Tale of the Tape for NFL Week 8

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterOctober 27, 2014

USA Today

Throughout the 2014 regular season, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen will bring you an X's-and-O's look at the pro game. Here are his five key plays from the Week 8 Sunday NFL schedule.


Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski Light Up Bears

The Chicago Bears simply couldn’t match up to the New England Patriots tight end as Brady (30-of-35, 354 yards, five touchdowns) consistently exposed Mel Tucker’s defensive game plan to target Gronkowski versus man and zone schemes in the 51-23 win.

Let’s go back to Gronkowski’s third touchdown reception (versus Cover 1) to highlight the Bears' matchup issues—plus their lack of pass rush—as Brady patiently worked the "Hi-Lo" concept in the middle of the field.

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

Formation: Empty

Offensive Concept: "Hi-Lo Opposite"

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Defensive Scheme: Cover 1 “Rover”

Credit: NFL.com

The Bears are showing base Cover 1 “rover” ("Mike" linebacker drops to inside hole) with a three-man look up front (defensive end rushes from an off-the-ball alignment) as the secondary plays from an outside-leverage position.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Patriots are running a "Hi-Lo Opposite" concept (two-level read from opposite sides of the field) with running back Shane Vereen (motion to empty) on the underneath crossing route (Lo) and Gronkowski on the intermediate dig/crossing route (Hi).

Again, this is about negative matchups for the Bears with free safety Chris Conte walked down over Gronkowski in a third-down situation. Conte will use a “taxi” technique (shuffle at snap/catch on jam) in an attempt to disrupt the release of Gronkowski while using his inside help (Mike ‘backer and strong safety).

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Off the release, Gronkowski runs through the jam of Conte and established inside leverage to work the intermediate crosser with the free safety now pinned to the outside hip.

Underneath, the Mike ‘backer (D.J. Williams) squats inside as the “rover” versus Vereen on the shallow crossing route. This opens up a throwing window for Brady to target Gronkowski once the intermediate crossing route clears over the top.

Plus, check out the protection for Brady. This is a nice pocket as the Patriots slide up front and wall off the four-man rush to create a clean throwing platform for the quarterback.

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As a basic rule in the secondary, defensive backs are taught to drive to the upfield shoulder of the receiver to play the ball—and secure the tackle. However, Conte tries to undercut this route and sticks his eyes in the backfield.

That creates even more separation for Gronkowski with the Mike ‘backer now removed versus Vereen on the shallow crossing route.

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Even with the matchup issue, the route scheme and the clean protection for Brady, the Bears still have an opportunity to make a tackle in the open field and get Gronkowski on the ground.

However, instead of chopping down Gronkowski at the point of attack, safety Ryan Mundy goes up high on the tackle attempt. That allows the Patriots tight end to stiff-arm the safety and toss him out of the way as he pushes this ball up the field for another touchdown.

The Bears tried multiple matchups in Cover 1 and also played Cover 2 and Cover 3 versus Gronkowski. But the numbers for the tight end (nine receptions, 149 yards, three touchdowns) tell the story there.

Rookie John Brown, Cardinals Beat Eagles on the Deep Ball

Carson Palmer took advantage of Brown’s deep-ball speed after the rookie split a “bracket” look from the Philadelphia Eagles to score the game-winning touchdown on a quick double-move late in the fourth quarter.

Here’s a break down of the route concept (and the "Quarters" technique in the Eagles secondary) that allowed Palmer to target the wide receiver over the top of the defense as the Arizona Cardinals moved to 6-1 on the season with a 24-20 win.


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

Formation: Empty

Offensive Concept: "Seam" (Dig and Up)

Defensive Scheme: "Open-Side Quarters"

Credit: NFL.com

Let’s focus on the open (weak) side of the formation to discuss the route and coverage technique with the Cardinals in an empty formation on third down.

From a stack alignment, the Cardinals show a “levels” concept (Hi-Lo) with running back Andre Ellington on the shallow crosser and Brown selling the intermediate dig versus a quarters “bracket” (safety and cornerback “double” the vertical release with No. 1 removed).

The Eagles are in a position to take away a possible inside cut with safety Nate Allen driving the route and cornerback Cary Williams pushing over the top to protect.

But once Brown sells the quick, inside stem (forcing Allen to stick his eyes inside), the rookie can “split” the defensive backs on the vertical seam.

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Here’s a look at the break point with Brown showing that inside stem and Allen taking the bait. The safety squats, opens his hips to the quarterback and steps to the dig.

The Eagles should still be in a position to defend this route, even with Allen settling his feet. However, with Williams at the same level outside, the Cardinals wide receiver can press this route up the field.

Once Williams reads the inside stem from Brown, the cornerback must drive up the field to protect his safety versus a possible double-move.

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As you can see here, Brown splits the defensive backs and puts both Allen and Williams in a trail position as they attempt to recover down the field.

But this is where the rookie displays his deep-ball speed and separates on the throw from Palmer over the top of the secondary.

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This is an excellent throw from Palmer and a ridiculous grab from the rookie as he catches this ball over his shoulder before finishing the play in the end zone.

I love the “bracket” technique as it creates opportunities for defensive backs to sit hard on routes and jump inside breaking cuts. However, the vertical stem can be a nightmare when the receiver splits the top of the defense.

Ben Roethlisberger’s Sixth Touchdown Pass Closes Out Colts

Roethlisberger filled up the box score on Sunday with 522 yards and six touchdown passes during the Pittsburgh Steelers' 51-34 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

The quarterback continued to work the ball to Antonio Brown, and we saw the type of impact rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant brings to the offense for the second straight week.

However, I really like the call from Todd Haley late in the game on a fourth-down situation to bring Tank/22 personnel on the field, show the run action and get Roethlisberger to the edge of the pocket on the swap boot.

Let’s look a Roethlisberger’s sixth touchdown pass and the route conversion from tight end Heath Miller that closed this one out for the Steelers.

Personnel: Tank/22 (1WR-2TE-2RB)

Formation: Strong I Tight

Offensive Concept: "Swap Boot"

Defensive Scheme: "Jumbo Edge Fire"

Credit: NFL.com

With Tank/22 personnel in the game, the Colts counter with their “jumbo” package and play a “fire” scheme that sends both edge defenders (contain rush).

At the snap, Roethlisberger shows the ball to the open side with running back LeGarrette Blount bursting to the flat, wide receiver Markus Wheaton pushing up the field on the deep out/7 cut and Miller working back across the formation on the crossing route.

Roethlisberger’s primary read is the flat/7 combination with Blount as the No. 1 target in the flat. That makes Miller the third read within the route scheme as the quarterback works to the edge of the pocket off the run action.

This creates a one-on-one matchup for the tight end versus edge linebacker Bjoern Werner with no safety help in the deep middle of the field because of the personnel in the game for the Colts.

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Off the run action, Roethlisberger gives ground and buys time with the Colts widening versus the flat route and matching to Wheaton on the deep out/7 cut.

However, Miller wins at the snap versus Werner and puts the linebacker in a trail position on the crossing route. That forces Werner to take an angle to undercut the route with no help inside.

That allows Miller to convert this route (and press up the field) to take advantage of the linebacker’s coverage position with the middle of the field open.

Credit: NFL.com

This is classic Roethlisberger, with the quarterback extending the play and coming all the way back to his third read in the route progression to take advantage of a positive matchup for the Steelers.

Roethlisberger drops this ball over Werner for the score, and the Steelers close out another win behind an offense that is starting to produce serious numbers.

Russell Wilson’s Game-Winning Touchdown Pass vs. Panthers

The Seattle Seahawks offense once again failed to establish tempo, and Wilson struggled to produce points throughout the majority of this game down in Carolina.

However, with under a minute to play, the Seahawks quarterback responded in a crucial game situation as he found tight end Luke Willson on the inside seam route to give Pete Carroll’s team the lead.

Here’s a look at the route concept (four verticals) with a focus on the top-tier ball placement from Wilson that gave the Seahawks the 13-9 win on the road.


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

Formation: Doubles Gun Near

Offensive Concept: "Four Verticals"

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1 “Rover”

Credit: NFL.com

With Posse/11 personnel in the game, and the Carolina Panthers showing a single-high look, rookie safety Tre Boston aligns over the tight end to the closed side of the formation with Mike ‘backer Luke Kuechly dropping to the inside hole (“rover”).

At the snap, Willson takes a slight outside release (top of the numbers) to widen the rookie safety before stemming back inside to put stress on Roman Harper in the deep middle of the field (two inside verticals versus the free safety).

This creates a one-on-one matchup inside of the numbers with the Seahawks quarterback initially looking to the open side of the formation to “hold” Harper in his middle-of-the-field alignment.

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With Harper breaking late (and taking a flat angle), Willson has an opportunity to target the tight end on the seam route versus man coverage.

Check out the ball placement here as Willson puts this throw on the upfield shoulder of the tight end (away from the defender’s leverage) with Boston trying to undercut the route.

This allows the Seahawks tight end to secure the catch with Harper working to create an angle to the throw.

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Willson has to absorb a physical shot from Harper, but look at the safety on contact. Instead of wrapping his arms and driving through the receiver, Harper leads with the shoulder.

That’s not going to cut it given the field position as the tight end holds onto the catch and puts this ball in the end zone.

This is a big-time throw from Willson when we talk about the game situation and the pressure on the defending champs to get a win after the 3-3 start.

Saints Utilize Rookie Brandin Cooks on the "Jet Sweep"

Sean Payton and the New Orleans Saints showcased the ability of Cooks on Sunday night during the 43-23 win over the Green Bay Packers by getting the ball to the rookie wide receiver in a variety of schemes and route concepts.

Early in the game, the Saints used the "jet sweep" to expose the Packers' Cover 1 defense with Cooks on short motion into the core of the formation and an arc block to widen the edge of the defense.

Let’s break this play down and discuss why the Saints were able to create a running lane for the rookie off the zone action in the backfield.

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

Formation: Slot Open

Offensive Concept: "Jet Sweep"

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1

Credit: NFL.com

The jet sweep is a common scheme in today’s NFL, but the alignment and backfield action sell the concept.

Here, the Saints align in a "Slot Open" formation with running back Mark Ingram in the “dot” (directly behind the quarterback under center). This allows the Saints to show the open-side zone concept (forces the defensive end to crash inside) with the tight end using an arc block (outside release) versus safety Micah Hyde.

On the motion from Cooks, cornerback Casey Hayward has to “travel” (or match to his coverage) with Brees handing the ball to the wide receiver on the jet sweep. This is tough on any defensive back who has to work through the inside mess while running with his coverage.

With the defensive end, Julius Peppers, crashing inside on the zone action to Ingram—and Hyde widening versus the arc block—Cooks can press this ball to the edge of the formation.

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Hayward is forced to “bubble” over the second-level linebackers (flowing versus the zone action) and can’t get downhill to make this play.

That puts the stress on free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix to run the inside “alley” while creating an angle to the speed of Cooks once the receiver squares his shoulders to the line of scrimmage.

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This is where we see the acceleration from Cooks, and he cuts inside the “arc” block from the tight end and eliminates the angle from Clinton-Dix to put six points on the board for New Orleans.

In my opinion, Cooks is an electric talent because of his speed, open-field ability and ball skills. And as the rookie showed on Sunday night, he can make plays for this Saints offense when he is utilized within the game plan.

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

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