Tale of the Tape from NFL Week 9

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterNovember 4, 2013

Every Monday, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen takes you inside the X’s and O’s of the game. Here are his five key plays from the Week 9 Sunday NFL schedule.


Tony Romo’s Game-Winner versus the Vikings

Trailing 23-20 late in the fourth quarter, Romo led the Cowboys on a nine-play, 90-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass to receiver Dwayne Harris on an inside smash route versus two-deep coverage.

Let’s break down the route, discuss how the Cowboys occupied the Mike’ backer in Cover 4 and focus on the inside matchup that allowed Romo to target Harris for the game-winner in Dallas.


Vikings vs. Cowboys

Personnel: Kings (4WR-1TE)

Formation: Empty

Offensive Concept: Smash-Seam

Defensive Scheme: Cover 4

The Cowboys are playing the tendencies of the Vikings defense inside the red zone. With Jason Witten on the vertical seam route, the Mike ‘backer carries/matches the tight end on the inside stem. That opens up the middle of the field and allows Harris to work the smash route underneath. 

As a nickel corner, you have to squeeze the smash route from a slot alignment when there is no threat to the flat. However, instead of driving to the upfield shoulder of Harris, Vikings defensive back Marcus Sherels hesitates and allows the receiver to create some separation on his cutback to the middle of the field.

In Cover 4 (especially inside the 10-yard line), think of matchups. That’s what we are looking at here. By occupying the Mike’ backer on the seam route, the Cowboys get a one-on-one situation on the smash route. Romo steps up in the pocket, finds Harris underneath (with Sherels in a trail position) and delivers the ball for the winning touchdown to beat the Vikings.


Colts Beat the Texans' Cover 1 Scheme 

After being down 18 at the half, Andrew Luck brought the Colts back once again to beat the Texans down in Houston. Let’s go to the game-winner, discuss the route combination and break down why Luck was able to target T.Y Hilton on a pick situation inside the red zone.


Colts vs. Texans

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

Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Near “Dakota” 

Offensive Concept: Slant-Flat

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1

Defenses that play Cover 1 in the red zone have to prep for pick situations with inside breaking concepts. That’s what we see here from the Colts with No. 1 and No. 2 on hard, inside-slant releases designed to get Hilton open in the flat. And that puts the stress on Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph to bubble over the traffic to match to Hilton.

If the Colts were in a tight bunch alignment, the Texans could jam the point man and play a “banjo” technique (in and out) with No. 1 and No. 3 to avoid the pick. However, because of the wide split, Joseph doesn’t have a lot of options here. The cornerback has to bubble over the outside slant and work to get downhill on Hilton. That’s rough for any defensive back in the red zone.

Instead of breaking down (and using the sideline as his help), Joseph overruns the play and allows Hilton to cut back. There is no question this is a tough play for Joseph to make because of the pick route, but the veteran cornerback has to make the tackle. Can’t give up a touchdown when you are protecting a lead because of a poor angle to the ball.  


Washington Shuts Down the Chargers’ Sprint Concept on the Goal Line

With a chance to close out Washington on the goal line at the end of regulation, the Chargers abandoned the power running game and rolled out three suspect plays in a row (inside zone out of the shotgun, the fade to Antonio Gates and the sprint-out combination). That was soft play-calling from my perspective. And it led to a field goal—plus an eventual overtime loss—for Mike McCoy’s club.

Let’s focus on the third-down call and break down why Washington was ready to defend this route based on the game situation/pre-snap alignment of the Chargers.


Chargers vs. Washington

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

Formation: Doubles Gun Far

Offensive Concept: Flat-7 (Sprint)

Defensive Scheme: Cover 0

Everyone in the stadium should have seen this route coming with the ball inside the red zone and a running back offset to a slot alignment. That is an immediate alert from a defensive perspective to the sprint-out. (Offset back will seal the edge.) And there are two route combinations to play for: flat-curl or flat-7 (corner).

Here, the Chargers run the flat-7 with Keenan Allen taking a hard inside stem versus zero pressure (man coverage with no safety help) to set up the break to the corner. Roll Philip Rivers to the open side of the formation and give Allen time to create separation on the route.

The flat route is the usually first option on the sprint concept. But Josh Wilson drives to the upfield shoulder, and Rivers has to look up Allen. And with rookie David Amerson playing to the hip of the Chargers wide receiver (before the stem to the corner), the Redskins have both routes covered.

Amerson can use the end line as his help, and that forces Rivers to try and squeeze this ball in the corner of the end zone. Critical stop for the Washington defense, and it started with its ability to identify the route based on the pre-snap look from the Chargers.


Tom Brady Targets the Steelers' Zone Pressure

Brady played his best football of the season on Sunday, as the veteran quarterback beat up a Steelers secondary that couldn’t match the game plan or the speed/skill set of the Patriots receivers.

Here’s a look at Brady’s touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski versus a Steelers zone blitz that highlights the Patriots’ ability to take advantage of matchups on a day where New England rolled up over 600 total yards and 55 points.


Steelers vs. Patriots

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

Formation: Doubles Big Wing

Offensive Concept: Smash-Seam

Defensive Scheme: Open-Side Fire Zone

Brady shows closed-side play action and looks to target the smash-seam combination with Gronkowski stemming his route to the top of the numbers.

And with the Steelers rushing five, rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones (seam-flat technique in zone pressure) has to match/carry Gronkowski on the seam. The tight end gets a free release, and Jones is now stuck in a trail position with his only help in the deep middle of the field.

With cornerback Ike Taylor matching to No. 1 (Aaron Dobson) on the smash/hitch route, Jones has to work to the inside hip of Gronkowski. That’s tough on any linebacker to run the seam and play coverage with his back to the football. And the Patriots now have the matchup they want in the red zone.

Safety Troy Polamalu is going to break on the throw and create an angle to the play. However, Brady puts this ball on the back shoulder of Gronkowski. And with Jones in a trail position, the rookie can’t locate the ball or impact the point of attack. That’s six points all day.


Nick Foles, Chip Kelly Beat the Raiders' Blitz

Foles lit up the Raiders for seven touchdowns during the Eagles' 49-20 win, as Oakland struggled to match up outside of the numbers and play disciplined football with their eyes/keys versus Kelly’s offense.

Here’s a look at the swing route to LeSean McCoy that went for six versus the Raiders' Cover 1 pressure. Let’s check it out and discuss why the Eagles running back was wide-open after the pre-snap motion.


Eagles vs. Raiders

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

Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Far

Offensive Concept: Swing Route

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1 Pressure

The Eagles use short motion to move McCoy before the snap with a double smash-seam concept to the closed- (strong-) side of the formation versus Cover 1 pressure. Two inside releases (smash/slant routes) paired with the running back on the swing. We see it every week (without the window dressing of the motion), as it can create a pick situation versus man coverage.

In any blitz (Cover 1 or Cover 0), there has to be a player who accounts for the running back on the swing, checkdown, etc. Here, the Raiders blitz to the open- (weak-) side of the formation, don’t use a “peel” technique (edge-rusher matches to running back's release) or even adjust to the motion. And that’s trouble with the cornerback, nickel and strong safety removed in coverage.

Look at the open space McCoy has to work with. Even with the free safety reacting from the middle of the field, the Eagles running back has a clear lane to get up the sideline with the inside defenders in man coverage. It was a smart scheme from Kelly that caused some confusion in the Raiders defense and led to one of Foles’ seven touchdown passes on the afternoon.


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


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