Tale of the Tape From NFL Week 17

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterDecember 30, 2013

CHICAGO, IL - DECEMBER 29: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers celebrates a touchdown against the Chicago Bears in the second quarter during a game at Soldier Field on December 29, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
David Banks/Getty Images

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 17 NFL schedule.


Aaron Rodgers, Packers Beat the Bears' Zero Pressure to Win the NFC North

Protecting a 28-27 lead with under a minute to play, the Chicago Bears brought Cover 0 pressure (no safety help) in a 4th-and-8 situation versus Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.

Let’s break down the lack of execution from the Bears (on multiple levels of the defense) and focus on the Rodgers throw to Randall Cobb that led to the Packers' NFC North title.


Packers vs. Bears

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

Formation: Doubles Slot “Dakota” Gun Far

Offensive Concept: Seam

Defensive Scheme: Cover 0


This is a seven-man pressure from the Bears ("Nickel," "Mike," "Will") that requires zero technique in the secondary (off-man alignment, inside shade, drive downhill on the throw).

However, the Bears bust this coverage check.

Instead of four defenders playing zero man, both cornerbacks show a bail/zone technique (open the hips, gain depth, stay on top of the route), free safety Chris Conte settles his feet at the sticks and strong safety Major Wright drives downhill on Jordy Nelson (zero-man technique). That's trouble. 


As you can see here, Conte has his eyes back inside to the quarterback and squats in his coverage. And with cornerback Zack Bowman playing on top of James Jones, there is no one to carry/match Cobb. That allows the Packers wide receiver to convert this route to the seam.


Another issue for the Bears in this pressure look was the lack of contain. With the Packers sliding the protection to the closed side of the formation, John Kuhn has to scan the front and seal the edge versus defensive end Julius Peppers. The fullback cuts down Peppers, and that gives Rodgers an opportunity to escape the pocket while Cobb works down the field.


Here’s the finish from Cobb. Even with Bowman reacting to the seam route (and working to overlap the throw), this is a wide-open target for Rodgers. And with the time the quarterback created by getting outside of the pocket, the Bears busted coverage is exposed.

I love the call from the Bears. Be aggressive, go after the quarterback and win the game. But you can’t bust a coverage and lose contain in a pressure situation against Rodgers with the division title on the line.


Brandon Boykin’s Interception Wraps Up NFC East Title for the Eagles

Kyle Orton threw for 350-plus yards as he stepped in for Tony Romo, but the interception the backup quarterback threw late in the fourth quarter allowed the Philadelphia Eagles to close out the Dallas Cowboys and wrap up the NFC East.

Let’s take a look at the route, talk about the Eagles' coverage scheme and focus on the ball placement on Boykin’s interception.


Eagles vs. Cowboys

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

Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Far

Offensive Concept: Follow Route

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1 Pressure


The Eagles show pressure at the line of scrimmage (six-man pressure) with a single-high safety in the deep middle of the field. However, at the snap, Philadelphia will drop a linebacker (inside hole defender) to bracket or combo tight end Jason Witten.

That allows the Eagles to take away the shallow drive route (underneath crosser) from the tight end with Boykin matched up to Miles Austin in the slot from an off-man position versus the slant.


Orton identifies the inside-combo look and gets his eyes back to Austin. The Cowboys receiver takes a straight, vertical release off the line of scrimmage, pushes Boykin up the field on the stem and is in a position to break on the slant. And that’s exactly what the Cowboys want: an inside breaking route versus a defender playing from an outside-leverage position.


The ball placement on the slant route is always crucial. This throw needs to be to the upfield shoulder of Austin so the wide receiver can catch the ball away from the defender’s leverage. However, Orton leaves this pass to the back shoulder. That gives Boykin the opportunity to go make the play and shut the door on the Cowboys season.


LeGarrette Blount Runs Past the Bills on the One-Back Power

The New England Patriots worked over the Buffalo Bills' defensive front during their 34-20 win on Sunday to lock up the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs. As a team, New England posted 267 yards on the ground, with Blount accounting for 189 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries.

On Blount’s first touchdown, the running back displayed his vision and cutback ability on the one-back power scheme. Let’s check it out.


Bills vs. Patriots

Personnel: Ace/12 (2WR-2TE-1RB)

Formation: Unit Slot

Offensive Concept: One-Back Power

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1


With the Bills playing Cover 1—and showing an eight-man front—the Patriots pull the closed-side tackle on the one-back power scheme to kick out the strong safety walked down into the box.

Inside, guard Logan Mankins blocks down on the nose and chips to the second level to fit up on linebacker Kiko Alonso. This gives Blount the option to press this run to the open side with the tackle leading up through the hole or looking for a cutback lane.


The Patriots wash down the nose, and Mankins works up to Alonso. That allows Blount to cut this ball back and find running room. And with the free safety shaded to the slot alignment (entering the run front at a downhill angle), there is no secondary support once Blount gets vertical into the open field.


With Alonso now removed at the second level, and the free safety trying to recover, Blount can outrun the defense on his way to a 36-yard score. It's another example of why the ability to play the cutback lane is crucial to limiting the run game.


Panthers Produce on the Zone Blitz vs. Matt Ryan, Falcons

With the Carolina Panthers defense posting nine sacks in the win over the Atlanta Falcons to wrap up the NFC South (and a first-round bye), let’s break down how Carolina used zone pressure late in the game to get to quarterback Matt Ryan.

Here’s a look at Mike Mitchell’s sack off the Panthers' five-man zone pressure versus the tare concept.


Panthers vs. Falcons

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

Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Far

Offensive Concept: Tare Route

Defensive Scheme: Open Side Zone Pressure


In the majority of zone blitzes at the NFL level, you will see a five-man pressure scheme with a three-deep, three-under coverage shell in the back-end. That’s what the Panthers show here with Mitchell and linebacker Thomas Davis blitzing to the open side of the formation versus a 3x1 alignment.

The route? The tare concept (clear-out fade, flat, stick-out). The Falcons want to run off the closed-side cornerback and work the stick-out to Tony Gonzalez with Roddy White on the backside slant (always alert to a backside slant from a 3x1 formation).


The Panthers match to the tare concept with the nickelback (seam-flat defender) playing the flat route (No. 2) and the closed-side defensive end (middle-hook defender) matching to Gonzalez (No. 3).

Up front, the right tackle blocks out on the open-side defensive end, and the guard kicks down inside to account for the blitzing linebacker. That gives Mitchell a clear rush lane through the B-gap.


This is exactly how a zone blitz should look on the chalkboard. Match to the pattern, create confusion in the protection count and get a free runner to the quarterback. It’s just one of the nine sacks the Carolina defense produced on the day during their 21-20 win in Atlanta.


Geno Smith, Jets Convert in the Red Zone vs. the Dolphins

During the New York Jets' win in Miami that knocked the Dolphins out of the playoff picture, Rex Ryan’s club had a 3rd-and-goal situation with under 10 seconds left in the first half.

Let’s break down the call, look at the blocking scheme and talk about the finish at the goal line that allowed Geno Smith to score on the quarterback power.


Jets vs. Dolphins

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

Formation: Doubles Gun Near

Offensive Concept: QB Power

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1


This is the same as Power O blocking (guard pull, fullback kick-out) from a gun alignment with running back Bilal Powell offset to the closed side of the formation. The Jets block down on the edge, pull the backside guard to look up the safety and kick out the defensive end with Powell.

It was a nice call on third down to test the gap discipline of the Dolphins defense inside the red zone. Put the ball in Smith’s hands and create a running lane for the quarterback.


The Jets fit up on the safety with the open-side guard, and Powell secures the edge versus the defensive end. That gives Smith a lane inside to get up the field and make a cut with linebacker Dannell Ellerbe scrapping over the top once the run declares.


This is a great finish because of the effort from Smith and Powell at the goal line. Ellerbe stands up the quarterback on contact, but Powell comes off his block, continues to play ball and gives Smith a push on the goal line to get the quarterback into the end zone for six points.


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