NFL Preseason: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 2

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NFL Preseason: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 2

The NFL preseason schedule has value for established players. Use the time and reps to improve your technique, clean up your footwork and compete in live-game situations. Plus, the tape during the exhibition season is a critical tool to correcting mistakes before the real games start.

However, would you put Robert Griffin III and Darrelle Revis on the game field for a preseason matchup coming off serious knee injuries?

ACL rehab is a grind on your body and mind. Days, weeks and months spent in the training room, weight room and working out on the field. I’ve been there just like many other pro players battling through the daily maintenance of knee rehab in the offseason.

You want to get out on that game field to test the knee versus NFL speed. Does it hold up? Can you burst out of your cuts? How does it respond to contact or lateral movement?

Heck, are you even the same player?

I’m not surprised that both RG3 and Revis want to play in August. I get it. That’s a pro attitude. They want to answer those questions and prep for the season. But the risk here for two dynamic players that force opposing teams to adjust their game plans isn’t going to mesh with the coaches in Washington and Tampa.

Would I sit them down until the game count? No question.

 

Five things I loved from the Week 1 preseason film…

1. The offensive execution of the Chiefs: The first-team offense under Andy Reid was multiple in its approach, featured running back Jamaal Charles, converted on third downs and even aligned in the Pistol. I really liked the use of the tight end position versus the Saints, and quarterback Alex Smith was quick with his decision-making to target receivers.

But the key here is Charles. The running back will see quality touches and produce in this scheme. Reid needs to make sure he is healthy before he puts him back on the field. 

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee can make impact plays in the Tampa 2 scheme.

2. Sean Lee’s role in the Cowboys defensive scheme: I could see the veteran playing the Will ‘backer position in Monte Kiffin’s Tampa 2 scheme down in Dallas, but after watching him these last two weeks, he is a fit in the middle of this defense.

Lee is a fluid athlete with flexibility in his hips and has no issues running the “inside vertical seam” (Cover 2 drop for middle linebacker). Plus, he has the ability to blitz in both man and zone schemes. I’m exited to watch him play this season.

3. Bills young offensive talent: I thought E.J. Manuel settled down as the first half progressed and he caught up to the speed of the game. The rookie went on to finish off the two-minute drill by hitting the seam route versus a Cover 4 look and he also displayed his running ability when the pocket broke down. And with running back C.J. Spiller, his speed to the second level of the defense is special. 

4. Cordarrelle Patterson’s development: The rookie wide receiver was targeted on the deep dig (15-yard square-in), the Smash-7 (corner) and on the 9 (fade) route versus press-coverage. Get him the ball in the preseason and allow him to drill his route running, stem and speed coming out of his breaks. Patterson has raw talent that needs work. No better place for that then NFL football in August.

5. Bengals two tight end personnel: Think matchups here when the Bengals roll their Ace personnel (2WR-2TE-1RB) on the field with tight ends Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert.

The Bengals gave us a glimpse of what to expect from the tight end combo versus the Falcons and that included different alignments, 2x2 spread looks, bunch sets, etc. This will create issues for opposing defenses and I can’t wait to see how the Bengals feature their tight ends this season. That’s a lot of stress on the secondary to win in the middle of the field or in a one-on-one matchup in the red zone.

 

Five things I questioned from the Week 1 preseason film…

1. Eagles run defense: The No.1 defense in Philadelphia was abused in the run game by the Patriots. I saw defenders overpursue to the ball, duck out of gaps and the run support from the secondary was suspect at best. The Eagles are transitioning to the 3-4 front, but that had to be a tough film to watch this week. This has to be cleaned up.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Rookie Kyle Long will get the start tonight for the Bears in their matchup versus the Chargers.

2. Bears offensive line: Marc Trestman is already making changes to the depth chart as rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills will get the start tonight versus the Chargers.

However, can this unit mesh together before the season begins? The Bears gave up seven sacks as a team last weekend and will now lean on two rookies to improve this offensive line. Yes, the ball is going to come out quick in Trestman’s playbook (three-step game, inside breaking routes), but the Bears can’t play musical chairs with the depth chart up front if they want Jay Cutler to produce this season.

3. Terrelle Pryor’s end zone INT: Pryor put together a nice drive versus the Cowboys that featured concepts to utilize his skill set. The quarterback looked comfortable running the read-option out of the “Diamond” formation (Pistol alignment with three backs in the backfield), throwing some base concepts and leading this Oakland offense into scoring position.

However, Pryor panicked in the red zone when he escaped contain, threw back across his body and forced the ball to the middle of the field. I know he was trying to make a play, but you can’t take points off the board with poor decision-making.

4. Denard Robinson playing tailback: The Jaguars featured Robinson in both one and two-back runs that allowed him to pick a lane or bounce the play to the edge of the defense. 

I understand that teams experiment with personnel in the preseason, and Robinson did showcase a burst when he squared his pads to get up the field, but I’m not sure I would lean on this during the regular season. There are more opportunities to showcase his speed (and open-field ability) in sub-package runs out of the gun or as a receiver close to the core of the formation.

5. Ryan Nassib’s limited playing time:  Someone has to explain the logic behind sitting the fourth-round rookie quarterback behind veteran Curtis Painter in the Giants preseason opener. That doesn’t add up from my perspective.

Nassib needs reps to develop in the preseason. Burying him on the depth chart as the No.4 quarterback isn’t going to allow the rookie to see quality minutes against good competition. Put him out there and let him make mistakes. That’s exactly how he will improve.

 

Breaking down the Play of the Week: Shonn Greene’s TD run

On Monday, I broke down five keys plays from the weekend to highlight scheme and technique. Today, let’s take a look at how the Titans used first-round pick Chance Warmack to create a running lane in one of the top two-back power schemes at the NFL level.

Redskins vs. Titans

Scheme: Counter OF

Personnel: Tank (1WR-2TE-2RB)

Formation: Big Wing I Far

The Titans will pull the open (weak) side guard (Warmack), wrap the fullback up to the second-level linebacker and give the ball on a downhill path to Greene off the counter step. There is no window dressing here with Tank personnel on the field and there is nowhere to hide. Line up, get downhill and create a hole.

With the Titans in a “big wing’” alignment to the closed (strong) side of the formation, the Redskins will use a defensive back as the primary run support player. That’s a matchup Warmack should win every time when he pulls to kick out the edge defender. And with the fullback sealing linebacker London Fletcher to the inside, the Titans have created a massive running lane for Greene to get into the open field.

Once this ball busts through the hole, Greene takes advantage of a poor angle from the free safety (flat angle to the ball) and finishes this run in the end zone. Remember, you don’t have to be exotic in your play-calling to see production at the NFL level when you execute the techniques and assignments of the scheme.

 

Why Special Teams are crucial this weekend for “bubble players”

Some advice for the guys trying to win a job on an NFL roster: Make a play in the kicking game this weekend.

Developing on offense or defense is the goal of every young player. But to buy that time, you need to find a role on special teams first.

Heading into the second week of the preseason, the starters will begin to see more reps on both sides of the ball. That means the “bubble players” will get the majority of their playing time on the four core special teams units (kickoff, kickoff return, punt, punt return).

Get the ball out on coverage units, make a tackle inside of the 20-yard line, make a play in the return game or block a kick.

I’m talking about splash plays here. The type of play that jumps off the screen when the coaching staff turns on the tape. You need to show the coaches that you can make an impact on Sundays (and be on the game day dress roster) with your abilities on special teams.

It’s not glamorous work. Nah. It’s dirty work. Running down the field at full speed to lower your head on contact hurts. That’s no fun.

But if it keeps you on the roster for another week and leads to more reps in practice, it does the job.

As former Redskins special teams coach Danny Smith said to us, “If you aren’t a starter on offense or defense, you better be a starter on special teams…or we don’t have a spot for you.”

 

Coaching Session: Inverted Power Veer

The read-option/zone-read has been the hot topic of the offseason and around the NFL at training camps on both sides of the ball. But what about the Inverted Power Veer? Will we see this scheme more in 2013?

Using the Panthers' All-22 tape from 2012, here is a breakdown of the Inverted Power Veer and why it can succeed at the pro level.

Panthers vs. Chiefs

Scheme: Inverted Power Veer

Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)

Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Far

Instead of the standard zone blocking we see in the read-option/zone-read, the Inverted Power Veer utilizes the backside guard on the pull with the running back working to the play side. Quarterback Cam Newton will ride the back through the “mesh point” (quarterback-running back exchange) and “read” the path of the end man on the line of scrimmage with the backside guard pulling up through the hole.

Here is the “read” from Newton. If the defender takes an uphill path, Newton keeps and follows the pulling guard. But if the defender takes a flat path to the quarterback, Newton will hand off to the back with the tight end on the “arc” release to the second level. 

Look at what the Panthers have set up here. Because the defender took an uphill path and attacked the back off the mesh point, Newton has an open running lane with a lead blocker working up the field. That sells.

 

Enjoy the preseason games this weekend…I’ll be back to break down some X’s and O’s on Monday morning.

 

Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.

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