Tale of the Tape from NFL Preseason Week 1

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterAugust 11, 2014

AP Images

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 first weekend of the exhibition season.


Jay Cutler’s Touchdown Pass vs. Eagles' Cover 2

Throughout the regular season, we will see NFL offenses challenge Cover 2 in the red zone with the inside seam route from a variety of personnel groupings and alignments to create a one-on-one matchup versus the "Mike" linebacker.

On Friday night, the Bears showed this same concept out of a 3x1 formation when Jay Cutler targeted tight end Zach Miller versus the Eagles' two-deep shell.

Let’s break down the seam route and focus on the ball placement from the Bears quarterback at the point of attack.

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

Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Far

Offensive Concept: Double Smash-Seam

Defensive Scheme: “Red” 2

Credit: NFL.com

When NFL offenses align in a 3x1 formation inside of the red zone, the defense should alert for two routes versus Cover 2: Double Smash-Seam and Double Smash-7 (corner).

Here, the Bears are running the Double Smash-Seam with both Alshon Jeffery (Z) and Brandon Marshall (H) on the quick smash routes to occupy the underneath defenders (shorten the depth of the nickelback).

That puts stress on the Mike ‘backer to match Miller (Y) on the inside seam with the strong safety overlapping to the middle of the field on the throw.

To the open (weak) side, the Bears align the "X" receiver in a reduced split (tight to the core of the formation) to create room for the 7 route. This holds the free safety in the deep half, preventing him from working back to the seam route. 

Miller pushes this route vertically up the field and stems inside to the near hash (away from the strong safety) to create the one-on-one matchup with linebacker DeMeco Ryans.

Credit: NFL.com

Looking at the route, Ryans plays the release and stem from Miller correctly.

The Eagles linebacker opens his hip to the passing strength (three-receiver side), maintains an inside shade and drives to Miller's hip. That allows Ryans to carry the seam down the middle of the field.

However, Ryans is playing with his back to the football—and he won’t get help over the top with the field shrinking in the red zone.

This creates the one-on-one matchup Cutler wants versus Cover 2.

Credit: NFL.com

Check out the ball placement from Cutler.

Even with the proper Cover 2 technique from Ryans (and the safety breaking on the throw to overlap the seam), the Eagles still get beat because of Cutler's pass.

The Bears quarterback puts this ball on Miller's back shoulder (away from the defender’s leverage) and gives his tight end an opportunity to finish the play for six points in the back of the end zone.

Chiefs Rookie De’Anthony Thomas Showcases His Playmaking Ability

The rookie out of Oregon can play multiple roles in the Kansas City offense this season because of his skill set and the formation flexibility he brings to Andy Reid’s system.

However, on Thursday night, it was Thomas’ impact in the kicking game that showcased his vision and playmaking ability with the football in his hands as he produced an 80-yard touchdown versus the Bengals.

"There were just guys out there making great blocks," said Thomas, per Dan Loumena of the Los Angeles Times. "I was just patient and waiting for that ball to come down, looking it all the way in and getting in that end zone."

Here’s a look at the punt return with a focus on the directional kick, lane discipline and Thomas’ ability to set up a vertical running lane.

“Red” (Right) Directional Kick

6-Up Return (Double Gunners)/Man-Blocking

Credit: NFL.com

Let’s pick this up after Thomas shakes off a pretty good shot from the right gunner once he fields this punt.

The Bengals' coverage unit funnels (or squeezes) to the ball on a “red” kick (red=right, white=middle, blue=left). That forces the coverage lanes to break down and allows Thomas to work back to the wide side of the field.

With the left wing responsible for contain (wing cannot be out-leveraged with the gunners taught to attack the ball), Thomas now presses this ball laterally to the coverage.

That forces the wing to widen his angle to the ball (in order to keep contain) and opens up a cutback lane for Thomas to get up the field (very similar to a running back in a zone scheme).

Credit: NFL.com

With the edge of the coverage unit now extended because of Thomas’ ability to press the ball to the wide side of the field, the rookie can create an inside running lane, make a smooth cut and attack vertically up the field.

That’s trouble for the Bengals' coverage unit because of its poor lane discipline and inability to redirect to the ball.

Credit: NFL.com

This is where we see Thomas' speed in the open field.

The rookie explodes through the return lane, gets to the numbers and pulls away from everyone on his way to an 80-yard score.

But it all started with Thomas’ ability to take a hit, reverse field and set up the coverage unit to create running room.

Take a look at the return below...

Credit: Gifdsports

Jaguars Force an Interception vs. Josh McCown, Bucs

In the preseason, we are going to see some base Cover 1 man-pressure schemes with defensive backs playing from an outside leverage position.

On Friday night, Jaguars free safety Winston Guy produced an interception return for a score when the Jacksonville defense sent five-man pressure at McCown.

Let’s break down the blitz scheme and talk about the “green dog” technique from rookie linebacker Telvin Smith that forced McCown to sail this ball over Mike Evans' head.

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

Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Far (Bunch)

Offensive Concept: “X” Spot

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1 (Mike) Pressure

Credit: NFL.com

This is a straight five-man pressure (Mike ‘backer) from the Jaguars with the defensive backs playing Cover 1 rules in the secondary (press the point man in a bunch alignment) versus the “X” Spot.

Looking at the Bucs, Vincent Jackson is in a reduced split to the open side of the formation (alert for shallow drive route) with Evans coming back across the field on the deep over concept (Hi-Lo Crossers).

However, we want to focus on the pressure with Smith on the “green dog” stunt.

If the running back releases, the rookie linebacker has to match to his coverage. But if the running back steps up in protection (as we see here), Smith can “add” or rush to his coverage (“green dog” stunt).  

With the running back accounting for the Mike ‘backer on the blitz, Smith can now “add” to the rush and attack the open-side B-gap.

Credit: NFL.com

Check out the running back in protection versus the Mike ‘backer. This is a clear read for Smith to “add” to the blitz with a free run at McCown.

Given the pressure through the B-gap, the Bucs quarterback fails to step up into the pocket and throws this ball off his back foot versus a single-high look with the free safety playing top-down on the deep over route.

Credit: NFL.com

When the quarterback sails a ball to the middle of the field, he is automatically bringing the free safety into play (increasing his range).

That’s what happens here as McCown (throwing off his back foot) puts too much air under this ball. This allows Guy to break on the throw, track the ball and make a basket pick.

And now he can get to the numbers (first rule after an interception to set up the return).

Credit: NFL.com

Guy shows the athletic ability and speed on the interception return to get this ball into the end zone for six points.

But don’t forget about the key block—from Smith. That’s a great finish from the rookie after applying the pressure on McCown that led to the interception.

Steelers' Dri Archer Produces in the Screen Game

Dri Archer has top-tier speed (4.26 40-yard dash) that can be utilized when the offense caters to his talent based on alignment and scheme.

On Saturday night, Archer showcased his speed and lateral quickness when he cut back versus the Giants' defensive pursuit on the “tunnel” screen to rip off a 40-plus-yard gain.

Here’s how the Steelers set it up out of an empty formation versus Cover 1.

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

Formation: Empty

Offensive Concept: Double “Tunnel” Screen

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1

Credit: NFL.com

With the Steelers in an empty formation (no backs in the backfield), the offense can widen the underneath defenders in man coverage and run the double-wide receiver “tunnel” screen.

In this situation, both Markus Wheaton (No. 1 to closed side) and Archer (No. 2 to open side) are running the “tunnel” (or “missile”) screen with the center and guard releasing to the second level.

At the snap, Ben Roethlisberger immediately looks to the closed side of the formation (Wheaton). That forces the Mike ‘backer (hole drop in Cover 1) to flow strong before the Steelers quarterback comes back to the open side to target Archer.

And because of Archer taking a hard, outside stem at the snap from a stack alignment (defensive back in coverage has to work through point man on the ball and widen versus the stem), the rookie can create space back to the inside on the screen action.

Credit: NFL.com

Check out the setup for the Steelers once Archer catches the ball.

With the center releasing to block the strong-side force (defensive back in coverage) and guard David DeCastro picking up the Mike ‘backer redirecting to the middle of the field, Archer can press this ball up the field or look to cut back.

This creates issues for defenders trying to keep the ball to their inside shoulder in order to funnel Archer to the pursuit as the receiver can now attack vertically or laterally to expose contain/cutback technique.

Credit: NFL.com

The Giants take some poor pursuit angles to the ball, and that allows Archer to cut back across the field to create a vertical lane. And now we can see rookie’s top-end speed in the open field.

This is just one play in an exhibition game, but it does give us an idea of how the Steelers can cater their scheme to fit Archer's skill set.

Here's a look at the cutback after Archer makes the catch...

Credit: Gifdsports

Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins Execute the “Swap Boot”

With offensive coordinator Bill Lazor coming to Miami from Chip Kelly’s system in Philadelphia, the Dolphins are showing some of the same schemes/concepts that we saw in 2013 on the Eagles' tape.

Here’s an example of that from Friday night with quarterback Ryan Tannehill running the “swap” boot in the red zone off the mesh action in the backfield to hit wide receiver Brandon Gibson on the quick flat route for a touchdown.

Let’s break this down and focus on the coverage responsibilities in the Falcons secondary.

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

Formation: Slot Open Gun Near

Offensive Concept: “Swap” Boot

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1

Credit: NFL.com

In the “swap” boot, the Dolphins will show the mesh point action in the backfield to force second-level defenders to flow, while Gibson comes under the line of scrimmage to the closed-side flat.

With Gibson using divide motion to the open side of the formation (creates a Slot Open formation), Falcons cornerback Robert Alford has to “travel” with his coverage before the snap.

However, once Gibson comes back under the line to the closed side, Alford has to work through the second-level traffic with Tannehill on the dash/boot action off the mesh point.

Credit: NFL.com

We can see Tannehill riding the running back through the mesh point before he gets outside to the edge of the pocket.

And with Alford now having to “bubble over” the inside traffic (after a late read), the Falcons cornerback is stuck in a trail position versus Gibson’s quick stem to the flat.

He can’t take the proper angle to match his coverage, and that allows the receiver to work away from the cornerback’s leverage on the flat route.

Credit: NFL.com

Similar to what the Eagles did in 2013 with both DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy, the “swap” boot creates a quick read for the quarterback inside of the red zone versus man coverage defensive schemes.

Gibson can now work to the closed-side flat with Alford stuck trailing the play, securing the catch and walking into the end zone for six points off an easy read for Tannehill.

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


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