, Matthew Stafford has put together a late game winning drive to propel the Lions into victory. After failing to do so against both the Chicago Bears and Tennessee Titans, Stafford has found his rhythm late game and may have even put himself in the conversation for NFL MVP.

The Lions led for majority of Sunday’s match up against the Redskins, but the offense was never able to put the game away and allowed the Redskins to take a lead with just over a minute to play after a long Kirk Cousins run for a touchdown.

Yet again, it was up to Stafford and the offense to pull out another late victory.

After a touchback on the kickoff, the Lions got the ball at their own 25 with 65 seconds to play.

The Lions got the drive off to a fast start, as Marvin Jones (#11) got open down field and caught a 23 yard pass over the middle to get the ball around midfield after Stafford managed to use his feet to get out of the pocket and avoid the pass rush.

Jones was able to find so much room over the middle of the field for two reasons. First, while he ran a deep crossing route, Andre Roberts (#12) ran a shallow route that attracted the attention of Redskins safety Will Blackmon (#41). Blackmon vacates the exact area Jones makes the catch and allows the play to get behind him.

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Linebacker Will Compton (#51) also dropped back into coverage, and picked up Roberts over the middle, the defenders both covered the same zone, and Roberts ended the play surrounded by three Redskins while Jones had acres of room downfield.

The Redskins were also playing in prevent defense. Although this makes sense as they do not want to give up easy points late on a deep pass, their coverage was way too soft. Quinton Dunbar (#47) was playing man coverage on Jones but maintained a 5 yard cushion throughout the route, and despite following Jones the whole way still managed to leave him wide open. This cushion would have been fine, had the defenders in zone coverage read the play correctly and not have all chosen to chase down Andre Roberts. If Matt Stafford had the time to find him, Anquan Bolden was wide open down the left sideline.

Stafford used his feet again on the second play of the drive, and this time turned up field and scrambled for a 14 yard gain and another first down.

The Redskins rushed four on the play, but they only rushed the edges. Will Compton and Su’a Cravens (#36) both dropped back into zone coverage, clearing the entirety of the middle of the field.

snap2

This may have been by design though. Ryan Kerrigan (#91) pulled a late stunt to collapse back on Stafford when he first stepped up in the pocket, but was late and missed a tackle.

If Kerrigan had been there earlier, he may have even had a sack on the play, but an execution error by the Pro Bowl Linebacker allowed the Lions to keep the drive rolling.

With the ball on the Washington 38, the Lions were now within striking range.

Washington elected to go right back into a soft prevent defense, and again gave up a pass over the middle. Will Compton dropped way back into deep coverage, along with both safeties, upon the snap. Cravens and Kendall Fuller (#38) also dropped back, and yet again the Lions had full use over the middle of the field.

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The Lions started the drive with all three timeouts, and had only used one to this point. With over 30 seconds to play and two timeouts remaining, there is no reason for the Redskins to play so conservatively. They only rushed four and cleared the middle of the field, giving Stafford enough time to find Roberts over the middle for another 20 yards.

Now within 20 yards of their own end zone, the Redskins decided to finally get aggressive.

They rushed five on the play, but Stafford immediately lobbed it towards Golden Tate (#15) on a fade route to the corner of the end zone. The play was executed well, and if not for great positioning by Greg Toler (#20) to force Tate out-of-bounds, would have been the winning touchdown.

The defense remained aggressive on second down, rushing six.

The blitz caught the Lions off guard and Stafford was forced to quickly throw the ball towards Tate to avoid a sack.

snap5

Su’a Cravens burst through the front line untouched, and throws off a block by Zach Zenner (#34) to get to Stafford. On the other side, Kerrigan absolutely man handles Riley Reiff (#71) and shoves him back into his quarterback.

Andre Roberts had space just beyond Tate, but the pass rush made sure Stafford didn’t have time to get the ball to him.

After a more aggressive pass rush with more men playing zone over the middle of the field worked on both first and second down to force the Lions into a third and long, the Redskins chose to go back into prevent defense, and lost.

This time, the defense did their job to near perfection.

snap6

None of the Lions receivers had much separation on the play, and the eight men who dropped back into coverage seems to have well communicated their roles.

prevent

About a half second before Stafford throws the ball, you can see the smothering coverage the defense had on the play. None of the Lions four receivers have much room, until Anquan Bolden (#80) beats Kendall Fuller on a double move allowing him to get behind the corner. Even after getting behind Fuller, Bolden was still surrounded by both Quinton Dunbar and Will Blackmon.

For a quarterback like Matthew Stafford, there was enough room. Stafford delivers a near perfect pass into a small window of space, a “Stafford Window” as they are called, and Bolden made the catch and managed to fight through two men to get into the end zone for the game winning score.

The Redskins let the game slip through their fingers, and it was due to play calling on defense.

Matthew Stafford is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL. He is a very accurate passer, and although he is too confident in his arm to make tight throws sometimes, his aggressive decision makes a dangerous quarterback in clutch situations.

How do you beat him?

Pass Rush.

Stafford has shown some scrambling ability this season, and even picked up a first down on this drive with his feet, but he is not fast or agile enough to dodge heavy pass rush on his own. The Lions pass protection has been awful this season, and the best way to Stafford is to not give him enough time to look downfield. The Redskins only rushed more than four players twice on this drive, both plays led to an incompletion.

Dropping into deep pass defense and allowing a team shallow passes over the middle is usually a sound strategy late in a close game. But execution errors allowed the Lions to move the ball with ease, and the lack of overall pass rush on a quarterback with Stafford’s skill lost them the game.

Matthew Stafford is one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, and the Redskins gave him just enough time to prove it.

 

 

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