Every Thursday, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen brings you his film study: a breakdown of the league from multiple angles.
Five Matchups to Watch in Week 10
1. Mark Sanchez vs. Carolina Panthers Secondary
When Sanchez came in for the injured Nick Foles this past Sunday, the game plan didn’t shift and the former New York Jets quarterback took advantage of the opportunity to make some plays in Chip Kelly’s scheme. Look at the deep post versus Cover 4, the inside verticals in the red zone, the boot game, etc. It's the same, aggressive game plan that we are accustomed to seeing from the Eagles.
On Monday night, Sanchez can once again work the inside seam (four verticals) and generate deep-ball opportunities off play action if the Panthers continue to play Cover 2 or Quarters in the secondary. Think of route schemes that put stress on veteran Roman Harper and rookie Tre Boston at the safety position in Carolina.
Here’s an example of a Cover 4 (Quarters) beater from the Eagles' win over the Houston Texans with Jeremy Maclin running the deep post to split the “bracket” technique:
With the strong safety late to get his eyes outside to No. 1 (Maclin) versus the quick play action in the backfield (zone), Maclin can go to work on the cornerback playing from an outside leverage position and produce an explosive gain down the field.
Let’s see what Sanchez can do with a week of first-team reps against a secondary that can be tested in the intermediate passing game and over the top.
2. Matt Forte vs. Green Bay Packers' Sub-Package Fronts
Back in Week 4, the Chicago Bears used the running game to establish tempo versus the Packers with Forte producing in the zone and trap schemes against Green Bay’s sub-package fronts.
Expect for a similar game plan out of Marc Trestman’s team on Sunday night at Lambeau Field, one that features Forte in one-back schemes to stay ahead of the sticks while keeping quarterback Jay Cutler out of adverse down-and-distance situations versus an opportunistic Packers secondary.
This is an example of a trap scheme from that Week 4 matchup with the center creating an angle to the second-level linebacker off the down blocks:
In my opinion, Forte needs to get 20-25 carries to establish that same offensive tempo the Bears had in their first matchup against the Packers, but the key is the turnovers. You can’t give Aaron Rodgers bonus possessions against a Chicago defense that has struggled to generate a front-four pass rush in its core coverages.
Run the football, eat up the clock and finish drives. The Bears need to pull off the upset if they want to get back in the mix.
3. Antoine Bethea vs. Jimmy Graham
At the midway point of the season, I have no problem calling Bethea the best safety in the league—and the tape supports that. He’s a complete player at the position who can impact the run game and showcases the coverage skills to check a tight end or roll down over the slot.
That’s why I’m looking at this matchup on Sunday versus Graham. Put the best on the best and let them compete when the New Orleans Saints remove the tight end from the core of the formation.
Plus, quarterback Drew Brees will check to the slant/fade combo when he gets the matchup he wants at the line of scrimmage, as he did in the Week 9 win over the Panthers:
With Graham aligned as the backside X receiver versus Tre Boston—and the Panthers showing a single-high look—Brees knows that he has the one-on-one matchup outside of the numbers. The tight end beat the rookie safety on the release and stacked down the field to produce a quick, explosive gain over the top.
Bethea will have to mix his alignments (press and off) and lean on technique to play the slant, fade and back-shoulder fade when the Saints generate these one-on-one matchups based on personnel and alignment.
4. Ryan Tannehill vs. Detroit Lions' Top-Ranked Defense
If you have a chance, go back and watch the Dolphins' first two drives in their Week 9 win over the San Diego Chargers. This offensive under Bill Lazor showed a variety of personnel and alignments, and mixed the call sheet to move the ball up and down the field versus the San Diego defense.
Tannehill looked comfortable working through his progressions, and he got the ball out quickly while the Dolphins created stress for the Chargers back seven with a lot of pre-snap movement that forces opposing defenses to adjust versus combination routes.
Here’s a look at a two-level read for Tannehill with the Dolphins clearing out the open side of the formation on the 9 route:
With the pre-snap motion out of the backfield, Tannehill has an immediate flat read underneath while tight end Charles Clay works back across the field on the over route. Tannehill can read high to low and target the tight end once he clears the underneath defenders.
Tannehill and the Dolphins are playing their best football of the season, but can they continue to produce versus the Lions' No. 1-ranked defense? Detroit has the talent on the defensive line to generate pressure with four and the speed at the second level to scrape to the ball versus the zone-running schemes.
This is a good test for Lazor’s offense on Sunday, and I’m interested to see if the Dolphins quarterback can make plays versus a secondary that will show Cover 1 and some two-deep shells.
5. Kansas City Chiefs’ Packaged Plays vs. Buffalo Bills Defense
Alex Smith and the Chiefs can run their core West Coast concepts (three- and five-step drops) to get the ball out on the slant, stick-out, Hi-Lo, etc. versus the Bills defensive front. But don’t discount the Chiefs' ability to execute their packaged plays to create quick throwing windows for the quarterback.
In these packaged plays, Smith has the run/pass option of handing the ball off to Jamaal Charles on the inside zone scheme or targeting the quick slant/bubble screen.
Check out this packaged play from the Chiefs’ Week 9 win over the Jets with Smith targeting the slant/flat combination off the quick mesh point action:
I don’t see the packaged plays as a lead call for the Chiefs, but I like the idea of utilizing these run/pass options versus a Bill defensive front that can get home. This allows Smith to identify his primary target and also utilize the skill set of tight end Travis Kelce when the second-level defenders step to the line of scrimmage versus the zone action.
Five Players to Watch in Week 10
1. Antonio Cromartie, CB, Arizona Cardinals
Don’t forget about Cromartie when you watch the Cardinals, because the veteran cornerback is playing really good football for Todd Bowles’ defense.
I understand it’s easy to focus on the pressure fronts of the Arizona defense or look outside the numbers at Patrick Peterson, but over the last three weeks, Cromartie has been one of the top cornerbacks in the game.
On Sunday, Cromartie will have opportunities to bait St. Louis Rams quarterback Austin Davis into throwing him a couple outside of the numbers. I expect Cromartie to squat on some routes and challenge the Rams receivers with both press and off-man alignments.
This is when the veteran gets his eyes back inside quickly and takes some chances to undercut the route at the break point while putting himself in a position to make a play on the ball. That’s tough on a young quarterback.
2. Denard Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
Robinson is producing numbers on the ground for the Jaguars, but I didn’t expect to see the former Michigan quarterback aligned as the “I” back in the downhill, Power O scheme. That’s a run that hits between the tackles with a train-wreck collision at the point of attack.
Robinson has the skill set to find running lanes in the zone schemes (one-back and Pistol alignments) because of his patience with the ball, vision and quick burst to get up the field when he squares his pads to the line of scrimmage.
However, in the power game, there is nowhere to hide when the fullback kicks out the edge and the backside guard pulls up through the hole:
I’m impressed with Robinson. He is running the ball hard, seeing the field and showing the acceleration to get through the hole to the second level of the defense in old school, power schemes.
Check out Robinson this Sunday and let me know what you think when the Jaguars play the Dallas Cowboys over in London.
3. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Green Bay Packers
The rookie safety will have to make an impact as a secondary run support player versus the Bears, but I’m more focused on his ability to break on the ball when Jay Cutler tests the middle of the field on Sunday night.
There will be opportunities for the Alabama product to get off the numbers in 2-Man and drive downhill from the middle of the field when the Bears run their deep, intermediate cuts or work the seam.
Clinton-Dix has been up and down this season. And that should be expected with any rookie at the safety position. However, when you line up against Cutler, he is going to give you a chance to make a play because of his aggressive style.
Let’s see if the rookie can get one versus Cutler when the Bears align Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery inside of the numbers to work the intermediate passing game.
4. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
I don’t know if Roethlisberger can continue to produce the type of ridiculous numbers we have seen over the last two weeks, but the Steelers will have matchup advantages at the wide receiver position versus the Jets.
Roethlisberger is throwing the ball to all levels of the field while showing the ability to manipulate the free safety versus single-high coverage schemes. That allows the Steelers quarterback to find the matchup he wants while getting the ball out to Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton and rookie Martavis Bryant.
Check out this example from the Week 9 win over the Baltimore Ravens with Roethlisberger quickly looking off the free safety in the middle of the field before targeting Wheaton over the top on the deep 9 route for six points:
With the talent (and speed) the Steelers have at the wide receiver position, the Jets will have to get creative in their game plan to take away opportunities for Roethlisberger. This is a matchup that favors Pittsburgh based on the tape I’m watching.
5. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions
With Johnson expected back on the field this Sunday, will we see the Dolphins play more seven-man fronts to put a tent over the top of the defense to limit the vertical opportunities for the Lions wide receiver?
Johnson impacts opposing defensive game plans more than any receiver in the game because of his ability to run the deep 9, the post and multiple breaking routes down the field that put stress on the secondary.
We are talking about true big-play ability because of his talent, size and ball skills at the point of attack.
I want to find out how the Dolphins game-plan the Lions with Johnson in the lineup and if the wide receiver is all the way back from the injury.
Miami is going to need some help over the top based on game situation to take away the vertical route tree when Matthew Stafford and the Lions look to take a shot down the field.
10 Quick Takeaways from the Week 9 Film
2. The Rams were able to produce eight sacks versus the San Francisco 49ers, but this wasn’t about Gregg Williams' pressure schemes. Instead, the majority of those sacks came from the defensive line winning one-on-one matchups. And there was a lot of speed on the edge from Robert Quinn.
3. The Cincinnati Bengals executed the G-Lead scheme (pull frontside guard) just as it’s drawn up on the chalkboard to create a lane for Jeremy Hill on his 60-yard score. However, it was the quick cut at the second level from Hill that exposed the strong safety’s angle into the run front.
4. The Cardinals used a hybrid 4-3 front versus the Cowboys to limit DeMarco Murray and work over the interior of the Dallas offensive line. The Cardinals were the more physical team up front.
5. De’Anthony Thomas needs more touches in the Chiefs game plan. Check out the rookie running back on the jet sweep versus the Jets. That’s speed and explosive play ability right there.
6. Derek Carr’s touchdown pass to Mychal Rivera was one of the best throws of Week 9. Off the boot action, Carr gave ground to buy some time and put some touch on the ball from his back foot to find his tight end in the end zone.
7. Mark Ingram deserves a lot of credit for running hard and showing a physical style to carry the load on a short week versus the Panthers. The Saints continue to feature Ingram in the zone running game.
8. The one positive for the Jets in the loss to the Chiefs? The production of Percy Harvin. The Jets utilized the quick game, the tunnel screen and even aligned Harvin in the backfield to run the ball. Get him involved in the game plan.
9. Take a look at Brent Grimes’ technique versus Keenan Allen on his first interception. The Dolphins cornerback was aggressive at the top of the route and quickly established position to break on the ball.
10. On Andrew Luck’s touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback had to throw an outside breaking route versus man-coverage with a free rusher up the A gap. Where did Luck put the ball? On the upfield shoulder—away from the defender’s leverage. That’s not easy when you have pressure in your face.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.