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 5 Film
Here are 10 things that stand out from my perspective after watching the tape this week.
1. Eddie Lacy can impact defensive game plans
The Packers' run game featured the inside zone, the trap and the one-back power scheme with Lacy. The rookie produced 99 yards, but this is more about the number of carries (23) Lacy saw within the Packers' game plan.
Defenses can’t sit in a seven-man box all afternoon versus Aaron Rodgers when the running back is getting 20-plus touches a game. That will force defenses to drop a safety down into the run front.
2. Geno Smith’s best throw of the night came in the red zone
The rookie quarterback threw three touchdown passes in the win over the Falcons on Monday night, but I’m focused on his one-yard toss to Kellen Winslow off play action in the red zone.
This was a basic flat-7 (corner) concept where Smith gave ground off the play fake and created time for Winslow to work to the back corner of the end zone. The throw? Perfect touch over the top of the underneath defenders.
3. The Bengals defense deserves a game ball
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer had a solid game versus the Patriots that featured a nice mix of coverage and pressure (five-man blitz schemes, zone pressure, Cover 0).
Tom Brady didn’t look comfortable in the pocket (and missed on some throws), plus that defensive front of the Bengals (Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, etc.) got off the ball with some speed.
4. Think ball placement with Andrew Luck
If you have time, go back and watch the All-22 tape from this past Sunday—especially the throw Luck made to Reggie Wayne on the switch (wheel) route versus inside leverage. This was as good as it gets when we talk about throwing the ball on a rope away from the defender’s leverage. And that consistently shows up when you watch the tape of Luck.
5. Alshon Jeffery is developing quickly in the Bears offense
The Bears second-year receiver is developing at a quicker pace than I expected. His catch radius is impressive, and I like how he tracks the ball down the field. Plus, Jeffery is strong at the point of attack and has shown a burst coming out of his cuts. That sells on the fade, seam and the inside breaking routes in Marc Trestman’s playbook.
6. The Packers' defensive front played with technique, discipline
This Green Bay defense played with gap control up front, it was disciplined with its backside contain (restrict cutback lanes) and the secondary was solid in its run fits.
With Calvin Johnson out of the lineup, the Packers were able to drop a safety down in their sub-packages to slow down Reggie Bush versus the Lions' nickel runs, but they were also able to limit the run game in their two-deep looks as well.
7. Von Miller’s absence showed up in Dallas
Tony Romo lit up the Broncos defense on Sunday, and it started with the lack of pressure up front from the Denver defensive line. Romo had too much time to manage the pocket, extend plays and allow his receivers to convert routes. And in the red zone, that is a nightmare for defensive backs.
I broke down Peyton Manning and the Broncos offense on Wednesday. That’s a top-tier unit right now. But without the skill set (and speed) of Miller as an edge-rusher, this defense really struggled to contain and collapse the pocket versus the Cowboys.
8. Jeff Tuel threw the Browns defense a free one
The rookie quarterback failed to read the strong safety on his fourth quarter interception last Thursday night. With the Browns playing 3 Buzz, T.J. Ward dropped down as an inside hook defender and broke on the “follow” route (shallow drive, angle combination).
Tuel can’t lock onto the slot receiver and make that throw without accounting for the inside defender in a zone coverage. This was a veteran play from Ward to see the route combination and read through to the quarterback to get the pick—and the score.
9. Sean Payton’s play-calling exploited the Bears
The Saints had three big plays in the first half during their win over the Bears in Chicago, and each one targeted a certain scheme/coverage of Mel Tucker’s defense. Take the wheel route to Jimmy Graham (Cover 1), four verticals off play action (Cover 2) or the slip screen to Pierre Thomas (nickel pressure).
Here’s a quick look at the inside seam (four verticals) to Graham versus two-deep. Drew Brees used play action to force the linebackers to attack downhill and targeted the tight end in front of the deep-half safeties.
10. The 49ers won (again) with the base power run game
Does anyone in the NFL run the Power O, or Counter OF, as well as the 49ers? I mentioned this last week after the 49ers' win over the Rams, and it showed up once again on Sunday night when they took care of the Texans.
Block down, kick out and pull the guard. It’s really that simple. But the execution is the difference in San Francisco with that offensive line and running back Frank Gore.
5 Things to Watch Heading into Week 6
Here are five things I’m focused on after looking at the Week 6 NFL schedule.
1. Bill Belichick versus Jimmy Graham
I’m really curious to see what Belichick does within his defensive game plan to limit the Saints tight end on Sunday. Does he show some bracket looks, play Cover 7 (combination man) or go with some 2-Man?
The Patriots did use the double jam versus Tony Gonzalez last Sunday night inside the red zone, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that again when the Saints move the ball inside the 10-yard line. That eliminates the slant-and-fade with Graham. This is a matchup we need to keep an eye on.
2. Matt Schaub’s confidence
Anytime you get the hook during a game, your confidence level is going to drop a little. That’s natural. But how does Schaub respond after throwing three picks and getting benched during the loss to the 49ers?
The Texans should be able to lean on the running game with Arian Foster versus the Rams, and that will create some play-action opportunities for Schaub. But I’m more interested in seeing if the Texans quarterback can make a play for this team during a crucial game situation. That will tell us the story on his confidence level.
3. Geno Smith versus the Steelers
I know the Steelers are 0-4, and this defense under Dick LeBeau has lacked the ability to make impact plays all season. However, this is still a good test for Smith because of the multiple fronts and zone pressures that the Steelers will run on Sunday.
The key for Smith is the ability to identify pressure. LeBeau’s unit will show a ton of movement in its pre-snap looks and drop defenders directly into throwing lanes off its pressure schemes. Smith has to be smart with the football. Throw the hot read and get the ball out.
4. Redskins' offensive game plan
Robert Griffin III and the Redskins have had two weeks to prep for the Cowboys. That means RG3 should be ready to throw the standard Cover 2 beaters (flat-7, four verticals, etc.), recognize the Cowboys' base blitz concepts and know where to go with the ball off boot action. However, will the Redskins show more read-option on Sunday night?
Think play action here versus Monte Kiffin’s Cover 2 defense. If the Redskins can show the option out of the pistol alignment, Griffin will have opportunities to force those second-level defenders to the line of scrimmage and target the inside seam. That’s where you can pick up explosive gains versus this defense.
5. Terrelle Pryor versus the Chiefs
Like everyone else, I’ve been impressed with Pryor this season. He brings some creativity to the Raiders' playbook because of his athletic ability, and he is making some big throws from the pocket. But will that continue versus the Chiefs' press-man technique?
The Chiefs will show a lot of single-high safety looks and work to disrupt the release at the line of scrimmage. Can the Raiders wideouts consistently get off the jam? Or will Pryor have to force the ball into tight coverage to make a play? Big week for the Raiders receivers.
All-22 Rewind: 49ers' Cover 0 Pressure
How did 49ers defensive tackle Tony Jerod-Eddie come up with an interception on Sunday night versus Schaub and the Texans? Let’s take a look at the 49ers' pressure scheme on the All-22 tape.
Texans vs. 49ers
Personnel: Joker (3WR-2TE)
Offensive Concept: Hi-Lo Crossers
Defensive Scheme: Cover 0
The 49ers are showing a pressure front at the snap with the defensive backs in a zero-blitz alignment (off-man, inside shade with no safety help). They will play with a flat-foot read (no backpedal, read through the three step) and drive on the throw versus the Texans' Hi-Lo crossers concept (two inside crossing routes at different levels). However, the 49ers are dropping Jerod-Eddie into the underneath hole or hook. That’s the key to this blitz.
Schaub reads the pressure and gets his eyes back inside to target the tight end on the crossing route. However, because of the initial alignment of the 49ers defensive front, the Texans quarterback doesn’t account for a defensive tackle dropping into the hole.
This is a great finish for a big man to step into the throwing lane and make the play. You will see this technique with the defensive tackle show up in zone pressures (and when teams want to drop eight in Cover 2). But in this situation, the 49ers sent man-pressure and stole one from Schaub.
Football 101: Cover 2 Techniques
Why did the Lions give up the deep one to Rodgers and the Packers? Let’s go back and talk about the multiple busts Detroit had in Cover 2.
Lions vs. Packers
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Offensive Concept: Verticals
Defensive Scheme: Cover 2
Let’s start with the open- or weak-side cornerback. You want the cornerback to force an inside release (prevents safety from widening off the numbers) and sink hard with no threat in the flat. Here, the Lions allow James Jones to get to the outside, and that puts stress on the free safety with two vertical threats to his side of the field.
In two-deep, the free safety has to stay square in his pedal and play with enough depth to overlap both vertical routes. However, with the nickel sitting short (has to get depth to cushion the safety), Louis Delmas open his hips and drives the inside vertical—leaving Jones free outside the numbers.
The corner is going to trail Jones, but with no safety help over the top, this is an explosive play that goes for six points. And it all starts with the Lions failing to play the basic techniques of Cover 2.
Inside the Locker Room: The Saints defense
I’ve been asked all week about Rob Ryan’s defense in New Orleans.
Why is this unit playing better? What are the Saints doing from a coverage perspective? Are they still a pressure defense under Ryan?
The Saints have shown some creative looks this season in the red zone with their ability to use combination-man calls to take away top targets, and Ryan’s pressure package versus the Bears was very productive.
New Orleans ran some overload blitz schemes and generated some confusion in the Bears' protection count. That led to three sacks and an early turnover.
But regardless of what Ryan puts in his game plan, this is more about players buying into his coaching style.
That sells in defensive team meeting rooms at the pro level.
I wrote about this last week when discussing the impact Gregg Williams can have on a defense after playing for him in Washington. That scheme under Williams was complex, it was challenging and we had to compete every day.
But we all wanted to come to work because Williams created an environment, or an attitude, that was conducive to playing defense at a high level.
As I said in that piece on Williams, defensive football isn’t played in a box. It isn’t scripted, nor is it robotic. And no matter what is on the call sheet, if you can get 11 guys to buy into the system, then you will get results on Sundays.
And that’s what I see going on right now down in New Orleans under Ryan.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.