The Second Level: What You Need to Know Heading into NFL Week 8

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The Second Level: What You Need to Know Heading into NFL Week 8
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Every Thursday, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen brings you “The Second Level,” a breakdown of the league from multiple levels.

 

10 Things I Learned from the Week 7 Film

Here are 10 things that stand out from my perspective after watching the tape this week. 

 

1. Rob Gronkowski was a matchup issue for the Jets

This is all about leverage with the tight end. And that’s what I saw on the tape versus the New York Jets. When Gronkowski ran the out/option underneath, he would press the route up the field, create separation at the top of the stem and work away from the linebacker or safety.

On the seam route, the initial stem widens the safety with Gronkowski working back to the football. That’s a tough play for a safety to make when he has to drive through the upfield shoulder to find the ball versus the size of Gronkowski. Matchup nightmare in the red zone. 

 

2. The “crunch” block opened up running lanes for Marshawn Lynch

Lynch ripped off runs of 15, nine and 17 yards versus the Arizona Cardinals on the inside zone with the “crunch” block/technique (think of a trap here). Pull the open-side tight end (or H-Back) to cut/kick out the edge contain and allow Lynch to use his vision—plus cutback ability—to work the ball to the second level.

This is the same scheme the Green Bay Packers run with Eddie Lacy, and it sells when you get the cut block on the edge-defender to create running lanes.

 

3. Colts cornerbacks challenged the Broncos wide receivers

I was impressed with the Indianapolis Colts cornerbacks versus Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Vontae Davis, Greg Toller and Darius Butler impacted the Broncos wide receivers at the line of scrimmage, played tight to the hip throughout the route stem and drove on the football.

This wasn’t complicated from an X’s and O’s perspective. Play man coverage and get hands on the wide receivers to disrupt the Broncos route tree.

 

4. The Bucs had a suspect defensive game plan

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Harry Douglas beat up the Tampa Bay Buccaneers secondary, and it started with the game plan from Tampa. Why sit in Cover 2 or play Cover 6 (Quarter-Quarter-Half) when you know Darrelle Revis can mirror Douglas for the majority of the game?

I thought the Bucs needed to play more Cover 1 and allow Revis to match Douglas—regardless of alignment.

Below is a look at Douglas’ touchdown catch with Revis in the flat on the backside of Cover 6. The safety bites on the quick double move with rookie cornerback Johnthan Banks stuck trailing from an outside leverage position. That’s trouble.

 

5. The read-option was back in play for the 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers had put the read-option on the shelf for a while, but they brought it back versus the Tennessee Titans and produced because of the blocking execution at the second level. With the Titans crashing the defensive end to take the dive, Colin Kaepernick was able to read through the mesh point, pull the ball and work up the field.

And with the 49ers leading up to the second level with the fullback and tight end in their Tank personnel (one wide receiver, two tight ends, two running backs) out of a two-back Pistol alignment, this looked like a quarterback power play.

 

6. Chiefs' multiple defensive fronts produced versus the Texans

The Kansas City Chiefs posted four sacks in the second half versus the Houston Texans, and it started with their pre-snap looks. Kansas City used multiple fronts to confuse the Texans' protection count, and that produced some free runners to quarterback Case Keenam.

Yes, the young quarterback has to identify backside pressure and get the ball out quicker, but the Texans offensive line struggled to pick up second-level rushers and stunts along the defensive front.

 

7. Bears' “packaged” plays led to points versus Washington

The Chicago Bears picked up two touchdowns on the same packaged read for backup quarterback Josh McCown. The first came on Matt Forte’s touchdown run, and the second showed up in the red zone on the quick seam route to tight end Martellus Bennett.

Below is the seam route to Bennett. McCown can hand off to Forte on the zone scheme, keep the ball off the mesh point, throw the seam or target the slot receiver on the bubble screen. McCown reads the drop of the middle linebacker here (Cover 2) and throws the seam route for the score late in the fourth quarter.

 

8. Redskins rookie tight end Jordan Reed was impressive 

The rookie tight end has a solid skill set when breaking down his speed, route-running ability and production after the catch. Against the Bears, Reed went to work against safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte all afternoon.

The tight end ran the option route, the 7 cut (corner) and sold the slant to create separation for a touchdown on the goal-line fade. Nine receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown. Reed whipped the Bears safeties.  

 

9. Ryan Tannehill can’t lock on to receivers versus man coverage

Buffalo Bills cornerback Nickell Robey had a pick-six versus Tannehill on a ball that shouldn’t have been thrown by the quarterback. With the Bills playing 2-Man (two-deep, man-under), the underneath defenders are going to jump routes and play aggressively versus the three-step game (slant, hitch, smoke, etc.) with safety help over the top. 

Tannehill locked on the slot receiver (hitch route) and led Robey right to the play. You can’t do that versus NFL defensive backs.

 

10. Tyler Eifert showcased his athletic ability versus the Lions

Every draft report on Eifert talked about his ability as a route-runner removed from the core of the formation or as an in-line tight end. Ball skills, body control, etc. That was on display versus the Detroit Lions when the rookie beat cornerback Rashean Mathis on the wheel route (out and up).

Mathis had solid coverage (and was in position versus Eifert down the field), but the tight end showcased his athletic ability to adjust to the ball. We need to see more of this from the Cincinnati Bengals offense in the red zone.

 

Five Things to Watch Heading into Week 8

Here are five things that I'm focused on after looking at the Week 8 NFL schedule. 

 

1. Calvin Johnson vs. Cowboys Tampa 2 defense

/Getty Images

Look for Calvin Johnson to align in the slot versus the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. That’s a pre-snap alert from a defensive perspective anytime a No. 1 wide receiver is aligned out of position (that’s where the ball is going), as the Lions are looking to create a matchup advantage versus Cover 2.

Detroit can run four verticals (four go routes) to target the middle of the field and force Mike ‘backer Sean Lee to carry/match speed on the inside seam. That shows up often from the Lions versus both the Minnesota Vikings and Bears (Cover 2 defenses), and it could give Matthew Stafford an opportunity to flip the field.

 

2. The Vikings' offensive game plan versus the Packers

Josh Freeman might be down with a concussion, and the Vikings could have to hand the ball back to Christian Ponder once again. However, regardless of who takes the snaps on Sunday night, the Vikings have to reshape that offensive game plan around Adrian Peterson to protect their quarterbacks.

Run the ball with Peterson and create some manageable third-down situations. As an offense, you have the entire playbook to work with on 3rd-and-2 through 3rd-and-6.

But when you are consistently stuck in 3rd-and-long situations, that just invites pressure from the defense. And Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers will blitz the Vikings if they can’t win on early down-and-distance situations.

 

3. The return of Michael Vick

We might see more packaged reads in Chip Kelly’s game plan with Vick back in the lineup this Sunday, but I’m more concerned with his ability to protect the football and make accurate throws versus the New York Giants secondary.

DeSean Jackson is going to get matchups he can win versus both Cover 1 and Cover 2. And if Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell decides to dial up pressure, then there will be one-on-one situations for Vick to target quick, hot reads inside. This is an opportunity for Vick to go to work on this Giants defense.

 

4. Redskins vs. Broncos

I like what I’m seeing on tape right now from Robert Griffin III and the Redskins offense with the read-option, boot game and the inside zone schemes that cater to both Alfred Morris and Roy Helu. It's an offense that creates opportunities for Griffin to showcase his athletic ability.

But can the Redskins keep up with Peyton Manning?

The Broncos have so many matchups they can exploit versus the Washington Redskins secondary both inside and outside of the numbers. And I’m focused on Wes Welker and Julius Thomas. The Redskins are going to have a tough time trying to limit the underneath routes in the Broncos playbook.

/Getty Images

 

5. The Steelers run game

The Pittsburgh Steelers-Oakland Raiders matchup might not be at the top of your list for this Sunday, but I’m interested in watching Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell. In the win over the Baltimore Ravens, the rookie showed a burst through the hole and brought his pads on contact once he got to the second level.

Mike Tomlin’s team has won two in a row, they are playing at a higher level on the defensive side of the ball, and Bell gives them some much-needed production at the running back position. I want to see if that continues versus the Raiders this Sunday.

 

All-22 Rewind: Andrew Luck, Colts Beat the Broncos' Three-Deep Coverage

How did Luck target the Broncos' three-deep shell? Here’s a look at the Colts' four verticals concept that puts stress on the top of the Denver defense.

 

Broncos vs. Colts

Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)

Formation: Empty

Offensive Concept: Four Verticals

Defensive Scheme: 3 Buzz

The Broncos are showing a two-deep look in their pre-snap alignment, but the strong safety will drop down to the middle hook (3 Buzz) to create a three-deep coverage in the secondary.

With the Colts running four verticals (tight end Coby Fleener is the checkdown option), Luck can target Darrius Heyward-Bey on the inside seam route to the open (weak) side of the formation in the hole between the cornerback and the free safety.

With the open-side cornerback stacked on top of the outside vertical, Luck can target Heyward-Bey once he clears the underneath zone defenders. This puts the cornerback in a tough spot to split two verticals (and drive inside on the throw) from an outside alignment.

Look at the zone pocket Luck targets over the top of the underneath linebacker and in front of the free safety. The cornerback will deliver a hit to Heyward-Bey on the catch, but this is a perfect example of how to exploit three-deep coverage with the inside seam route.

 

Football 101: Throwing the “Sight Adjust”

Using the tape from the Cleveland Browns-Green Bay Packers matchup, let’s talk about “sight-adjust” routes and the reads a quarterback can make based off the secondary’s pre-snap alignment. 

 

Browns vs. Packers

Personnel: Ace (2WR-2TE-1RB)

Formation: Doubles Slot Bunch

Offensive Concept: Crack Toss (Sight-Adjust Slant)

Defensive Scheme: Cover 0

Goal-line situation for the Packers with a bunch to the closed (strong) side of the formation and Jordy Nelson aligned as the backside X receiver versus Joe Haden in zero coverage (no safety help). The Packers have a run called in the huddle (Crack Toss to Eddie Lacy). However, Rodgers is going to throw the “sight adjust” to Nelson based off the Browns showing Cover 0 at the line.

As you can see here, the Packers block down on the edge, wrap the tight end and pull the front-side guard with Lacy on the toss path. The entire offense, besides Rodgers and Nelson, is running/blocking on the Crack Toss.

But Rodgers takes a quick drop and targets Nelson on the one-step slant. That’s an adjustment between the quarterback and the receiver only (usually a signal at the line) to throw the sight adjust.

With Haden playing the proper technique in man coverage (jam, drive to the upfield shoulder), Rodgers puts this throw on the back shoulder for six points. Great ball placement. This can be considered a “packaged” read (run/pass option) for the Packers, but it also plays out as a simple "sight adjust" based off the defensive look.

 

Inside the Locker Room: Bye-Week Self-Scouting

Every pro ball player should get away from the facility and relax during the bye week.

That’s a must with the grind and the commitment of the NFL season. Take the time and head back home, stop by your old campus to check out a college game or just get out of town for a couple of days.

Go drink beer with friends, take your wife to New York City, hang out with your family, whatever.

I used to love going back to Iowa City to catch a Hawkeyes game early in my career, and in the later stages of my playing days, I would be on a flight home to Chicago for the weekend.

It’s a perfect time to clear your mind and get ready for the second half of the season.

/Getty Images

However, before players leave town, they should ask the video guys at the facility to make them a tape of corrections. Put together a DVD of busts, missed assignments, technique errors, etc.

With no opponent to prep for, this is an ideal time to scout your own game. Why are you getting beat? Is it technique? Leverage? What are your strengths? Weaknesses?

Watch your footwork, hand placement and angles to the ball. They all tell you a story when you make a mistake on the field or lose a one-on-one matchup.

And study those mistakes hard—because your future opponents are, too. They are going to watch the same film and attack those same technique errors unless you get them fixed.

When I played for Gregg Williams in Washington, those correction tapes were mandatory—along with written reports we had to hand in when we got back into town. That was smart from Gregg, because it made us recognize (and address) the errors on the film.

During an NFL season, so much time is spent throughout the week on opponent game prep in the film room. Study the tendencies, personnel, alignments, etc.

But when you get that time off in the bye week, the true pros get back on the tape and start to break down their own game. And the ability to self-scout (plus make the corrections) is key for any player.

 

Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.

 

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