Every Monday, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen takes you inside the X’s and O’s of the game. Here are his five key plays from the Week 6 Sunday NFL schedule.
Tom Brady’s Game-Winner Versus the Saints
When the New Orleans Saints failed to close out the New England Patriots despite multiple opportunities late in the fourth quarter, Tom Brady was able to go 70 yards in the final minute (with no timeouts left) and hit rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins on the 9-route (fade) for the win.
Let’s check out the New England Patriots' route scheme, break down the coverage and take a closer look at Brady’s touchdown pass.
Saints vs. Patriots
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Offensive Concept: Four Verticals
Defensive Scheme: “Red” 2
Let’s start with “Red” 2 (or "tent"). A defense played in the red zone to create a “fence” across the goal line (plays out like a Quarters). The Mike ‘backer will sink to the inside vertical seam with both cornerbacks playing a “soft squat” technique (no jam, sink hard with No. 1).
Add in the two safeties—plus Malcolm Jenkins trailing the slot receiver to the open (weak) side of the formation—and the Saints have the right call here to defend the Patriots' four-verticals (four go routes) concept.
Saints cornerback Jabari Greer is in the proper position to match and run with Thompkins on the outside 9-route. Greer is to play with a zone-turn technique (back to the sideline) and pin the receiver throughout the route stem. However, because of the inside vertical, the safety is occupied, and Greer is now in a one-on-one situation versus Thompkins.
The rookie wide receiver gains some separation and adjusts to the ball. And with Greer now in a trail position, all he can do is attempt to “play the pocket” (play up through the hands of the wide receiver). This is a great ball from Brady—and a great finish from Thompkins.
Chiefs Defense Closes out Terrelle Pryor, Raiders
I love watching the Kansas City Chiefs play defense. This unit can generate consistent pressure up front, and they will challenge receivers in the secondary throughout the route stem. On Sunday, that led to 10 sacks and three interceptions versus Pryor in another win for Kansas City.
Let’s go back to Husain Abdullah’s pick-six. I'll break down the coverage and show how the 6-0 Chiefs closed out the Oakland Raiders.
Raiders vs. Chiefs
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1 TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles “Orange”
Offensive Concept: Smash-7 (corner)
Defensive Scheme: 2-Man
This is 2-Man (two-deep, man-under) from the Chiefs versus Posse personnel. The underneath defenders will play in a “trail-man” technique (press alignment, sit low to the inside hip) with the safety help over the top. That allows Abdullah to play with an inside shade versus the tight end in the slot and be aggressive working against the 7-cut (corner) route.
Before we get to the 7-route, look across the board here at the coverage from the Chiefs. Because of the two-deep shell, the underneath defenders can sit hard at the top of the stem. There is nowhere for Pryor to go with the ball. It's lockdown coverage as I see it. And that allows Abdullah to undercut the 7-route once the receiver stems to the outside.
With the safety driving top-down on the 7-route—and Abdullah taking an underneath angle to the ball—this is a tight throwing window for Pryor. The Chiefs nickelback steals this one and takes it back for six. It's another example of how this secondary challenges receivers every week.
Vernon Davis Lights Up the Cardinals Secondary
The San Francisco 49ers created matchups for Davis with personnel and alignment to give Colin Kaepernick a target down the field on the 7-route, seam and deep post versus the Arizona Cardinals. And the tight end responded with 180 yards and two touchdowns in the 32-20 win.
Let’s look at Davis’ touchdown catch out of Heavy personnel on the deep post route versus man coverage.
Cardinals vs. 49ers
Personnel: Heavy (1WR-3TE-1RB)
Formation: I Big Wing
Offensive Concept: Post
Defensive Scheme: Cover 1
I’m calling this Heavy personnel (from a defensive perspective), however, the 49ers have extra offensive linemen in the game to form an "I" set with a big wing alignment. Why? A false run key for the Cardinals.
Kaepernick will use open-side play action to force safety Yeremiah Bell to stick his eyes in the backfield (poor eye discipline). And with the safety taking the bait, Davis can go work on the deep post versus the cornerback.
Look at Bell here. With Kaepernick extending the pocket to the open side of the formation, the Cardinals safety still has his eyes in the backfield and doesn’t have enough depth in the deep middle of the field to help versus the post. This puts the cornerback in a tough spot to play a deep inside breaking route from an outside-leverage position.
Because of the lack of inside help, Davis can stem this route all the way back to the opposite numbers with the cornerback stuck trailing behind the play. That’s a matchup win for the 49ers, and it started with the personnel and play action to freeze the safety in the middle of the field.
Tony Romo Exposes the Redskins Nickel Blitz
As Romo showed us last week in the loss to the Denver Broncos, if you let him break contain and extend the pocket, he will beat up the secondary when his receivers convert routes. That happened again in the Sunday night matchup versus the Washington Redskins' Cover 0 pressure.
Let’s break down the touchdown pass to Terrance Williams from the Cowboys' 31-16 win in Dallas.
Redskins vs. Cowboys
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot
Offensive Concept: Double Smash-Seam
Defensive Scheme: Cover 0
The Redskins are bringing six-man Cover 0 pressure (no safety help in the deep middle of the field) with Mike ‘backer London Fletcher dropping as an inside hole defender. Josh Wilson will stem to a blitz alignment and rush off the edge. However, as an edge-rusher from the secondary, your top priority is to blitz with contain responsibilities.
In this situation, Wilson has to keep Romo in the pocket (target the upfield shoulder of the quarterback on the rush) and force him to look up the inside smash routes with the protection of an underneath hole defender.
This is where the Redskins get into trouble. With Wilson allowing Romo to break contain—and extend this play—Williams can convert the outside smash route vertically to the end zone. That’s rough on a cornerback in zero coverage who expects the ball to be out versus pressure.
I like the idea of playing Cover 0 in this situation, because it forces quarterbacks to come off their primary reads and dump the throw underneath. However, this is a great individual play by Romo to escape the pressure and drop this ball into the corner of the end zone for Williams to make the catch for a touchdown.
Joseph Fauria, Lions Beat the Browns Pressure
The undrafted rookie tight end from UCLA had a career day in the win over the Cleveland Browns because of the matchups versus man coverage. Twice, Fauria ran the one-step fade against press coverage inside the 5-yard line for touchdowns, and the Lions came back to the rookie on the inside seam for another score.
Let’s check out the smash-seam concept and talk about the ball placement from quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Lions vs. Browns
Personnel: Ace (2WR-2TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles “Orange”
Offensive Concept: Smash-Seam
Defensive Scheme: Cover 1 Pressure
With Ace personnel on the field in a Doubles “Orange” alignment (2x2 spread), both tight ends are removed from the formation as slot receivers.
That gives Fauria the matchup versus a linebacker on the seam route against the Browns' closed- (strong-) side pressure (five-man blitz) with the No. 1 receiver running the smash route. Give the free safety two inside threats (double-seam routes) and target the tight end on top of the numbers.
This is good coverage from the Browns. Low to the inside hip with a free safety in the deep middle of the field. Plus, the cornerback will drive inside to the seam route on the throw. This is now on Stafford to deliver a ball to beat the underneath coverage and avoid the secondary defenders.
Back-shoulder throw. We talk about it all of the time on the fade route, but it also applies to the seam when the quarterback reads a defender playing to the inside. This is a solid toss from Stafford, and it allows Fauria to adjust, make the catch and hold on versus a big hit. Three touchdowns for an undrafted rookie? Not bad.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.