Behind the Playbook: The “Leak” Concept

In year two as the offensive play caller, Arthur Smith is off to a fantastic start. The Titans rank 9th in overall offensive DVOA and 2nd in passing DVOA, a metric from Football Outsiders that looks at team offensive efficiency. In terms of spacing and play design, Arthur Smith looks much more effective and seems to have found his own style to a lot of concepts. He has been scheming receivers open and finding ways to spread the ball around.

We can especially see this development on the first drive of the game against the Jaguars, where the play calls are often scripted. Last week, we saw that Coach Smith really wanted to get Corey Davis involved in the offense. This week it was Jonnu Smith. Right out the gate, Ryan Tannehill threw a 63-yard bomb down the field to Jonnu, which was Tannehill’s long pass and the Titans most explosive play so far this season. This explosive play came on a leak concept passing play.

This week I wanted to break down exactly what a leak concept is and why it has become a staple in the Shanahanian tree of offensive play callers. Mike Herndon actually broke down this same concept last week in his All-22 Review (make sure to check it out!), but I wanted to dive in a little deeper to the nuances of this specific play against the Jaguars.

The Film

So, what is a “leak” concept?

The concept is pretty self explanatory. It’s called a leak because it usually incorporates a tight end flowing across the line of scrimmage acting like they are blocking, but then literally leaking backside down the field for the pass. Generally, the two wide receivers in the play are running routes away from the “leaking” tight end to clear out that area of the field.

The purpose of the play is to get the defense moving and looking one way, while getting the “leaker” wide open on the opposite side of the field. This play relies on deception and an element of surprise. It is a great complementary play call to the yankee concept because it can look the exact same at first. This next picture below is generally how leak concept passing plays look like.

However, Arthur Smith added in his own wrinkles to add to the deception. This week the Titans had Jonnu Smith line up on the same side he was leaking rather than having him cross the offensive line. Jonnu just acts like he is blocking on the outside zone run for Derrick Henry and then sneaks out for the pass.

So, let’s break this play down step by step. Initially, Tannehill fakes the outside hand off to Derrick Henry. This causes the linebackers to crash down towards the line of scrimmage in efforts to stop the run.

Once the defense realizes that it is a play action pass, they instinctively think Yankee concept with Corey Davis running a deep crosser over the middle. This is one of the staple plays in the Titans offense and one that Arthur Smith used a ton in week one against the Broncos. As a result, the high safety helps over the top on Kalif Raymond, while the linebackers underneath recover back to cover Corey Davis.

With this affinity for Yankee concept plays already on film, Arthur Smith pulls the ultimate deception by having Jonnu leak out on the opposite side of the field. This leaves Jonnu wide open with plenty of space to run.

This new wrinkle of keeping the “leaker” on the same side allows the route to develop more quickly, thus allowing Tannehill to get the ball out quicker. Also, it breaks the natural pattern of the leak concept, preventing defenders from being able to quickly recognize the “leaker” as they cross over from one side of the field to the other.

If you look at the last couple of pictures, notice how many different directions that Arthur Smith has the linebackers moving. This level of misdirection and manipulation from this play call just shows how much he has developed as a play designer. Early on last season, it felt like Arthur Smith was just surviving and reacting to what opposing defenses threw his way. However, now Coach Smith is not only the aggressor, but it seems like he’s one or two steps ahead.

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