Every week, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen brings you his film study: a breakdown of the league from multiple angles.
Lions’ Coverage Schemes vs. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
Earlier in the season, the Detroit Lions played a lot of 2-Man (two-deep, man-under) versus Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers to limit the vertical passing game.
That allowed the Lions to play aggressively underneath (sit low to the hip of the receiver) with the protection of the deep-half safeties over the top. Plus, Detroit has the luxury of sitting in coverage with the talent it has up front on the defensive line.
While I expect the Lions to once again play some 2-Man this Sunday at Lambeau, can this defense show the combo-man schemes the Buffalo Bills utilized to limit Rodgers back in Week 15?
As you can see here, the Bills play a “fist” call (2-Man) over the top of the trips look with Jordy Nelson aligned at No. 3. However, to take away the seam route, the Bills “push” the strong safety to the seam with the linebacker sinking underneath.
Yes, that creates a true one-on-one to the closed side of the formation (“solo” call), but I like the coverage look here versus the inside seam. Don’t let Nelson work the middle of the field.
Keep an eye on the Lions secondary this Sunday with a focus on the safeties. I’m looking forward to this one for the NFC North title.
Steelers’ Ability to Run the Ball vs. Bengals’ Edge Support
The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to run the Counter OF scheme on Sunday night versus the Cincinnati Bengals with David DeCastro and Heath Miller pulling to the playside to create a running lane for Le’Veon Bell.
Going back to Week 14's matchup, Bell gashed the Cincinnati defense because Pittsburgh forced cornerback Adam Jones to support on the edge with Tank/22 personnel in the game (1WR-2TE-2RB).
We have to understand that cornerbacks don’t want to take on pulling guards. Instead, they make a business decision to give ground (which creates a soft edge) or cut the knees of the offensive lineman (going one-for-one is a win for the offense).
When the Bengals play Cover 1 (or Cover 3) versus a reduced formation, Jones has to walk down and align as the force/contain player with the Steelers pulling DeCastro to kick-out the cornerback.
The Bengals can play an “invert” look (safety replaces down in the front) to take some pressure off the cornerback. But they must squeeze the edge and limit the running lanes versus a scheme that we will see often on Sunday night when these two teams play for the AFC North title.
Russell Wilson Targeting the Seam Route
Russell Wilson lit up the Arizona Cardinals defense this past Sunday night when he targeted tight end Luke Willson on the seam routes versus inside “vertical hook defenders” (linebackers matching/carrying the seam from an inside-leverage alignment).
Wilson will get those same looks on Sunday when the St. Louis Rams bring pressure out of their defensive sub-packages.
In Gregg Williams’ game plan, the Rams like to play “trap” coverage (cornerbacks read inside) with the linebackers dropping from a pressure alignment to match No. 2 up the field on the seam.
Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree has the skill set to run with the seam, but there will be opportunities for Wilson to target the tight end inside of the numbers with the linebacker playing with his back to the football.
I expect Williams to have a solid game plan for this matchup, but I like the Seattle Seahawks here to lock up home field in the NFC.
Should There Be Some Concern with Peyton Manning?
Do the Denver Broncos want to be a power football team, or do they know something we don’t when it comes to the health (and arm strength) of Manning?
During the third quarter on Monday night, Manning was excellent with Posse/11 personnel in the game (3WR-1TE-1RB) as the quarterback made plays down the field and showcased those bucket throws versus tight coverage.
However, I look at the interceptions, the poor ball placement versus 2-man and the lack of heat on some of the throws, and I have to at least wonder if we will see more of the Broncos running game come the postseason.
I understand that defenses are giving Manning a lot of different looks at the line of scrimmage, but four picks versus the Bengals? I don’t know about that.
I’m very curious to see if this was just a really rough game for the Broncos quarterback or if there are some real concerns given the poor throws he put on tape Monday night.
Philip Rivers, Chargers’ Inside Breaking Routes
Rivers is beat up and playing through pain, but the San Diego Chargers quarterback was throwing dimes out there during the comeback win over the 49ers on Saturday night.
Think about inside breaking routes in the San Diego playbook (dig, shallow crosser, curl, slant) that allow Rivers to hold the free safety and expose throwing windows versus both zone and man coverages.
Here’s an example on the touchdown pass that sent the game to overtime with Malcom Floyd running the slant route versus Cover 3.
With Rivers holding the free safety (shoulders and eyes) and the second-level defenders squatting underneath versus the crossing route, Floyd can go to work on the cornerback. This creates an inside throwing window as the cornerback fails to stay square and opens the door to the slant.
The Kansas City Chiefs will play both Cover 1 and Quarters versus the Chargers. And Rivers will have more opportunities to throw these inside breaking cuts if he can manage the pocket versus the Kansas City edge-rushers.
Julio Jones vs. Panthers Secondary
The deep ball is fun to talk about, but I’m more focused on Jones running the intermediate route tree versus the Carolina Panthers secondary this week in a matchup that will decide the NFC South (along with a home playoff game).
This is where Jones can create separation back to the football on the curl, comeback and dig within the route or at the top of the stem. Plus, I think quarterback Matt Ryan is playing his best football of the season.
Check out this example (off play action) with Ryan stepping up in the pocket versus pressure to deliver the ball to Jones on the curl route.
Given his size (6'3", 220 lbs), Jones is going to generate leverage at the break point to go get the football. And that creates opportunities after the catch for the Atlanta Falcons wide receiver to produce.
I like this matchup for Jones on the turf inside of the Georgia Dome versus the Panthers. Throw the intermediate cuts and let him win one-on-one situations or sit the route down in front of a deep-half safety.
The Development of Teddy Bridgewater
I was impressed with Bridgewater’s tape versus the Miami Dolphins, as he continues to make positive strides in his development. Down in Miami, the quarterback showed the ability to manage the pocket, work through his progressions and deliver the ball with the proper placement.
Check out Bridgewater’s touchdown pass to Greg Jennings on the 7-cut (corner route) versus man coverage.
I like the footwork here from Bridgewater at the top of the drop along with the quick release. The rookie quarterback reads the coverage, identifies his target and gets the ball out on a perfect throw to the upfield shoulder of Jennings (away from the defender’s leverage).
The Week 17 matchup versus the Chicago Bears doesn’t impact the playoff picture, but it is another opportunity for Bridgewater to work on his overall game. I believe the Minnesota Vikings should be excited about the quarterback’s development after his first year in the league. The arrow is pointing up on Teddy.
More Zero-Pressure vs. Tony Romo?
The Dallas Cowboys need a lot of help to move up to the No. 2 seed in the NFC, but I expect Jason Garrett to play his starters given the early kickoff versus the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.
Earlier in the season, Jim Haslett’s defense came after Tony Romo and eventually knocked him out of the game because of the Cowboys’ inability to adjust versus zero-pressure (six-/seven-man pressure with no safety help).
The Redskins “add” to the blitz front (rush to coverage), but it’s on the offense here to identify the pressure, convert to hot routes versus off-man coverage (can’t run routes that break at 12-15 yards) and get the ball out. That forces the secondary to tackle in the open field with no help.
Romo should expect pressure from a defense that can essentially sell out on Sunday and go after the quarterback in its final game of the season. See the blitz and get the ball out. Keep it simple versus zero-pressure.
Another Blocked Punt? Where’s the Technique?
The Dolphins picked up a win versus the Vikings when defensive end Terrence Fede blocked a punt out of the end zone for a safety.
Fede has the size (6'3", 282 lbs) and power advantage versus running back Joe Banyard in protection, but this is more about technique. Banyard fails to keep his shoulders square and loses the power in his punch once he begins to open the hips. That allows Fede to basically use a bull-rush technique to create an angle to block the kick.
Banyard could have quick set here (shorten drop to engage) or cut the defensive end down at the knees. However, he should have prevented this block by using the proper technique at the point of attack.
I've written about poor special teams play too much over the last month of the season. We need to see better technique at the NFL level on protection units.
10 Quick Takeaways from the Week 16 Film
1. Eric Weddle is one of the best safeties in the game, but Colin Kaepernick beat him in the open field on Saturday night. What happened? Instead of eliminating the distance to the ball-carrier (attack downhill), Weddle stopped his feet. That allowed Kaepernick to create an angle and run right past the safety on his 90-yard touchdown run.
2. Marshawn Lynch’s touchdown run on Sunday night was a combination of vision, power, speed and balance all in one play. That was a ridiculous run in the Seahawks’ blowout win over the Cardinals.
3. Matthew Stafford’s end-zone interception came on a throw we should never see from a veteran quarterback. With the Bears playing a single-high safety defense, Stafford tossed the ball up in the middle of the field. That was a gift for rookie safety Brock Vereen.
4. I love watching DeSean Jackson versus press-man because of his lateral quickness on the release. During the Redskins’ win over the Philadelphia Eagles, Jackson set up Bradley Fletcher on the quick, inside stutter and forced the cornerback to open his hips. After that, it was all speed from Jackson on the 9-route.
5. Johnny Manziel is going to learn that he can’t drop a shoulder on contact versus NFL defensive backs and linebackers. These guys will try to light him up. Just go down and live to see another play—especially when Luke Kuechly is about to deliver a hit.
6. New York Jets rookie safety Calvin Pryor had a tough matchup versus Rob Gronkowski on the back-shoulder fade. And his poor technique didn’t help. Pryor put his feet in cement on the jam. That limited his punch on contact and allowed Gronkowski to gain leverage on an outside release.
7. Brutal day for Joe Flacco in the loss to the Houston Texans. In a game the Baltimore Ravens needed to stay in the playoff discussion, Flacco made poor decisions and consistently struggled with his ball placement.
8. Odell Beckham Jr. beat the top of the Rams secondary on the “sting route” (stem to the corner, break back to the post) when he forced the deep-half safety to open his hips at the break point. Nasty route to defend. Man, Beckham is a star.
9. How did the New Orleans Saints fail to alert the shovel pass to Eric Weems with the Falcons wide receiver aligned off the ball on the outside leg of the left tackle? The defense has to see that in its pre-snap checklist. Poor recognition from Rob Ryan’s unit.
10. Defensive backs are taught to “plaster” to their coverage in the end zone when the quarterback extends the play. Good luck with that if you are matched up versus Antonio Brown when Ben Roethlisberger steps up in the pocket to buy time. The Steelers wide receiver has electric change-of-direction ability.
Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.