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 NFL Wild Card Weekend.
Colin Kaepernick's 4th-Quarter Run vs. Packers’ Zero-Pressure
In a critical third-down situation with the game tied at 20, the Packers lost contain on zero-pressure, allowing Kaepernick to move the sticks and set up an eventual game-winning field goal at Lambeau.
Let’s take a look at the pressure scheme, talk about the route concept and focus on blitz technique/contain responsibilities of an edge-rusher from the secondary.
49ers vs. Packers
Personnel: Posse/11 (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Near
Offensive Concept: Smash-Divide Route
Defensive Scheme: Cover 0
In Cover 0, there is no deep middle-of-the-field help and the secondary plays with an inside shade (take away inside breaking routes). The Packers are sending seven-man pressure, with Jarrett Bush rushing to the open (weak) side of the formation (contain rush).
The idea here is to force the ball to come out, make the tackle before the sticks and get off the field.
The 49ers are running the smash-divide concept (smash, 7, seam combination) to the closed (strong) side of the formation with Michael Crabtree running the open-side slant (3x1 alignment is an automatic alert to the backside slant).
And with a six-man protection scheme, the 49ers will slide the front to the closed side with running back Frank Gore in a “scan” technique.
With Bush rushing off the open-side edge, Gore works back across the formation to pick up the blitzing defensive back. However, Bush still has to keep contain here.
The Packers defensive back can’t leave his feet on the pump to the slant (never leave the ground as an edge blitzer) and he must force Kaepernick to step up in the pocket. This creates a soft edge for Kaepernick to escape to the open side with Crabtree converting his route vertically down the field versus Davon House.
There is always a risk to sending zero-pressure versus Kaepernick because of his ability to make plays outside the pocket with the secondary in man coverage. With the edge now open—and Crabtree pushing House down the field on the route conversion—Kaepernick can pick up 11 yards, move the sticks and put the 49ers in scoring position.
Andrew Luck’s Game-Winning Touchdown Pass to T.Y. Hilton
T.Y. Hilton (13 receptions, 224 yards, two touchdowns) exposed every coverage the Chiefs threw at him on Saturday during the Colts' comeback win in Indianapolis. And we saw another example of that on the game-winning touchdown pass from Luck late in the fourth quarter.
Here’s a look at the route, with a focus on the technique of Chiefs safety Kendrick Lewis playing over the top of the wide receiver in the secondary.
Chiefs vs. Colts
Personnel: Posse/11 (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Far (Bunch)
Offensive Concept: Sail Route
Defensive Scheme: Cover 2 (Combo)
This is a sail route from the Colts (9-7-flat combination) with Hilton running the deep clear-out seam/post. Run off the top of the defense and create a hole for tight end Coby Fleener to run the deep 7 cut (corner).
However, look at how fast Hilton gets up on Lewis. The Colts wide receiver eats up the cushion (initial distance between defensive back and wide receiver), forces Lewis to open (needs to stay square in his pedal) and is now in position to stem this route back to the post.
With Hilton gaining leverage to the inside, Lewis uses a “closed angle” technique (head whip or baseball turn). That’s the only option the safety has with his hips open to the sideline versus Hilton's straight-line speed.
Poor eye discipline in the secondary. I talk about it all the time because it consistently puts defensive backs in adverse situations.
Lewis is in a trail position after using the “closed angle” technique. But instead of running to Hilton's hip, he looks back for the football. That allows Hilton to create even more separation. And with Quintin Demps taking a flat angle from the opposite deep half, the Colts wide receiver can split the two safeties.
This is a great ball from Luck on the game-winner. He puts it over the top of the two safeties and allows Hilton to finish this play in the end zone for six points. Heck of a comeback from the Colts to get this win and set up a matchup in New England versus the Patriots in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs.
Vernon Davis Beats the Green Bay Defense on the Seam Route
Let’s go back to the 49ers-Packers matchup and talk about Kaepernick’s touchdown pass to Davis in the red zone. A good opportunity to talk about how Jim Harbaugh’s team put stress on the coverage scheme with vertical concepts to pick up the score in the fourth quarter.
49ers vs. Packers
Personnel: Kings/01 (4WR-1TE)
Offensive Concept: Verticals
Defensive Scheme: Cover 4
The Packers will look to reroute the slot (Anquan Boldin), with Mike ‘backer A.J. Hawk matching/carrying No. 3 (Davis) and strong safety Morgan Burnett splitting No. 2/No. 3.
However, with Boldin stemming this route to the numbers (forcing Burnett to widen in his pedal) Kaepernick has an opportunity to target Davis on the inside seam versus Hawk.
This is a tough spot for Hawk. With his back to Kaepernick, the Packers linebacker has to drive to Davis' hip and put himself in a position to find/play the ball.
Now take a look at Burnett. Because the safety widened to play over the top of Boldin on the release/stem to the numbers, he has to transition (open the hips) and overlap the throw to the inside seam. Burnett takes a “bucket step” (step behind on the transition) and rounds his break on the throw.
As I said above, this is a tough spot for Hawk, and the ball placement from Kaepernick doesn’t help him out. The 49ers quarterback puts this throw on Davis' back shoulder to beat Hawk and Burnett for the touchdown.
Drew Brees Targets Cover 2 with the “Sting” Route
The Saints used multiple personnel groupings and alignments to run the ball on the Eagles Saturday night, with Mark Ingram posting 97 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. However, I want to focus on the deep ball from Brees off the run action that set up a key scoring opportunity for New Orleans in the fourth quarter.
Let’s take a look at the “sting” route versus Cover 2 that allowed Robert Meachem to beat safety Patrick Chung in the deep half.
Saints vs. Eagles
Personnel: Tank/22 (1WR-2TE-2RB)
Formation: I Big Wing
Offensive Concept: “Sting” Route
Defensive Scheme: Cover 2
New Orleans sets this up with Tank personnel (1WR-2TE-2RB) on the field. This can be looked at as a “dash” concept (half-roll) from Brees off the open-side play action with Meachem on the “sting” (deep double-move) and the tight end on the intermediate crosser.
The Saints want to occupy the strong safety on the crossing route (safety “tops” his coverage in two-deep) and target Chung. Remove the strong safety and open up the closed-side deep half to run the “sting.”
At the top of the stem, Meachem sells the cut to the corner. That forces Chung to open. And just like Lewis in the matchup versus Hilton, Chung now has to recover with a “closed angle” technique.
However, the Eagles safety rounds his turn and allows the receiver to break back to the post while gaining separation.
With the strong safety now removed versus the tight end, Brees has the entire closed-side deep half to target Meachem for an explosive gain.
This is a route I gave up for a touchdown during my career in Cover 2, and it’s the same story: Technique wins. And when you don’t stay square to play through the double-move in the secondary, you’re in trouble versus the deep ball.
Chargers Defense Sets a Trap for Andy Dalton
During the Chargers' 27-10 win over the Bengals, the San Diego defense used pressure and a trap coverage (“gold” technique) to bait Andy Dalton into one of his two interceptions on the day.
Here’s a breakdown of the route concept and the technique the Chargers used in the secondary that led to Shareece Wright’s interception.
Chargers vs. Bengals
Personnel: Jet/10 (4WR-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Gun Near
Offensive Concept: Option/9
Defensive Scheme: Zone Pressure (“Gold”)
This is a five-man zone pressure scheme from the Chargers to the open side of the formation, with defensive end Kendall Reyes winning to the inside. That’s going to force Dalton to give ground while targeting the option/9 (fade) combination.
In the secondary, Wright is playing “gold.” The cornerback will use a soft squat technique (no jam, sink with No. 1) and read inside to the release/break of No. 2 (slot receiver). If No. 2 (Mohamed Sanu) breaks on the out cut, Wright will drop No. 1 to the safety (deep-half technique) and break on the throw underneath.
The Chargers cornerback drops the outside vertical to the safety and is in the proper position to read Sanu at the top of the stem. Wright can squat in the flat, see the outside breaking route and drive on the throw.
And with Dalton throwing this ball off his back foot versus the inside pressure, Wright can jump the option route.
This is a really poor decision from Dalton. The Bengals quarterback should have taken a sack instead of giving the Chargers the ball in scoring position.
However, don’t discount the blitz scheme. The San Diego defense forced the inside pressure by confusing the Bengals' protection count and executed the trap coverage exactly how it plays out on the chalkboard.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.