If you have been keeping up to date with Lane Kiffin’s press conferences and his features on Fox Sports: “Lane Kiffin Football USC Weekly,” you have heard Kiffin refer to the “Robert Woods Effect.” This post will take an in depth look at the Robert Woods Effect and show examples of it in play.
What is the Robert Woods Effect?
Simply put, the Robert Woods effect is when the defense keys so much onto Robert Woods that it opens plays up for other players. Defensive schemes will often double or even triple team Woods, causing other players to be uncovered. Sometimes this happens intentionally and other times the defensive coverage simply breaks down due to Woods being on the field. USC takes advantage of this by directly utilizing the Robert Woods Effect in their offensive scheme.
How to use the Robert Woods Effect?
One simple way to use the Robert Woods Effect is to line other players near Woods or have them run complimentary routes. Simply being near Woods often means that there is little risk of safety support taking away the route since the safety is likely keying in on Woods.
However, USC has started to expand on the Robert Woods effect by lining him up all over the field. This isn’t an entirely new concept. Damian Williams was well noted in his versatility by being able to play all three wide receiver spots. This is useful because it forces the defense to constantly adjust and it can often cause mismatches. However, Lane Kiffin and Robert Woods have taken this a step further by lining up Robert Woods virtually anywhere on the field.
Take the latest USC game against Arizona. I re-watched the game and noted the positions that Robert Woods lined up in. [As a disclaimer, I am no expert in identifying the technical aspects of noting specific wide receiver positions, but these should still be fairly close. They should be accurate enough for the purposes of this discussion.] Out of the 55 plays that Robert Woods was in, he lined up at split end 20 times (36%), in the slot 11 times (20%), and as a flanker 16 times (29%). Even more interestingly, Woods also lined up as a tight end six times (11%), a fullback once (2%), and a running back once (2%).
Let us look at some examples of how Woods is utilized around the field and how the scheme is built.
Setting up the Robert Woods Effect – Woods as a Receiver
First, let us look at how Woods is used as a WR with the ball in his hands. This is his natural position and where he spent 85% of his plays against Arizona. By getting the ball into Woods hands consistently and explosively, it causes the defense to key in on him which sets up the Robert Woods Effect. This is USC’s first offensive play of the game against Arizona and it was a Bubble Screen to the left to Robert Woods.
In this specific play, USC was in Shotgun with four WRs and a RB. This particular Bubble Screen also used play action to draw the defense in and hopefully cause the safeties to hesitate. The offensive line showed a power run with a pulling tackle. The WR to the right also sells the play action by blocking for the run as well. The play action allowed for the WRs on the left to get further down field for their blocks on the bubble screen.
Someone like Woods is great for the Bubble Screen. He is a great receiver in space and can make defenders miss their open field tackles. He can also utilize his speed very effectively. With two other WRs blocking for him, Woods was able to take this screen for a gain of nine, which is a respectable gain given the low risk of this type of play.
Now let us look at the very next play against Arizona. This play was another screen to Robert Woods, but this time on more of a swing pass.
USC is again in the Shotgun formation. This time, they have three WRs, a RB, and a TE. Robert Woods initially starts out on the left, but motions across the formation prior to the snap. The ball is snapped with Woods still in motion, giving him good lateral speed on the defense. Similar to the previous play, USC does play action to draw the defenders away from the actual play. Again, USC has two WR blockers ahead of Woods. This time, Woods is able to make a corner and a safety miss their tackles and easily wins a foot race against a trailing defensive end whom was unblocked the entire time. The result: an 82 yard touchdown for USC. Again, this play works due to Woods’ speed and ability to make defenders miss their tackles.
Click here for a video of the touchdown play. It should be the first play that shows.
Woods as a Decoy – the “Robert Woods Effect”
Woods has been utilized multiple times this season as a decoy, to great success. USC is able to use Woods as a decoy because of his success with the ball in his hands. Let us take a look at a touchdown pass to Marqise Lee late in the first quarter against Arizona.
Here, USC is in shotgun yet again. This time there are two tight ends and two wide receivers. Robert Woods is lined up on the outside and Marqise Lee is lined up on the inside. Marc Tyler is lined up at Running Back on the strong side of Barkley. Prior to the snap, the flexing Tight End, Rhett Ellison, motions across the formation to the far sideline. This stretches out the cornerback on the defense. At the snap, Barkley does a quick play action fake to Marc Tyler before Tyler begins to pass block.
Rhett Ellison and Marqise Lee both run go routes. Robert Woods runs about 10 yards down the line then cuts in on a post. This route draws the linebacker and both safeties. The cornerback is the only defender on the left side of the field and has to cover both Rhett Ellison and Marqise Lee. He chooses to take the sideline route away from Rhett Ellison, assuming that the free safety would come in on Marqise Lee. Instead, the safety is covering Woods on the post. This leaves Marqise Lee wide open for an easy touchdown pass.
Click here for a video of the decoy Woods touchdown play. Notice the cornerback raise his hands towards the safety after the catch was made, as if asking him “what the hell?” in the blown coverage. This one looks like it falls on the safety, who got too caught up covering Robert Woods.
Now let us look at another play where Robert Woods is used as a decoy. This play was a touchdown run halfway through the 3rd quarter against Arizona State.
In this play, USC is lined up in a Weak Offset I-Formation. Robert Woods is lined up as the Fullback. The play itself is fairly a straight forward sweep run to the weak side. The wide receivers are lined up in twins on the weak side and run block for Marc Tyler. The offensive line does fairly straight forward blocking as well. The Tight End goes out for an intermediate level pass route as a decoy threat of play action.
The interesting thing is what Robert Woods does on this play. He moves across the formation away from the play side. His role is to block the backside of the play, prevent any defenders from catching Tyler from behind. In this case, it is the blitzing linebacker.
Robert Woods is also a decoy. Prior to the snap, he stands straight up and does a superman pose (hands on his hips). He wants to be sure that the defense sees his number and has located him at this odd fullback spot. With all eyes on him, his motion away from the run draws attention and defenders. I have drawn arrows on all the defenders who reacted to Robert Woods motion. The defensive end hesitates on his pass rush and looks to defend or tackle Woods. The blitzing linebacker goes after the quarterback in the case of a play action rollout with Woods in the flat. The middle linebacker and two defensive backs start running across the formation away from the run at the sight of Woods motioning across. With all the defenders past the first level except for one clearing the play side of the field, Marc Tyler runs in for a touchdown without anyone even threatening to stop him.
Now let us take a look at a complementary play to the previous play. This play was in the middle of the 2nd quarter against Arizona.
In this play, USC is lined up in a Strong Offset I-formation. Robert Woods lines up as the Fullback in this formation, just like the previous play. The slot receiver motions closer in prior to the snap before running about an 8-10 yard out route. The split end receiver runs a simple go route. At the snap of the ball, Barkley does a quick play action to the running back before the running back goes off into the left flats. At the same time, the left tackle and left guard both pull as if they are setting up a screen to the left. Robert Woods moves in the opposite direction as he looks to cut block the unblocked defensive end, similar to the previous play. This causes the defensive end to hesitate in his pass rush. Just prior to making contact with the defensive end, Woods breaks from the block and goes out into the right flats. By this point, Barkley has finished his play action and is rolling out towards the right. The Tight End is running a shallow in route across the formation, probably about 5-6 yards deep. He should generally be in line with Robert Woods in the flat, creating a high-low read for Barkley. This area might have already been cleared out by the slot receiver and split end’s routes earlier.
The movement of Robert Woods caught the attention of many defenders, including the safety. This left the split end in one on one coverage with a slower cornerback. The split end was able to get a couple steps on the corner, so Barkley fired the ball to the endzone. Unfortunately, the ball was underthrown, causing the WR to have to slow down significantly. The corner ran into him attempting to defend the pass and drew a pass interference call in what should have been a touchdown.
This type of play action rollout with a fullback in the flats has been used at USC for years. It is also what ASU was so worried about defending in the previous play, which is why the run for Marc Tyler was so easy. Arizona also keyed on it too in this play, opening up the go route as it brought the safety down. The fact that this play is often used by USC is compounded by the fact that USC lined Robert Woods up at the fullback spot, drawing the attention to him.
USC utilizes Robert Woods in many ways. They line him up all over the field. They create mismatches. These mismatches open Robert Woods up for record breaking performances. But that’s not all. These performances cause defenses to completely adjust their schemes to account for Robert Woods. This allows USC to use Robert Woods not only as a weapon, but as a decoy as well. He simply opens up the game for everyone else, yet still manages to be effective himself due to his tremendous athletic abilities. This dual threat is what makes him effective and dangerous. Simply put…
…this is the Robert Woods Effect.