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 NFL divisional playoffs.
Marshawn Lynch’s 31 Yard Touchdown Run
Running back Marshawn Lynch (28 carries, 140 yards, two touchdowns) showcased his power, cut-back ability and edge speed in the Seahawks' 23-15 win over the Saints on Saturday.
Let’s go back to Lynch’s touchdown run in the fourth quarter and focus on the crack block that allowed the Seahawks running back to put the ball in the end zone on the power scheme.
Saints vs. Seahawks
Personnel: Heavy/13 (1WR-3TE-1RB)
Formation: Unit Wing
Offensive Concept: One-Back Power (Crack)
Defensive Scheme: Cover 0
Given the game situation in the fourth quarter, Saints coordinator Rob Ryan has his defense bring an extra linebacker onto the field and walk Malcolm Jenkins down into the box. The Saints safety bumps to the open side of the formation with the pre-snap motion shift by the tight end and becomes the primary edge support player.
As we can see here, the Saints do a good job of fitting up the one-back power (pull backside guard) and eliminating the inside running lanes. This forces Lynch to bounce to the edge of the defense.
However, with wide receiver Jermaine Kearse on the crack stem to block Jenkins (safety fits between the crack block/core of the formation), cornerback Keenan Lewis has to play with a “crack replace’’ technique (replace the safety as the primary support) and close the edge.
With the Saints playing man coverage, Lewis has to identify the crack stem of Kearse and get downhill quickly to close the edge. That’s exactly why you crack on a safety in the box because it forces the cornerback to tackle.
However, Lewis is late to identify the block, allowing Lynch to bounce the run and Lewis can’t recover in time to create a positive, downhill angle to the ball.
Lewis has an opportunity to use the sideline as his help in this situation and run Lynch out of bounds, but the veteran running back is able to hold off the Saints cornerback and turn this into a 31-yard score to build the fourth quarter lead for Seattle.
49ers Dress Up the Read-Option in the Red Zone
During the 49ers' 23-10 win over the Panthers in Charlotte, Jim Harbaugh’s club showed some window dressing to run the read-option off the jet sweep action for a touchdown.
Here’s a look at the option scheme, with the 49ers using the arc block to create a running lane for quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the touchdown.
49ers vs. Panthers
Personnel: Posse/11 (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles (Pistol)
Offensive Concept: Read-Option
Defensive Scheme: Cover 1
The 49ers send wide receiver Quinton Patton on the jet sweep action to the open side of the formation to arc block on the safety. That forces cornerback Drayton Florence to run/travel versus Patton (Cover 1 rules) and bubble over the linebackers.
Inside, left tackle Joe Staley works up to the second level to block linebacker Luke Kuechly with Kaepernick riding Frank Gore through the mesh point and reading the path of defensive end Greg Hardy.
With Hardy closing on the dive by Gore, the 49ers quarterback pulls out the ball and gets to the edge of the defense. This allows Patton to fit up on the safety while Anquan Boldin turns out the slot defender to create a running lane for Kaepernick.
However, because the Panthers are playing man-free with Florence matching to his coverage, the cornerback should have an opportunity to close the angle to Kaepernick and be in a position to make a tackle in the alley.
This is all about the angle to the football. Instead of breaking down to square up Kaepernick at the point of attack, Florence overruns this play and gives Kaepernick the opportunity to cut up the field for six points to extend the 49ers' lead.
LeGarrette Blount, Patriots Run Past the Colts
During the Patriots' 43-22 win, LeGarrette Blount produced four touchdowns and 146 yards on the ground as New England exposed the Indianapolis run defense. Let’s take a look at Blount’s 73-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that put the Colts away with the one-back power scheme.
Colts vs. Patriots
Personnel: Ace/12 (2WR-2TE-1RB)
Formation: Unit Slot
Offensive Concept: One-Back Power
Defensive Scheme: Cover 3
In the one-back power scheme, the Patriots pull backside guard Logan Mankins, double-down inside (chip to the second level) and kick out on Robert Mathis.
With Mathis slanting inside on the snap and linebacker Jerrell Freeman scraping over the top, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui has to slide down to hinge/turn out on Mathis. That allows Mankins to pull to the edge and pick up Freeman, with the right tackle working off the inside double-team to get to the second level.
The Patriots produce an inside running lane for Blount here because of their ability to turn out Mathis and wash the second level linebackers past the hole. That gives Blount an opportunity to make one cut and get vertically up the field.
Because this run breaks, LaRon Landry has to make an open-field tackle. However, look at the angle that the Colts safety takes to the ball-carrier. Instead of playing with some depth on his entry versus the run and creating a downhill angle, Landry gets caught too close to the line of scrimmage. That forces him to take a flat angle to the ball.
Head across on the tackle: That’s a basic coaching point on all three levels of the defense. But given the flat angle versus Blount in the open field, Landry lunges and can’t get his head across on contact. The result is a 73-yard score for the Patriots running back.
Peyton Manning Targets Wes Welker on the Red Zone “Pick” Route
The Broncos have run multiple pick routes this season inside of the deep red zone to target man coverage. That showed up again on Sunday during Denver’s 24-17 win over San Diego.
Let’s go back to the route, talk about the pressure/alignment from the Chargers and break down Peyton Manning’s touchdown pass to Wes Welker.
Chargers vs. Broncos
Personnel: Posse/11 (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Gun Far
Offensive Concept: Flat-7 (Dash)
Defensive Scheme: Zero-Pressure
In Cover 0, the Chargers are rushing seven, with safety Eric Weddle stemming to a blitz alignment versus the Broncos flat-7 (corner) combination off the dash action (half roll).
At the snap, Welker breaks to the flat with Eric Decker releasing on a hard, inside stem (pick) to run the 7 route. The Broncos want to create traffic inside and allow Welker a free run to the flat.
This puts safety Darrell Stuckey in a tough spot because of his initial alignment matchup versus Welker. Playing from an off-man position with an inside shade, Stuckey has to fight through the pick and take a downhill, 45-degree angle to drive to the upfield shoulder of Welker on an outside breaking route.
Here’s a look at the pick from Decker. The Broncos wide receiver stems his route to cut off Stuckey and forces the safety to adjust his angle to the ball. Stuckey now has to work under the pick while trying to recover versus a flat route inside of the 5-yard line.
With Stuckey now playing from a trail position, Manning can get this ball out quickly versus the Chargers' zero-pressure scheme and target Welker on an easy read to the flat.
If you play man coverage versus Manning inside of the deep red zone, this is a route you have to prep for by adjusting the pre-snap alignment of the secondary (tighten down over the slot) to avoid the inside pick.
49ers Produce a Turnover in 2-Man vs. Cam Newton, Panthers
With Cam Newton and the Panthers in scoring position during the fourth quarter, the 49ers took away the inside seam route to Greg Olsen in 2-Man. Let’s talk some technique and break down why NaVorro Bowman was able to force Newton into throwing an interception to Donte Whitner.
49ers vs. Panthers
Personnel: Posse/11 (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Far
Offensive Concept: Double Smash-Seam
Defensive Scheme: 2-Man
In 2-Man (two-deep, man-under), the underneath defenders sit hard on the inside hip and trail any vertical concept with safety help over the top.
Here, Bowman matches to the vertical release of Olsen, plays through the slight inside stem and carries the tight end up the field. With no vertical threat outside of the numbers (double smash routes), Whitner can lean inside to Olsen in the deep half.
Check out the technique from Bowman versus Olsen. The 49ers linebacker maintains his inside leverage on the hip of the tight end and is in a position to shield Olsen on a possible stem route back to the middle of the field.
Newton throws this ball to the inside of the tight end on the seam route. However, because of the technique/inside leverage we just talked about, Bowman can take away Olsen’s ability to stem back to the football. That allows Whitner to read the quarterback, drive on the throw and finish this play.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.