Every Monday, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen brings you an X’s and O’s look at the game. Here are his five key plays from the Week 3 Sunday schedule.
Ryan Tannehill sets up the game-winning score vs. Falcons
Tannehill threw for 236 yards and two touchdowns in the 27-23 win over the Falcons, but I was more impressed with his control of the offense during the two-minute drill. The second-year pro played with poise in that final drive and finished with a touchdown pass to Dion Sims on a tight end delay (tight end blocks down, releases on the quick inside seam).
However, to set up the Dolphins in the red zone, Tannehill made a big-time throw on the seam route to tight end Charles Clay versus 2-Man on the “Seattle” concept. Let’s take a look at the route.
Falcons vs. Dolphins
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot (Stack) Gun Far
Offensive Concept: Seattle Route
Defensive Scheme: 2-Man
The “Seattle” route is a three-vertical concept (can be paired with backside shallow drive route) usually run from a stack or bunch alignment. Here, Clay works out of the stack and stems his route up the field to the numbers. And with the Falcons in 2-Man (two-deep, man-under), the tight end is going to draw the matchup of a linebacker playing from a “trail” position (low to the inside help with safety help over the top).
I like the 2-Man call from the Falcons in this situation to protect the top of the defense. However, with an outside vertical, and No. 2 (slot receiver) stemming his route to the hash marks, the strong safety has to increase his depth to create downhill angles on the throw. That gives Tannehill a small throwing window to target Clay over the top of the trail linebacker and in front of the deep-half safety. Given the game situation, this is a heck of a throw from Tannehill that sets up the Dolphins to move to 3-0 on the season.
Andrew Luck closes out the win vs. the 49ers
I did not expect the Colts to come into Candlestick and beat up the 49ers' defensive front seven. But that’s exactly what they did with running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson in the downhill power game during their 27-7 win.
You will hear talk of the Colts running the “Stanford offense.” That means the two-back power game (Power O, Lead Open, Lead Strong, etc.) to create play-pass opportunities for Luck. The Colts produced 179 yards on the ground, and that led to the setup for Luck to close this game out on the naked bootleg.
Colts vs. 49ers
Personnel: Regular (2WR-1TE-2RB)
Formation: Pro Strong I
Offensive Concept: Naked Boot
Defensive Scheme: Cover 1
The naked bootleg is a smart call in this situation when the defense is playing hard for the run and cheating its backside contain. The Colts show the Lead Strong run action out of a two-back look with Luck pulling the ball to the open side of the formation. However, if outside linebacker Aldon Smith plays his responsibilities (check for cut-back before pursuit), this could be a negative play.
Two things to look at here. First, check out the eye placement of the second-level defenders. They have their eyes stuck in the backfield and take the bait of the run fake. Now, move over to Smith. The 49ers linebacker is cheating to the play side instead of keeping contain. That’s poor technique and creates a soft edge for Luck to get outside.
With Smith now stuck to the inside (and the cornerback being run off by the receiver on a vertical release), Luck can take this in for a score. And it was all set up by the physical game plan of the Colts to attack downhill in the run game.
Bears defense creates turnovers—again
The Bears have struggled though the first three weeks of the season to generate a front-four rush (think Cover 2), and that has led to new coordinator Mel Tucker dialing up more pressure (zone and man schemes) to attack the pocket.
In the Sunday night game, Tucker used five- and six-man pressure schemes versus the Steelers to get home on the rush and create turnover opportunities. Here’s a look at Major Wright’s interception return for a touchdown—one of five turnovers the 3-0 Bears forced in their 40-23 win in Pittsburgh.
Bears vs. Steelers
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot (Bunch) Gun Far
Offensive Concept: Smash-7 (Seam)
Defensive Scheme: Closed side Nickel Pressure
The Bears are sending six-man pressure with the nickel coming off the edge and linebacker Lance Briggs targeting the open side A-gap. With free safety Chris Conte rolling to the deep middle of the field at the snap, Wright drops down over No. 2 (slot receiver), and linebacker James Anderson matches to tight end Heath Miller on the inside seam.
The Bears get inside penetration from defensive tackle Henry Melton on the twist stunt and Roethlisberger has to get this ball out hot. He looks up the slot receiver on the inside smash (or curl) with Wright sitting over the top of the route in a position to make a play on the throw.
If you play the technique of the defense, good things usually happen. Wright did his job, looked up No. 2 and dropped down with an outside shade. And because of the inside pressure, Roethlisberger had to rush this throw. That allowed Wright to finish the play and take this one back for six points.
Jake Locker, Justin Hunter hook up to beat the Chargers
The Titans quarterback played really good football in the win over the Chargers down in Nashville. Locker made some plays on the ground (68 yards rushing) and also posted 299 yards passing. Plus, he found rookie Justin Hunter on the 9 (fade) route in the final minute to grab the win.
But was it a push-off by Hunter? Let’s check it out.
Chargers vs. Titans
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Far
Offensive Concept: “999”
Defensive Scheme: Closed Side Zone Pressure
The “999” concept is four verticals out of a 3x1 alignment (No. 3 will stem his route back to the open side of the formation). That’s a classic Cover 2 beater, and it also creates issues for single-high safety defenses (Cover 1, Cover 3, zone and man pressure). With the Chargers sending a zone blitz to the closed side of the formation (rush five, drop six), Locker can hold the free safety in the middle of the field and target Hunter versus cornerback Crezdon Butler.
Butler does everything he is coached to do in this situation. Playing for an off-alignment, Butler bails to keep his cushion (distance between defensive back and receiver), stacks on top of Hunter and puts himself in a position to play the ball. However, Hunter does get a hand on his shoulder and pushes off to create some separation down the field. Should it have been called? Probably. Will it be called often? Nope. Remember, this is an offense-oriented league.
What can Butler do here versus the 6'4" frame of Hunter? As a last resort, every defensive back is taught to “play the pocket” (work through the arms/hands of the receiver to find the ball). However, with Locker throwing this ball to the back shoulder—and allowing Hunter to adjust—Butler can’t make this play. Excellent finish (and body control) by the rookie receiver on a play that could have been called back.
Daryl Smith’s pick-six for the Ravens
The Ravens defense held the Texans to under 100 yards rushing and limited quarterback Matt Schaub in third-down situations during their 30-9 win in Baltimore. But the key play came from veteran linebacker Daryl Smith to give the Ravens the lead in the second quarter.
Let’s break down Smith’s interception versus Schaub and discuss why the linebacker was in a position to jump the angle route on his way to the end zone.
Texans vs. Ravens
Personnel: Ace (2WR-2TE-1RB)
Formation: Unit Bunch Gun Far
Offensive Concept: F-Out
Defensive Scheme: Cover 3
The Texans are running the F-Out concept (out, angle combination) with tight end Owen Daniels releasing on a flat stem and breaking back inside on the angle cut. In Cover 3 (three-deep, four-under), Smith is the middle-hook defender (drop between numbers and the hash). Here, he takes his drop, reads through the release of the out cut and looks up the quarterback.
Smith is in a position to cushion the possible seam route and drive downhill on any throw underneath. That gives the linebacker an opportunity to break on the angle route and step in front of the throw with his eyes on the quarterback in a zone defense.
This is poor on Schaub’s part. He has to read the zone look from the Ravens and account for any inside defender when throwing back to the middle of the field. Smith takes advantage of the mistake from the Texans quarterback and makes a crucial play for the Ravens in the win.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.