The Cincinnati Bengals trounced the St. Louis Rams in Week 12, bouncing back from a two-game losing streak and improving to 9-2 this season. Brian Filipiak joined @CincyJungle to talk about it, and then filed this story to Inside The Pylon about the seamless connection.
Quarterback Andy Dalton completed nearly 75 percent of his passes in the 31-7 win, finding particular success by using his tight ends against the Cover 3 concepts deployed by the Rams ‒ as highlighted by yet another touchdown pass to Tyler Eifert.
Before leaving the game midway through the third quarter with a pinched nerve, Eifert continued to build upon his breakout season, grabbing his league-leading twelfth receiving touchdown late in the second quarter. The third year player ‒ who dislocated his elbow suffered Week 1 last season and went on IR ‒ has been Dalton’s go-to target in the red zone, responsible for more than half of the QB’s passing touchdowns to date.
Against St. Louis, Dalton not only used Eifert, but also backup tight end/H-back Ryan Hewitt to take advantage of seams within the Rams three-deep zone coverages.
Working The Seams
On 2nd and 7 from their own 26-yard line at the end of the first quarter, the Bengals use 12 personnel out of the shotgun with running back Giovani Bernard offset to Dalton’s left. The formation has wide receiver Marvin Jones to the right and Eifert in line on the same side, while wide receiver A.J. Green is split out left with Hewitt aligned tight:
The Rams bring big nickel personnel, consisting of three safeties, onto the field, using a 4-2 front with Mark Barron in the box. Showing a two-deep, off-coverage look (or quarters shell) just prior to the snap, St. Louis rolls into Cover 3 and utilizes a fire zone blitz that has both linebackers rushing the passer with a defensive tackle dropping into coverage over the short middle:
[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Hewitt-Seam.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Hewitt-Route.jpg”]
However, the coverage shift plays right into the hands of Cincinnati’s double seam pass concept off play-action. Barron initially bites on the fake handoff, false stepping toward center and pulling himself out of position from possibly jamming or, more likely, re-routing Hewitt toward the inside.
With free safety Rodney McLeod rolling to his center field position over the deep middle, Dalton avoids the oncoming pressure and quickly hits Hewitt on the backside seam, right in the area that was occupied by the defender before the snap. The easy pitch and catch results in a 21-yard gain, while also serving as a precursor for things to come on the Bengals next scoring drive.
Stressing The Safety
Late in the first half on a 2nd and 1 from the St. Louis 22-yard line, the Bengals once again use a seam/vertical concept to beat the Rams Cover 3 defense.
Presenting a run heavy look, Cincinnati inserts an extra offensive lineman and initially deploys an i-formation, with Hewitt positioned at fullback in front of Bernard. The Bengals have Eifert as an in line tight end to the right of Dalton, and Green as the lone wide receiver split out to the left.
The Rams respond with their base defense in a 4-3 alignment and walk a safety into the box over Eifert. But with just a few seconds remaining on the play clock, Dalton sends Hewitt in motion, splitting him wide to the right, forcing a shift in the Rams secondary, revealing another three deep look:
[jwplayer file=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Eifert-Seam.mp4″ image=”http://cdn.insidethepylon.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Eifert-Route.jpg”]
Dalton takes the snap, dropping back to pass in front of a standard four-man pass rush by the Rams. The Bengals use seven men in pass protection, keeping Bernard in to provide help on the perimeter rusher on the right. The protection scheme builds a wall to Dalton’s left, safely securing his blindside, while also creating space and a throwing lane between the hashmarks.
While Cincinnati only has three receivers in route on the play ‒ Green running a deep fade, Hewitt on a short curl and Eifert working the seam up the right hashmark ‒ it’s all Dalton needs to convert a big play.
The quarterback’s initial three step drop is used to look off McLeod. Dalton then turns left and eyes Green on the fade route throughout the drop, using a pump fake to further draw McLeod’s attention away from his true target. Upon completing the pump fake, Dalton pivots to the right and locates Eifert releasing down the seam into the soft underbelly of the zone defense.
After bursting past the underneath defenders in coverage, the tight end angles his route in between the late-breaking McLeod and cornerback Marcus Roberson, who, after first starting to squat on Hewitt’s short curl route to the same side, ultimately has too much ground to cover. The 6-foot-6 Eifert snatches the ball at about the two-yard line and backs into the end zone for the score.
Cover 3 defenses are often susceptible to seam routes because of the stress it puts on the free safety, especially when there is another vertical route on the opposite side that forces the defender to hold his position that extra half-second, such as on the two plays described above.
Furthermore, if the releasing tight end comes off the line of scrimmage completely unimpeded ‒ with no jam or re-route from the underneath defenders ‒ a “big chuck” play is almost certain to follow. This season, few have been better at capitalizing on the seam concept versus Cover 3 than Dalton and Eifert.
Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Filipiak.
Brian Filipiak knows about proper blocking technique, the basics of run defense, how to defeat an overload, and the point-of-attack.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.