Tale of the Tape from NFL Week 14

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Tale of the Tape from NFL Week 14
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Every Monday, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen brings you an X’s and O’s look at the game. Here are his five key plays from the Week 14 Sunday NFL schedule.

 

Frank Gore’s 51-yard Run Sets Up the 49ers

Trailing 17-16 in the fourth quarter, the 49ers went to the base power run game to produce an explosive play, flip the field and set up the winning kick over the Seahawks. Let’s go back to the TV tape, take a look at the blocking scheme, and talk about the open-field ability of Gore versus free safety Earl Thomas.

 

Seahawks vs. 49ers

Personnel: Tank/22 (1WR-2TE-2RB)

Formation: I Tight

Offensive Concept: G-Lead

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1

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I see this as a G-Lead from the 49ers with Tank personnel on the field. Pull the front-side guard to kick out the edge force, lead up through the hole with the fullback to attack the scraping linebacker, and create a running lane for Gore. A downhill scheme that forces second-level defenders to play the run with the proper shoulder/angle.

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Look at the running lane Gore has to work with here. The 49ers widen the edge of the defense on the kick-out block, and fullback Bruce Miller fits on the linebacker. With strong safety Kam Chancellor in coverage versus the tight end (and buying the release off the down block), the Niners now have Gore in the open field versus Thomas. A one-on-one matchup with the game on the line.

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I think Thomas is the best safety in football—no question about it. But he gets beat because he stops his feet at the point of attack.

As a defender in the deep middle versus a run that breaks, you want to attack downhill, pick a side (eyes on inside shoulder) and force the ball-carrier to declare. Here, Gore can beat the angle of Thomas and take this ball into Seattle territory to set up the winning field goal.  

 

Joe Flacco’s Game-Winner vs. Vikings

This game was off the rails the last couple of minutes with the amount of big plays plus the impact on special teams. However, with a chance to finally close this one out, Flacco found rookie wide receiver Marlon Brown in the back of the end zone. Let’s break this route down, take a look at the inside matchup, and discuss why the game situation has to come into play when you are defending the end zone.

 

Vikings vs. Ravens

Personnel: Posse/11 (3WR-1TE-1RB)

Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Far

Offensive Concept: Inside Seam

Defensive Scheme: Cover 2

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I like the idea of playing Cover 2 (or Cover 4) in this situation, because you can protect the end zone. Here, the Ravens align Brown in the slot out of a 3x1 formation and create an inside matchup versus Mike ‘backer Audie Cole. The Vikings linebacker will open to the passing strength (three-receiver side) and carry/match Brown on the inside vertical seam.

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As you can see on the TV copy, there is some separation in the end zone for Brown to stem this route inside and over the top of Cole to split the two safeties. And that allows Flacco to target the rookie receiver. Yes, the safeties are coached to overlap the throw to the middle of the field, but this is the linebacker's play to make. 

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Great ball from Flacco and an outstanding finish from Brown to get the feet down in the snow out in Baltimore. However, the Vikings failed to identify the formation/concept. If you are playing Cover 2, Cover 4, 4 “Special” or even Cover 6, there has to be a pre-snap alert for the seam out of any type of slot alignment. Protect the end zone and force the ball to go underneath. 

 

Tom Brady, Patriots Run the “Pick” Route to Get the Win 

After recovering an onside kick—plus a questionable pass-interference call that put the Patriots in scoring position—Brady had a chance to get another comeback victory against the Browns. Using a pick (or rub) route, the Patriots quarterback found Danny Amendola in the flat for the winning score. Let’s check it out and focus on the release off the line of scrimmage. 

 

Browns vs. Patriots

Personnel: Posse/11 (3WR-1TE-1RB)

Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Far

Offensive Concept: Dash Rub/Flat

Defensive Scheme: Cover 0

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I was surprised to see the Patriots get Brady to the edge of the pocket on the dash/sprint action (expected an inside Hi-Lo concept). But given the possibility of zero pressure from the Browns, the Patriots rolled Brady to the closed (strong) side of the formation.

And with the No. 1 receiver (Julian Edelman) on the inside stem, New England created a pick situation to get Amendola free versus Buster Skrine on the flat route.

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Amendola uses a “hop” release (slight hesitation off the line of scrimmage) to get Skrine back on his heels (creates immediate separation). Plus, with Skrine having to duck under the inside stem from Edelman, the Browns defensive back is stuck in a trail position versus an outside breaking concept.

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With Brady on the edge, and Skrine now trailing behind the flat route, Brady has a clear throwing lane to target Edelman for the touchdown. Smart play call from New England to get the win on a route I didn’t expect to see in this game situation.

 

Saints Highlight Jimmy Graham’s Skill Set in the Red Zone

The Saints went after the Panthers secondary on Sunday night and exposed both their Cover 1 and Cover 2 schemes inside of the red zone during the 31-13 win in New Orleans. Let’s go back and talk about Graham’s second touchdown to highlight the tight end’s skill set and focus on Drew Brees’ ability to identify matchups based on alignment.

 

Panthers vs. Saints

Personnel: Regular/21 (2WR-1TE-2RB)

Formation: Pro Strong I (Dakota)

Offensive Concept: Slant/Smash-7

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1

NFL.com

I’ve talked about the Saints' “Dakota” formations (tight end removed as backside X receiver) multiple times this season because it allows Sean Payton’s team to target one-on-one matchups with Graham.

The Saints use short fullback motion to form a bunch alignment to the closed side of the formation (smash-7 concept) with Graham running the quick, one-step slant to the open side versus cornerback Drayton Florence.

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We always look at the size/power of Graham at the point of attack on the fade, seam, etc. However, this is all about the release. Graham uses a quick stem/step outside to widen Florence and forces the cornerback to “open the gate” (open the hips). 

That allows Graham to gain immediate leverage inside on the slant. And with Brees identifying the matchup in his pre-snap read, he can get the ball out quickly here to expose the coverage.

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With Florence chasing from an outside leverage position (and the free safety late on his break), Graham can work through the tackle, extend the ball and pick up another score. Impressive night for this Saints offense after the loss in Seattle on Monday night.

 

Bengals Play Action Beats the Colts on the Goal Line 

Why are we looking at a play-action pass on the goal line? Because this route gives us an opportunity to talk about eye discipline, the speed of the game inside of the 5-yard line, and the stress the tight-end "delay" can put on a safety. Let’s break this one down from the Bengals' 42-28 win over the Colts in Cincinnati.

 

Colts vs. Bengals

Personnel: Jumbo/23 (3TE-2RB)

Formation: I Tight Wing

Offensive Concept: TE Delay (Play Pass)

Defensive Scheme: Goal Line Man

NFL.com

The Bengals use closed-side run action (Lead Strong) to set this up with Jermaine Gresham aligned to the open (weak) side of the formation. At the snap, Andy Dalton shows the ball to the closed side with Gresham on the "delay" (block down, release to the flat). The idea is to force the safety (LaRon Landry) to buy the false-run key (down block) and stick his eyes in the backfield.

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This is extremely tough on Landry. On the goal line, one false step is all it takes for a receiver/tight end to gain enough separation on a basic route. The game is faster, and you don’t have the time (or help) to recover. Landry reads through the initial down block and puts his eyes on the quarterback. That allows Gresham to release and work to the flat.

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Look at the separation at the end of the route. The tight-end "delay" plays out like a boot with Gresham working to the flat. Here, the Colts safety is too far removed to recover or impact the play. And that results in an easy throw and catch for the Bengals touchdown.

 

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

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