The first two articles of our three-part series on film breakdown focused on how to maximize stock columns and looking at a different way to analyze the offensive backfield. This installment will focus on wide receiver placement and what I call the RCODE.
Offensive coordinators place everyone across the 53 1/3 yards of space on the football field for a specific reason. Coaches who have done film break down for Bill Belichick have repeatedly stated that the amount of detail that is “padded” into one play is staggering (click on the word “padded” for a glimpse into that). Yet, that deep analysis has undeniably contributed to the success of the New England Patriots year after year after year. One comment in an article describing what it was like to break down film for him, read in summary, “Why is the receiver six inches inside of where he just was?” That type of insight led to the creation of the RCODE.
Not everything is what it appears to be
Take a glance at Image 1. This was during the first quarter of the National Championship game between Alabama and Clemson in 2019 (which will be the focus of our study). When you first look at it, you can see that Alabama has two receivers to the field, a TE to the boundary and another receiver to the boundary. You may be thinking, “Yeah, anyone can see that” and I would agree with you, but what if you looked at the field this way?
A = Outside the numbers
B = On the numbers
C = Between the numbers and the hash
D = On the hash
E = Inside the hash, left of the ball
F = Inside the hash, right of the ball
G = On the hash
H = Between the hash and the numbers
I = On the numbers
J = Outside the numbers
Within these ten areas, an offense can put eligible receivers. You could have two or three receivers in a specific area (e.g. HHH), but they are there for a reason. An argument could be made to create more than ten (10) areas to place receivers in, it just depends on how you want to divide the field up (it would be interesting to know how New England does it). A couple of tips I would give if you decide to use this:
- The receiver is either on the numbers or not. They are also either on the Hash or not. If you start thinking, “Well, he’s kind of on it” it will drive you crazy. Just make it simple, he’s either on it or not.
- Always letter left to right across the formation, it can get confusing pretty quick after they switch ends at the quarter.
Now let’s go back to the Alabama v Clemson game. Image 1 with RCODE now looks like this:
The outside receiver is on the numbers = B
The inside receiver is on the hash = D
The solo receiver is inside the numbers = H
In assigning letters to the wide receivers, their total alignment is BDH.
Play type = RUN
Now that we have the RCODE on that specific play, take a look at this (Image 2).
The first notable difference is that they are using a Sniffer / H to the field instead of a TE to the boundary. However, the RCODE stayed the same = BDH. Alabama ran the ball on this play, so the play type was the same as in Image 1. You can make an argument that TE placement, H Placement or RB Placement will give you tendencies as well, and I would agree with you, but forget about those guys for a couple of minutes, they don’t matter.
We have now looked at two images out of a 2 x 1 formation that have the same RCODE and also the same play type. (I know there was a TE in Image 1 and you could be saying, well that’s not 2 x 1, but the RCODE doesn’t care about TE’s, so it’s 2 x 1)
What does that equal? Tendency Alert.
Later in the game they flipped the formation (Image 3):
Wide Receiver Alignment = BHH
Play Result = PASS
To the untrained eye all they did was flip the formation, but if you apply the RCODE to it, they did not. If they truly flipped the formation, the RCODE should have read CGI, but it read BHH. So what changed?
The solo receiver to the boundary is on the numbers “B” (not inside the numbers like Image 1 and Image 2), the inside receiver to the field is outside the hash “H” (not on the hash like Image 1 and Image 2), the outside receiver to the field is inside the numbers “H” (not on the numbers like Image 1 and Image 2). The only similarity to the previous two images is that it’s a 2 x 1 formation. Don’t forget this as well, they passed.
How about later in the game? (Image 4)
Wide Receiver Alignment = BDH
Previous two times in this WR Alignment (Images 1 & 2) = RUN
This Play Result = RUN
And the next time? (Image 5)
Wide Receiver Alignment = CHI
Play Result = RUN
In analyzing this 2 x 1 formation, we could argue that the following is a tendency: If it is a 2 x 1 set (remember, forget the TE and the H, they don’t tell us anything), and the solo receiver is inside the numbers, while the outside receiver, to the two-man side, is on the numbers, it is 100% Run (4 out of 4). The slot receiver’s alignment does vary, but that does not indicate the play type. It is the alignment by the solo WR and the outside WR that gives us the information we want.
Later in the game:
Solo WR is inside #’s – Outside to field is on #’s
Play Result = RUN (5 of 5)
Even later in the game: (It is 3rd and 6, but Alabama had been gashing them with the run)
Solo is inside the #’s – Outside to Field is INSIDE the #’s
Play Result = Pass
In using Image 7, we are further narrowing down who is the tendency receiver out of a 2 x 1 formation. The outside receiver to the two-receiver side is the key. If he is on the numbers, it is 100% run (5 of 5), if he is inside the numbers, it is 100% pass (2 of 2). Even though we have seven plays to base our tendency off of (all in the first half), what happened later in the game?
Outside to two-receiver side is inside the numbers, tendency says pass
They passed (3 of 3)
Alignment starts with him on the numbers. RCODE says RUN
They motioned him inside the numbers. RCODE says PASS
They passed (4 of 4)
In conclusion, it does take quite a bit of time to go through every single play and label the RCODE. I did not re-watch every single play of this game, but I would be quite confident stating that Alabama had a substantial tendency. I do not know if Clemson had identified it when they played them, but anyone who reads this article will definitely look for it the next time they watch Alabama. If you are curious how Hudl sorts RCODE data, it ends up looking like something similar to this:
As a result, we are working on developing a simple program that will sort the data for you and we will let everyone know when it is available. Before the season starts, take one of your opponents from last year, pick a formation and RCODE them. I’m sure you will find something you didn’t even know was there. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org