Saturday, June 21, 2014

A Tribute to Johnathan Franklin

To commemorate his brief career, I went back and watched every Franklin carry or reception from Week 3, 2013, where Franklin came out of nowhere and rushed for 103 yards on 13 carries, and caught three passes for 23 yards. Every play is underneath, but first, the verdict:

Based on this game, Franklin had all the makings of a terrific running back. He had excellent speed, and more importantly, he was decisive in the hole and when making his cuts. Nobody ever came close to catching him from the back side on a running play. He was splendid at making people miss; he feinted at George Iloka and ruined him, ran through Reggie Nelson, ran around Vontaze Burfict, dodged Rey Maualuga, slipped Leon Hall in the backfield when Hall had him dead to rights, ran through Domata Peko’s ankle tackle, ran through Iloka again, and I’m sure there’s others I missed. He had an uncanny ability to get low, shoot forward and get extra yardage, even in a huge scrum. He even helped out on blitz pickup and really threw his body around. Fast, instinctive, good vision, had moves, decisive, was able to create on his own when the blocking was poor.

Play #1: 14:12 in Q3, 2-3, shotgun, run off LG for 5. End Michael Johnson is suckered inside by TE Ryan Taylor, lined up tight left, while LG Josh Sitton and LT David Bakhtiari get out in space and seal the linebackers off towards the middle of the field. The thing that stands out immediately is how fast Franklin is. He’s too quick for the backside DT, who was pushing center Evan-Dietrich Smith (EDS) into the backfield, and explodes through a tiny hole between Bakhtiari and Sitton on the second level. He’s brought down by Burfict, but that was really impressive speed.

Play #2: 13:13 in Q3, 1-10, under center, 3 WR-TE-RB, run off RG for 5. An expert double-team by EDS and RG T.J. Lang on the DT opens up a huge hole for Franklin. He probably should have cut outside instead of taking it straight up the field, there was plenty of daylight to the right of that LB, but his speed is such that he’s five yards upfield before Burfict knocks him down.

Play #3: 12:46, 2-5, Shotgun, off RE for 8. Three wides, a TE in the backfield with Franklin. The Bengals have this thing stacked up. Everything’s moving to the right sideline, and the FB is helping with RE Carlos Dunlap, but he’s refusing to be blocked; he’s right in Franklin’s face, blowing the whole thing up. There’s Bengals all over the place, including Domata Peko, who’s just gotten through EDS. So what does Franklin do? He cuts back to the left, avoiding Peko, and shoots ahead through some open space until he’s brought down by the safeties. Dunlap was right in his face, and so was Peko, but Franklin cut back and just weaved his way through for 8.

Play #4: 12:19, shotgun, 1-Goal at the 9, Rodgers pass to Franklin for 7. This is a designed play for the RB. There are two WRs and a TE on the left side, running straight at their defenders, while Franklin curls out behind them for a swing pass. It’s an interesting screen concept, and probably should have scored, but something weird happens. Either Rodgers’s throw comes up short, or more likely, Franklin’s timing is a bit off, because he has to dive backwards to come up with the pass. No matter. He catches it, rolls over, gets up and charges straight for any space in front of him and shoots ahead for 7. He’s just so decisive, and it’s working for him.

Play #5: Why mess with a good thing? Right after #4, 2-2 at the 2, Franklin carry off LT, and it’ll go down in history as an easy TD. Bakhtiari initially gets pushed into the backfield by Johnson, but Franklin has the speed to get around him, and then TE Andrew Quarless and Nelson beyond him (Quarless was tight, Nelson split wide) are dominating their respective blocks. He’s never touched. Bakhtiari recovers eventually to pancake Johnson. In fact, both Quarless and Bakhtiari put their men on the ground.

Play #6: 6:16, 2-5, off LE for 51. Toss left. EDS gets collapsed into the backfield, and Franklin has to dodge him. He gets around that mess and turns upfield, where RG T.J. Lang has pulled to the second level and Barclay blocked down on Dunlap, creating a huge hole. He darts forward, feints to the right and charges upfield. He outruns George Iloka, and Leon Hall only gets to him 51 yards later. That feint made Iloka hesitate, and another dodge got rid of Reggie Nelson in the hole;—he juked to avoid a big hit, then shook off Nelson’s attempted tackle around the legs.

Play #7: 1-Goal at the 6, 6:00 remaining, Franklin off RE for -1 yards. Franklin slips as he tries to cut back on a toss off RE.

Play #8: 3:19 remaining, 1-10, Franklin off LE for 7 from the shotgun, three WR, one TE offset. My goodness, this guy is exciting! There’s nothing doing on the toss off LT—nobody’s getting beat, but nobody’s moving either. So he cuts back to where Lang has walled off a guy to the inside, dodges Peko, cuts behind the block of RODGERS, of all people, who gets taken down in a heap, runs right, cuts upfield, runs through a tackle, and motors ahead for 7. He beat Iloka again.

Play #9: 14:29, 2-3, Rodgers pass short middle to Franklin for 7. Nothing exciting here; Rodgers dumped it off as a check-down and Franklin got a few more yards before the linebackers converged on him.

Play #10: 10:49, 1-10, Franklin RG for 12. Three wides, Quarless in the backfield. It’s a delayed handoff out of the shotgun, and Franklin has the benefit of a huge hole created by a double-team of Lang and EDS on a DT. Dunlap takes himself out of the play and nobody else is close enough. However, Lang doesn’t bounce to the second level, and Quarless misses his block on Burfict, so there’s unblocked linebackers everywhere. Not a problem. Franklin cuts to the right, finds open space and darts upfield, outrunning Burfict, embarrassing Maualuga in the open field by whipping by him, and gets twelve yards through a swarm of Bengals.

Play #11: 10:06, 1-10, up the middle for 3. Same formation. Franklin dodges around an unblocked Leon Hall in the backfield, then darts ahead for 3 off left tackle. Not much room there.

Play #12: 8:48, 3-3, Rodgers passes short left to Franklin out of the shotgun. (He also sells out in blitz pickup on the previous play. Knocks #95 down.) This is another designed flip to Franklin all the way. This time the throw hits him in the body, and he’s going backwards, catches it, turns around, and there’s open space in front of him. Lots of borderline holding by the three WRs blocking on that side, and he is tripped up by a diving Pacman after a 10-yard gain. (Another good blitz pickup by Franklin on another play—he may not have the size or the technique, but man, he’s got heart.)

Play #13: 6:01 left, Franklin left end for 4. Three wides, one TE, Franklin in the backfield. Rodgers turns and hands it to him going left from under center, and Franklin follows Sitton’s block, but when he turns upfield there’s a nightmare mishmash of orange and green. Somehow he gets four yards out of it. He has an uncanny ability to get low and get more yardage where other backs would get stonewalled.

Play #14: 4-1, 4:01 left, run off right guard, fumble, touchdown, death. Three WR, one TE, and the Bengals stack the line. There’s six men there and they all attack the line; there’s NO room inside. Franklin sees it, is running towards right guard, tries to dive, is hit, ball stripped away, ugh ugh ugh. It looked like someone put a helmet on his arm as he was diving and bloop, there went the ball. “A revolting turn of events.”

Play #15: 3:21 remaining, 2-3, shotgun, run up the middle for 5. There’s one hole, created by Sitton, and slices through a tiny opening for five yards before being taken down by a LB.

Play #16: 2:15 remaining, 1-10, shotgun, run for 2. Franklin is smeared by a DT who destroyed EDS in the hole. Promising head of steam, but he got only two.

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