Every Thursday, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen brings you “The Second Level,” a breakdown of the game from multiple angles.
10 Coaching Points from the Week 12 Film
After watching the tape this week, here are 10 plays we can learn from on both sides of the football. A look at technique, scheme and game plans:
1. Ryan Fitzpatrick’s game-winner in Oakland
Expecting zone coverage inside the red zone, the Titans ran a Cover 2/4 beater. Clear out the cornerback with the 9 (fade) route and work the option route inside with Kendall Wright.
As we can see here, Fitzpatrick can now target the hole in the zone between the corner and the nickel because of the separation between the defenders. It's one of the classic zone beaters we see every week in the NFL that gave the Titans the win on the road.
2. Jimmy Graham beats the Falcons on the wheel route
Graham is going to make some plays at the point of attack versus a corner or safety in coverage, so why give the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees a free one for six points?
This isn’t a great route from Graham versus Falcons safety William Moore on the wheel; however, check out the eyes of the safety (looking in the backfield). This is poor eye discipline. That allows Graham to separate down the field for an easy score.
There is no need to ever look at the quarterback in man coverage from a defensive perspective—because he isn’t throwing you the ball. And this is the No. 1 reason defensive backs get beat in coverage.
3. 49ers pressure vs. RG3, Washington
If you go through the tape, you will find situations where Robert Griffin III had opportunities to get rid of the football (or stay in the pocket). But I also saw some really poor technique on the edge versus 49ers rushers Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks.
Here’s a look at Smith versus Trent Williams. Washington’s left tackle is lazy with his feet, doesn’t punch with the hands and gives up an inside path to Smith before RG3 even gets out of the play-action fake. You can't survive with poor technique versus the speed of Smith on the edge.
4. Karlos Dansby’s pick-six versus the Colts
Working against Cover 3, Andrew Luck forced a ball that resulted in Dansby's pick-six. Look at the interior pressure generated by Darnell Dockett and check out the eyes of Luck. He is locked onto Coby Fleener and doesn’t account for Dansby in his “middle-hook” drop.
In zone coverage, the underneath defenders will drop to a landmark and get eyes back on the quarterback. And that (along with the pressure) allowed Dansby to jump this route.
5. Bears defense vs. Rams run game
The Bears looked soft on the defensive side of the ball in the loss to the Rams because of their inability to fit gaps and disengage at the second level versus the Power O, G-Lead, Zone, etc.
This is a view of the Power O. Kick out defensive end Julius Peppers, pull the guard up through the hole to block middle linebacker Jon Bostic and create a running lane. That forces the free safety to make a tackle 10 yards down the field.
6. Mike Glennon, Bucs take a shot down the field versus Cover 4
On the deep ball to Tiquan Underwood, the Bucs ran a Cover 4 beater to get the wide receiver one-on-one versus the cornerback. With the tight end running an out route—and the safety driving downhill—Glennon can target Underwood on the deep post.
The idea here is to remove the safety and leave the cornerback matched up versus the speed of Underwood from an outside leverage position. That’s tough when there is no help to the inside.
7. Brandon Weeden's interception vs. the Steelers
The Steelers are playing Cover 2 with their dime sub-package on the field (Troy Polamalu runs the inside vertical seam), but this should still be an easy read for the Browns quarterback because of the cornerback technique and deep-half safeties.
However, Weeden (working with a clean pocket) targets tight end Jordan Cameron on the shallow drive route. That allows the “seam-hook” defender (William Gay) to get to his landmark and drive downhill on the throw for an easy interception and score.
8. Packers' run/pass keys on the goal line
When the ball is inside the 5-yard line, the speed of the game is going to increase. That’s why it is crucial for second-level defenders to read their run/pass keys and attack downhill.
With the Vikings using divide motion, Jarrett Bush runs/travels and has to read the wing combo for his run/pass keys—but he has to be much quicker. This ball is already being handed off, and Bush is still reading through the Vikings' wing alignment. That prevents him from filling inside versus Adrian Peterson on the touchdown run.
9. Panthers' “Inverted Power Veer” in the red zone
I like when the Panthers run the Power Veer on the goal line because it plays out as a quarterback lead/power once Newton reads the edge defender through the mesh point.
Here, the edge defender crashes inside and Newton can now get vertically up the field for the touchdown with the backside guard pulling through the hole to pick up the second-level linebacker.
10. One more look at Rivers’ game-winner versus Chiefs' 2-Man
I broke down Rivers' touchdown pass to Seyi Ajirotutu on the 9 route versus 2-Man (two deep, man under) off the TV tape on Monday, but we can get a better look here with the All-22 tape to check out the angle of safety Quintin Demps.
Coaches will always tell their safeties in 2-Man (or Cover 2) to play with enough depth to create a 45-degree angle to the ball. Play the route “top down.” However, in this situation, Demps takes a flat angle, which prevents him from making the play with Sean Smith underneath in a trail-man technique.
5 Things to Watch Heading into Week 13
Here are five things I'm focused on after checking out the Week 13 schedule in the NFL.
1. Kam Chancellor vs. Jimmy Graham
Given the suspensions the Seahawks have in the secondary, it will be interesting to see how Pete Carroll game-plans the Saints outside of the numbers. However, when we talk about Graham inside, I’m hoping Chancellor gets to play some man coverage over the tight end.
I would expect Chancellor to mix his alignments (off and press) to give Graham different looks when he is attached to the core of the formation or removed as a backside X receiver (think 3x1 formation). Chancellor has the size and the physicality to match Graham at the line and to play to the hip of the tight end throughout the route stem.
Check out the Chalk Talk video below to see my X's and O's in this matchup.
2. Adrian Peterson/Toby Gerhart vs. Bears run defense
Mel Tucker’s defense has to prep for more downhill runs this week after giving up over 250 yards on the ground in the loss to the Rams this past Sunday. That means more two-back runs and zone schemes that will test the Bears' contain responsibilities.
The Bears have to improve at all three levels of the defense if they want to limit the numbers from both Peterson and Gerhart. And that won’t be easy with a Vikings game plan that should lean heavily on the run game. Let’s see if this defense can respond in a game they need to stay in the NFC playoff discussion.
3. Marcus Cooper vs. Peyton Manning, Broncos
But now that Cooper has that tape to self-scout his own technique and study how Broncos wide receivers attacked him, can he make some adjustments? Let’s find out if the rookie changes up his technique versus this Denver offense Sunday at Arrowhead.
4. LeSean McCoy, Eagles vs. Cardinals defense
We know the Eagles are going to use some man-coverage beaters (think Hi-Lo, backside dig, wheel, running back rail, etc.) plus some packaged plays to move the football. But can they consistently produce on the ground with McCoy vs. a legit Cardinals defense?
Keep an eye on the cutback lanes and the backside contain for the Cardinals when the Eagles use their inside zone schemes out of the gun. McCoy has shown the ability all season to find running lanes and use his lateral speed to get to the edge of the defense. This is a good matchup to watch on Sunday in Philadelphia.
5. Michael Crabtree’s return/impact in San Francisco
I don’t know how many snaps Crabtree will see on Sunday versus the Rams, but he does allow the 49ers to test the top of the secondary and work the deep, inside breaking cuts to move the sticks. That’s key for an offense that has been lacking explosive plays down the field.
For more on Crabtree’s return, check out my Chalk Talk video below for some X’s and O's.
All-22 Rewind: Patriots' Red-Zone Pick Route
Tom Brady’s touchdown pass to Julian Edelman started the Patriots' second-half comeback before they eventually closed this one out in overtime to beat the Broncos. Let’s break down how New England targeted man coverage on the wheel route.
Broncos vs. Patriots
Personnel: Posse/11 (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Slot Open Gun Near
Offensive Concept: Wheel
Defensive Scheme: Cover 1
With the Patriots in a slot open formation, both No. 1 and No. 2 are running inside breaking concepts (slant/skinny post, smash) for one reason: to create traffic. This forces defensive back Mike Adams to work through the mess and match to Edelman when the receiver stems to the flat.
Adams does an excellent job of sneaking through the inside traffic. That puts him in a position to drive to the hip of Edelman if the receiver breaks to the flat or rolls with the vertical stem to the wheel route.
This is a problem for defensive backs league-wide on a ball thrown to the end zone when they are in a trail position. As we can see here, Adams is on the hip of Edelman as the wide receiver works to the corner of the end zone, but he can’t find the football. Brady throws this ball to the inside and allows Edelman to adjust while Adams is stuck in a no-win situation on the touchdown pass.
Football 101: Vertical Routes vs. Cover 3
NFL offenses will target Cover 3 with verticals from a wing alignment to force the cornerback to split both routes. Using an example from the 49ers' Monday night win over Washington, let’s take a look at the route concept.
49ers vs. Washington
Personnel: Tank/22 (1WR-2TE-2RB)
Formation: I Tight Wing
Offensive Concept: Verticals
Defensive Scheme: Cover 3
With Tank personnel on the field, the 49ers are going to target cornerback Josh Wilson off closed-side play action with tight ends Vernon Davis and Vance McDonald on vertical stems. Davis works to the near hash while McDonald stems this route outside of the numbers to put stress on Wilson in the deep third.
Wilson is playing with a zone technique (back to the sideline) and gains depth versus the vertical releases. He is now in a position to drive inside to Davis (with free safety help) or use a closed-angle technique (head whip or baseball turn) to play McDonald on the outside vertical.
I like the ball placement here from Colin Kaepernick as it allows McDonald to fade to the sideline. That puts Wilson in a tough position where he has to close his hips, turn and drive at a downhill angle to make the play. Solid execution from the 49ers, and a good example of how to target three-deep from a wing alignment.
Inside the Locker Room: the Beginning of the Playoff Push
As a player, I always felt that Thanksgiving marked the beginning of the playoff push in the NFL.
The weather starts to turn, the speed of the game increases, and the competition level rises when teams are trying to make a run. The games also become more physical down the stretch.
Come Sunday, mistakes are magnified and coaches are on edge as wins or losses begin to determine your offseason plans.
Every year when the calendar is about to flip into December, we see a bunch of teams still in the playoff discussion: ballclubs that are playing around .500 football with a chance to make that final push to get in the playoffs.
And there are five weeks left to put together a run.
Look at the Steelers, Titans, Ravens, Chargers, etc. in the AFC or the Bears, Cardinals, 49ers, Packers and so on in the NFC.
All of those teams have shown us they can play good football, but the consistency has been lacking throughout the season.
When I was with Washington in Joe Gibbs’ second season, we were sitting at the 5-6 mark at this time of the year. And everyone had written us off after an up-and-down start to the season.
However, we went on a five-game run (led by the production of Clinton Portis) to get into the tournament at 10-6. We picked up a wild-card win down in Tampa and then were knocked out by the Seahawks in Seattle as they went on to win the NFC Championship.
I’ve also been on the other side with teams that talked about putting together a late-season push, only to see the wheels come off on Sunday after yet another loss.
This is when teams truly begin to separate themselves. And I believe the best pro football of the year starts now.
Let’s see who can put together that late-season run to get in the dance.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
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