Let’s take a look back at the third week of the 2013 NFL preseason schedule, break down my notes and get into the X’s and O’s of some key plays to give you a better understanding of the game.
Five Takeaways from Week 3
1) The Jets Quarterback Situation
The questionable decision by Rex Ryan to throw Mark Sanchez into the game during the fourth quarter versus the New York Giants on Saturday puts this team in a tough spot at the quarterback position. Sanchez is listed as “day-to-day,” but while we wait on more information to come in regarding his injured shoulder, the Jets might be in a situation where they have to lean on rookie Geno Smith to start the season.
Smith did put together a scoring drive and showed some command of the offense versus the Giants' No. 1 defense. That’s a positive for the rookie. However, his inability to protect the football (three interceptions), plus his decision-making in specific game situations (end-zone safety), are signs of a quarterback who needs more time to develop before you can hand him the ball in the regular season.
This is not the situation you want as a football team heading into the final week of the preseason. And it could have been prevented with smarter personnel decisions.
2) Matt Forte’s Role in Marc Trestman’s Scheme
I’m not surprised Forte is producing in the preseason after watching the Chicago Bears practice during the offseason program and at training camp. This scheme under Trestman will cater to Forte’s abilities in both the run and pass game.
In the matchup versus the Oakland Raiders, Forte displayed his speed, vision and cutback abilities, tallying 76 yards on six rushes and one touchdown reception.
The Bears used the zone-blocking scheme and also got the running back to the edge in the one-back power schemes (pull guard to block second-level defender). Plus, Trestman showed some creativity (and window dressing) by getting the ball to Forte on the “bubble screen" out of a split-back look that went for a score.
Friday night was just a small preview of what the Bears and Trestman can do to maximize Forte’s talent in this playbook once they start to game-plan for the regular season.
3) Luke Kuechly’s Production
Kuechly put together some clinic tape on Thursday night versus Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens. The second-year pro produced a number of impact plays and displayed a skill set that is an ideal fit for the "Mike" linebacker position because of his ability to play fast.
Look at the forced fumble on Bernard Pierce in the backfield or the interception versus Flacco. Both plays are a prime example of a linebacker with an athletic ability that can identify offensive concepts/schemes. That allows Kuechly, 2012's Defensive Rookie of the Year, to play downhill versus the run and attack the football in the passing game with the proper angle.
4) Terrelle Pryor Makes a Push for the Raiders' No. 1 Job
Matt Flynn has played subpar football for the Raiders this August. And with the team electing to rest the veteran quarterback this Thursday night versus the Seattle Seahawks due to a sore elbow, the door is open for Pryor to come in and take that No. 1 job in Oakland.
Pryor produced four scoring drives this past week versus the Bears and displayed his athleticism in the open field. He brings some creativity to the Raiders game plan while giving them options in the playbook. Plus, his ability to extend the pocket (four rushes for 37 yards and a TD) is a positive for a team that has issues along the offensive line.
I’m not sold on Pryor’s development at this stage of his career. However, considering the poor play Flynn has put on tape, he might be the best option for the Raiders if he takes advantage of the opportunity on Thursday night.
5) The Quick Development of Rams Rookie Alec Ogletree
The rookie linebacker from Georgia was impressive against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Start with a touchdown return off the strip and fumble recovery in the open field versus running back Ronnie Hillman. That’s a big-time play for a rookie to get the ball on the ground, scoop and score.
However, I still point to Ogletree’s ability to play the ball in the passing game as a major plus to the St. Louis Rams defense. He can get depth in his drop, open the hips and climb the ladder to impact the route. That showed up in the red zone defending the seam and when the rookie intercepted Manning during the two-minute drill in his Cover 2 drop.
With his speed and ball skills, Ogeltree can be a playmaker in this Rams defense.
Three Key Plays
1) Terrell Pryor beats the Bears Cover 2
Bears vs. Raiders
Personnel: Posse (3WR-TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Near
Defensive Scheme: Cover 2
The Smash-Divide is a Cover 2 beater that puts stress on the Mike 'backer and the strong safety. To the closed (strong) side of a 3x1 formation, No. 1 will run the smash with No. 2 on the 7 cut (corner route), and No. 3 (tight end) releasing to the seam.
The 7-route should occupy the deep-half safety and allow the tight end to work on the linebacker in the seam. And with the Bears showing inside A-gap pressure, linebacker Jon Bostic has to match tight end Nick Kasa from a trail position.
Pryor recognizes the matchup with the tight end and targets the seam route in the middle of the field. And with Bostic bailing from his pre-snap blitz alignment, the linebacker has to match/carry speed down the seam with his back to the ball.
Always look at ball placement on the inside seam versus Cover 2. With Bostic playing from a trail position (low and to the inside hip), Pryor throws this pass to the back shoulder of Kasa—away from the defender’s leverage. That allows the tight end to secure the catch and get this ball into the end zone versus the strong safety who is late to overlap the throw.
2) Michael Floyd’s Touchdown Catch
Chargers vs. Cardinals
Route: Pin (Post + In)
Personnel: Ace (2WR-2TE-1RB)
Formation: Unit Wing
Defensive Scheme: Cover 6
The “pin” route is a classic “quarters” beater. Set some bait for the strong safety ("dig" route) and go to work on the cornerback playing outside leverage on the post. With the San Diego Chargers aligned in Cover 6 (Quarter-Quarter-Half), Palmer can target Floyd on the post once the strong safety drives downhill on the dig.
The basic rule for the strong safety in quarters coverage: play No. 2 (tight end) vertical past a depth of 12 yards. If no vertical threat, look to No. 1 and bracket any inside cut. Here, the safety takes the bait, and that leaves the cornerback stuck on the outside of the post route with no inside help. That’s trouble.
Palmer puts this ball on the upfield shoulder of Floyd, and the wide receiver taps the feet to finish the play for the score. That’s a product of scheme and execution versus quarters inside the red zone.
3) Justin Tuck’s Interception
Jets vs. Giant
Personnel: Regular (2WR-1TE-2RB)
Defensive scheme: Open-side zone pressure
This is a basic open- (weak-) side zone pressure from the Giants. Blitz the "Will" and Mike ‘backers to create a five-man rush with closed-side defensive end Justin Tuck dropping into the seam (throwing lane). The Giants want to create confusion in the protection count and take away the quick, three-step route concepts with their underneath defenders.
The Jets are running the “tare” route (No. 1 clear out fade, No. 2 to the flat, No.3 on the stick-out). This gives Smith a two-level read (stick-out and flat). However, he has to read the pressure and account for Tuck dropping into the seam before targeting the tight end on the outside breaking cut.
Tuck can read the quarterback and step directly into the throwing lane to make this play. And even though the pressure from the Giants didn’t get home, they still were able to force a turnover because of a rookie mistake from Smith.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.