After a week off, I’m back in action with another Concept Wednesday. This week it’s Nebraska’s Mesh concept. Or as some like to call it and the name portends, those crossing routes. Mesh has been a Riley/Langsdorf passing game staple since they arrived in Lincoln. Oddly enough though, it hadn’t made many appearances in 2017.
With Tanner Lee struggling with his decision making early in the season, that changed against Illinois as the Husker coaches looked to get him easy, short throws. Mesh came through in the clutch when Nebraska needed it against Illinois, and they also featured it against Wisconsin twice for 21 yards.
What It Is
Much is made of the Riley/Langsdorf offense being “West Coast,” but Mesh is actually, gasp, an Air Raid core concept that works equally well against man defenses because of the natural “mesh” and zone because of the stretch on the flat defenders and the number of receivers who can stop in between underneath defenders zoning off. Here’s what it looks like on the chalkboard:
The concept’s name comes from the crossing routes, in this case Stanley Morgan and Connor Ketter “meshing” together in the middle. If run properly, the tight end aims for a middle defender hoping to pick him to free Morgan running just off the tight end’s underneath shoulder. This is where the concept attacks both man and zone coverage. If zone, the tight end picks a linebacker. If man, the tight end picks the corner dragging across the field with Morgan.
This version of Mesh is a trips concept after motion brings DeMornay Pierson-El into the bunch. It’s commonly called “China” because of the corner route from DPE and the immediate flat route from Tyler Hoppes, a combination which vertically stretches the CB to that side. Here is what it looks like on the field:
On this play, Illinois is in man coverage, and the mesh creates so much traffic that Ketter doesn’t even need to pick the CB covering Morgan because the defender covering Ketter does it for the Huskers.
This is a top-to-bottom read for Lee based on the CB over DPE. If he carries DPE vertically, the next read is the H-back, in this case Hoppes, moving to the flat. Because the CB sinks in man coverage on DPE, Hoppes should be open. Indeed, in this clip he is wide open and the ball certainly could have been out to him in the open field.
After the flat read, the next read is the Mesh receiver coming into the area behind the flat route. In this play, it’s Stanley Morgan. Theoretically, if the flat defender has moved out to cover the H-back, this should open up as well. With the linebacker chasing Hoppes, it does and Ketter’s pick on another linebacker plus all the traffic in the middle opens up a hole for Morgan.
From there, it’s all Officer Stan laying down the stiff arm with a little late help from Hoppes blocking his man to clear up the end zone. That’s about as well as Mesh can work.
Why It Works
Mesh is an easy-to-install concept that makes things simple on the QB. Most often it’s a short rhythm throw, and it also allows the QB to make only a half field read rather than having to scan the entire width of the field. If the QB gets to the backside of the play, it’s to check the ball down to the back. Perhaps most importantly, Mesh gives the QB an answer to both zone and man coverage, so there is rarely a need to audible out of it based on the initial coverage shell.
There are some drawbacks too though. One, because the Mesh takes some time, it’s not a great concept against blitzes or if your offensive line can’t block their front four. If the defense gets immediate pressure, suddenly you’re left with a QB throwing the ball in the middle of the field in a lot of traffic. That doesn’t usually end well for the offense.
Also, if the other team’s linebackers are proficient at passing off the inside routes, the Mesh can get locked down, or even worse, completely disrupted by linebackers knocking the Mesh routes off their lines. For example, this happened a couple of times against Wisconsin on Mesh:
Wisconsin does a brilliant job of handling the inside Mesh concept from Nebraska’s tight ends. Lee reads the vertical pre-snap to know it’s not there. He next works to the speed out from Spielman, which takes the place of the H-Back’s flat route in the Illinois China Mesh concept above. But Spielman is covered too. Lee comes back to the first Mesh route, but the tight end has been knocked so far off his route by Wisconsin’s LB that he’s actually behind the line of scrimmage when he catches it. And of course, because the tight end’s route took so long to develop after being knocked back, another LB lays down a big hit because he’s already read the play.
Does It Work With Nebraska’s Personnel?
Mesh has been a great concept for Nebraska in 2015 and 2016, but with a few exceptions, I’m not sure it’s a great one for Nebraska in 2017. One, as I discussed yesterday in the Charting Checkup, Nebraska’s tight ends are struggling blocking, and so Langsdorf is using fewer two tight end sets. Though you can run Mesh with a tight end and a wide receiver, it takes longer to run because the wide receiver is coming from farther away from the mesh point. Two, Nebraska’s tight ends aren’t the most physical group, so even if they go 11 personnel with one tight end instead of two, that tight end frequently gets bumped off his route. Three, because Nebraska had so much success with it last year featuring Brandon Reilly, the better teams have heavily scouted for it. You’re not fooling Wisconsin, Ohio State or Penn State with the concept, and that often leads to big hits like the one above.
That said, against defenses that do like to play man coverage like Illinois did above, it can still be a nice weapon because of the natural pick. In my opinion, Nebraska’s best option is to run the Mesh concept involving an outside receiver and the tight end, which should put Stanley Morgan or Tyjon Lindsey in a lot of open space.
With the bye week upon us, my plan is to get a couple more posts up over the next week. One will likely feature a look at the Scott Frost offense. No, I’m not ready to advocate for Frost as our head coach if the job becomes available. But I’ve long liked Oregon’s offense, and with Frost being an extension of that tree, I’d like to see what he’s doing to put up the yardage he’s been getting. I’ll probably have another piece on Nebraska’s defensive pressure packages, though if you tuned into the Ohio State game, there probably won’t by any clips from that one because it seems we rushed 3 linemen all night with a spy behind them. Finally, we’ll be back with Concept Wednesday a week from now as well.