Tale of the Tape from NFL Championship Sunday
Matt Bowen NFL National Lead WriterJanuary 20, 2014

Former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen takes you inside the X’s and O’s of the game with his five key plays from NFL Championship Sunday.


Richard Sherman, Seahawks close out the 49ers in the End Zone

Down six late in the game, Colin Kaepernick took a shot to the end zone versus Sherman on the 9 (fade) route with the Seahawks showing press alignments outside of the numbers.

Let’s talk about Sherman’s matchup with Michael Crabtree and focus on the cornerback’s technique that allowed linebacker Malcolm Smith to come down with the interception.


49ers vs. Seahawks

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

Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Far

Offensive Concept: Sail-9

Defensive Scheme: 3 Buzz

To the closed (strong) side of the formation, the 49ers are running a three-level sail concept, but we want to focus on Sherman vs. Crabtree to the open (weak) side.

As I wrote on Friday, the Seahawks will align their cornerbacks in a press look in Cover 1/Cover 3, and that's what we see here from Sherman. With Crabtree taking a hard, outside release, Sherman will drive to the hip and use the sideline as his help with Smith buzzing underneath as a curl-flat defender.

To play the 9 route, Sherman has to put himself in a position (off the release) to either stack on top or pin the receiver into the boundary before he can start to look back for the football.

With Sherman establishing inside position on the hip of Crabtree at the point of attack down the field, the cornerback can now get his head around and locate the ball.

This is outstanding body control from Sherman to adjust to a throw on his inside shoulder, climb the ladder and get a hand on this ball. Remember, defensive backs are always taught to play the ball at the highest point. Don’t wait on the wide receiver in this situation. Instead, go up and get it like we see here from Sherman.

With Smith running hard to trail this route, the Seahawks linebacker is now in a position to make a play on the tip and secure the interception. And it started with Sherman’s technique on a play that sent Pete Carroll’s team to the Super Bowl.


Knowshon Moreno’s Third-Down Conversion vs. 2-Man

During a 15-play, 93-yard drive in the second quarter, the Broncos had to convert a 3rd-and-10 versus the Patriots' 2-Man scheme. Here’s a look at how Moreno was able to expose New England’s soft run front and produce an explosive play that set Denver up in prime scoring position.


Patriots vs. Broncos

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

Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Far

Offensive Concept: Inside Zone

Defensive Scheme: 2-Man

The 2-Man is a smart call versus Peyton Manning in third-down situations because it allows the underneath defenders to sit hard to the inside hip of the receivers and play aggressively versus short-to-intermediate routes with safety help over the top.

However, with the Broncos spreading the field, it also creates a very soft run box as defenders are removed in coverage.

Look at the Patriots' pre-snap alignment in this picture. The second-level defenders are removed, and the safeties are aligned at 15 yards off the ball. This is an ideal situation to run the inside zone scheme out of the gun.

With the Broncos securing the double-team to the open side of the formation and fitting up versus the Patriots defensive line, Moreno has a clear running lane to push this ball through the second level.

That forces the two deep half-safeties to take inside-out angles to the ball and make an open-field tackle. They are coached to squeeze the ball-carrier to the middle of the field and eliminate the opportunity to create an angle to the sideline.

This is heck of a run from Moreno once he gets to safety depth. As you can see, the Broncos running back hurdles the free safety and then works off the block from Julius Thomas down the field to put this ball inside the 10-yard line.

Excellent drive from the Broncos and a great call on third down given the defensive look.


Russell Wilson, Jermaine Kearse Target Cover 1 for a Touchdown

With the 49ers jumping at the snap, Wilson had a free play in this situation to take a shot vertically down the field versus Cover 1. Let’s go back to the play, talk about the route scheme and break down the technique at the point of attack on the touchdown.


49ers vs. Seahawks

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

Formation: Slot Open Gun Near

Offensive Concept: Verticals

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1

Three verticals to the open side of the formation with seven-man protection (running back will check release). Wilson will read the free safety in the middle of the field and target Kearse matched up versus Carlos Rogers in the slot.

The Seahawks receiver will take a slight outside release to the bottom of the numbers and then stem this route back inside to gain leverage on Rogers.

I wanted to show you the separation within the route stem. Because of that slight outside release, Kearse forced Rogers (playing from an off-man position) to use a closed-angle technique (baseball-turn, head-whip).

That gives Kearse the leverage to stem this route away from the defender. And with the free safety occupied by Doug Baldwin on the inside vertical, there will be a deep throwing lane for Wilson to target the seam.

This is a great throw and catch versus a defensive back in a good position to play the ball. Rogers extends the arm (instead of playing the pocket) and can’t locate the throw at the point of attack. And with the safety late over the top (after working through the inside vertical), this turns into a key touchdown in the Seahawks' win.


Kam Chancellor’s Cover 3 Technique Produces an Interception

In the fourth quarter, Chancellor set the Seahawks up in positive field position because of his ability to gain depth and read the quarterback in Cover 3. Here’s a look at the strong safety taking away the out route from Kaepernick and Anquan Boldin.


49ers vs. Seahawks

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

Formation: Pro I

Offensive Concept: Semi-Out

Defensive Scheme: Cover 3

With the 49ers using divide motion to bring Boldin back to the closed side of the formation (reduced split), cornerback Byron Maxwell uses a bail technique (open hips, sink) versus the semi-out concept (seam-out combination) to split the two vertical releases.

Underneath, Chancellor is the curl-flat defender. He will open, sink at a 45-degree angle and gain depth. However, with no threat to the flat, the Seahawks strong safety can increase his depth and drive to the out/curl.

This is a good look at Chancellor’s technique in his drop. The safety is open to the quarterback and gaining depth. That allows Chancellor to cushion the possible curl and widen versus the out route with Maxwell sinking over the top in the outside one-third.

This is a poor throw/read from Kaepernick. The 49ers quarterback has to see the depth of Chancellor and check this ball down to the middle of the field.

But let’s not overlook Chancellor in his Cover 3 drop or the finish on the ball. The safety goes up to make this interception, and it started with his ability to play the technique of the defense. And this is exactly what you want to see out of the strong safety in the curl-flat drop.


Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas Beat Alfonzo Dennard in the Red Zone

When Aqib Talib checked out of this game with an injury, Manning went to work on Dennard in man coverage, and the cornerback had a rough time matching up to Thomas on the release and through the route stem.

Let’s break down the wide receiver’s touchdown catch on the red-zone slant versus combination-man.


Patriots vs. Broncos

Personnel: Posse/11

Formation: Doubles Slot

Offensive Concept: Slant/Smash-7

Defensive Scheme: Cover 7 (Combo Man)

I’m calling this combination man from the Patriots because of the “slice” call (bracket) versus Wes Welker in the slot and the “thumbs” call (safety buzzes under No. 1) to the open side of the formation.

However, because of the two combination calls, there is no safety help in the middle of the field. That puts Dennard in a one-on-one matchup (versus an inside breaking route) with the Broncos using open-side play action to hold the depth of the linebackers.

This is a great route from Thomas as the wide receiver sells the outside stem on the release. That forces Dennard to open/bail at the snap (play for the fade). But with Thomas running the slant, he can stem inside to cross the face of Dennard, gain leverage and work back to the middle of the field.

And when a defensive back gets on his heels in the deep red zone—and allows the receiver to gain separation/leverage back to the inside—there isn’t time to recover.

Manning puts this ball up high to clear the linebackers and allows Thomas to finish for the score.

There is no question the injury to Talib impacted this Patriots secondary. And it also gave the Broncos multiple opportunities to target Cover 1 and expose this New England defense on the way to winning the AFC Championship.


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



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