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 15 Sunday NFL schedule.
Tramon Williams’ Game-Ending Interception vs. Tony Romo, Cowboys
After throwing an interception earlier in the fourth quarter on a packaged run/pass read (slant), Tony Romo had an opportunity to put the Cowboys in scoring position to kick the winning field goal. However, with the Packers playing a soft Cover 2, Williams made a play on the out/option route to finish off the Green Bay comeback victory down in Dallas.
Let’s take a look at the play, talk about the bust within the route scheme for the Cowboys and break down Williams’ technique in the two-deep shell.
Packers vs. Cowboys
Personnel: Kings/01 (4WR-1TE)
Offensive Concept: Option/9
Defensive Scheme: Cover 2 “Gold”
This is a classic route to run versus Cover 2. The No. 1 receiver releases on a vertical stem (forces the cornerback to sink), and the slot receiver (Cole Beasley) works away from the nickelback to the now-vacated zone in the flat.
However, Williams is using a “soft-squat” technique (no jam, sink at the snap) and paying “gold” (cornerback drops No. 1 to safety, reads the break of No. 2). That allows the Packers to set a trap for Romo. And once Beasley breaks on the out, Williams can drive downhill on the route.
Williams has his eyes inside, drops the outside vertical and is in a position to drive on the out cut. But instead of carrying this route to the flat, Beasley sits down in the zone (think of a quick curl route). And that’s trouble with Romo throwing the ball outside of the numbers. A terrible time to have a bust.
This is an excellent finish from Williams. The cornerback takes a downhill angle on the throw, secures the catch and puts this one away for the Packers. Not an easy play to make.
A game the Cowboys should have closed out? No question. But give Mike McCarthy’s team credit here for coming back from a 26-3 deficit at the half to pick up a crucial December win.
Jamaal Charles Lights Up the Raiders
The running back caught four touchdowns and also ran one in for a score as the Kansas City Chiefs poured it on the Oakland Raiders in a 56-31 win. The one touchdown I want to look at? Charles’ 71-yard reception from Alex Smith on the wheel route. A great example of how to disguise scheme and create a matchup based off personnel.
Chiefs vs. Raiders
Personnel: Tank/22 (1WR-2TE-2RB)
Formation: Near Tight
Offensive Concept: Wheel
Defensive Scheme: Cover 2
A 3rd-and-short situation with the Chiefs showing near backs out of Tank personnel. The pre-snap key? Charles is offset to the play side (pass alert). And with the Raiders showing a single-high safety, the Chiefs can use closed- (strong-) side play action to get the matchup they want: Charles versus a linebacker on the wheel route.
Clear out the top of the defense with the 9 (fade) route and force linebacker Miles Burris to run/match in coverage.
Burris takes a flat angle on the initial release from Charles and gets stuck trailing the play. An easy matchup for Charles to win once he stems this route vertically up the field. However, the Raiders still have a chance to get the running back on the ground if safety Charles Woodson uses the sideline as his help to make the open-field tackle.
Instead of attacking the inside shoulder of Charles (takes away the cutback angle, forces ball-carrier to the sideline), Woodson over-runs the play at the point of attack. That allows the running back to cut back and find open grass on his way to his fifth touchdown of the afternoon.
Dolphins Close Out Tom Brady, Patriots in the Red Zone
With a four-point lead (and under 10 seconds left in the game), the Dolphins dialed up the perfect coverage to take away the “pin” route versus the Patriots. Let’s go back to the concept, talk about the combination coverage and focus on Michael Thomas’ interception that sent Brady home with a loss.
Patriots vs. Dolphins
Personnel: Posse/11 (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Gun Far
Offensive Concept: Pin Route
Defensive Scheme: Cover 7
I’m calling this Cover 7 (or combination man) from the Dolphins. With the strong safety using a “thumbs” technique (roll underneath No. 1) to the closed side, and both the free safety/nickel (Thomas) playing a “slice” (bracket the slot) to the open side, Miami can defend the “pin” route (No. 1 on post, No. 2 on dig/square-in).
Show Cover 1 (strong safety rolled down to the closed side) and play combination man with Thomas sinking underneath the outside post route to Austin Collie.
As you can see here, slot receiver Danny Amendola (No. 2) breaks on the short dig route. That allows Thomas (playing from an outside leverage position in the “slice” call) to drop the dig to the free safety. And with No. 2 declaring on an inside breaking route, Thomas can sink under the post to protect the cornerback playing over the top (similar to quarters technique).
The Dolphins took away the closed side vertical with a “thumbs” call and essentially played a 3-on-2 to the open side with Thomas helping underneath the post. And the result was an end-zone interception to close this game out. That’s good defensive football versus one of the league’s top quarterbacks.
Andrew Luck, Trent Richardson Execute the Shovel Pass vs. Texans
Richardson posted over 100 yards of total offense during the Colts 25-3 win over the Houston Texans in Indianapolis. And his touchdown on the inside shovel pass from Andrew Luck gives us an opportunity to break down the scheme versus an overload blitz from the Texans.
Here’s a look at the play and how the Colts took advantage of the pressure to get Richardson to the second level of the defense.
Texans vs. Colts
Personnel: Posse/11 (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Slot Open Gun Near
Offensive Concept: Shovel Pass
Defensive Scheme: Cover 1 Pressure
With three wide receivers to the open (weak) side of the formation running off the secondary—and the Texans showing closed-side pressure—the shovel-pass plays out like a one-back power. Pull the closed-side guard, force the edge-defender to play with contain responsibilities and lead up through the hole.
Check out Texans outside linebacker Brooks Reed. With Luck working to the open side (looks like a dash concept from a defensive perspective), Reed takes a vertical path up the field. That opens the edge (away from pressure) and allows left guard Hugh Thornton to lead up to the second level to create a clear running lane for Richardson.
Thornton chops down safety Eddie Pleasant in the open field, and Richardson cuts off the block to find the end zone. A great call given the field position and the Texans’ defensive tendencies to bring pressure.
Zac Stacy’s 40-yard Touchdown Run vs. Saints
I like this run from Stacy because it sums up the afternoon for the Rams during their 27-16 win over the New Orleans Saints in St. Louis. Jeff Fisher’s club played a physical brand of football, and I think that shows in this 40-yard touchdown run versus the 4-3 “under” front.
Saints vs. Ram
Personnel: Ace/12 (2WR-2TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot “Dakota”
Offensive Concept: Stretch “G”
Defensive Scheme: Cover 1
In the stretch “G,” the Rams will block down with the tight end, use a “fold" technique at the tackle position (tackle bumps out to block the edge force) and lead up through the hole with the closed- (strong-) side guard. Kick out the "Sam ‘backer" with the tackle and force the "Mike 'backer" to scrape in order to close the hole.
The Rams wash Mike ‘backer Curtis Lofton past the hole and create a running lane for Stacy. And with the strong safety removed from the box (seven-man front), Stacy can run through and arm tackle to get into the open field versus Malcolm Jenkins.
Stacy gets past the Saints free safety and takes the ball all the way to the end zone for six points. Solid execution up front from the Rams to open up a running lane for the rookie to showcase his talent versus the Saints defense.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.