The Second Level: What You Need to Know Heading into NFL Week 3
Every Thursday, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen brings you “The Second Level,” a breakdown of the league from multiple angles.
10 things I learned from the Week 2 film
After watching the tape, here are 10 things that stand out from my perspective on personnel, matchups and scheme.
1. Philip Rivers produced vs. the Eagles pressure schemes
Rivers filled up the box score versus the Eagles (419 yards, three touchdowns), and I was impressed with his ability to produce against pressure schemes. The quarterback consistently identified the blitz, targeted the matchups he wanted and managed the pocket versus inside pressure.
2. Richard Sherman shut down Anquan Boldin
Sherman put on a teaching clinic in press-man technique Sunday night versus Anquan Boldin. The veteran cornerback was physical on the release and controlled the 49ers receiver throughout the route stem. That basically eliminated Boldin from the game plan at the line of scrimmage.
3. DeAndre Hopkins is a playmaker for the Texans
Hopkins is still raw when I look at his footwork coming out of his breaks, but I love his ability to go get the football down the field on the 9 (fade) route. Plus, his body control was on display to close this game out versus the Titans on the quick, one-step fade in the red zone. Find the ball, secure the catch and get the feet down.
4. Washington’s secondary couldn’t match up vs. Green Bay
That’s two straight weeks where this secondary has been exposed versus speed. Washington’s defensive backs couldn’t match up athletically to the Packers in the intermediate passing game or on the vertical stems down the field. I know RG3 has struggled in his return to the field, but this defense has its own issues in the secondary. That was too easy for Green Bay.
5. The Steelers lack an inside threat without Heath Miller
If the Steelers can get Miller back this week versus the Bears, it would be a major boost for an offense that looks suspect on tape. Without a tight end to stretch the inside seam or work the intermediate route tree, the Steelers struggle to attack the middle of the field versus two-deep coverages.
6. Mario Williams played like a top-tier talent
Think technique with Williams after he posted 4.5 sacks. The Bills defensive end showed the ability to set up the offensive tackle, use counter moves at the point of attack (arm over, club through, shoulder dip) and also displayed his closing speed versus quarterback Cam Newton.
7. Defensive eye discipline continues to be an issue vs. the Eagles
Playing with the proper eye discipline continues to be an issue for second-level defenders versus the Eagles when Michael Vick sets up play action off the zone-read. If you want to slow down the Eagles, you need to read your run/pass keys. Here’s an example below of poor eye placement from the Chargers linebackers in Cover 3. That opens up the middle of the field for DeSean Jackson on the crossing route.
8. You can’t sit on routes vs. Julio Jones
Why did Jones run past Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins for an 81-yard touchdown on a seam route? Bad technique. Playing from an off-man position, Jenkins failed to maintain his cushion in his backpedal and guessed on the route. You can’t do that versus Jones with his size and speed.
9. Tyrann Mathieu made a big fourth-down stop
I like the finish from the rookie on the slant route versus Nate Burleson. There is no question Burleson pushed off to create some separation back to the inside, but I’m more focused on Mathieu’s ability to redirect, close the hips and drive to the upfield shoulder. Make the tackle before the sticks.
10. Bengals rookie Gio Bernard has some speed
Bernard showed a nice burst through the hole in the win over the Steelers and also displayed some straight-line speed when he took a checkdown route for a score versus three-deep coverage. He eliminated some angles from the secondary on that one.
5 things to watch heading into Week 3
Here are five things I'm focused on as the Week 3 schedule approaches.
In terms of a “fit” for the offense in Indianapolis, I don’t see that as an issue at all for Richardson. The Colts can carry the Power O, Lead Open, Counter OF, etc. in their game plan just like any other team.
However, the overall production from Richardson at the running back position is the real story here from my perspective. Because if the Colts can run the football with some consistency, this offense can create play-action opportunities for quarterback Andrew Luck and force opposing defenses to get out of those two-deep looks in the secondary. And that opens up the middle of the field.
2. Packers’ defensive game plan vs. A.J. Green
I’m thinking the Packers should lean on some 2-Man (two-deep, man-under) this week versus the Bengals wide receiver. That allows defensive backs to sit hard to the inside, play aggressively on intermediate cuts and use the deep half safety over the top.
Yes, the middle of the field can be exposed in 2-Man if the safeties are late to overlap the throw, but taking away the deep ball versus Green has to be a priority.
3. The development of the Patriots’ rookie wide receivers
Can these young wide receivers make some corrections and improve after a rough performance last Thursday night in the win over the Jets? When you grade rookies, you want to see continued development with each game they play.
With Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski still on the shelf, Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins should be targeted again versus the Bucs. Will they finish plays, convert routes and show Tom Brady they can produce at the pro level? Let’s see what they do.
4. Bears defensive line vs. Steelers offensive line
The Bears want to play Cover 2 in third-down and red-zone situations, but where is the production from the front four? Julius Peppers and Henry Melton have been nonfactors through the first two weeks of the season, and that has forced the Bears to bring more zone pressure. On Sunday night, let’s find out if the Bears can generate a push up front versus a Steelers offensive line that has struggled to open the season.
5. Rams blitz packages vs. Tony Romo, Cowboys
The Rams will play some Cover 2 in passing situations, but I’m looking forward to seeing their pressure packages versus the Cowboys. The Rams can bring the cornerback “cat” (cornerback blitz), use overload blitzes and also roll coverage over wide receiver Dez Bryant to limit the fade route when they send six- and seven-man pressure.
All-22 Rewind: Chargers Cover 3 beater
The “OVS” (outside vertical stretch) is a three-level concept (9-7-flat) that will put stress on the curl-flat defender in Cover 3 to play with depth and hold off the deep 7 cut (corner) route. Let’s take a look at how the Chargers ran the “OVS” on Rivers’ touchdown pass to Eddie Royal in the win over the Eagles.
Chargers vs. Eagles
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot
Offensive Concept: OVS
Defensive Scheme: Cover 3 Buzz
The Chargers add some window dressing to get Royal to the 7 cut and Antonio Gates to the flat in the “OVS” concept by aligning in a 3x1 formation and targeting the open (weak) side of the field. With the X receiver running off the cornerback on the 9/post (plus occupying the free safety), Rivers can go to work on the open side curl-flat defender in the Eagles three-deep coverage.
As a Cover 3 curl-flat defender, you are coached to gain depth, cushion the corner route and break on any throw to the flat. However, the Eagles curl-flat defender is sitting short and working downhill to the flat. And with the cornerback now removed versus the post, Rivers has a clear throwing lane to target Royal.
Remember, NFL offenses are going to break formation tendencies to run their route concepts by mixing personnel and alignments. The Chargers did that here by running a basic three-level route to the open side of the field from a 3x1 alignment.
Football 101: The “Tunnel” screen
To give you a better understanding of the wide receiver screen game, let’s break down Mike Wallace’s touchdown versus the Colts.
Dolphins vs. Colts
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Offensive Concept: Tunnel Screen
Defensive Scheme: Cover 4
Different than a “bubble” screen (targeting the No. 2 or the slot receiver), the “tunnel” screen is designed to get the ball to the No. 1 receiver working back to the core of the formation.
Here, the Dolphins send running back Lamar Miller on the jet sweep action (forces the middle linebacker to chase at the snap) and target Wallace on the inside screen. With the No. 2 receiver and the right tackle blocking the two defensive backs closest to Wallace, the Dolphins can create a running lane for speedy wide receiver.
Because of the inside play fake to Miller (and the overpursuit of the defense), the Dolphins have this set up for Wallace with blocks on the edge and center Mike Pouncey getting down the field to take on the strong safety.
You can’t draw this up on the chalkboard any better than what the Dolphins are showing here on the end-zone angle. Perfect execution starting with the jet sweep action to pull the middle linebacker to the open side of the formation and the blocks down the field to get Wallace into the end zone.
Inside the locker room: The Richardson trade
“We are in the business of winning”
-Former Washington special teams coach Danny Smith
That’s exactly what Danny told us every year during our first special teams meeting of the season out in Washington.
And that meant we were all replaceable.
I guarantee the locker room in Cleveland today will have a much different atmosphere after the Browns dealt Trent Richardson to the Colts last night. There will be plenty of guys that don’t agree with management’s decision to trade away their top running back just two weeks into the season.
Heck, there will be guys that are flat-out angry after this move complied with the Browns' 0-2 start.
However, the veteran players, the ones that have been in the league long enough to have a true perspective on the business side of the game, will eventually move on.
Maybe it takes a day or two or three. But eventually, the vets will regain their focus and start playing ball because they know how the league really works, and because they are professionals.
Management is going to make moves to upgrade personnel. And if that means trading away a former top draft pick, then they are going to do it if the deal on the table benefits the franchise in their eyes.
Anything goes when you are trying to build a winner.
I don’t know if this trade will work out for the Browns. No one does. It all depends on how the draft plays out next year and if they can maximize the picks they now have to acquire some legit talent.
But from a player’s perspective, these guys in the Browns locker room will roll on and continue to play ball once they get through the immediate reaction of losing Richardson.
That’s the drill as a pro—because the majority of NFL players are replaceable.
And they know it.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer at Bleacher Report.
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