Breaking Down the Biggest Plays of NFL Week 1
NFL Week 1 is officially in the books—and on film, more importantly. As NFL players and coaches say, "The eye in the sky don't lie." Breaking down film is the best way to understand what really happened on the plays that change the course of games.
Let's take a look at three of Week 1's most critical, interesting and important plays. We'll see who should get the credit—and who should get the blame.
Brandon Weeden's Game-Losing Interception
After Mike Vick led the Eagles to a go-ahead touchdown, a beleaguered, thrice-intercepted Weeden had one minute and 12 seconds to cover enough of the 70 yards between him and the end zone to bring out the field-goal unit.
Instead, on the very first play, he threw it to Eagles safety Kurt Coleman:
Weeden's taken a lot of heat in the aftermath, but he got the hard part right: the pre-snap read.
Weeden sees that safety Nate Allen, boxed in blue, has snuck up towards the line. He sees the other safety, Kurt Coleman, playing a deep zone on his left. To the right, receiver Mohamed Massaquoi is about to run a deep in-route, attacking the space Allen vacated.
If Weeden hits Massaquoi behind Allen but ahead of Coleman, it'll go for a long gain. But he made two critical mistakes. First, he stares Massaquoi down after deciding to throw it to him, giving Coleman every opportunity to cheat over and make the play. Second, Weeden freaking airmails it:
Looking off the defense can be taught, and Weeden is a gifted enough thrower that his accuracy can improve. The part you either have or don't—the ability to read a defense and make a good decision quickly—Weeden's got.
Randy Moss Walks Through the Packers' Defense for an Historic Touchdown
Moss didn't waste a chance to move into sole possession of second place in the all-time receiving touchdown list. In his first game as a 49er, Moss slipped through a discombobulated Packers defense for one of the easiest of his 154 scores:
This has almost nothing to do with Moss himself and everything to do with the Packers miscommunicating. Here's the Packers' initial set, a 3-3-5 nickel:
The 49ers send tight end Delanie Walker in motion, and linebacker D.J. Smith follows, revealing the coverage to be either man-to-man or matchup zone:
Here's where things get tricky. All three players circled in yellow are yelling and gesturing, trying to decide what each other should do. Charles Woodson, circled in red, motions for cornerback Sam Shields to backpedal into a deep zone.
The key is No. 42, Morgan Burnett. As the big red question mark indicates, it's unclear what Burnett is doing or thinks he should be doing. Shields complies, and Woodson slides over from his slot position (over Randy Moss) to a short zone on the outside:
Burnett sneaks way up, getting right into Woodson's hip pocket. At the snap, Smith covers Walker as it looked like he meant to do all along. As Woodson slides over to play the short zone, Burnett lets Moss run right past. Burnett then steps up to double-cover the tight end, Walker:
At that point, it's too late. Nobody can recover quickly enough; the instant Burnett bites down on the tight end, Smith lets fly, and Moss just has to not drop it.
Robert Griffin III Hits Pierre Garcon for an 88-Yard Touchdown
Griffin's first six passes were low-risk, surgical strikes designed to give him the maximum amount of early success. Then, he unleashed pass No. 7:
The Saints dared Griffin to make this throw. First, they lined up in a base 4-3, with strong safety Roman Harper playing center field in a Cover 1 zone and free safety Malcolm Jenkins sneaking up into the box to blitz:
Tight end Fred Davis has motioned over to the right side, in front of fellow tight end Niles Paul. At the snap, Davis joins the offensive line in zone run-blocking to the right. Paul moves as though he's going to seal the back side by blocking the blitzing Jenkins.
Griffin unleashes his outstanding play fake, drawing all eight men in the box to the (fake) point of attack:
Paul actually doesn't block Jenkins; he releases into the flat as an outlet receiver. As Griffin sets up, he sees he has a fraction of a second to get rid of the ball before he gets drilled. The good news is, he has somebody to throw to:
Garcon, at the top of the screen, is cutting inside of defensive back Corey White, and White's allowing it. White's job here is to funnel Garcon inside towards the safety help. Unfortunately, the safety Harper can't help much:
It's tough to see from the TV film, but Harper isn't in great position to begin with, and Josh Morgan, the other wide receiver, gets a partial block on Harper. Patrick Robinson, the cornerback covering Morgan, manages to turn himself around to give chase, but Garcon is already off to the races.
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