Every Thursday throughout the preseason and regular-season schedule, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen brings you his film session: a breakdown of the league from multiple angles.
Ten thoughts from a personnel and scheme perspective as we look ahead to Week 3 of the NFL preseason.
1. Johnny Manziel’s Footwork/Technique
The Browns rookie quarterback struggled with his footwork and pre-snap blitz identification on Monday night in Washington. Manziel failed to set his feet/base in multiple pressure situations, and that impacted his ball placement/velocity in the short-to-intermediate passing game.
Here’s a look at Manziel throwing off his back foot (forces the ball to sail) versus a zero-pressure (blitz man, no safety help) with the Browns running a smash-7 (corner) to the open side of the formation.
The positive here? This is a good tape for Manziel to study as he continues to progress with his technique and route progressions.
And with the Browns naming Brian Hoyer their No. 1 heading into the regular season, per ESPN.com's Pat McManamon, we should keep an eye on Manziel’s reps this weekend (although limited) to see if he can show some improvement in his footwork versus pressure.
2. Eddie Lacy, Packers Posse/11 Personnel
When I watched Lacy practice earlier this month up at Packers training camp, the second-year back looked fluid catching the ball out of the backfield with the lateral movement to produce in the open field on the swing route, angle, dodge, etc.
This a plus for the Packers offense when they bring Posse/11 personnel (3WR-1TE-1RB) on the field to utilize Lacy in the passing game. That’s more touches for the second-year back in addition to the nickel running package in the Green Bay playbook.
Remember, the Packers will see plenty of six- and seven-man run fronts versus defensive sub-packages (Cover 2, 2-Man). And that’s when this offense can expose opposing defensive game plans by gashing those “light” run boxes.
3. Jadeveon Clowney’s Pass-Rush Ability
Regardless of how Clowney transitions to the outside linebacker position in the Texans' base 30-fronts early this season, his ability to rush the passer as an edge player in the sub-packages should translate to impact plays.
Here’s Clowney showcasing his speed off the ball versus the Falcons in Week 2 when he produced a sack on quarterback Matt Ryan.
Look at his ability to dip the shoulder at the point of attack, rip through and create an angle to the quarterback.
This is where I see his true value to start the season while he continues to develop playing from a two-point stance in the Texans' base defense.
4. Kenny Vaccaro’s Versatility
I really like watching Vaccaro play because of his versatility in the secondary. The second-year safety can roll to the deep middle of the field, align in the run front, pressure from the edge and play off-man inside of the numbers.
That skill set will allow coordinator Rob Ryan to get very creative once the regular season starts in both base and sub-package personnel.
And with NFL teams taking a regular-season approach to Week 3 of the preseason, we should get a good look at how Vaccaro can be utilized when the Saints match up versus Andrew Luck and the Colts on Saturday night in Indianapolis.
5. Travis Kelce’s Impact in Chiefs Passing Game
The second-year tight end out of Cincinnati continued to make plays this past weekend when he took a seam route from quarterback Aaron Murray for 40-plus yards and a score versus the Panthers.
Here’s a quick look at the route scheme (four verticals) out of Ace/12 personnel (2WR-2TE-1RB).
From the perspective of Andy Reid’s West Coast system, Kelce has the ability to produce in the short-to-intermediate passing game while also stretching the middle of the field.
Look at the deep dig, the stick-out from a 3x1 alignment, seam, etc. where Kelce can use his size to create leverage while producing after the catch.
These are base West Coast concepts that will allow Alex Smith to throw the ball between the numbers and the hash marks when targeting the young tight end.
6. Calvin Pryor’s Fit in Jets Defensive Scheme
It’s easy to see why the Jets drafted the rookie safety out of Louisville in the first round after watching him play versus the Bengals this past week.
Pryor is an ideal fit in Rex Ryan’s pressure scheme when he can add to the blitz front, impact the running game and play top-down from the deep half versus the vertical route tree.
The strong safety showcased a natural ability to get to the quarterback in pressure packages, and I love his physicality at the point of attack.
I would expect Pryor to see some reps with the first-team defense this week against the Giants after his production in Week 2.
7. Blake Bortles, Jaguars Boot Package
For the second straight week in the preseason, the Jaguars rookie quarterback played at an extremely high level while showcasing his ability outside of the pocket in the boot game.
There is no question Bortles can throw the deep ball, and we’ve seen him target outside breaking cuts (with ideal ball placement) versus tight coverage.
However, I’m more impressed with his footwork, technique and athleticism outside of the pocket in the Jaguars playbook.
Take a look at this throw from Bortles in last week’s matchup versus the Bears in Chicago.
I understand why the Jacksonville staff wants to sit Bortles behind veteran Chad Henne at the start of the season.
But with production like this—and consistent pro-level throws—how long will that plan last?
8. Tre Mason’s Pass-Protection Issues
For any rookie running back, the ability to protect in the passing game is the ticket to getting on the field. And that was an issue for Tre Mason versus the Packers.
From identifying the blitz to winning at the point of attack, the Rams rookie was exposed in basic rush schemes.
Here’s an example of Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix winning a one-on-one matchup versus Mason.
Mason is back on his heels, lacks power at the point of attack and opens the gate for Clinton-Dix to get a free one from the open side of the formation.
With the Rams playing the Browns this weekend, Mason will be tested again in pass protection by a pressure defense. Can the rookie make the necessary technique corrections to keep the quarterback off the ground?
9. Panthers Red-Zone Game Plan
The way I see it, the Panthers are one of the toughest teams to defend in the red zone because of Cam Newton and the read option/Inverted Veer.
Against the Chiefs, the Panthers used pre-snap movement (wide receiver ghost motion) to create a triple-option scheme with Newton reading the edge defender off the mesh point.
This creates stress for defensive coordinators in their game-planning and for players in terms of their option responsibilities/discipline versus Newton’s skill set in the option schemes.
I don’t know what the Panthers will show this week versus the Patriots, but I do believe they will experiment more with the option looks inside of the deep red zone during the regular season.
10. Jon Bostic’s Development in Year 2
Bostic has the skill set coaches want in today’s game to produce as a nickel linebacker because of his speed, change-of-direction quickness and matchup ability.
Here’s an example of that versus the Jaguars' crack toss in a third-down situation.
Bostic identifies the scheme (down block, tackle pull), creates an angle to the ball and runs right through left tackle Luke Joeckel to make an impact tackle for a loss.
But can the Florida product show more consistency at the linebacker position in his Cover 2 drops and run fits for Mel Tucker’s defense? The Bears need production at the second level of their nickel package opposite veteran Lance Briggs.
Week 2 Standout: Eagles Rookie WR Jordan Matthews
After watching the tape from Week 2, here’s my breakdown on how the Eagles are utilizing rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews in Chip Kelly’s offense.
- Matthews had a productive night versus the Patriots in Week 2 (nine receptions, 104 yards) as he worked inside of the numbers (No. 2/No. 3 alignment) running the short-to-intermediate route tree while executing the bubble screen off the Eagles' packaged reads.
- He looked strong and fluid after the catch. The rookie receiver displayed soft hands with the ability to accelerate and create angles in the open field. Plus, he wasn’t shy about dropping his pad level on contact versus defensive backs. A physical player at the receiver position.
- Within the Eagles' offensive scheme, Matthews is running the same routes we saw from DeSean Jackson in 2013 based on his inside alignment. Think of the shallow drive route (Hi-Lo), the stick out (tare concept), intermediate dig, the deep 7 cut (corner) route and multiple wide receiver screens in Kelly’s playbook.
- Here’s a look at the shallow drive route (underneath crosser) with Matthews in a reduced split (tight to the core of the formation). Playing versus man-coverage, the receiver can take advantage of a defensive back in an outside leverage position to work across the field. And in zone, this is the ideal scheme for Matthews to find a soft hole, sit down and move the sticks.
- Matthews doesn’t have the lateral quickness of Jackson. However, given his size (6’3”, 212 pounds) and sub-4.5 speed, the Vanderbilt product looks like a fit for the Eagles from the slot position where he can work the middle of the field or produce on the bubble screen.
Key Matchups to Watch in Week 3
Here are three matchups I’m going to focus on this weekend, as the majority of the starters are expected to see playing time throughout the first half.
Eli Manning vs. Rex Ryan
The multiple pressure packages utilized by the Jets will provide some quality reps for Eli Manning and the struggling Giants offense.
Manning has been inconsistent throughout the preseason schedule (missing on basic route concepts), and the Giants have lacked rhythm under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.
On Friday night, Manning should expect zero pressure from the Jets, some zone looks and a lot of pre-snap movement to disguise coverage schemes. And with nothing to lose in a preseason game, Ryan could dial up some serious blitz schemes.
Can Manning and the Giants' first-team offense execute the base install, move the ball and convert on third downs in their final prep for the regular season?
Steelers Defense vs. Chip Kelly’s System
The Steelers addressed their team speed on defense through the draft/free agency, and they will be tested versus the uptempo system of the Eagles on Thursday night.
That means Kelly’s packaged plays, the zone running game, Hi-Lo concepts and inside matchups that target the middle of Dick LeBeau’s defense.
Rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier showed us that he could carry the seam and finish on the ball last week versus the Bills, but can he check tight end Zach Ertz in coverage, run with the wheel route and pursue laterally to attack the Eagles' running game?
This is a solid game to kick off Week 3 of the preseason when looking at how the Steelers' defensive personnel matches up to the Eagles.
Jay Cutler vs. Seahawks Single-High Defenses
The Bears quarterback will see the Seahawks’ Cover 1 and Cover 3 schemes on Friday night out in Seattle.
Look for Marc Trestman’s offense to run the Smash-Divide (smash-7-seam), the levels concept and the classic three-deep beaters (four verticals, three-level sail) versus press coverage on the outside with free safety Earl Thomas playing the seam/post in the deep middle of the field.
Here’s an example of the Seahawks' “3 Buzz” scheme from the Super Bowl, with the strong safety dropping inside as a “middle hook” defender.
Remember, Seattle will press their corners in both zone/man (pattern-match vertical release in Cover 3), and Cutler will be asked to deliver the ball into tight throwing windows with underneath defenders gaining depth.
Let’s see if Cutler can protect the ball and keep the Bears out of adverse game situations versus Pete Carroll’s defense.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
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