Every Thursday, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen brings you his film study: a breakdown of the league from multiple angles.
Here are 10 thoughts from a scheme and matchup perspective as we look ahead to the Week 3 schedule in the NFL.
1. Broncos Game Plan Adjustments vs. Seahawks Defense
After watching the tape from Super Bowl XLVIIII again, I want to see if Peyton Manning and this Denver offense can create throwing windows versus Pete Carroll’s secondary.
With the addition of Emmanuel Sanders (deep-ball speed), what can the Broncos do in terms of game-plan adjustments to produce in their core route schemes?
Here’s a quick look at the curl-flat route from the Super Bowl matchup versus the Seahawks 3 Buzz coverage (strong safety drops to the middle hook).
With both corners matching the vertical releases outside (funnel to free safety help), and the underneath defenders widening versus the flat routes, Manning has to dump this ball underneath to Welker on the checkdown.
That’s a win for the Seattle secondary when Kam Chancellor can drive downhill and make a tackle for a minimal gain.
To beat the Seahawks in Seattle, Manning has to work the inside seams (four verticals), target the underneath crossing routes in the Hi-Lo concepts and move the ball in the short-to-intermediate route tree.
But the game plan has to reflect that with personnel and formation adjustments to produce against the NFL’s top secondary.
2. Darren Sproles’ Impact in Chip Kelly’s System
Looking at the tape of the Eagles-Colts game from Monday night, I can’t wait to see how Sproles is utilized this week versus the Redskins from a scheme perspective.
In that Monday night matchup, Sproles produced big numbers in the screen game and exposed the lack of speed on the Colts defense when he displayed his acceleration while pushing the ball into the open field.
This is an example of the Eagles screen game with “pony” personnel in the game (two tailbacks) off the mesh-point action in the backfield.
As you can see here, this is nothing more than a quick bubble screen with Sproles coming across the formation on pre-snap motion.
However, given his skill set—and the athletic ability of the Eagles offensive line—this is another productive play for Kelly’s offense.
The challenge for the Redskins defense will be to focus on their ability to tackle and take the proper angles versus Sproles when he has opportunities to make plays out of specific schemes that cater to his talent.
3. Bears Red-Zone Matchups vs. Jets Secondary
The Bears were able to create one-on-one matchups in the red zone during their comeback win over the 49ers this past Sunday night with Brandon Marshall and tight end Martellus Bennett.
Here is the four verticals concept versus a single-high safety look from the 49ers, with both Marshall and Alshon Jeffery aligned to the open (weak) side of the formation.
With quarterback Jay Cutler holding the free safety in the deep middle of the field, Marshall stems his release to the numbers and pushes the seam up the field versus Jimmie Ward.
That’s a positive matchup for the Bears, and it resulted in six points when Marshall made a ridiculous catch to finish this play off a back-shoulder throw from Cutler.
Looking at their Monday night game versus the Jets, I would expect Marc Trestman’s team to go to work on Rex Ryan’s secondary in the red zone with a similar game plan.
Think of route concepts that create opportunities for Marshall, Jeffery and Bennett to win with leverage (fade, smash, option, 7) because of their size at the point of attack.
4. Greg Olsen vs. Steelers Defense
After watching the tape of the Panthers wide receivers' struggle to separate versus the Lions secondary, Olsen should once again be a prime target for quarterback Cam Newton in the Carolina passing game.
The tight end has formation flexibility to remove from the core, and the Panthers will use pre-snap movement/alignment to create matchups for Olsen in the intermediate route tree.
Check out Olsen's alignment as the backside X in a 3x1 formation versus cornerback Darius Slay on the deep out cut.
Olsen stems this release vertically up the field (forcing Slay to open his hips) before breaking on the out route to provide Newton with a clear target outside of the numbers.
Based on Steelers tape from their Week 2 loss to the Ravens, Newton should have opportunities to work the middle of the field with Olsen and test the secondary if the Panthers establish the run game early versus Dick LeBeau’s defense.
5. Steve Smith vs. Joe Haden
Steve Smith has emerged as the No. 1 target for Joe Flacco at the wide receiver position, and the veteran has responded by making plays after the catch.
But as we start to focus on Sunday, how will the Browns' Joe Haden approach this matchup from a technique perspective at the line of scrimmage?
Watching the tape, I think defensive backs are giving Smith too much of a cushion. This allows Smith to run the quick, three-step game—forcing defensive backs to plant, drive and make a tackle in space.
Haden can mix his looks (press, bail, taxi), but I think playing press and challenging Smith at the line is the best way to limit his production underneath.
Smith is too physical after the catch to give him space in the three-step game on basic concepts that Flacco can check to when he reads a single-high safety in the middle of the field.
Let’s see how Haden approaches this matchup early on Sunday.
7. Matt Ryan vs. Lovie Smith
To avoid an 0-3 start, the Buccaneers defense will need to make some plays and force turnovers on Thursday night versus Ryan and the Falcons.
But will the Bucs show more single-high safety looks (Cover 1, Cover 3, pressure) against Atlanta? Or is this a game where Tampa leans on Cover 2 when the Falcons roll their Jet/10 personnel (4WR-1RB) out on the field?
If you play for Lovie, you know you are going to get the classic two-deep beaters (4 Verts, Flat-7, Dagger, etc.) to put stress on the deep-half safeties—especially inside of the 20-yard line.
Here’s an example of the Smash-7 from the Falcons this past week versus the Bengals Cover 1 defense.
How does it play out versus Cover 2? Set the bait underneath for the corner on the smash route (force corner to squat) and run Julio Jones at the deep-half safety with room to work with on the 7 cut.
If the Bucs offense continues to struggle, then it’s on Lovie’s defense to limit the Falcons in the red zone and create field position off turnovers. Give quarterback Josh McCown a short field to work with.
7. Saints' Defensive Execution
Looking at the Saints tape, this defense under Rob Ryan has played undisciplined football through the first two weeks of the season.
Whether that is tackling, eye discipline, run fits or coverage responsibilities in the secondary, the Saints haven’t shown the ability to execute their core schemes.
This is from the Week 2 loss at Cleveland on the goal line versus the slant route off play action (2-Back Pistol).
With the linebackers sticking their eyes in the backfield and no safety help, cornerback Patrick Robinson gets beat on the release and loses leverage on the slant. And the result is a quick six points.
With a matchup against the Vikings on Sunday, let’s see if the Saints can clean up these mistakes and play a better brand of football considering the talent they have on the defensive side of the ball.
An 0-2 start in New Orleans? That’s surprising.
8. Antonio Gates vs. Bills Safeties
Philip Rivers and the Chargers scripted an excellent red-zone game plan versus the Seahawks last week that allowed Gates to draw one-on-one matchups out of the “Dakota” alignment (tight end removed as backside X in a 3x1 formation).
Take a quick look at the fade route with Gates matched up versus Kam Chancellor.
With Gates removed to the back side of the formation (trips to the open side), Chancellor won’t get any help over the top as Gates beats the safety down the field before Rivers drops this ball in the bucket for a touchdown.
For the Bills, there will be pressure on safeties Aaron Williams and Da’Norris Searcy to match up to Gates when the Chargers move the ball in the red zone.
That means playing through the release and staying to the hip once Gates stems the route up the field. This is where Gates creates just enough separation to stack on top of the defender to make the catch.
I like this Bills team. Can they get to 3-0? Good matchup Sunday in Orchard Park at the Ralph.
9. Rams Pressure Packages vs. Tony Romo
Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams brought out some of his old-school pressure packages in the win over the Bucs that featured pre-snap disguise, movement and inside vertical hook defenders in the “Ruby” front (3DL-2LB-6DB).
With the Rams showing double A-gap pressure (linebackers), both the nickel and dime stem to blitz alignment and rush off the edge.
This allows the linebackers to drop as inside vertical hook defenders (match to No. 2) with a two-deep “trap” scheme in the secondary (corners read inside to the release of No. 2 and drop No. 1 to safety).
This blitz produced a sack against the Bucs, and I would expect Williams to script a game plan that features more pre-snap disguise against the Cowboys.
The Rams defensive coordinator will look to create some turnover opportunities versus Romo—and that usually starts with pressure.
Keep an eye on the personnel Williams sends into the game and how he matches up to wide receiver Dez Bryant in third-down situations.
10. The Physicality of Bill O’Brien’s Texans
The tape tells the story on the Texas-Raiders game in Week 2, as Bill O’Brien’s team physically dominated up front on the offensive line while creating running lanes for Arian Foster.
This is the base, one-back power (block down, pull the backside guard up through the hole) inside of the deep red zone that resulted in a touchdown for the Texans.
Look at how the Texans collapse the edge and fit up on the linebacker at the second level. This allows Foster to press the ball to the play side and cut up the field for six points.
It won’t be this easy for the Texans on Sunday when they travel to New York to play the Giants, but don’t discount the physical style of play with O’Brien’s team on both sides of the ball.
And it starts up front for a team that could be 3-0 come Monday morning.
Week 3 Chalk Talk
Every week, we will break down a specific scheme up on the whiteboard to give you a look at personnel, execution and technique at the NFL level.
Broncos Hi-Lo Crossers vs. Seahawks Cover 1 “Robber”
Bills "Yankee" Route vs. Chargers Cover 3
Week 3 Film Terminology
To give you a better understanding of the terminology used in the NFL, we will talk about personnel groupings, concepts, formations or specific techniques every Thursday to get you ready for the games.
“Outside Leverage Position”
When a defensive back (or linebacker) is coached to play with outside leverage (outside shoulder of the receiver) that means he has help to the middle of the field.
The defender will “funnel” any inside breaking route (post, dig) to his help while maintaining his leverage position on an outside cut (out, 7).
Here’s an example from the Patriots-Vikings matchup with Darrelle Revis playing Greg Jennings on the 7 cut (Cover 1 with free safety help).
Revis maintains his outside leverage position through the release and within the route stem. This puts him in the proper position to run with the outside breaking cut and stay to the upfield shoulder of the receiver.
And that results in an interception when Matt Cassel targets the 7 route.
This is a look at the All-22 tape with Revis essentially running the route for the receiver. But it all started with Revis’ initial leverage and his ability to maintain that same leverage throughout the stem.
I don’t think this was a smart decision from Cassel, but the point here is simple from the perspective of the secondary: Good things happen when you play with the proper leverage and lean on technique.
Five Players to Watch in Week 3
1. Mike Daniels, DT, Packers
Daniels was all over the tape in the Packers comeback win over the Jets at Lambeau Field in Week 2 because of his ability to penetrate the line of scrimmage and win one-on-one matchups at the point of attack.
The defensive tackle displayed a quick burst off the ball versus the run game, and his technique (counter moves) in passing situations allowed him to rip through blocks while applying pressure to quarterback Geno Smith.
With a matchup against the Lions this Sunday in Detroit, the Packers need that same level of production from Daniels to limit the one-back nickel runs and to move quarterback Matthew Stafford off the spot.
Producing a pass rush versus the Lions is critical to eliminating the time Stafford has to target Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate on the fast track at Ford Field.
2. Andrew Luck, QB, Colts
I questioned the Colts offensive play-calling at times on Monday night, but don’t discount the fact that Luck missed on some throws and made a few questionable decisions with the ball.
Looking at this offense, running the football is a priority for coordinator Pep Hamilton, but that limits Luck’s ability to push the ball down the field to T.Y. Hilton and work the intermediate route tree with Reggie Wayne.
From my perspective, Luck is at his best when he is handed the keys to the offense. That’s when the Colts can use tempo and produce explosive plays while creating matchups in the passing game.
Let’s see if Hamilton makes some changes to the game plan on Sunday versus a Jacksonville secondary that the Colts can attack. There will be opportunities for Luck to get the ball to both Hilton and Wayne while working the tight ends into the mix.
3. Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins
Morris might be the best “zone” running back in the NFL because of his patience, vision and quick vertical burst that allows him to press the ball up the field.
This is an example from the Week 2 win over the Jaguars on the outside-zone/stretch scheme from the Pistol alignment with Posse/11 personnel (3WR-1TE-1RB) on the field.
Here, Morris presses this ball to the edge of the formation. However, with the linebackers flowing play-side, he looks for a cutback lane and runs to daylight for a productive gain.
If the Redskins and quarterback Kirk Cousins are going to get a win on Sunday versus the Eagles, Morris has to produce in the zone running game out of both one- and two-back looks versus a Philadelphia defense that struggled up front against the Colts on Monday.
4. Kyle Fuller, CB, Bears
The rookie cornerback can be a star in this league because of his skill set, length and the ability to challenge receivers from a variety of alignments.
This was on display versus the 49ers when Fuller produced two second-half interceptions against Colin Kaepernick on the out cut and deep 7 route. And that’s when we saw his transition speed, ball skills and the ability to identify route concepts.
With veteran Charles Tillman out for the season (triceps injury), Fuller now assumes the No. 2 role opposite Tim Jennings in the Bears defense. And I’m excited to see how he handles the increased number of reps in both the base and nickel packages with another prime-time test this Monday versus the Jets.
As a rookie, he will be targeted. Let’s see how he responds.
5. Mohamed Sanu, WR, Bengals
Looking back at the Week 2 game versus the Falcons, Sanu showed his playmaking ability on a quick slant versus zero pressure that resulted in a 76-yard touchdown.
Sanu wins on the release and stems inside to run the slant. That allows the Bengals wide receiver to establish leverage, make the catch and take this ball down the field for the score.
As I said last week, I really like what Hue Jackson is doing with the offensive game plan in Cincinnati, and the tape tells the story on Dalton’s production. But if Green isn’t in the lineup, look for Sanu to play a key role against Tennessee.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.