Throughout the 2014 preseason schedule, Matt Bowen will bring you an X’s and O’s look at the NFL. Here are his three key plays from the Hall of Fame game in Canton, Ohio, on Sunday night, where the Giants beat the Bills 17-13.
Jeff Tuel’s Fourth-Down Touchdown Pass
With the Bills facing a 4th-and-goal situation from inside the 5-yard line, quarterback Jeff Tuel hit wide receiver Robert Woods on the quick flat route versus the Giants' man coverage (Cover 1).
Let’s take a look at the play and discuss the technique errors at the cornerback position that allowed Tuel to find Woods in the closed (strong) side flat for six points.
Personnel: Posse/11 (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Gun Strong “Vice” (Double Stack)
Offensive Concept: Stick-Out
Defensive Scheme: Cover 1
With the Bills in a “Vice” formation (double-stack look), the secondary should automatically alert for the stick-out (quick out/flat combo), Flat/7 (corner) on an inside “pick” situation (Hi-Lo Crossers) based off the release of the No. 1 wide receiver (count outside-in).
Here, the Bills run the stick-out combo (tight end sits down on the curl) with Woods using a quick, vertical stem to force Giants cornerback Jayron Hosley to give ground and sink into the end zone.
However, with the Giants showing a press look versus the tight end, Hosley should play this route using a flat-foot read (no backpedal, read through the three-step) to prevent Woods from creating separation off the ball.
Remember, there is no need to shuffle/backpedal in this situation because of the field position. Even with the possibility of Woods running a shallow drive route (underneath crosser) to force an inside pick, Hosley should sit hard to challenge the flat or wheel/turn with any vertical concept.
In Cover 1, defensive backs are taught to maintain leverage (outside shade) and use their safety help to the inside. Here, Hosley sinks at the snap (no flat-foot read) and loses leverage versus Woods at the top of the route stem (break point).
Plus, with Hosley stepping in the bucket (step behind on transition), Woods can create even more separation with the Giants defensive back rounding his break.
That puts Hosley in a negative trail position versus an outside breaking route—with no help.
We know that Hosley is beaten in this situation; however, he can still try to recover by driving to the upfield shoulder of the receiver to get back (on the hip) versus the throw.
Instead, he sticks his eyes back inside to the quarterback.
This is something I will talk about all season long, as it allows the receiver to generate even more separation on the break when the defensive back fails to play with the proper discipline in coverage.
Don’t look back inside until you are in position to make a play on the ball. That’s a rule for defensive backs at every level of the game.
This is a poor throw from Tuel as he leaves the ball to the back shoulder of Woods on an outside-breaking route (can lead to an interception when the defensive back is playing to the hip of the receiver).
However, because of the poor technique in the Giants secondary—and the separation created on the flat route—Woods can finish this play for a score.
Andre Williams’ 21-Yard Run
The rookie running back from Boston College had a productive night (seven carries, 48 yards, one touchdown) carrying the ball out of the Giants’ zone and power schemes (Outside Zone, Stretch, Power O, Lead) in his first taste of “live” NFL competition.
Here’s a breakdown of Williams’ 21-yard run, with the Giants using zone blocking up front as the Bills rolled a safety down to the open (weak) side of the formation.
Personnel: Regular/21 (2WR-1TE-2RB)
Formation: Pro Weak I
Offensive Concept: Outside Zone (Stretch)
Defensive Scheme: Cover 1
This is an outside zone (or stretch) scheme from the Giants out of a two-back look versus an open-side rotation from the Bills.
On the offensive line, the Giants use the “zone step” (step the play side of the formation) with the left tackle working up to the second level and the fullback blocking the safety rolled down into the run front.
As you can see here, the safety can create an angle to use the “spill” technique. He is taught to attack the inside shoulder of the blocker. That forces the running back to bubble, with the linebackers scrapping over the top to clean up.
This is a common technique used in Cover 1 out of eight-man fronts versus both zone and power schemes.
However, with the Giants using a zone-blocking technique on the offensive line, the left tackle can work up to the Will ‘backer. That creates a soft edge for Williams to bounce the ball outside.
Check out the safety on the “spill” technique. He attacks that inside shoulder of the fullback and forces Williams to bubble.
But with the defensive end slanting inside, the left tackle now has a clear path to work up to the Will ‘backer. And the result is a very soft edge for Williams as he can now press this run on the outside-zone scheme.
With the Giants’ left tackle blocking the Will ‘backer—and the Mike ‘backer caught in the wash inside as he tries to scrape to the ball—Williams has a clean lane to work with.
This allows him to square his pads, get up the field and produce an explosive play to set up the Giants in prime scoring position inside of the 10-yard line.
Zack Bowman’s Pass Break Up Leads to a Red-Zone Interception
Giants safety Taylor Cooper intercepted Tuel in the end zone Sunday night, but don’t forget about the play from Bowman to get this ball up in the air when he drove on the slant route.
Let’s focus on the technique and leverage of the Giants cornerback along with his ability to finish at the point of attack.
Personnel: Posse/11 (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Weak
Offensive Concept: Slant-Flat
Defensive Scheme: Cover 1 “Robber”
A 3x1 formation in the NFL is a high alert for a backside, three-step slant from the X receiver.
And that’s what we see here with T.J. Graham aligned as the backside X versus the Giants' Cover 1 “Robber” (linebacker drops to the shallow, inside hole).
Playing from a press-man position, Bowman uses a “taxi” technique (shuffle back at the snap) to maintain his leverage while keeping his shoulders square to the receiver through the initial release.
This allows Bowman to play through the quick, outside stem from Graham without opening the gate (opening the hips) or giving the receiver an opportunity to create separation back to the inside.
At the top of the route stem, Bowman is in an ideal position with his shoulders square to the receiver/quarterback. And with that outside leverage position, he can funnel Graham inside to his free safety help.
Bowman can now drive downhill to the upfield shoulder of the receiver to find the football at the point of attack.
This turns into a basket pick for Cooper, but look at the finish here from Bowman versus Graham.
Because of the technique through the release (and his ability to stay square at the break), Bowman can “play the pocket” to tip this ball up in the air.
And that takes points off the board inside the red zone.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.