Tale of the Tape from NFL Preseason Week 3

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterAugust 25, 2014

Throughout the 2014 preseason schedule, Matt Bowen will bring you an X’s and O’s look at the NFL. Here are his five key plays from the third weekend of the exhibition season.


Reggie Bush Runs Past the Jaguars' Nickel Defense

This past week, we broke down the nickel run game in the “NFL 101” series with a focus on one-back schemes (zone, power) that attack defensive sub-packages (six-/seven-man fronts).

And Friday night in Detroit, the Lions produced an explosive play out of their Posse/11 personnel (3WR-1TE-1RB) with Reggie Bush off the inside zone scheme versus the Jaguars' Nickel Cover 3 (seven-man front).

Let’s take a look at the run scheme, talk about cutback lanes and check out the open-field speed of Bush as he takes this ball for an 86-yard touchdown.


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

Formation: Doubles

Offensive Concept: Inside Zone

Defensive Scheme: Cover 3

This is an open- (weak-) side zone scheme from the Lions with the offensive line using a “zone step” (block an area).

That gives Bush the option of pressing the ball to the play side or using his vision/cutback ability to find a running lane to the closed side versus linebacker pursuit.

As you can see, the Jaguars' open-side linebacker flows to the ball and fills the open lane. This forces Bush to look to the backside for cutback room with the strong safety playing as the "force" defender (contain) and the closed-side linebacker in a position to redirect and track the ball.

The Jaguars can fit up this run with the closed-side linebacker filling the cutback lane and the strong safety still in a position to seal the edge of the formation.

However, this is a smooth cut from Bush that freezes the feet of the linebacker in the hole.

And with the strong safety beginning to fold inside (C-gap) due to the defensive end’s leverage versus the tight end, Bush can now bounce this ball to the edge.

This is where we see the acceleration through the hole and the speed from Bush as he squares his pads to get up the field.

That eliminates the angle from the free safety in the middle of the field and allows Bush to push this ball to the numbers as he outruns the Jaguars secondary for the touchdown.


Bucs Rookie Mike Evans Wins on the Double-Move

The rookie wide receiver out of Texas A&M has the size (6’5”, 231 lbs) and skill set to produce in the NFL as he continues to develop with preseason reps for Lovie Smith’s ballclub.

This weekend, we saw Evans get over the top of the Bills secondary on the double-move (stutter-go) to bring in a touchdown from quarterback Josh McCown.

Let’s break down how Evans set up cornerback Ron Brooks while looking at some defensive coaching points versus the double-move.


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

Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Far 

Offensive Concept: Double-Move (Stutter-Go)

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1 Pressure

The double-moves in the NFL (stutter-go, sluggo, out and up) break at a depth of eight yards (wide receiver chops his feet).

That’s crucial information from the perspective of defensive backs as every route (outside of the three-step game) breaks at a depth of 12-15 yards.

Here, we see Evans begin to chop his feet at eight (routes don’t break at this depth). That has to be an alert for Brooks to stay square (keeping his eyes out of the backfield) while maintaining his cushion to play through the double-move.

I like that Brooks is playing with the proper eye discipline and cushion (from an off-man look) in this situation, but he takes the bait as Evans sells this stutter move.

That forces Brooks to sink his hips, plant his back foot and step to the receiver (playing for the hitch route).

With Brooks now stuck in a “trail” position after trying to recover versus the double-move, the Bills cornerback panics a little by reaching for the jersey.

This allows Evans to stack on top of the cornerback and gain leverage as he stems this route vertically down the field.

And with no immediate help over the top (free safety playing in the deep middle of the field), Brooks has to chase with the ball in the air.

Evans secures the catch in the end zone for the touchdown, but this play is all about technique and understanding route depth at the cornerback position.

Yes, this is a good sell by Evans on the double-move, but knowing where routes break on the field is a key part of playing man coverage in the secondary.


Russell Wilson Beats the Bears Defense on the Skinny Post

Wilson played at an extremely high level on Friday night as the Seattle Seahawks' No. 1 offense consistently moved the ball and produced points versus the Bears with a variety of concepts and personnel groupings.

Here’s a breakdown of Wilson’s touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse on the skinny post versus cornerback Charles Tillman. It's a great example of timing and ball placement from the Seattle quarterback.


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

Formation: Doubles Gun Far

Offensive Concept: Bang 8 (Skinny Post)

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1

With the Bears showing a single-high look in their pre-snap alignment (free safety in deep middle of the field) and Tillman playing from an outside-leverage position (standard Cover 1 technique), Wilson has the matchup he wants to run the skinny post.

This route is based off timing with Wilson expected to throw the ball at the top of the break.

That will allow Kearse to push his release vertically up the field (forces CB to open) while building leverage back to the football on the slight inside stem to the post (prevents free safety from creating an angle to the ball).

I like this camera angle on the throw because we can see Kearse making his break to the post while the ball is already out.

This puts Tillman in a tough spot as he is stacked on top of Kearse and playing with an outside shade. The Bears cornerback has to now drive to the upfield shoulder, while Kearse has the leverage to seal him from the ball.

Tillman does a nice job closing on the throw, but look at the ball placement from Wilson. This pass is thrown to the upfield shoulder of the receiver (away from the defender’s leverage).

Kearse can now secure the catch and absorb the hit from the free safety breaking late on throw.


Devin Hester Showcases His Quickness and Open-Field Ability

Over the weekend, Hester showed us that he still has the lateral skill set and open-field ability to make highlight plays when he gets the football in space.

Let’s take a look at Hester’s touchdown against the Tennessee Titans with a focus on his release versus press coverage and the acceleration after the catch to get this ball into the end zone.


Personnel: Jet/10 (4WR-1RB)

Formation: Doubles Slot (Pro Split Gun)

Offensive Concept: Spot (3x1 Slant)

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1 Pressure

The Atlanta Falcons motion a receiver into the backfield with Julio Jones and Roddy White aligned in a stack set to the closed side of the formation (spot route: 7-curl-flat combo).

From a defensive perspective, this is a 3x1 formation (because of the Jet/10 personnel in the game). And that is an automatic alert to play for the backside slant route.

Hester uses a quick outside stem on the release that forces cornerback Jason McCourty to open his hips (open the gate).

This allows Hester to come back inside, cross the face of McCourty and create immediate leverage on the slant. It's a nasty release (as you will see in the GIF below) that ties up the feet of the Titans cornerback while giving quarterback Matt Ryan a quick read to the open side of the formation.

With the Titans sending pressure—and playing Cover 1—safety Bernard Pollard now has to drive on the throw and make a tackle versus Hester in space.

However, Pollard doesn’t eliminate the distance (or cushion) to Hester. And anytime you come to balance too early at the safety position in the open field, you are opening the door for the ball-carrier to create a positive angle.

That’s what we see here as Pollard begins to settle his feet. Hester can now cut back versus the Titans safety while also generating a vertical path to the end zone.

This is the same acceleration we are accustomed to from Hester in the return game.

The veteran cuts up the field, pulls away from the defensive pursuit and puts this ball in the end zone for six points.

But it all started with the release and Hester’s ability to set up McCourty with that initial outside stem to win on the slant route.


Peyton Manning Targets Emmanuel Sanders on the Deep Ball

The addition of Sanders at the wide receiver position gives Manning and the Denver Broncos a legit deep-ball threat to test the top of the secondary consistently on the 9-route (fade/go) and the post versus both single-high and two-deep defenses.

On Saturday night, Sanders displayed his vertical speed in the red zone (fade versus Cover 2) and out in the field (post versus Cover 1) when he produced two touchdowns.

Let’s go back to the post route (Pin combination) to highlight Manning’s ability to hold the safety in the middle of the field while looking at Sanders versus man coverage.


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

Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Near

Offensive Concept: Pin

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1

I want to use this camera angle on the route because it allows us to check out Manning’s eye placement versus Texans free safety Eddie Pleasant in the deep middle of the field.

With the Broncos running a 7-route (inside stem) to the open side of the formation, Manning looks to the weak side and then comes back to Pleasant in the middle of the field.

This forces the Texans safety to hold in the middle of the field with an open-side threat (7-route) and the closed-side post coming from Sanders. In this situation, he can’t lean (or shade) to one side of the field until Manning opens his shoulders to target the route.

This is where Pleasant gets into some trouble.

Instead of staying square—and gaining depth in his pedal—the safety opens his hips to the 7-route.

And that’s all Manning needs as the quarterback can come back to the closed side of the field to target Sanders working versus man coverage (outside leverage) on the deep post.

This forces Pleasant to use an “open angle” technique (open hips back to the quarterback on the transition), and that leaves the deep middle of the field vacated with no protection over the top versus the post.

With Texans cornerback A.J. Bouye playing from an outside shade, Sanders can release vertically up the field and stem the route back inside to the post.

That creates a matchup issue with Sander’s straight-line speed versus a defensive back trailing from an outside-leverage position.

And because of the poor technique/depth of Pleasant, Manning can drop this ball over the safety for an explosive play on a basic post route.


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


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