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 11 Sunday NFL schedule.
Demaryius Thomas Goes to Work on Rookie Marcus Cooper
The Broncos handed the Chiefs their first loss of the season on Sunday night with a 27-17 win in Denver. Early in that ballgame, Peyton Manning targeted the matchup of Thomas versus the rookie cornerback on the fade route to set up the Broncos' first touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
Let’s talk about press-man technique, focus on the release and break down why Cooper was stuck in a trail position versus Thomas down the field on a play that went for 70 yards.
Chiefs vs. Broncos
Personnel: 11/Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Gun Near
Offensive Concept: 9 (Fade) Route
Defensive Scheme: Cover 1 “Rover”
This is called “opening the gate” from Cooper. Instead of sliding his feet laterally (or using a mirror technique) on the release to impact the outside stem of Thomas, Cooper opens his hips and takes a false step. The rookie does recover and gets back in-phase with Thomas (on the hip), but the initial technique gives the receiver the outside release he wants on the fade route.
Wide receivers in the NFL are going to push off throughout the route stem and at the point of attack. This is an offensive league, and defensive backs shouldn’t expect to get the call. That’s what we see here with Thomas as he extends the arm back to the chest of Cooper.
But more importantly, check out the eyes of the rookie. Defensive backs should never look back at the quarterback on any route—especially versus the fade. That causes immediate separation and puts the defensive back in a trail position. Instead, drive to the hip of the receiver and play through the hands. That’s where the ball is going.
Look at the separation between Thomas and Cooper on the catch. This started back at the line of scrimmage on the release, and it continued down the field. I think Cooper has the skill set to be a good football player in this league, but in this situation, technique was the story versus Thomas and Manning on the deep ball.
RG3 Throws the Eagles a Free One
Robert Griffin III threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to put Washington in a position to possibly tie this game up with the Eagles (down eight points). However, because of the defensive scheme—and a poor decision from RG3—Washington turned the ball over inside the red zone with under a minute to play.
Let’s talk about the Eagles' combination-man coverage and break down why RG3 threw this ball up to end the comeback attempt for Mike Shanahan’s club.
Washington vs. Eagles
Personnel: 11/Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Far
Offensive Concept: Tare
Defensive Scheme: Cover 7
I see this as Cover 7 (combo-man) from the Eagles. To the open (weak) side of the formation, Philadelphia is using a “cut” call (outside bracket) versus receiver Pierre Garcon. To the closed (strong) side, a “slice” call (inside bracket) over slot receiver Santana Moss.
Take away the top two options and play “solo” coverage (man with no help) over the tight end and outside the numbers versus the No. 1 receiver to the closed side.
For Washington, this is nothing more than the “Tare” concept. The top three-step route from 3x1 formation in the NFL. To the closed side, No. 1 runs the clear out 9 (fade) route with Moss and the tight end on the stick combination. And to the open side, Garcon runs the slant (always alert for a backside slant in a 3x1 formation).
Griffin looks to Garcon as his primary read and has to come back to the closed side of the formation because of the “cut” call (free safety takes away the inside break of the slant). However, with the strong safety driving hard on the outside cut from Moss—and the linebacker playing to the hip of the tight end—the Eagles have taken away RG3’s top options within the route concept.
Here’s where Griffin gets into trouble. The quarterback hangs in the pocket, retreats and now has to make a decision with Fletcher Cox getting up the field on the rush. But instead of throwing it away (third-down play), Griffin sails this ball into the end zone—off his back foot.
Cornerback Brandon Boykin can come off Moss once the receiver breaks on the out cut (safety buys the route). That puts him in a position to track the ball, make the catch and close out Washington. Solid execution from the Eagles defense on the combination coverage, and questionable decision from Griffin to throw this ball given the game situation.
Josh McCown, Martellus Bennett Beat the Ravens’ Pressure to Set Up Overtime Win
With a chance to set up the winning field goal on a sloppy field in overtime, Bears quarterback Josh McCown delivered a solid back-shoulder throw to tight end Martellus Bennett on the seam route versus man coverage.
Here’s a look at the play that helped the Bears close out the Ravens in a game that featured rain, wind, mud and a weather delay in Chicago.
Ravens vs. Bears
Personnel: 22/Ace (2WR-2TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Far
Offensive Concept: Seam/Wheel
Defensive Scheme: Cover 1 Pressure
With Brandon Marshall on the backside slant and Bennett matched up with Lardarius Webb on the inside seam, the Bears have to account for open-side pressure from safety Matt Elam.
At the snap, running back Matt Forte works through a quick play fake and slides to the edge to pick up Elam. That gives McCown the time to look to Marshall and then target Bennett versus Webb (playing with off-man technique).
Because Webb is playing from an inside-leverage position, Bennett can stem his route to the numbers (away from free safety help) and carry the seam vertically up the field to create a true one-on-one matchup. This is exactly what the Bears want to test the Ravens on down the field.
McCown puts this throw on the back shoulder of Bennett and forces Webb to play up through the hands. However, because Bennett climbs the ladder—and plays the ball at the highest point—the Bears tight end can finish this play. Heck of a grab given the game conditions to set Marc Trestman’s team up for the win.
EJ Manuel Targets Marquise Goodwin’s Deep-Ball Speed
The Bills beat up on the Jets at home with a combination of big plays on the defensive side of the ball and a solid day from rookie quarterback EJ Manuel against Rex Ryan’s defense.
Let’s take a look at Manuel’s 43-yard touchdown pass to Goodwin to highlight the rookie’s deep-ball speed versus Antonio Cromartie in man coverage.
Jets vs. Bills
Personnel: 22/Ace (2WR-2TE-1RB)
Formation: Unit Gun Far
Offensive Concept: Four Verticals
Defensive Scheme: Cover 1
Four verticals. We talk about this concept almost every week versus Cover 2 and Cover 3 (target the seams).
Here, the Bills are running the route against the Jets’ Cover 1 scheme, with Cromartie playing from a “bail” technique (open, sink at the snap) and Ed Reed in the deep middle of the field. Cromartie stacks on Goodwin early in the route to get on top of the outside vertical. That’s smart from the veteran cornerback, and it forces the rookie to alter his stem down the field.
With Cromartie now stacking on top of Goodwin, the rookie takes an inside stem to gain position on the vertical. This allows Goodwin to eat up the cushion (distance between wide receiver and defensive back) and put stress on Cromartie to match his speed down the field. Plus, with Reed playing from the opposite hash, the free safety won’t get over the top of the 9 route.
This is where Goodwin’s track speed comes into play. The rookie runs right past Cromartie, creates separation down the field and finishes this play for six points. I watched Goodwin practice at the Senior Bowl last January, and his speed was on display then. He can get on top of cornerbacks all day if they don’t play with enough cushion to stay out of trouble.
Raiders Run Over the Texans in the Wildcat
I was going to highlight one of Matt McGloin’s three touchdown passes after the undrafted rookie targeted the Texans secondary with the red-zone slant, the skinny post versus Quarters and the inside seam against Cover 2. That was impressive for a quarterback in his first NFL start.
But after watching Rashad Jennings’ touchdown run out of the Wildcat, this is a good opportunity to talk about the backfield action, the blocking up front and the finish from the running back versus rookie safety D.J. Swearinger.
Raiders vs. Texans
Personnel: 21/Regular (2WR-1TE-2RB)
Offensive Scheme: Counter OF (Wildcat)
Defensive Scheme: Cover 4
All we are looking at here is the Counter OF (pull front-side guard and fullback) with the Jet Sweep action out of the Wildcat.
Jennings will use the mesh-point fake as a counter-step, but this isn’t a true “read” scheme. Up front, the guard will work up through the hole to the second level with the fullback blocking the cornerback. That leaves Swearinger to fill in as a secondary run-support player versus Jennings. Read High-Hat (pass)/Low-Hat (run) and get downhill to make the tackle.
With the tight end kicking out the edge support, the guard can work to the linebacker and the fullback can continue up the field to the cornerback. This is exactly how you want to see the Counter OF play out on the chalkboard. Create a running lane and let Jennings get to the second level of the defense.
Have to play with low pad level and wrap up versus NFL running backs. That’s the issue here for the rookie safety.
Swearinger has to square up, drop his pads/hips on contact and wrap his arms. Instead, the safety throws a shoulder into this tackle attempt, and Jennings runs right through the contact on his way to an 80-yard touchdown. Shoot the arms (or chop the legs if you have to). Just get the ball-carrier on the ground. That’s the goal as a safety in this situation.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
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