Every year, storylines come and go during the course of an NFL season. Whether it is strong offensive line play, a breakout receiver, or a rookie stealing the spotlight, you can count on the NFL to entertain. Brandon Thorn breaks down the Week 5 storylines below in his scouting notebook.
Entering this season my Twitter account served as the primary means to present my weekly scouting notes from across the NFL through video analysis.
Beginning this week, the video content typically put out on my personal Twitter account will transfer into this article, along with more in-depth breakdowns accompanying each highlight. Look at this as your one-stop shop for weekly video analysis, trait-based scouting, and of course a heavy dose of offensive line play.
As the season moves along this series will help identify trends of standout players and reveal breakout performers to keep an eye on. The best part is there will be video backing up each observation, along with plenty of contextualizing what you see in order to add much-needed value to the material.
Week 5 Observations
– Falcons Offensive Coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s brilliant game plan
Falcons vs Broncos
– Through five weeks the Falcons offense ranks No. 1 in the NFL in yards per game (457.4), good for 60.4 more YPG than the 2nd place Cowboys (397.0 YPG). Their success has stemmed largely from big plays through the air, as they lead the NFL in 20+ (26) and 40+ (10) yard pass plays.
– Denver’s defense often played man coverage to take away Falcons star wide receiver Julio Jones, which was largely successful – Jones finished with a stat line of 3 receptions for 29 yards – however, Atlanta quickly adapted to the heavy-dose of man coverage by incorporating their running backs into the passing game to present mismatches.
– Three of RB Tevin Coleman’s four receptions went for 128 of his 132 total receiving yards, and all three were after QB Matt Ryan motioned him from the backfield into the slot with the Broncos defense in man coverage. This forced a linebacker to play on an island against Coleman in off-man coverage, providing him with free releases off the line of scrimmage. Through good ball placement from Ryan, the result was 72 total yards after the catch for Coleman, and receptions of 31, 48, and 49 yards.
This is the first drive of the game, and Atlanta faces their first 3rd down of the game. They motion a RB (Devonta Freeman) for the first time in the game, this time to the outside of the WR-bunch as a decoy. In the process, they help determine for QB Matt Ryan that the Broncos are in man coverage, and provide Ryan an easy read on the quick out by WR Mohamed Sanu for a first down.
The very next play they again motion a RB, this time Coleman to the slot, and again Denver reveals that they are in man coverage. Atlanta’s play design creates a natural pick for Coleman’s man (LB Todd Davis) to become log jammed, and the result is a 48-yard gain en route to an eventual touchdown on the opening drive.
Washington LT Trent Williams
– Through 5 weeks of the season I have not seen a player executing at a higher level at left tackle than Williams. The 28-year old has always possessed elite power, strength, and athleticism, but his masterful array of techniques on display this season is pure artistry for the position.
Being aggressive in pass protection and taking the fight to the pass-rusher is oftentimes a losing battle for an offensive lineman. Nine times out of 10 the defensive player is the superior athlete. These percentages don’t necessarily apply to Williams, as he is one of only a handful of truly special athletes at the left tackle position. This allows him to do things that most wouldn’t attempt in their wildest dreams.
Attacking the rusher like Williams does in these clips is bold, but also beautiful to watch. Success is predicated off of the tremendous demonstration of the drive-catch phase™ by Williams, which allows him to consistently beat the defender to the spot. Achieving his intersect point quicker than his opponent consistently allows him to dictate, rather than be dictated to by the rusher and playing catch-up.
What’s special about these clips is his aggressiveness, physicality, and balance to mirror. Very few players in the league are playing at this level at any position, and it needs to be recognized.
Packers first drive
– The Packers executed a brilliant 16-play opening drive on Sunday Night Football vs. the New York Giants with an even split between run and pass plays (8/8). Not only did the play design manipulate the Giants’ defense with deception, QB Aaron Rodgers was masterful handling the ball and selling play fakes.
Packers LT David Bakhtiari is one of the most underrated elite players at his position in the entire NFL. His two best traits are hand usage and gaining leverage in pass protection. These two elements allow him to win most matchups as a pass protector, and regain position when initially beat.
A successful rep for an offensive lineman stems from how explosive, violent, and deliberate they are the second they come out of their stance. There is no “stepping” out of a stance, it’s “driving” out. When you start with explosiveness, the chances of ending the same way drastically increases.
Prior to contact with Harris, Pouncey has already taken 6 total steps, executes three drive-catch phases, assisted the LG with the DL twice, and gotten himself in position for his primary block. Pouncey is moving with tremendous purpose, and once engaged with Harris, he carries with him overwhelming force and excellent hand placement.
After the point of attack, Pouncey avoids being tripped up by the adjacent block, proceeding to use the defender’s momentum against himself as he buries him into the ground.
The result is a snap-to-finish showcase of athleticism, technique, and flat-out wanting it more than your opponent.
Bosa made his first appearance as a pro this past weekend and made a major impact both against the run and pass. In college Bosa was exceptionally productive at Ohio State due to his refined hand usage, application of leverage, power, and relentless motor. Additionally, Bosa possesses good lateral quickness to cross the blocker’s face and penetrate inside gaps on stunts. All of these traits were on display Sunday against the Raiders offensive line, but I want to focus on two specific plays facing the run.
Bosa is going against a good left tackle in Donald Penn here, and wins head-up against him using the aforementioned traits of hand usage, leverage, and power.
Hand usage is somewhat of a vague term, so let me break it down a little bit more. When evaluating a player’s hand usage it begins with looking at the player’s base. If he is not in an athletic position that demonstrates the mobility in his ankles, knees, and hips to obtain superior leverage, it doesn’t really matter what the hands are doing.
Take a look at if a player is showcasing a strong base, because all effective hand usage stems from there. Once this is established hand timing is the first aspect of hand usage to observe. Timing up the strike for a defensive lineman into a blocker to stack / shed involves coordination to be able to sync the feet and hands properly in order to time up whatever hand technique being used.
Once timing is shown the placement and power of the strike are the next thing to look at. Hand placement is often the difference between success and failure at the point of attack, because hands, along with pad level, determine who wins the leverage battle. Football is a game of leverage, both up / down leverage (pad level), and inside / outside leverage (hand usage).
Lastly, the power behind hand usage, or “pop” at the point of attack is almost completely dependent on if the base is strong. Having your feet firmly underneath you and keeping them there before contact and through contact is an extremely difficult task, but is required if transfer of power from the ground through the hands can occur.
Bosa demonstrates each aspect of hand usage at a very high level, and it has translated from day one to the NFL-level.
Coming out of the University of Alabama, I evaluated Cooper’s film and gave him a very good score on his route running; specifically his ability to create separation through creativeness, quickness, and nuance. Rarely does a college receiver enter the NFL with the ability to manipulate defenders in their stem, but Cooper excelled in this area plus had the quickness to separate.
Cooper displays some of his best traits on this 64-yard touchdown catch:
Week 5 of the NFL season saw some very impressive offensive line play from the likes of Williams, Bakhtiari, and Pouncey, while young players like Cooper and Bosa impressed with their refined technique and ability. The Falcons kept rolling and the Packers found a way to win behind Aaron Rodgers, thanks in large part to his ability to deceive the opposing defense. See you in Week 6.
Follow Brandon on Twitter @VeteranScout. Read more of his work here, including his look at the wonder that is Joe Thomas, an explanation of why Doug Free is underrated, and his piece on Kansas City Chief center Mitch Morse.
All film courtesy of NFL Game Pass