Breaking Down the Biggest Plays of NFL Week 5
Every week, there are plenty of big plays in the NFL. Every game has a highlight reel, an Internet supercut of game-breaking plays, flashy moves and superhuman efforts.
But not every game-changing play has something to teach us about the way the play is drawn up or the players involved play the game. Some plays are more revealing than others—and some change the game more than others.
At the intersection of Interesting Street, Game-Changing Road and Awesomesauce Boulevard, you'll find the Biggest Plays of NFL Week 5.
Reggie Wayne's Incredible One-Handed Grab
Down 14-0 at home, halfway through the second quarter, the Colts were facing 3rd-and-6 from their own 36-yard line. If they failed to score on this drive, they'd likely be handing it back to the Packers to kill off the half. Should the Packers kill off the half with a touchdown drive, they'd likely kill the game.
So quarterback Andrew Luck trusted his veteran wideout, Wayne, to make a play:
What a play it was.
The story of this play is the aggressiveness of the Packers defense and how they tried to force the rookie quarterback into a panic move. Here's the starting alignment:
It's a 2-4-5 nickel, a look often deployed by the Patriots. All three cornerbacks, including Charles Woodson inside, are playing tight man. Safety Jerron McMillian sneaks up into the box and shows blitz, while safety Morgan Burnett plays deep zone.
The Colts are lined up in shotgun, with a single back, tight end and three wide receivers.
After the snap, we see linebacker Dezman Moses man up on tight end Dwayne Allen, and the opposite outside linebacker, Clay Matthews, also covers Allen. This is clever because it takes away Luck's safety valve.
With tight man coverage on all three receivers, five rushers flying upfield, tailback Vick Ballard trying gamely to pick up a blitzer and the only outlet receiver double-covered, Luck has to get rid of it—without throwing a pick—or take a sack.
Let's be clear here: Reggie Wayne is not open. Charles Woodson is all over him; Woodson even got flagged for pass interference. But Luck put this ball exactly where he had to: where Wayne, and nobody else, had a chance at it.
Kirk Cousins Does his Understudy Duty
With franchise rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III dazed and confused on the sidelines, backup rookie quarterback Kirk Cousins had an incredibly tough task: get back the fourth-quarter lead his defense had just surrendered.
Backed up on his own 23, facing 3rd-and-9 after a tough drop by another receiver, Cousins somehow found Santana Moss wide dirty open:
The Falcons are in a 3-3-5 nickel defense, though both corners are playing well, well off the line of scrimmage. The Redskins start off in a shotgun, with trips set up to the right. Then tight end Fred Davis motions over to the other side of the formation, setting up in doubles:
Pierre Garçon is split wide to the right, with Moss next to him in the slot. Falcons defensive back Robert McClain is lined up over Moss, and in this shot, we see him calling to free safety Thomas DeCoud for help.
In the next shot, DeCoud does not help:
Instead, DeCoud seems to think that his fellow safety, William Moore, should have done the helping:
This is a classic blown coverage. Moss is not as explosive as he used to be, but when he lines up in the slot, he has more than enough left to burn defenses. On 3rd-and-long, he's the one Redskins receiver who must be covered; the Falcons just failed to do so.
Credit Cousins for seeing the receiver and delivering the ball in stride.
Rob Ninkovich Strip Sack
With five minutes left in the third quarter, it was a familiar story for Manning at Gillette Stadium: He and his team had just been put down 24-7.
Manning dropped back to start the last drive that could legitimately start a comeback, and...
Rob Ninkovich ended it.
The Patriots lined up in their base 4-3—though the corners are giving a little cushion and the safeties are about 13 yards deep. The Broncos are in shotgun doubles.
At the snap, we see a very quick play-action from Manning, and the Patriots linebackers initially bite down, especially left outside linebacker D.J. Williams:
Safety Tavon Wilson flies up to cover tight end Joel Dreessen, who'd been left alone when Williams stuck his nose up into the box. The other safety, Patrick Chung, is the one who Peyton is reading:
Manning was waiting to see if Chung would slide over to cover slot receiver Brandon Stokley deep, or to the outside receiver's crossing route. Chung waits, and Manning waits with him, patting the ball anxiously. Finally, Chung breaks deep to cover Stokley, as the nickel corner passes Stokley off to Chung's deep help. Manning sees this and begins to throw...
...too late. For a treat, re-watch the clip to check out the hit linebacker Jerod Mayo lays on Dreessen:
Ninkovich hasn't hit Manning yet, so Mayo has leveled a receiver. It's within the five-yard contact zone, but Mayo likely bit on the play fake and thought he was destroying a downfield blocker, not an eligible receiver.
Drew Brees' Record-Breaking Touchdown
Of course, the play of the weekend was the one we all waited for: the one that broke Johnny Unitas's record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass. Fortunately for us, it was also a 40-yard bomb enabled by a spectacular broken coverage:
The Saints start off in a five-receiver set, common for them. Devery Henderson, receiver Greg Camarillo and tight end David Thomas are in a tight trips bunch to the right:
The Chargers are in a 3-4, with both cornerbacks dropped very deep and the strong safety, Atari Bigby, up in the box. As it turns out, this is a zone blitz. Bigby and two linebackers blitz, while the left defensive end drops back into coverage.
Here's where it all goes wrong for San Diego. The Saints are executing a "triangle" route package, designed to stretch the coverage both vertically (Thomas runs a short route to the flat; Henderson goes deep) and horizontally (Thomas breaks for the sideline; Camarillo runs a curl to the middle of the field).
The defensive end stays on Thomas, which makes sense considering the matchup and route. But when Thomas breaks for the sideline, both the defensive end and the only linebacker remaining in coverage sit down on his flat route.
This leaves the corner to cover Henderson and nobody, at all, to cover Camarillo:
Henderson absolutely roasts his man with a vicious double-move, and the instant he hits his second break, Brees lets fly. Camarillo, meanwhile, is jumping up and down in the middle of the field, waving his arms like a game of recess touch football.
The Chargers gambled very, very hard by blitzing a safety and two linebackers when the Saints were lined up in five wide on 3rd-and-6. Unless the offensive line lets a blitzer or two in unblocked, Brees is sure to find an open man—especially when a blown assignment and poor play leave two uncovered.
The result? The biggest play of NFL Week 5.
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