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 4 Sunday schedule.
Richard Sherman’s interception versus Matt Schaub, Texans
The Seahawks erased a 20-3 deficit by making crucial plays during the fourth quarter and overtime in their win over the Texans. And the one play I want to focus on today is the ability of the Seattle defense to blitz with discipline that forced Schaub into a panic decision.
Let’s go to the fourth quarter in a third-down situation for the Texans. This is an opportunity for Schaub and the offense to make a play and close this game out. However, the Seahawks send open-side pressure and force the Texans quarterback into panic.
Seahawks vs. Texans
Personnel: Tank (1WR-2TE-2RB)
Formation: Strong I Slot Exchange
Offensive Concept: Boot (Flat-7)
Defensive Scheme: Open-side zone pressure
Houston removes tight end Owen Daniels to the open (weak) side of the formation to create a stack look. That allows the Texans to dress up a base boot concept with Daniels as the underneath flat (using a whip release) and the closed-side tight end running the intermediate crosser. However, with the Seahawks bringing pressure from safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Richard Sherman squatting in the flat, Seattle is set up to defend this route.
What do we usually see from edge-rushers versus the boot? They take the bait of the run action, crash down the line of scrimmage, and create a soft edge for the quarterback to extend the pocket.
That’s not the case here with Chancellor. The Seahawks safety reads through the play-action and takes an angle to the upfield shoulder of Schaub. This is perfect technique versus the boot and that forces Schaub to make a decision: eat the ball or panic. The Texans quarterback panics, throws off his back foot and fails to read Sherman in the flat. That’s trouble.
With Sherman dropping Andre Johnson to the safety (plays out like a flat-7 concept), the Seahawks cornerback can read inside to the release of Daniels and break on the throw to the flat. That allows Sherman to make the pick and finish in the end zone. I know there are questions about the offensive play call, but it still comes back to the poor execution and decision-making.
Aqib Talib, Patriots close the door on the Falcons
To sum up the Patriots' defensive game plan, Bill Belichick’s unit played 2-Man (two-deep, man-under) over the top of Julio Jones, took away Tony Gonzalez in the red zone, and leaned on cornerback Aqib Talib in man-coverage situations.
Let’s move ahead to the fourth-down play for the Falcons in the final minute with a chance to tie this game up. With Gonzalez bracketed at the line of scrimmage, Matt Ryan targeted Roddy White on the crossing route versus Talib in a one-on-one situation.
Patriots vs. Falcons
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot “Dakota”
Offensive Concept: Crossing route
Defensive Scheme: Cover 7
I’m calling this Cover 7 (combination man) for the Patriots because of the “cut” calls (two-on-one) versus Gonzalez and Jones on the outside, plus the “slice” call (two-on-one versus the slot) over No. 2. New England actually aligns two defenders at the line of scrimmage against Gonzalez. This plays out like two jammers on a punt return versus the gunner. Put the receiver in a vice and don’t let him off the line. However, that leaves Talib matched up over White with no help to the inside and only a three-man rush up front.
Is this pass interference? I don't see it, but it could be called with Talib tugging on the White’s jersey. But because the veteran cornerback is “in phase” (on the hip) versus White, you can get away with that if you put your hand low to the inside. This is the perfect position for a cornerback that is playing with an outside shade. Drive to the hip and let the receiver take you to the ball.
I love this finish from Talib because every secondary coach teaches his corners to play through the upfield shoulder of the receiver. That’s exactly how you should attack the ball. This entire game was about technique for Talib, and he displayed that again on the final play.
Reggie Bush puts on a show versus the Bears
Bush brings creativity to the Lions playbook and presents multiple matchup issues for opposing defenses. Detroit can remove the running back from the core of the formation and align him in the slot or use him in the screen game to take advantage of his skill set and lateral quickness. That’s a plus for an offense that will lean on spread looks in the game plan.
On Sunday in Detroit, the majority of Bush’s production came on the ground (18 carries, 139 yards, one touchdown) versus the Bears' sub-package in the Lions “nickel” runs (three wide receivers on the field). Let’s take a look at Bush’s touchdown run on the inside-zone scheme.
Bears vs. Lions
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Far
Offensive Concept: Inside Zone
Defensive Scheme: Nickel Fox
The Lions catch the Bears in a zone blitz with the Mike ‘backer hitting the closed side C-gap and the nickelback rushing off the edge. Detroit gets the double on defensive end Julius Peppers, chips to the Mike ‘backer, and also releases the center to pick up Lance Briggs at the second level. Get the ball to Bush on the inside-zone scheme and let the running back pick a lane.
Look at the running lane the Lions have created with Briggs over-pursuing to the play side. The center can wash Briggs past the hole and give Bush an easy read once he squares his pads. Plenty of room to work here.
A run busts to the second level? Hey, stuff happens. Now it’s on the secondary to get the ball-carrier on the ground. Safety Major Wright doesn’t close the distance to Bush from his deep middle of the field alignment (allows the running back to create an angle) and has to lunge on the tackle attempt. That gives Bush an opportunity to showcase his athletic ability when he leaves his feet and continues down the field.
The Lions pick up a block down the field to eliminate the corner and the rest is all straight-line speed from Bush. Impressive day from the running back as the Lions got the 40-32 divisional win at home.
Flacco throws five interceptions versus the Bills
Going back over Flacco’s five interceptions in the 23-20 loss to the Bills, I think the quarterback had some issues reading coverages and accounting for underneath defenders in a couple of situations.
Take Aaron Williams’ first interception, when the cornerback dropped the outside vertical to the free safety in 2-Man and jumped the slot receiver on the out cut. Or we can look at Kiko Alonso reading through to the quarterback and driving on the shallow drive route in the Hi-Lo concept. Those are two situations where Flacco has to read the defense and take better care of the football.
Ravens vs. Bills
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Exchange
Offensive Concept: Hi-Lo Crossers
Defensive Scheme: Cover 4
Hi-Lo crossers. A basic scheme from the Ravens out of a 2x2 formation with Torrey Smith on the intermediate dig (Hi) and two underneath shallow drive routes (Lo). With the Bills playing quarters technique, Alonso is the middle hook defender. Gain depth versus inside verticals or read through to the quarterback on underneath concepts.
Alonso shades his coverage to the open-side crosser, but look at Flacco in this situation. He is locked on to the secondary crossing route. That’s an easy read for the linebacker to redirect and drive on the throw. And it’s exactly what you want to see from Alonso in zone coverage.
The rookie linebacker now has four interceptions on the season. But this is the type of mistake Flacco has to avoid. If you are going to throw inside breaking concepts versus a zone look, then the quarterback has to read the underneath defenders and account for linebackers stepping into the throwing lanes.
Peyton Manning, Broncos whip the Eagles
With Wes Welker in Denver, Manning and the Broncos can win underneath on combination routes versus both man and zone coverage. On Sunday, we saw that again inside the red zone on the spot combination against the Eagles' blitz look.
Here’s a breakdown of how Manning targeted Welker out of the bunch alignment for one of his four touchdowns, as the Broncos continued to roll with a 52-20 win over Chip Kelly’s ballclub.
Eagles vs. Broncos
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Slot Open (Bunch)
Offensive Concept: Spot Route
Defensive Scheme: Nickel Cover 0
The Eagles are sending nickel man pressure to the open side of the formation. Before the snap, the nickel will move down to a blitz alignment and rush off the edge with the free safety replacing him in coverage (walk down over No. 3). However, with the Broncos in a bunch alignment and running the “spot” route (corner-curl-flat), the safety has to cheat down to account for a possible outside breaking route from Welker.
In Cover 0, defensive backs have no middle-of-the-field help, so they are taught to play with an inside shade. However, check out the safety here. He settles his feet and fails to eliminate the distance to Welker.
Remember, pre-snap disguises look good versus the scout team in Friday practice, but that changes on Sundays. The safety would have been better off showing the blitz and matching to his coverage to play the flat route. He’s too far off in this situation.
Every team in the NFL runs the spot route. It's not complicated, and I think the defensive call is solid. Go after the quarterback and force the ball to come out. But when you fail to execute the techniques of the defense versus Manning, that’s a free one he isn’t going to pass up.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.