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 11 Film
Here are 10 things that stood out from my perspective after watching the tape this week.
1. Eagles' inside breaking routes targeted Washington’s Cover 1 schemes
Inside breaking cuts. That’s how Chip Kelly game-planned the Washington defense during the Eagles win on Sunday. With Washington playing Cover 1 (outside leverage), Nick Foles was able to target the middle of the field on the Hi-Lo concepts (two-level reads), the deep dig, etc. Force the defensive backs to chase and drive to the hip of the receiver from an outside leverage position.
Plus, this also allowed the Eagles to find specific matchups versus man-coverage. Here’s a look at Hi-Lo Crossers with running back LeSean McCoy releasing on the wheel/rail concept versus a linebacker in coverage for an explosive gain. That’s too easy for Philadelphia.
2. Donald Browns gives the Colts more speed at running back
Why did the Colts lean on Brown over Trent Richardson in their two-back power schemes (Power O, Counter OF) versus the Titans on Thursday night? Speed. Brown displays a burst through the hole and his ability to get to the second level sells in this offense.
The Colts beat up the Titans' run front to close this game out and the tape tells the story on Brown. He plays much faster than Richardson when asked to hit the hole, and it shows in the overall production.
3. Kansas City has to produce inside the red zone
Down 17-7 with a chance to put the ball in the end zone versus the Broncos, Andy Reid’s club was shut down three straight times from inside the 5-yard line. The Chiefs ran the Lead Strong, fullback Belly/Dive and the two-back Stretch/Zone.
Let’s take a look at the Stretch play. As you can see, the Chiefs fail to get up to the second level and that allows linebacker Steven Johnson to shoot the closed (strong) side A gap to stop Jamaal Charles. That’s a great play from Johnson. But you can’t leave points on the field and expect to beat the Broncos in Denver.
4. Defensive backs need to use their hands in press-man
Take a look at Aqib Talib, Marcus Cooper and Xavier Rhodes versus the 9 (fade) route on tape from this past week. All three cornerbacks gave up big plays on the deep ball and it started at the line of scrimmage.
Too often, corners want to open (called “opening the gate”) and run instead of using their hands to reroute the receiver. You cannot allow a free release in the NFL and expect to make a play when the ball is thrown on time to the upfield shoulder.
5. Cam Newton continues to show up in crucial game situations
Newton made a bunch of plays during the Panthers win over the Patriots on Monday night, but I want to go back to his touchdown pass to Greg Olsen in the red zone. A third-down situation where Newton identified the coverage/matchup and targeted the tight end on the corner route versus the safety.
Here’s a look at the route (smash concept underneath). Newton throws this pass as Olsen is making his cut and puts the ball on the upfield shoulder (away from the defender’s leverage) for six points. That’s a big-time throw given the national stage and the game situation.
6. Antonio Brown beat up the Lions on basic route concepts
If you want to see some speed and lateral ability in the open field, then turn on the Lions-Steelers tape to focus on Brown after the catch. The Steelers wide receiver went for six on a basic smash route where he made two defenders miss and also took an inside angle route for a score when he was matched up versus safety Louis Delmas.
These are underneath concepts. That’s it. And I’m going to give the credit here to Brown for showcasing his skill set, but where is the tackling from the Lions secondary?
7. Jon Bostic’s interception in Cover 2 was textbook
Looking at the rookie linebacker’s interception, Joe Flacco targeted tight end Dallas Clark on the inside seam route versus Cover 2. However, this is exactly how the two-deep coverage plays out on the chalkboard with the "Mike" ‘backer carrying/matching the seam and the two-deep half safeties driving top-down on the throw.
Bostic stacks on top of Clark, plays to the inside hip of the tight end and puts himself in a position to go up and get the football. Solid technique within the scheme from the rookie.
8. The 49ers need Michael Crabtree back in the lineup
Why would any defense sit back in Cover 2 all day versus the 49ers right now? With the lack of a true threat to put stress on the top of the defense, expect more teams to play like the Saints did this past Sunday. That means tight coverage and safeties cheating up to shorten their initial depth off the ball.
I loved the call from Jim Harbaugh’s club to use play-action (Quarterback Power Sweep) to set up the touchdown pass from Colin Kaepernick to Vernon Davis. And the safety took the bait immediately. But the 49ers need the ability to throw the deep ball consistently to push those safeties back. Can Crabtree give them those opportunities within the game plan?
9. “Dakota” alignments are producing touchdowns
A “Dakota” alignment is a 3x1 formation with the tight end removed from the core as the backside receiver. This showed up with both the Broncos and the Patriots down inside the red zone as it created a matchup with the strong safety versus the tight end in man-coverage.
Looking at the Broncos, tight end Julius Thomas gave a slight outside stem on the release versus Chiefs safety Eric Berry. And that created enough separation for Peyton Manning to target Thomas on the quick slant route for six points.
10. Rookie cornerbacks need to study Joe Haden in coverage
Watch the patience, the technique and the footwork of Hayden on his second interception off Andy Dalton that he returned for a score.
With A.J. Green working up the field to push the cushion of Haden, the Browns cornerback doesn’t panic or increase his depth versus the curl route. Instead, Haden opens, settles his feet and takes a downhill angle to make the play on a ball Dalton leaves to the inside.
5 Things to Watch Heading into Week 12
After looking at the Week 12 schedule, here are five things I’m focused on.
1. Darrelle Revis vs. Calvin Johnson
The Bucs could show some Cover 2, 2-Man and Cover 6 (Quarter-Quarter-Half) to put a deep half safety over the top of Johnson, but I’m hoping we get to see Revis match up to the Lions wide receiver in man-coverage.
And even with a free safety in the middle of the field—or shaded to the near hash—to help on the post/9 route, this is a matchup that will be won at the line of scrimmage when Revis shows a press alignment.
2. Matt McGloin gets another start in Oakland
I broke down the tape on McGloin’s first career start this past Sunday in the win over the Texans. The rookie put some impressive stuff on the film with his ability to manage the pocket, work through his progressions and challenge the Houston secondary. And that’s why you give him the ball again this Sunday versus the Titans.
But as I said in that piece, the arrow has to continue to point up on McGloin. This is a good test for the rookie versus a Titans secondary that has talent. Look for Tennessee to play some man-coverage, send pressure and also sit back in Cover 2 when the ball gets inside the 20-yard line.
3. Colts-Cardinals matchup
At 6-4, are the Cardinals a legit squad? I love what they can do on the defensive side of the ball, but one thing to keep an eye on this Sunday is Carson Palmer versus the Colts’ Cover 1 and 2-Man schemes.
These defensive backs from Indianapolis are going to challenge routes, get hands on receivers and try to impact the route stem. That means they are going to grab, pull, whatever. Look for the Cardinals to move Larry Fitzgerald in his pre-snap alignments and use some bunch/stack formations to get a free release off the ball.
4. The Cowboys defense
This defense was whipped by the Saints the last time we saw them on the field. But with a week off to game plan for the Giants, will the Cowboys show some improvements with linebacker Sean Lee still out with a hamstring injury?
Given the issues the Cowboys had with their run fits versus the Saints, I would expect the Giants to test that 4-3 front early and also look to target Victor Cruz on the inside seam against Cover 2. This defense has to play a much better brand of football if we want to consider the Cowboys a real threat to win the NFC East.
5. Rob Gronkowski in the red zone
I would look for the seam and the 7 (corner) route to Gronkowski from the Patriots this Sunday night in Foxborough versus the Broncos defense. Two routes that give Gronkowski the opportunity to create separation/leverage within the stem to win at the point of attack in the end zone.
And the reason I am focusing on Gronkowski here—and the Patriots inside the red zone—is due to the importance of scoring touchdowns versus the Broncos. New England can’t get caught in situations where it is kicking field goals if it wants to send Peyton Manning home with a loss.
All-22 Rewind: Walter Thurmond’s “pick-six” vs. Christian Ponder, Vikings
Using the All-22 coaches tape, let’s go back to Thurmond’s interception versus the Vikings to break down the Seahawks pressure scheme.
Vikings vs. Seahawks
Personnel: 11/Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Gun Far
Offensive Concept: Smash-Seam
Defensive Scheme: Zone Pressure
The Seahawks are rushing five and dropping six into coverage (three-deep, three-under). At the snap, Seattle sends interior A-gap pressure with Thurmond playing the “seam-flat” responsibility (match to No. 2) to the open side of the formation versus the smash-seam concept.
When No. 1 runs the smash route in a zone pressure, the corner looks inside to play the vertical (seam) with Thurmond now matching to the “new” No. 2 (Cordarrelle Patterson). This allows Thurmond to get his eyes back inside to the quarterback. And with Ponder targeting Patterson on the smash, Thurmond can jump the route.
Here is a view of Thurmond driving on the ball and stepping in front of the smash route. Finish the play and take it back for six points. Yes, this is on Ponder, as he has to account for the underneath “seam-flat” defender, but it’s also an example of how to read the quarterback and break on the ball in zone coverage.
Football 101: “Crack-Replace” Technique
Man-coverage defenses have to alert for crack blocks in the run game and it’s on the cornerback to replace/set the edge. To highlight an example of this, let’s go back to the Chiefs-Broncos matchup from this past Sunday night.
Chiefs vs. Broncos
Personnel: 11/Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Gun Far
Offensive Scheme: Power O (one-back)
Defensive Scheme: Cover 1
This is a one-back power scheme for the Broncos and running back Montee Ball with the open-side guard pulling to the edge. However, look at the tight split from receiver Demaryius Thomas. That’s a “crack” alert (wide receiver will crack block on the safety). Both cornerback Marcus Cooper and safety Kendrick Lewis have to identify the split and communicate this before the snap to set the edge of the defense.
With the linebacker attacking the pulling guard on a “spill technique” (attack inside edge of blocker, force run to bounce), the Chiefs need an edge player. That’s Cooper. The cornerback has to come off the crack stem from Thomas and fill downhill to make a tackle or turn this run back inside to the defensive pursuit. However, as we can see here, Cooper trails Thomas on the crack path and gives up the edge.
On the chalkboard, the safety is responsible to fill on the edge. But with the crack block, the corner has to take over that responsibility (“crack replace”). The Chiefs are late to identify the crack and the result is a touchdown run for Ball. Tough play to stop with the corner playing man-coverage.
Inside the Locker Room: Winning Cures All in the NFL
Throughout this week, it seems as if a new report surfaces almost daily out of Washington after Mike Shanahan’s club dropped to 3-7 on the season following the loss to the Eagles. There are questions on leadership, coaching, comments from established veterans, RG3, etc., etc.
I understand what drama in the NFL is like. And I’ve also been there as a player. Because this is exactly what goes down when preseason expectations aren’t met and the team starts to slide.
In August, everyone is cool and there are a lot of high-fives going around. Hey, why not? The team is pretty healthy and there is no sign of real adversity yet.
But when the season starts and losses start to pile up, things go south quickly. And it doesn’t stop until you start winning again.
Hey, look at the Bucs. Everything is great (for now) down in Tampa after two straight wins.
When I played for Steve Spurrier in Washington during the ’05 season, we got off to a 3-1 start. Man, it was great to come in to work. We practiced fast and expected to win on Sundays.
However, once we started to drop a couple of games, the wheels just came off. And work suddenly became a miserable place. Sure, we picked up a couple of more wins along the way—including a throwaway game late in the season versus the Giants.
But that 3-1 start turned into a 5-11 season.
Coach left, the locker room was cleaned out and those of us still in town started over the following season with Joe Gibbs and Gregg Williams.
I don’t know how the rest of the season is going to play out for Shanahan and Washington, but it has to start with win.
You want teammates to stop pointing fingers? Then win a ball game. That’s it. And once you stack a couple of those wins, coming to work isn’t so bad anymore.
And that will never change about this league.
I’ve called it the “business of winning” before, and that applies here. That counts when it comes to job security and a locker room that can make it through the season.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.