Every Monday, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen gives you an X’s and O’s look at the game. Here are his five key plays from the Week 5 Sunday schedule.
Hilton filled up the box score on Sunday in the win over the Seahawks. Look at these numbers: five receptions, 140 yards and two touchdowns. Not only does that give Luck opportunities to flip the field, but it also opens up throwing lanes for Reggie Wayne and Coby Fleener in the intermediate passing game.
Let’s go back to Hilton’s touchdown catch versus a Cover 3 look (three-deep, four-under) and break down how the Colts exposed the Seahawks' single-high defense on the “999” route.
Seahawks vs. Colts
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot
Offensive Concept: 999
Defensive Scheme: Nickel 3 Buzz
The “999” route is simply four verticals from a 3x1 alignment. As shown here, Fleener (No. 3 to the closed side of the formation) will stem his route back to the opposite hash to occupy the free safety. With the Seahawks playing 3 Buzz (strong safety drops inside the curl-flat defender), Luck can work a two-on-one (Hilton and Wayne) versus the outside one-third defender (Brandon Browner).
In three-deep coverage, the corners have to gain depth, keep their cushion and split two verticals (9 and seam). Even with the “buzz’” defender (strong safety) carrying/trailing No. 2 (Wayne on the seam), Browner has to play with a zone/bail technique (back to the sideline) and drive inside on the seam or flip the hips to stay over the top of Hilton on the 9 (fade). And because of Fleener’s route stem, free safety Earl Thomas is late to break from the deep middle of the field.
Browner can’t transition with enough speed here to match the straight-line ability of Hilton. Plus, Luck drops this ball right over the upfield shoulder of the Colts receiver for the score. Great throw, great finish.
Romo played excellent football in the loss to the Broncos. The Dallas quarterback threw for 500-plus yards, extended plays in the pocket, threw the deep ball and produced in the red zone.
However, Romo’s interception in the final minutes set up Peyton Manning and the Broncos to close this one out. What happened on the play that allowed linebacker Danny Trevathan to step in front of the pass? Let’s check it out.
Broncos vs. Cowboys
Personnel: Ace (2WR-2TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot
Offensive Concept: Middle Read
Defensive Scheme: Tent Anchor
I’m calling this “tent anchor” from the Broncos. It's a scheme similar to what Gregg Williams used to run back in Washington that featured a three-man rush with a middle hook linebacker, two vertical hook defenders (inside trail) plus a three-deep look in the back end.
For the Cowboys, this is nothing more than an inside dig route (square-in) to Gavin Escobar with Jason Witten on the 7 (corner) route and DeMarco Murray on the underneath checkdown.
Romo does have pressure inside from the nose. That limits his ability to climb the pocket and step into this throw to the middle of the field on the dig route.
However, look at the checkdown here. With the Broncos defenders sinking to the sticks, Romo can dump this ball to Murray to set up a very manageable third down. Instead, he is locked on to Escobar and can’t finish on the throw because of the traffic inside the pocket.
This is a heck of a finish from Trevathan. The Broncos linebacker matches to Escobar on the dig, sits low on the inside cut and lays out to make this play.
Now, it’s really easy for me to say that Romo should have taken the checkdown on Monday morning, but that was an option instead of trying to fit this ball into a tight window with a linebacker playing between the hash marks.
Sean Payton picked the perfect time to dial up the screen game in the win over the Bears in Chicago. With Mel Tucker’s defense sending pressure out of their sub package, the Saints ran a slip screen to expose the Bears and to create a clear running lane for Pierre Thomas.
Let’s discuss the blitz, the responsibilities and why the screen concept turned into a touchdown for the 5-0 Saints.
Saints vs. Bears
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Offensive Concept: RB Slip Screen
Defensive Scheme: Nickel Fox
The Bears are running a Nickel pressure. A five-man blitz scheme (nickel and Mike ‘backer) to the open (weak) side of the formation. Edge pressure designed to cause confusion in the protection count.
However, look at the setup from the Saints. Brees opens to the weak side of the formation, the Z receiver clears out Charles Tillman, and Jimmy Graham releases on the shallow drive route. With defensive end Shea McClellin chasing inside, and Lance Briggs working to the slot side of the formation, the Saints now have a soft edge to attack.
The Bears are in trouble here. With McClellin now pinned inside and only Tillman left outside of the numbers, the Saints can release three offensive linemen into the open field to cut the cornerback and look up any pursuit.
Thomas cuts this ball back, picks up some more blocks in the open field and finds a crease to take this into the end zone. The Bears have become a heavy pressure team out of both their base and nickel packages because of their inability to get home with a front four. The Saints took advantage of that by running the slip screen for six points.
Matt Schaub Struggles Again in the Loss to the 49ers
Gary Kubiak eventually pulled Schaub for T.J. Yates in the fourth quarter of the 49ers' 34-3 win. However, before the head coach sat him down, the Texans quarterback threw three interceptions and struggled with his initial reads in the pocket.
Here’s a look at Schaub’s first interception that led to a touchdown for cornerback Tramaine Brock in the 49ers’ “gold” technique.
Texans vs. 49ers
Personnel: Joker (3WR-2TE)
Formation: Pro Split
Offensive Concept: Double Out
Defensive Scheme: Cover 2 “Gold”
“Gold” is a technique/call you will see in two-deep shells (Cover 2, 2-Man) that allow defensive backs to set some bait for the quarterback. The outside cornerback will use the deep-half safety help over the top and read inside. If No. 2 (slot) breaks on the out, the cornerback will drop No. 1 and drive on the throw. Show the quarterback a two-deep look and set a trap. That’s exactly what the 49ers do here versus the double-out concept from the Texans on third down.
Because of the deep-half safety and the initial alignment of the nickel (inside shade), Schaub thinks he can fit this ball into the hole to target Andre Johnson on the option route. However, instead of widening/sinking with No. 1, Brock sits hard and reads back to the inside. Identify the outside-breaking route, drop No. 1 and drive on the throw.
This is how “gold” technique should play out. Brock jumps the route, finishes the play and takes this ball back for six points. Plus, it also highlights Schaub’s inability to read outside on the play. The Texans quarterback has to account for the cornerback in two-deep when targeting an outside-breaking route.
With Michael Vick on the sidelines after suffering a hamstring injury, the Eagles gave the ball to Nick Foles. And the quarterback responded with a solid throw off the dash action on the tight end throwback. A smart call from Chip Kelly to attack the Giants' Cover 1 scheme.
Let’s break this play down and focus on how the Eagles occupied the free safety and created a one-on-one matchup with tight end Brent Celek.
Eagles vs. Giants
Personnel: Ace (2WR-2TE-1RB)
Formation: Unit Wing
Offensive Concept: Dash (TE) Throwback
Defensive Scheme: Cover 1
I like this play call from Kelly because it utilizes misdirection and allows the quarterback to find the matchup down the field. Off play action, Foles will roll away from the call side (dash), set up and come back to Celek once the tight end takes this route vertically up the field. Plus, with DeSean Jackson on the deep-crossing route, the Eagles can remove the cornerback and occupy the free safety in the deep middle of the field.
This is tough on Ryan Mundy. The Giants safety has to read the play action, fight through the traffic inside and try to get back to the hip/upfield shoulder of Celek. That allows the tight end to create some separation and get to the numbers where he can stem his route to the end zone.
Outstanding throw from Foles. With the safety inside and low on the hip, the Eagles quarterback puts this ball on Celek and away from the defender’s leverage. Another rough day for the Giants as they drop to 0-5.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
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