If you watched the playoff game between the Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers, you no doubt saw a disproportionate number of neutral zone infractions by the Chargers – seven jumps, and the Broncos caught five of them for a penalty. How did this happen? This is an NFL defense we're talking about – highly trained and disciplined professionals. And, on two key third downs!
Rather than a lack of discipline on the Charger's part, this was more of a phenomenal display of snap count mastery by Peyton Manning.
Typically, offenses have alert calls for when the play clock is running low to let the line know to snap the ball on the next sound. A standard is “Omaha” repeated twice. Ie: “Omaha... Omaha... set”. “Hurry” is also commonly used. Of course, defenses also know this and sometimes key it to get a jump on the pass rush.
What happened Sunday, was Manning using dummy alert calls to get the Chargers to jump offsides.
The sequence went something like this:
“Black 42... black 42... set... hut!” ← hard count trying to get them to show what defense they were in.
… Manning calls an audible, formation shifts around, etc.
… Play clock goes under 10 seconds
… “Omaha... Omaha... set!"
… Defense jumps off sides... first down Broncos.
Throwing in the dummy alert calls also helped to take some of the defense's aggressiveness away and keeps them off balance and guessing the entire game. This is an excellent tactic you can use with your team to try and pick up some easy yardage. And as you know... In football, it's all about gaining those slight edges.
Good luck out there!