Every Thursday throughout the preseason and regular-season schedule, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen will bring you his film session: a breakdown of the league from multiple angles.
Week 1 Standout: Jaguars QB Blake Bortles
After watching Bortles versus the Tampa defense, here’s what I saw from the rookie during his first pro exhibition game.
Bortles looked comfortable when the Jags asked him to get outside of the pocket in the boot game.
The rookie didn’t have any issues squaring his shoulders to the target while delivering the ball underneath or throwing the intermediate outside breaking cut (sail route).
Bortles looked comfortable gathering his base and putting the ball in the proper position.
Working versus Cover 3 (three-deep, four-under), Bortles connected on the deep dig route to the backside X receiver.
However, it was the progression that stood out.
With the Jags running a closed (strong) side spot route (7-curl-flat combo), the quarterback looked frontside at the top of his drop, flipped his hips and came back to find the window in order to hit the dig versus outside leverage.
Bortles' footwork is still developing at this stage of the preseason.
However, watching the quarterback work from both the gun and under center, I thought he did a decent job of setting his feet at the top of the drop. This allowed Bortles to step into this throws, take a hit and still deliver the ball.
There were some drops on deep, outside cuts from the Jaguars receivers, but don’t discount Bortles' ability to make throws outside of the numbers.
Here’s one throw I want to highlight. With the Jags in an "I" formation (2WR-1TE-2RB), Bortles targeted the inside seam versus Cover 2.
As you can see, the Jags create a one-on-one matchup for wide receiver Mike Brown versus the Will 'backer carrying the inside vertical seam.
With the 9-route widening the free safety to the open side of the formation and the tight end holding the strong safety in the deep half on the 7 cut, Bortles can target Brown down the middle of the field.
This is a pro-level throw from Bortles as the rookie drops this ball over the top of the Will 'backer while splitting the two deep-half safeties to pick up an explosive gain. And he took a shot under the chin after delivering this ball down the field.
Bortles was aggressive in the passing game and showed positive signs of development. Let’s see if that continues in Chicago on Thursday night.
Here are 10 thoughts from a personnel and scheme perspective as we look ahead to Week 2 in the NFL preseason.
1. Jadeveon Clowney’s Impact on Texans' Base/Sub-Packages
The No. 1 overall pick showed us flashes of his speed, power and playmaking ability versus the Cardinals in Week 1.
And given the flexibility of both Jadeveon Clowney and J. J. Watt, the Texans can show opposing offenses multiple looks in their base and sub-package fronts.
Here’s the pre-snap view of the Texans' 3-4 front (playing Cover 1 versus an empty formation), with both Clowney and Watt aligned to the open side.
This play—which resulted in a sack from Watt—gives us a glimpse of what the Texans can do based on personnel with Clowney at the linebacker position.
The No. 1 overall pick needs some work matching in coverage (eye discipline), but his versatility as an athlete will allow defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel the opportunity to get creative with the scheme.
2. Carlos Hyde Looks Like a Fit for the 49ers Offense
Watching the rookie out of Ohio State run the ball, it’s easy to see how he fits within the 49ers’ offensive scheme.
Carlos Hyde showed the downhill speed through the hole to drop his pads at the second level, the patience and vision to bounce the ball on the G-Lead (pull frontside guard) and lateral quickness to change direction on the lead draw.
With the injuries the 49ers have at the position, we should get a really good look at Hyde this preseason as the rookie continues to run the ball in a system that caters to his abilities.
3. Bill Lazor’s Impact on the Dolphins' Playbook
Checking out the Dolphins-Falcons matchup, there were signs of Chip Kelly’s system under new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, as I previously mentioned when looking at the red-zone “swap” boot.
Check out this example of the Dolphins' packaged play versus the Falcons.
In this situation, quarterback Ryan Tannehill reads the initial path of the defensive end. If the end crashes (dive), Tannehill can pull the ball (quarterback keep) or throw the bubble screen based off the coverage alignment in the secondary.
With Lazor calling plays, look for more tempo, pre-snap movement, formation creativity, etc., throughout the preseason in order to put stress on opposing defenses while generating positive matchups.
4. Johnny Manziel’s Week 2 Audition
With Johnny Manziel scheduled to see reps with the No. 1 offense versus the Redskins, I’m looking for the first-round pick to be quick with his reads, identify his second/third options and showcase his talent once the pocket breaks down to extend plays or move the sticks with his feet.
Manziel’s Week 1 performance had some positives along with situations that need to be corrected. And that should be expected after his first preseason game.
However, given that Manziel is scheduled to see reps with the first unit Monday night, the door is open for the rookie to take advantage of this opportunity by managing Kyle Shanahan’s offense, producing within the boot schemes and taking calculated risks to expose the defense with his athletic ability.
5. T.Y. Hilton’s Ability to Work the Middle of the Field
Going back to the tape from 2013, T.Y. Hilton’s ability to win in the middle of the field has a major impact on the Colts' personnel groupings and alignments.
Think of the shallow drive route (underneath crosser) from the backside of a 3x1 alignment or inside of the numbers where the Colts can run the Hi-Lo series (two-level read).
Look at this example from last week, featuring Hilton in the slot out of Posse/11 personnel (3WR-1TE-1RB) versus a five-man zone pressure.
With the Z receiver clearing out the closed-side cornerback and tight end Coby Fleener occupying the seam-flat defender on the dig, the Colts can run Hilton on the shallow drive.
That forces the linebacker in coverage (middle-hook defender) to match the Colts receiver. And that result is a productive gain.
Keep an eye on Hilton’s pre-snap alignments when the Giants come to town on Saturday night and throughout the preseason schedule.
6. More Questions on the Cowboys’ Defensive Depth
In their Week 1 matchup, the Cowboys depth on the defensive side of the ball was exposed by the San Diego run game.
They were pushed around on the interior of the defensive line, their run fits were poor and their tackling at the second level was questionable. Both the first- and second-team units had issues versus base schemes (Zone, Counter OF, Lead Draw).
And the Cowboys will see those same schemes this week versus the Ravens.
Can they make corrections, improve their technique at the point of attack and fit up properly at the second level in their one-gap scheme?
7. Gerald McCoy’s Role in the Bucs’ Defensive Scheme
The Bucs’ ability to play the run with a seven-man front (two-deep coverage) starts with the production of Gerald McCoy on the defensive line.
In Lovie Smith’s system, the 3-technique tackle (4-3 front) can disrupt the run game by penetrating up the field while allowing second-level linebackers to scrape to the ball.
Here’s a look at how McCoy blew up the Jaguars' two-back stretch scheme to open the game this past week.
With the Bucs playing Cover 2, the cornerback holds the edge, the safety fills the alley (between cornerback and core of the formation) and the linebackers scrape to the ball.
However, look at McCoy. The defensive tackle explodes off the ball, drives the guard back and forces the ball to flatten before making the play in the backfield.
8. Brandin Cooks Gives Saints More Formation Flexibility
Brandin Cooks displayed his electric talent versus the Rams when he caught a simple option route for a touchdown because of his ability in the open field.
But I’m more focused on the formation flexibility he brings to Sean Payton’s offense.
The Saints rookie can align in a variety of positions on the field. Think of Cooks as the Z, aligned in the slot or removed as the backside X. This gives New Orleans even more opportunities to create favorable matchups with its personnel.
Remember, Cooks has the vertical speed to press the top of the secondary and the ball skills to finish plays. I’m excited to see how he is utilized throughout the rest of the preseason schedule and when the true game plans are handed out in September.
9. Progression of Rams Defense Under Gregg Williams
Given the amount of talent the Rams have along the defensive line, new coordinator Gregg Williams could play more coverage this season (Cover 2/Cover 7) instead of sending pressure.
In the matchup versus the Saints, Williams showed a little of both with some “zero-man” pressures (no safety help) and his Cover 7 scheme, which allows the secondary to make calls based on offensive personnel.
Here’s a look at Cover 7 with a "fist" call (2-Man) to the closed side and a "thumbs" call (safety trail) to the open side.
To the closed side, the strong safety will roll to the deep half with the defenders playing “trail man” underneath. To the near side of the field, the safety shows pressure and drops the to the inside hip of No. 1 to undercut the break with the corner playing over the top.
This is just one example of a coverage look, but it gives us something to watch versus the Titans from a scheme perspective under Williams.
10. Kelvin Benjamin’s Development in the Intermediate Passing Game
The Panthers' rookie receiver showed us that he could finish in the end zone when he beat Bills’ cornerback Stephon Gilmore on the fade in Week 1.
However, I’m looking at the short-to-intermediate route tree with Kelvin Benjamin versus the Chiefs this Sunday night.
The Florida State product will see a lot of press-man play from Kansas City (Cover 1, 2-Man), so I think this is a great opportunity for the rookie to work on the deep dig, curl and even the 7 cut.
Those Chiefs defensive backs will challenge Benjamin on the release and at the top of the stem. Can he beat the jam, stem up the field and win at the break to create leverage back to the ball?
Given his size (6’5”, 240 lbs), this is where Benjamin can produce in the NFL.
Key Matchups to Watch in Week 2
Here are three matchups I’m going to focus on this week as the starters will see more reps under the lights.
Jaguars Secondary vs. Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery
In my opinion, the exhibition schedule is about quality reps for the starters to prep for the regular season.
That’s why I’m going to check out the Jaguars secondary versus Jay Cutler and his weapons at wide receiver.
Whether in Cover 1 or Cover 2, can Jacksonville’s Alan Ball, Dwayne Gratz and Will Blackmon play a physical brand of football to disrupt the release versus the skill sets of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery?
If you want to grade these defensive backs Thursday night, focus on their initial jam, leverage throughout the stem and ability to close to the hip on the break.
This is good work for the Jags’ secondary, and it will provide some solid tape to study from a technique perspective.
Chargers' Run Game vs. Seahawks' Front 7
As we talked about above, the Chargers ran through the Cowboys defense last week, but how do they match up to the speed and athleticism of the Seattle front seven?
Look for the same base schemes the Chargers showed in Week 1, but focus on the ability of the running backs to bounce the ball to the edge of the formation or find cutback lanes.
Can the Chargers offensive line control the front, work to the second level and create running room for Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead, Donald Brown and undrafted rookie Branden Oliver?
That’s what I want to find out versus a top-tier opponent like Seattle.
EJ Manuel vs. the Steelers Defense
NFL teams won’t hand out game plans until Week 3 of the preseason, but I want to see how Manuel performs versus Dick LeBeau’s scheme.
That means multiple fronts, zone pressure, Cover 3, some 2-Man and “gold” (or “trap”) technique at the cornerback position.
This is a good test for Manuel, as he must protect the ball, make smart decisions and identify pressure versus the Steelers to convert on third downs while establishing scoring drives.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
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