The pick play is a move most frequently used in basketball. It is an extremely accepted and encouraged tactic to hopefully get your team two or three points. This game tactic on the court is also legal.
In football however, a pick is illegal.
The NFL defines the move as such (Rule 8, Section 5, Article 2):
Acts that are pass interference include, but are not limited to:
(e) Cutting off the path of an opponent by making contact with him, without playing the ball.
It is a play that is very difficult for referees to recognize because they are usually disguised as incidental contact by a receiver just running his route. And even on film, it often looks like the cornerback was beat and much of the criticism falls to him.
This type of play happened a number of times in Sunday's game home against the Chargers – how many is up for debate.
In the first quarter, San Diego's second play from scrimmage had WRs Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd and Eddie Royal lined up on the left side, Royal in the slot and Floyd between the two. CB Stephon Gilmore was covering Allen; CB Nickell Robey on Floyd; and CB Leodis McKelvin on Royal.
As soon as the ball is snapped to QB Phillip Rivers in shotgun, he looked left to his receivers. Royal runs an in-route away from the play, Allen runs diagonally to his right and brings Gilmore with him and collides with Robey who is trying to cover Floyd. Upon the snap, Floyd runs forward, cuts to the left to let Robey get caught up in Allen and Gilmore, then heads up the sideline where he catches the ball for a 49-yard gain.
Five plays later, San Diego scores the first touchdown of the game.
In the third quarter, with the Chargers at Buffalo's five-yard line, the play is to Royal who is lined up to the left on the outside of TE Antonio Gates. With Rivers in shotgun again, the ball is snapped and Gates, who runs straight out, impedes the path of S Aaron Williams covering Royal who runs another in-route. Rivers makes the pass but it is too little too late for Buffalo: another Chargers touchdown.
One solution in situations like this, according to Bills players, is to go over the top of the pick, or behind it. By looping over the top of the pick a defensive back can often keep the receiver in front of him and limit the gain. If they try to follow the receiver underneath a pick they'll be trailing from the beginning and then it becomes a foot race.
Making the officials aware of it never hurts either, though it's a judgment call for them.
"If you're the guy who is getting picked or if you got knocked off your guy or something like that, you would make sure the ref knows," CB Corey Graham said of the plays from Sunday. "You might want to be like 'Hey, they're doing pick plays' or something like that. But sometimes the receivers do such a good job of it that it doesn't even look like a pick, it looks like a route. It's tough on the refs. If they see it, they'll call it, but it's a tough play. And as a defender you've got to find a way to get through it."
Another solution is to run your own rub play with your own offense, another term to describe this type of scheme. Head coach Doug Marrone says that the offense has its own rub plays, but that they cannot execute them as well, something they are continuing to work on with their young receiving corps.
A common theme when talking to various members of the Bills' secondary was that the onus of such plays tends to fall on the defender, pointing to the league's offensive minded approach.
"The pick routes really did hurt us early in the game and you try to find a communication between you and the ref to see what he can call and what he cannot call as far as the receiver going to a guy or is he going to do a route, or is he trying to pick us," said Aaron Williams.
So now the Bills are preparing to go on the road against Houston, who will be watching film and see these pick plays by San Diego. But the Bills' younger DBs will be ready moving forward with guidance from the vets.
"It's not the first time we've ever gone against a pick play," Graham said. "It's been going on for a long time in this league, it's nothing new. As a defender you have to adjust to it. If you don't want to be picked, back up. You don't have to press every play. We adjust to it. It's not something that you worry about the refs too much with it. Just get over the top and cover your guy."
Photos of the week 3 matchup between the Bills and the Cargers at Ralph Wilson Stadium.