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 9 NFL Film
Here are 10 things that stand out from my perspective after watching the tape this week.
1. Bears took away Aaron Rodgers’ primary read on the sack/injury
The “nod” route versus Cover 2. That’s where Rodgers wanted to go with the ball in the red zone on the play where Shea McClellin knocked him out of the game with a broken collarbone.
With Jordy Nelson aligned at No. 3 (speed inside to put stress on the Mike 'backer in two-deep), the Packers want to run the “nod” (quick double-move) to split the safeties. However, with Chris Conte playing over the top of Nelson, the Bears took away Rodgers’ primary read. And that allowed McClellin to come back downhill to make the hit that put Rodgers on the shelf.
2. Jets’ defensive front beat up the Saints
If you are looking for a tape to watch, go check out the second half of the Jets' win over the Saints and focus on the defensive line. Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, Quinton Coples, etc. This unit generated pressure up the field, won individual matchups and forced Drew Brees to move off the spot in the pocket.
That’s better than any coverage scheme a defense can draw up on a chalkboard. Hit the quarterback and collapse the pocket. Brees didn’t look comfortable that entire second half.
3. Dolphins’ “walk-off” safety turned into a one-on-one matchup
This was a five-man pressure scheme from the Dolphins versus the Bengals’ six-man “scan” protection (running back will work to pick up second-level rusher). And as we can see here, the Bengals should create a clean pocket for Andy Dalton to work through his progressions.
However, focus on right guard Kevin Zeitler. He allows Cameron Wake to get on the edge, press through the block and put the hit on Dalton that closes this game out. Can't play with poor technique versus the speed and power of Wake.
4. Chris Johnson was playing at a different speed than the Rams secondary
If you want to get a good look at Johnson’s speed (and acceleration), check out the tape when he gets to the second level of the Rams defense. On both touchdown runs, Johnson pressed the hole, squared his pads and showcased a burst up the field.
That eliminated angles—and pursuit—from the Rams secondary. A lot of speed there.
5. Steelers secondary couldn’t match up with Tom Brady, Patriots
Leverage, eyes, angles to the ball, depth, etc. Too many issues with the Steelers secondary in the loss to the Patriots. Dick LeBeau’s unit didn’t have an answer for tight end Rob Gronkowksi on the inside seam route, and its zone shells were picked apart by Brady.
Here’s an example on Brady’s touchdown pass to Danny Amendola. Vertical concepts versus three-deep coverage. The underneath defenders don’t carry (or impact) the inside seam, Troy Polamalu opens his hips in the deep middle of the field and Brady now has a two-on-one versus the cornerback.
6. Chiefs defense has to clean up its run fits
The Chiefs continued to make plays in the secondary during their win over the Bills, but there is plenty to clean up in the run game.
This unit struggled with its contain (or cutback) responsibilities versus C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Plus, the gap fits, secondary support and tackling were poor. There will be some corrections made off this tape.
7. The Saints wheel route is nasty versus three-deep coverage
The deep ball to Jimmy Graham? That was a wheel route (or out-and-up), where the Saints ran off the cornerback on the post and also occupied the free safety in the deep middle of the field. The result was yet another one-on-one matchup where Graham could exploit a safety in coverage. Smart call and great execution from the Saints.
8. Marc Trestman’s play-calling was excellent in Bears' win over Packers
The Bears head coach was aggressive and used multiple personnel groupings/formations to attack Dom Capers’ defense with backup quarterback Josh McCown. Look at the run game with Matt Forte or the pre-snap alignments to get Brandon Marshall in favorable matchups inside of the numbers.
Capers has beaten up the Bears for a number of years with his pressure packages and two-man looks, but I give the edge to Trestman here on Monday night. The Bears took advantage of the bye week to set a solid offensive game plan.
9. Play action is still creating clear throwing lanes for RG3
When Washington can run the football with production, it allows Robert Griffin III to target inside breaking routes all day. Think of the slant, skinny post or even the dig. Three routes that gave the Chargers issues on Sunday because of second-level defenders stepping to the line of scrimmage.
Check out the skinny post to Pierre Garcon below versus Cover 2. With the Sam 'backer stepping to the line of scrimmage (and the Mike 'backer running the inside seam), RG3 has a clear throwing window to fit the ball to Garcon in front of the safety.
10. Defensive backs better open and run versus T.Y. Hilton
After watching Hilton run past Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph (will break this play down later in the post), opposing defensive backs better get out of their pedal once the Colts wide receiver breaks their cushion (distance between defensive back and wide receiver).
If you are going to play off-man versus Hilton, then get ready to turn and run once he eats up that cushion and gets to a depth of 12-15 yards. If there is no break at that depth, then get to the hip and go. He can fly.
5 Things to Watch Heading into Week 10
After looking at the Week 10 NFL schedule, here are five things I’m focused on.
1. 49ers power run game
During their five-game winning streak, the 49ers have leaned on their power run game (Power O, Lead, Counter OF) out of their Tank (one wide receiver, two tight ends, two running backs) and Heavy personnel (one wide receiver, three tight ends, one running back). That’s old school stuff right there.
And that creates an excellent matchup for us to check out on Sunday with two of the league’s most physical football teams. Let’s see if the 49ers can control the interior of the Panthers defensive line and win at the point of attack.
2. Seneca Wallace gets the start for Green Bay
I would expect the Eagles to use more eight-man fronts and lean on pressure in early down and distance situations without Rodgers in the lineup, but how will the Packers respond with Wallace running the game plan?
It’s possible that Green Bay could focus on more three-step routes to give Wallace quick reads on the smash, slant, etc. But if the Packers can continue to run the football, there will be plenty of opportunities to test the inside seams and work the ball vertically. I'm curious to find out how Mike McCarthy sets the game plan with the backup quarterback this Sunday.
3. Victor Cruz versus the Raiders
Nick Foles lit up the Raiders this past Sunday, and the overall technique in the Oakland secondary was suspect at best versus the deep ball.
With the Giants and Eli Manning looking to pick up their third straight win, why not test this defense on the inside seam, dig and seven route with Cruz from a slot alignment? Force the Raiders to find a matchup inside of the numbers and then take some shots to flip the field.
4. Reggie Bush and the Lions' game plan
Going back to their first meeting of the season, the Lions took advantage of a soft nickel front from the Bears defense and ran the ball with Bush out of their three wide receiver personnel. That allowed the running back to get to the second level of the defense quickly and expose some poor angles from the Bears safeties.
Will that change on Sunday? That all depends on the matchup the Bears want versus Calvin Johnson outside. By playing Cover 1, the Bears can add an extra defender to the front. However, if Chicago is forced to sit in Cover 2, then look for the Lions to attack early with Bush again.
5. Jimmy Graham versus Sean Lee in the red zone
The Cowboys are a Tampa 2 team inside of the 20-yard line, and that creates a solid matchup to watch on Sunday night with Graham and Lee. Look for the Saints to target the middle of the field on the seam, “nod” and post to put some stress on Lee. Classic two-deep beaters.
Monte Kiffin's unit knows exactly where opposing offenses want to go with the ball versus its core coverage, so this will come down to technique and the ability of Lee to play the ball at the point of attack.
All-22 Rewind: Andrew Luck Targets T.Y. Hilton on the Deep Post
Let’s go back to Luck’s touchdown pass to Hilton and break down why the Colts were able to beat the Texans’ Cover 4 scheme.
Colts vs. Texans
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot (X Nasty)
Offensive Concept: Pin (Post + In)
Defensive Scheme: Cover 4
The Pin route (post-in combo) is one of the top Cover 4 beaters in the NFL because it puts stress on the strong safety. That’s what we see here from the Colts with Hilton on the deep post and tight end Coby Fleener on the intermediate dig. Set the bait (dig) and force the strong safety to drive downhill—creating a one-on-one matchup versus the corner.
In Cover 4, the strong safety has to play No. 2 (or No. 3) vertically past a depth of 12 yards. If there's no vertical threat, then get your eyes to No. 1 and drive to the inside hip (plays out like a bracket coverage with the corner). In this situation, the strong safety is late to work outside, and Hilton forces Joseph to open his hips. That’s trouble versus the speed of the Colts wide receiver on the deep post.
Joseph doesn’t have any help to the inside (without the strong safety) and now has to use a closed angle technique (head whip or baseball turn) to try and get back in-phase with Hilton. And the result is six points.
Football 101: Defensive Eye Discipline in Short-Yardage Situations
Using the tape from the Falcons-Panthers matchup, let’s break down how Cam Newton was able to target Greg Olsen for a touchdown on fourth down off play action.
Falcons vs. Panthers
Personnel: Tank (1WR-2TE-2RB)
Formation: I Big Wing
Offensive Concept: 7 (corner) route
Defensive Scheme: Zero-Man
The Panthers are using the Lead Open run action in this 4th-and-short situation to target Greg Olsen on the seven cut (corner route) to the closed (strong) side of the formation. Sell the play fake and roll Newton with a run/pass option on the edge. A basic play-action concept out of Tank personnel shouldn’t be an issue if the Falcons—and strong safety William Moore—read their keys.
Look at Moore and the linebackers off the play fake. Instead of reading their keys, all we see here is eyes in the backfield. That’s really poor discipline. And with the tight end releasing off the line on a vertical stem, this should have been an easy read for Moore to match Olsen on the seven route.
Newton can take this ball to the edge of the defense and look up Olsen for an easy six points. But it still comes back to the discipline of the Falcons defense. Even in a fourth-down situation, there is no need to chase versus run away and ignore the basic keys of the defense.
Inside the Locker Room: Game-Planning an Elite Receiver
On Wednesday, I broke down Lions wide receiver Calvin Jonson and the impact he can have on opposing game plans because of his skill set.
A game-changer. No different than Randy Moss during my career.
But how do you prepare for an elite receiver? A guy who can take over a football game?
It starts in the meeting room when the game plans are handed out. And those game plans are going to change—or adapt—from the previous week if you are playing against Johnson, A.J. Green, Larry Fitzgerald, Brandon Marshall, etc.
Sure, your core schemes are still at the top of the call sheet, but the pressure packages, nickel coverages and red-zone defenses are all impacted because of the elite ability of one guy.
You worry about matchups, third downs and field position. Ball in between the 40s? That’s the perfect spot to take a shot down the field. And the game plan will have to adjust to that specific situation.
In practice, it’s best to get out the red jersey and hand it to the scout-team wide receiver who is giving your starting defense a look as the opposing team’s No. 1 guy.
We did that back in Washington when the Eagles and Terrell Owens were on the schedule. The scout-team receiver playing the spot of T.O. would wear a red jersey, so we could see the multiple alignments on the field.
The point here is that receivers like Johnson have to be accounted for on every single play. Whether that is a slot alignment, the backside of a 3x1 formation, in a stack, etc. It doesn’t matter. When a elite guy is on the field, things change.
And you have to adjust as a defense in your game prep if you want to limit the overall production.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.