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 7 Sunday NFL schedule.
Andrew Luck, Colts catch the Broncos in the red zone
Luck passed for three touchdowns (and ran for another score) in the Colts' win over Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Indianapolis. It was an impressive night for the second-year quarterback, and I loved the red-zone call to get the ball to wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey off “ghost motion” for a score.
Let’s break this play down, take a look at how the Colts set it up and discuss why Heyward-Bey was able to catch the ball with open field in front of him.
Broncos vs. Colts
Personnel: Regular (2WR-1TE-2RB)
Formation: Pro I Slot (Exchange)
Offensive Concept: Ghost Throwback
Defensive Scheme: Cover 1
The Colts sell the throwback by using short “ghost motion” (wide receiver motions into the backfield) off closed-side (strong-side) play action. With the Broncos bumping the coverage inside (to avoid possible pick situation on stack alignment), Champ Bailey has to run with Heyward-Bey (bubble over the formation) on the ghost action.
As a cornerback in man coverage, Bailey has to work over the top, fight through traffic and match to the wide receiver on the opposite side of the formation for a possible reverse or quick swing route. Bailey assumes that Heyward-Bey is going to carry this path across the formation and loses track of the receiver. That allows Luck to come off the play action and look up Heyward-Bey as the receiver works back to the open side on the swing/flat route.
With Reggie Wayne selling an inside release (false run key) and creating an angle to block the open-side cornerback, Heyward-Bey has a clear run to the end zone. Nice call and better execution given the field position/scouting report on the Broncos defense.
Antonio Allen’s pick-six versus Tom Brady, Patriots
The special teams penalty on the Patriots in overtime is going to lead the discussion this week. It’s a suspect rule that every team has to follow—and understand—when it lines up to block a kick. However, let’s not forget about Geno Smith and the Jets defense running off 17 unanswered points at home to help get the win over Bill Belichick’s team.
Let’s go back to Allen’s pick-six versus Brady, break down the route to tight end Rob Gronkowski and check out the secondary technique in 2-Man.
Patriots vs. Jets
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Gun Far
Offensive Concept: Flood
Defensive Scheme: 2-Man
This is an open-side (weak-side) flood concept from the Patriots with No. 1 running the deep comeback, No. 2 (slot receiver) on the option/quick out and Gronkowski working back to the opposite numbers on the crossing route. With the Jets in 2-Man (two-deep, man-under), the underneath defenders are playing a trail-man technique: sit hard to the inside hip and use the safety protection over the top to challenge routes.
With the help over the top, Allen can drive to Gronkowski's inside hip on the crossing route (“in-phase” with the receiver), get his eyes back to Brady and look to undercut this route. Allen can take some risk in this situation versus an intermediate crossing route.
This isn’t a good ball from Brady. Instead of targeting Gronkowski on the upfield shoulder (away from the defender’s leverage in 2-Man), Brady leaves this throw back to the inside. That’s trouble versus the technique/position of Allen. The Jets safety drives on the ball, makes the play and finishes down the sideline for six points to start the New York scoring run.
Robert Griffin III beats the Bears with the deep ball
The Bears defense took another step back this week in Chicago's 45-41 loss to the Redskins, as the unit was exposed versus Griffin and the Washington game plan. This defense had multiple issues containing RG3 in the both the read-option and the boot schemes, tight end Jordan Reed was a matchup issue for the secondary and the front seven was beaten up in the run game.
What happened on the deep ball Griffin threw to Aldrick Robinson? Let’s take a look at this play, talk about the coverage and break down why the Bears gave up a free one here.
Bears vs. Redskins
Personnel: Regular (2WR-1TE-2RB)
Formation: Pro Strong I (Pistol)
Offensive Concept: Yankee Route
Defensive Scheme: Cover 3
The “Yankee" route is a two-man route (only two receivers in the route scheme) designed to run off the top of the defense with a 9 (fade), 8 (post) or 7 (corner) to open up room for the deep crossing route. Here, the Redskins align with tight splits (both wide receivers inside the numbers), show the read-option backfield action and look to target the Bears' Cover 3 scheme (three-deep, four-under).
This route is designed to push the open-side (weak-side) cornerback (Charles Tillman) up the field on the 9-route and target the now-vacated zone with the deep crosser. However, even though Griffin has the crossing route open underneath, the quarterback is going to test the top of the defense here with Tillman in a trail position and free safety Chris Conte in the deep middle of the field.
This should be an interception at the NFL level, with the free safety driving to the route and the corner underneath. However, Conte gets knocked off his angle to the ball and Tillman can’t get back in-phase with Robinson. That forces the Bears corner to misjudge his depth/jump, and Robinson comes up with six points.
Colin Kaepernick, 49ers run past the Titans
The 49ers have won four in a row by controlling the line of scrimmage in the run game and using their Tank personnel (one wide receiver, two tight ends, two running backs) to create some matchups in the passing game at the tight end position.
In the win over the Titans, the 49ers ran the ball 41 times and went back to the read-option with Kaepernick to pick up a touchdown. Let’s break down the option scheme, look at the initial read for the quarterback and focus on the blocking.
49ers vs. Titans
Personnel: Tank (1WR-2TE-2RB)
Formation: Tank Weak I (Pistol)
Offensive Concept: Read-option
Defensive Scheme: Cover 2
The 49ers show a diamond formation pre-snap (three-back look) and shift the tight end to the open (weak) side of the formation to form a two-back pistol alignment. Kaepernick will read the path of the open-side defensive end through the mesh point (quarterback-running back exchange) with blockers working to the second level of the defense.
With the defensive end crashing on the dive (Frank Gore), Kaepernick pulls this ball and now has a clear running lane with the fullback and tight end securing their second-level blocks. However, check out Gore. The 49ers running back works through the inside-zone action (plus the defensive end) and gets down the field to become a lead blocker for Kaepernick.
This block from Gore is all about effort. That’s it. The running back gets vertical, cuts down the deep-half safety (free safety will run the alley versus the option) and clears a path for Kaepernick to walk into the end zone. Impressive execution and overall effort from the 49ers on this touchdown run.
Ben Roethlisberger sets up the game-winning field goal versus Ravens
With under a minute to play in Pittsburgh, Ben Roethlisberger connected with wide receiver Antonio Brown twice versus man-pressure schemes to set up the game-winning field goal to beat the Ravens.
Here’s a look at Brown’s second catch on the whip option that put the Steelers in a position to pick up the win.
Ravens vs. Steelers
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Gun Near (Stack)
Offensive Concept: Whip Option
Defensive Scheme: Cover 1 Pressure
The Steelers are running a base slant-flat combination to the closed side of the formation, but Roethlisberger wants to work the stack look to the open side with Brown. The Steelers will release No. 2 on the inside stem (creates traffic versus man-coverage) and run Brown underneath on the option/slant. The key here is the initial stem of Brown. He will stem to the outside on his release and then break back across the defender’s leverage on the route.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith overplays the initial stem from Brown (opens his hips to play a possible flat route) and is now out of position. That’s poor technique. This forces Smith to redirect and allows Brown to create separation back to the inside.
With Smith now stuck in a trail position, Brown can make the catch and set up the Steelers in prime position to kick the winning field goal. Smart call from Pittsburgh versus a defense that will lean on pressure/man coverage in this type of late-game situation.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.