The Stretch play:
How does the stretch play work?
Basically, it involves the offensive lineman running toward the sideline, parallel to the line of scrimmage. The more the offense runs laterally to the perimeter, the more the defense gets stretched and the more the gaps grow.
It also prohibits defensive players from getting their shoulders square to the ball because they're running sideways, making it harder to react to a cutback. For the Steelers, that is a particular problem because they are accustomed to playing a two-gap style in which their shoulders are square to the line of scrimmage and they read and react to the run.
"We want to stay square," said backup nose tackle Chris Hoke. "When they try to run, we're trying to shuffle and stay square. It's tough."
Ideally, as the flow moves toward the sideline, the offense wants to use the backside guard to cut-block the nose tackle and the backside tackle to cut the defensive end.
For example, on Foster's 42-yard touchdown that gave the Texans a 17-10 victory, nose tackle Casey Hampton and defensive end Aaron Smith were cut to the ground by right guard Mike Brisiel and right tackle Eric Winston, respectively, creating the backside opening that Foster needed when he cut back to the right. That left outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley as the lone defender on that side, and he got caught too far upfield and missed the tackle.
And, against the stretch, if one guy gets out of position, it can create a gap as wide as the Ohio River.
"A lot of times, we sometimes are too aggressive, we over-run the play, and they cut it back on us," said inside linebacker James Farrior, who got blocked by tight end Owen Daniels on the touchdown run. "Sometimes guys can cut off on the backside, a lot of times they're fitting in a lot of holes. If the running back is patient, he'll eventually try to find a hole and that's what they've been doing to us."
Looking for a sure bet? Expect the Steelers to see the play today against the Titans and Chris Johnson, another cutback runner who is probably the fastest running back in the league.
"Obviously, it's a play that can be stopped because, if not, everyone would run it," said safety Ryan Clark. "When you play teams where that's what they do, they're going to stick with their plays. That's the system they have. They didn't put it in to play against us."
It only seems that way.
"As long as we stay gap-sound, technique-sound and learn from the mistakes we had, we'll be OK," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "We're going to get it until we stop it."
That's what Bill Cowher used to say, too.