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 4 Film
Here are 10 things that stood out from my perspective when I turned on the tape this week.
1. The 49ers' power run game still sells
The 49ers' offensive game plan in the win over the Rams focused on getting back to basic power football out of their Tank personnel (one wide receiver, two tight ends, two running backs). Line up and run the Power O, Lead, Wham and Counter OF.
They physically whipped the Rams up front, and it showed in the box score with Frank Gore rushing for 153 yards.
2. Andy Reid pulled out an old-school West Coast concept
Hi-Lo Triple-In Flood: This was one of Reid’s top concepts when he was coaching the Eagles going back to the early 2000s. Bunch formation with three inside breaking routes plus the offset running back on the swing (flood).
I’m not surprised the Chiefs picked up a score here with Alex Smith targeting tight end Sean McGrath (Hi) on the dig route versus the Giants' Cover 2.
3. Defenses need a better game plan for Darren Sproles
The Dolphins finally showed some bracket coverage on Sproles down in the red zone to eliminate the option route, but why don’t more teams play Cover 7 (combination man) versus the running back?
That allows you to walk a safety down to play any outside breaks, with a linebacker sitting inside. Sproles has too much speed and talent in the open field to expect a linebacker to check him in a one-on-one situation on third downs when he can win on the option route.
4. Antonio Gates created issues vs. the Cowboys' zone looks
When the Cowboys played Cover 2 (or Tampa 2), the Chargers tight end sat down in the hole vacated by the middle linebacker. Take the easy checkdown—that’s a free one. And when the Cowboys showed their three-deep shells, Gates worked the inside seam routes.
Gates had a very productive day, and the Chargers didn’t have to use a complex scheme to get the ball to the tight end. Find the holes in the zone and make plays.
The Browns did bring some pressure looks (put a cornerback “cat” on tape this past Sunday), but the core of this defensive game plan versus the Bengals leaned on man coverage. Why? Because Joe Haden is talented enough to match up with (and limit) Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green.
If you have some time, check out this tape, because Haden played great football and showcased his coverage skills.
6. The Falcons safeties didn't show up on Blount’s touchdown run
On LeGarrette Blount’s touchdown run, the Patriots kicked out the edge force and led through the hole with the backside guard on the Power O to create a running lane. However, where was the safety run support?
Thomas DeCoud hesitated and failed to get under the crack block, while William Moore took a poor angle from the deep half. It's on the safeties to get Blount on the ground when a run breaks.
7. Cortland Finnegan played with suspect technique
Go back to the deep 7 (corner) route Finnegan gave up versus 49ers tight end Vernon Davis or the touchdown against Anquan Boldin on the out route (2-Man).
In both situations, Finnegan struggled with his technique on the release and throughout the route stem. That allowed the receivers to create separation while putting Finnegan in a trail position.
8. Mike Glennon made a rookie throw in a crucial game situation
Why did the rookie quarterback throw an interception to Patrick Peterson that set up the tying score in the fourth quarter? Glennon locked in on the backside dig route (square-in) to Vincent Jackson and also threw this ball to the inside versus man-coverage.
Even with the Cardinals sending pressure, Glennon had time to come off the dig and look for another option. Teaching moment for the rookie.
9. The Bills set a trap for Joe Flacco in their two-deep coverage
With safety help over the top, cornerback Aaron Williams had the protection to read back to the inside. And when No. 2 (slot receiver) broke on the out, Williams dropped the outside vertical to the safety and drove on the route.
I call that a “gold” technique. Sink and carry No. 1 with eyes back to the inside. Set a trap for the quarterback and be aggressive when No. 2 breaks to the outside.
10. The Eagles couldn’t match up in the secondary
When I look at this Eagles defense on tape—especially the secondary—they struggle to match up. In the loss to the Broncos on Sunday, Peyton Manning and the Broncos had no issues running their system. And when the ball crossed the 20-yard line, it was just too easy for Manning to target the exact matchup he wanted.
5 Things to Watch Heading into Week 5
Here are five things I am focused on heading into the Week 5 NFL schedule.
1. Reggie Bush vs. the Packers' defensive front
I would expect Green Bay to use a “cloud” corner (think Cover 2 technique) or play some 2-Man in their sub-packages to limit Calvin Johnson outside of the numbers. I like that game plan, and Dom Capers’ defense has used that in the past versus Detroit.
2. Texans-49ers in prime time
There should be nowhere to hide in this game. Two physical teams that want to run the football and test the defensive front. Keep an eye on the secondary run fits and also look out for the strong safety dropping into the box. The eight-man front might be the best bet in this one.
I think play action is going to be a major factor for both Colin Kaepernick and Matt Schaub on Sunday night, and that means eye discipline is key at the safety position. Can’t give up the deep one because you are looking in the backfield.
Remember, when Drew Brees and the Saints align Graham on the backside of a 3x1 alignment, that’s an automatic alert to the slant or fade. The Bears need to find the right matchup to eliminate those two routes—especially in the red zone.
4. Ryan Fitzpatrick vs. the Chiefs defense
Kansas City and Tennessee have two of the best defenses in the NFL when we talk about the ability to bring pressure and play man coverage in the secondary. I wrote about Gregg Williams’ impact with the Titans on Wednesday, and I do believe they can play at a high level versus Alex Smith and the Chiefs.
But they also need Fitzpatrick to make some plays and extend drives. The Titans' No. 2 quarterback could benefit greatly if this Tennessee defense can create some field position and scoring opportunities with Jake Locker now on the sidelines.
5. Peyton Manning vs. the Cowboys' Tampa 2 defense
Manning is going to throw the smash-7 (corner), four verticals and the levels concept versus the Cowboys Cover 2 shell on Sunday. Those are standard two-deep beaters and also a major part of the Broncos game plan.
From the perspective of the Cowboys, the safeties need to hold their pre-snap disguises and give Manning some different looks at the line of scrimmage. Plus, they need to play aggressively at the cornerback position and challenge Denver’s receivers on the release if they want to compete in this one. Can’t just line up in Cover 2 versus Manning. That’s trouble.
For more on the Broncos-Cowboys matchup, click on the video below for my chalk talk session.
All-22 Rewind: The Colts' “Nod” route vs. Cover 2
Colts vs. Jaguars
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Offensive Concept: Tare/Nod
Defensive Scheme: Cover 2
To the closed (strong) side of the formation, the Colts are running the tare concept (clear-out fade, flat, quick out). That gives Luck a two-level read to the inside with the Mike ‘backer matching to No. 3.
To the open (weak) side, the Colts widen the defense with the running back removed as the No. 1 receiver and slide Reggie Wayne inside to run the “nod” route. A quick double move where the receiver releases on a vertical stem, sticks to the out and then comes back to the post/seam.
The Jaguars are dropping the defensive tackle into the middle hook, but with the Mike ‘backer working to the closed-side tare concept, Wayne can force the free safety to widen on the stick move and then break back to the vacated zone in the middle of the field.
Because of the Jaguars' Cover 2 defense and the route scheme, the Colts quarterback has a clear throwing lane back to the middle of the field once Wayne clears the underneath linebacker. The “nod” route will show up often in the red zone at the tight end position, but the Colts used it here to expose a specific defensive scheme for six points.
Football 101: The “Wham” block
Last Thursday, the 49ers used the “wham” block to attack the defensive front seven of the Rams. Here’s a look at how it plays out.
49ers vs. Rams
Personnel: Tank (1WR-2TE-2RB)
Formation: I Big Wing
Offensive Concept: Wham Lead
Defensive Scheme: Cover 1
In the “wham” scheme, the offense will look to trap the defensive tackle/nose guard and run the Lead Strong. With their Tank personnel on the field, the 49ers use short motion to bring the off-the-line tight end into the core of the formation and “wham” the nose. That allows the center to work up to the Sam ’backer and leaves the fullback to lead on the Mike ’backer.
Here’s a look at the “wham” block. The 49ers take care of the nose, and the fullback looks up the Mike ‘backer. Running back Frank Gore reads the path of the fullback and cuts this run back to the open side of the formation.
Once the 49ers get the Mike ‘backer sealed off, Gore can get into the open field and produce an explosive gain. An old-school power scheme that usually provides an earhole shot for the blocker on the “wham” technique.
Inside the Locker Room: Halftime Adjustments
“In high school, you make corrections on Saturday morning. In college, you make corrections at halftime. In the NFL, you make corrections on the sidelines immediately—or you lose.” – Former Redskins special teams coach Danny Smith
There are only 12 minutes in an NFL halftime, and the clock starts right after the whistle blows. There isn’t enough time to rewrite the game plan or make multiple adjustments.
Players will get into the locker room, use the bathroom, maybe get retaped or take a shot of the pain med Toradol so they can make it through the second half.
Sure, coaches are yelling and stomping their feet if you played like garbage in the first half. But the chalk talk session is brief and to the point—because the majority of those adjustments have already been made on the sideline.
That’s how it works.
Each position group gets together between offensive and defensive series on the sidelines to make those corrections. Maybe it’s a blocking scheme, a coverage or an unexpected look from the opposing team.
Whatever the problem is, you fix it there or you go home with a loss.
In college ball, you have that extra time while the band is on the field to make a lot of changes. And in bowl games (where we as fans sit through a 40-minute halftime), you can rewrite a portion of the game plan.
But not in the pros.
At the two-minute mark, a ref will come in and alert the team that it is time to wrap it up and get on the field. And if you aren’t ready, they will kick the ball off without you.
That almost happened when I was playing for coach Steve Spurrier in Washington. We were late coming out of the tunnel. The ref was standing there at the 30-yard line about to blow the whistle and hand the ball to the kicker on the other team.
We had guys running onto the field, trying to buckle their chinstraps in mid-stride before the ball was kicked. Straight panic in their eyes.
So, the next time you hear a player or a coach talk about the adjustments they made at halftime, they probably made one or two quick checks on the chalkboard before coming back out on the field.
The real adjustments will be made during the game in the NFL.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.