The NFL conference championship games Sunday saw a whole lot of flea-flicker passes, where the quarterback hands off to a running back, receives a toss back and then throws the ball downfield. The latest in the series of flea flickers comes from the Minnesota Vikings-Philadelphia Eagles NFC championship game, where Nick Foles handed the ball to Corey Clement, got it back and hit wide receiver Torrey Smith deep for a 41-yard touchdown (seen above):
— ⓂarcusD (@_MarcusD2_) January 22, 2018
But that was only one of the flea flickers successfully run Sunday. In the earlier AFC championship game, the Jacksonville Jaguars had a great one, with T.J. Yeldon flipping it to Blake Bortles, who rolled out amidst pressure and hit Allen Hurns for a first down:
It's a @Jaguars FLEA FLICKER.
— NFL (@NFL) January 21, 2018
Not to be outdone, the New England Patriots pulled one off later in that game, with James White tossing the ball back to Tom Brady to set up a long sideline pass to Phillip Dorsett:
Oh heyyyyy @Dorsett_4!
FLEA FLICKER! pic.twitter.com/HCxmyJ0lJT
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) January 21, 2018
The Patriots’ and Eagles’ flea flickers show how the play can work at its best, especially when it pulls cornerbacks up to defend what they think is a run, leaving openings for big plays down the field. To make that work, though, you need excellent blocking for the quarterback in the pocket to allow a longer-developing play like this to come to fruition. The Jaguars’ play had more issues on that front, as a defender was crashing down on Bortles by the time he got the ball back, forcing him to roll outside the pocket. However, his mobility kept it from being a sack, and he made a nice throw on the run to find Hurns between two defenders. That gave Jacksonville a first down, so the play certainly still worked out.
There are plenty of risks that go into running a flea flicker. If the defense doesn’t bite on it, you don’t get the downfield openings, and you frequently take a big sack thanks to how long it takes for the play to come together. And that’s before you consider anything going catastrophically wrong with the toss back, which can easily lead to a fumble or a ball knocked loose. But on Sunday, three different offensive coordinators elected to roll the dice with this kind of play, and it worked out for all of them. That might lead to it being seen more often. At the very least, it should lead to someone updating the Wikipedia entry for notable examples.