Cole Beasley: An offensive coordinator and quarterback’s best friend

03/19/2019
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Prior to signing with the Buffalo Bills, wide receiver Cole Beasley popped in quarterback Josh Allen’s film and came away impressed. “You can tell what a guy’s about by watching him play,” stated Beasley. “I’ve seen clips of him. I’ve seen him do things with his legs and the way he throws the ball.” Allen’s competitive nature and natural athleticism shined in his rookie campaign, and it was one of the major selling points for Beasley to sign with the Bills over the likes of New England and Dallas. Putting the two on the same field together should take the Bills’ offense to new levels.

Slot receivers like Beasley can do a ton for an offense. Their alignment and motion can really dictate or reveal coverages on every snap, and that’s something that you will see in every film clip. Having a player like Beasley in the offense will create layup plays for Allen.

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Beasley stated “I just want to come here and help him (Allen) as much as I can,” and as you will see, his skills will undoubtedly help Allen in year two. So let’s take a look at how a 29-year-old, 5-foot-8, 180-pound slot receiver will help the Bills’ upstart QB.

Offensive Packages

Weakside Option

Adding a shifty slot receiver with Beasley’s suddenness allows second-year offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to add more wrinkles into his playbook. One of these wrinkles will likely be the weakside option package out of his beloved empty set formation. Upon Allen’s return from his elbow injury in week 12, Daboll had Allen drop back the second-most often of any QB in the NFL out of the empty formation. This formation really maximized the mobility and arm talent of the Wyoming product. Allen dropped back 65 times, attempted 53 passes, and completed 29 passes for 409 yards (fourth-most) and two touchdowns. But his 54.7% completion percentage was second-to-last among guys with 20 pass attempts out of empty, so getting some ‘layups’ for Allen out of this package can only help the Bills. Enter Cole Beasley. The weakside option package has been a part of the Cowboys’ playbook ever since Beasley entered the slot role into their offense. It’s a simple concept that steals yardage for the offense, and something that Daboll dabbled with when WR Isaiah McKenzie worked his way into the lineup the second half of last season.

The concept in 2019 will put Beasley in the weakside slot of the empty formation, and based on the defender’s leverage or the coverage shell, Beasley will run a curl, slant, or out pattern. This is a common area of attack by offenses because most of the attention versus empty is how to defend the trips side. So there are only so many things you can do to defend the weak side.

Empty formation weak side option

 

In the graphic above and play below, you see the offense in 12 personnel, (1 RB, 2 TEs) with the defense in a nickel two-high look. The nickel corner travels to the passing strength, the trips side, which puts a linebacker against Beasley to the weak side, though the LB is a very good one in All-Pro Darius Leonard. Beasley has a bevy of releases at the line of scrimmage, especially if it is man coverage. Due to Leonard’s inside leverage and apparent man coverage, Beasley will be running the out route. Beasley uses a skip release, gets into Leonard’s kitchen, and accelerates towards the sideline. Easy pitch and catch for QB Dak Prescott and Beasley.

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On this play, the Bears shift from a two-high look into a one-high robber play, so Beasley changes up the route stem ever so slightly. The defender is playing with outside leverage, so he takes the route stem inside, gets him to open his hips to the field, then bursts back outside. With the outside corner in man coverage, Beasley has a lot of room to work with, so he is able to convert the first down.

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With the addition of John Brown to the offense, the Bills now have two of the top five average depth of target receivers in the NFL, so teams will likely try to play a lot of quarters coverage to prevent big plays.

This will give Beasley the opportunity to work the underneath stuff, like he does here. Here you see a soft corner and deep half-field safety, with the slot corner playing inside leverage against the wideout. This is easy pickings for Beasley, and he is able to get yardage after the catch to pick up the first down.

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Now if the defense shows a two-high look with a squat corner and inside leverage by the linebacker, Beasley will run the curl route and find the best window for his QB.

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If the defense wants to sit in man coverage with two safeties over the top, then Beasley has the tools to beat 1-on-1 coverage. On the snap, the corner takes inside leverage and goes into a trail technique. Beasley uses a ‘stacked bam’ step to uncover for his QB. This type of ability to get open versus man coverage for Allen will be a welcome sight in 2019, especially because at this point in his career, he generally needs to see his guy open before he throws it.

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And just for fun, how about running it with Beasley in the backfield? He runs a mighty fine Texas route here versus the Eagles.

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If this offensive package interests you, here is the full reel of plays that the Cowboys used in their offense to get Beasley the ball on weakside option passes.

Flood Concept

One concept that I thought would have been a major asset to the young QB in 2018 was the flood concept. This is a three-level passing concept that Allen mastered at Wyoming, but the Bills’ offense failed to make it a staple in 2018, not for a lack of trying, but mainly due to the lack of talent to really make all three levels of the concept a threat.

Beasley is going to open up this concept in several ways. He can run the ‘under’ route in the short area with the best of them because, as Beane stated, “he doesn’t give away to the defender which way he’s going.” Beasley can get open with his quickness or his route running, which is a dangerous combination.

The Flood concept

 

If the defense concedes the underneath stuff, Allen will be able to hit him and allow him to do his work after the catch. And as you will see, it doesn’t matter if it is man or zone coverage; Beasley will beat it. He knows how to attack the leverage of defenders with his eyes, change of direction, and suddenness.

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But the reason that Allen excelled in this concept in college was because he has the arm to hit any level of the concept, including the intermediate or second level of the throw.

He just needs a receiver that he trusts to get open in that area. Beasley has shown that he can be his quarterback’s best friend in this concept.

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Mesh Concept

Offensive coordinator Daboll dialed up some of the prettiest deep crossing route concepts in the NFL last season. Robert Foster, Isaiah McKenzie, and Zay Jones all had their opportunities to reap the benefits of these well-designed plays. In 2019, Daboll will be able to run a similar combination, but into the short and intermediate areas of the field, two areas where Allen needs to improve his ball placement. Beasley’s ability to get open and get open early should help Allen complete passes into these quadrants at a higher frequency.

This concept is difficult to defend because if it is a single-high zone coverage, it can stretch the coverage horizontally. If it is man coverage, the mesh element paired with Beasley’s suddenness gets him open easily. In Beane’s free agency press conference, he stated “[Beasley’s] separation quicks were higher than any of the receivers that we did,” and we see that here.

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In the Clutch

But where Beasley may truly become Allen’s crutch is when the QB is blitzed or on third downs. Far too often in 2018, we saw Allen have no outlet to throw the ball to when teams blitzed him. His hot route or sight adjustment was rarely open, so he simply tucked it and ran. It was a blessing in a way because that dictated defenses’ play calls, but that’s not sustainable. The 29-year-old receiver has the experience needed to recognize defenses, know when blitzes are coming, and make himself available to his QB. Below, you will see Beasley’s statistics when his QB was blitzed and how effective he was. While he didn’t have the average depth of target as others around the league, he caught passes at a higher percentage than most.

Courtesy of SportsInfo Solutions.

On third downs over the last three seasons, Beasley has been amazing. He was targeted 76 times and hauled in 74% of those passes, averaging 8.41 yards per target and converting those receptions into first downs 70.5% of the time from the slot position. He has an uncanny ability to get open and get yardage after the catch, and that’s what led GM Beane to say that Beasley is a “dependable guy on third down, you saw Dak [Prescott] going to him a lot on what I call the money downs. That’s a quarterback’s best friend.”

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Adding Beasley to a speedy receiving corps like the Bills’ really adds a whole new dimension to the offense. The team has two legitimate deep threats in Robert Foster and John Brown who will garner attention from both safeties. This will allow Beasley to do his dirty work underneath. In order to get him the ball, Daboll will need to incorporate or augment the playbook. Getting Beasley the ball on weakside option routes, flood concepts, and mesh looks will help Allen improve upon his lowly 52.8% completion percentage. The concepts, paired with Beasley’s ability to quickly get into his routes and separate early and often with his physical skills, will also cater to Allen’s mental processing going into his second season. The separation garnered in the short and intermediate areas by Beasley will give Allen peace of mind and allow him to trust his eyes so that he pulls the trigger at a faster pace than he did in 2018. Having a security blanket, a guy that Allen can trust to go to in high-pressure situations, will assuredly foster his growth into what fans hope to be their franchise quarterback for years to come.

 

 

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