The Reel Film Week 16 Preview is Mark Schofield’s look at the most compelling matchups in the NFL on tape. Scouring the film, highlighting interesting play design, optimum offense, innovative defense and how the inches really matter. This week brings divisional battles featuring #PHIvsWAS and #ATLvsNO, along with games between playoff contenders in #KCvsPIT and #INDvsDAL.
Philadelphia vs. Washington: Play-Action Plus Seam Equals Touchdown
The Philadelphia Eagles face a must-win Saturday in Landover, Maryland to keep their NFC East hopes alive. Pay attention to what Chip Kelly’s offense tries in the red zone in this rematch of an early season Thursday night blowout. Washington’s troubles extend far beyond their issues at the quarterback position. Jim Haslett’s defense has been abused at times this season. In particular, this unit has allowed easy throws on seam routes off play-action in the red zone.
In their Week 3 contest, Philadelphia faces a 2nd-and-10 from the 12-yard line. Nick Foles is in the shotgun with 11 personnel on the field. Washington counters with its nickel defense and the secondary lines up in Red 2 coverage – a variation of Cover 2 that compresses the secondary and uses the back line as an extra defender. The Eagles run a basic play-action play:
The fake between Foles and Darren Sproles freezes the linebacker. Compounding the problem, the slot cornerback comes forward on the play-action fake, failing to help the safety on the vertical route run by the middle trips receiver.
The two outside vertical routes hold the safeties in place, and a large throwing window opens up over the middle for Foles. Finally, the quarterback does a good job of looking outside first to freeze the safety:
Notice that the logo is visible on the side of Foles’s helmet, if only for an instant. The QB’s look to the left forces the safety to respect the outer vertical route, preventing him from jumping Matthews’ route. The result:
Other teams noticed this flaw in the Washington defense. This is a play from Week 4, with Eli Manning and the New York Giants facing 2nd and goal from the 6-yard line. The QB is in the shotgun with 11 personnel and has a trips formation to his right. Haslett calls upon his nickel defense again, but this time tries Cover 1:
Linebacker Keenan Robinson (#52) does not have man coverage responsibilities on this play, so he needs to gain depth in the middle to aid the safety on slant/seam routes. To the closed side of the formation, Brandon Meriweather (#31) lines up over tight end Larry Donnell using outside alignment. The safety concedes inside leverage to the TE. At the snap, Manning implements a half-hearted fake to the running back, with surprising success:
Manning’s “Fake to Nowhere” somehow freezes Robinson. With Meriweather giving Donnell inside leverage, and the inside trips receiver occupying the free safety on a seam route, a big ol’ throwing lane opens up. And when I say, “Fake to Nowhere,” I mean it:
With a throwing window this large, even Manning can’t miss:
Failures in the red zone are just another item on the laundry list of problems in Washington. Look for Chip Kelly’s squad to exploit this flaw Saturday.
New Orleans vs. Atlanta – Brees Attacks Deep Middle
Before the world learned just how poor the NFC South was, the Saints and Falcons squared off in Week 1 and treated fans to a shootout. The Falcons pulled out that 37-34 win, but Drew Brees and company enter Sunday’s rematch with a chance to inch closer to the division title. The Saints can accomplish that goal if they aim their attack at the middle of the Atlanta secondary, like they did in the season-opener.
This is the second play of the 2014 NFL season, and the Saints face 2nd and 5. Brees is under center with 12 personnel in the game. After some shifting, the offense has twin TEs to the right with an inverted-slot to the left. New Orleans runs a play-action pass with a “slant-go” combination from the slot receivers. The Falcons have their base 4-3 defense on the field and run Cover 3 in the secondary:
Notice how open the middle of the field is pre-snap – a function of alignment and formation. The free safety sets up more than 20 yards from the football. Coupled with the width of the splits from the slot receivers, this extends the throwing window over the middle prior to the play. Things go from bad to worse for the Falcons after the snap:
Strong safety William Moore knows what is coming, but he cannot prevent the completion. Looking closely, you can see the safety with his left arm extended, begging for help on the slant route. But the help never arrives. The linebacker flows forward on the run fake, and cannot retreat in time to get underneath the slant. The go route on the outside influences one cornerback, while the other (to the closed side of the formation) waits to read the twin TEs. Once he determines neither is releasing into a route, he can provide help deep – but he needs to be sure. And all the while, free safety Kemal Ishmael is determined not to get beat deep:
Well, he didn’t get beat deep.
On this next play the Saints again hit a slant route over the middle for a huge gain. Brees is in the shotgun with 11 personnel, and New Orleans empties the backfield. They line up with a quad formation to the left and TE Jimmy Graham in-line to the right. Atlanta’s nickel defense shows blitz, while the secondary shows Cover 0:
A linebacker and a defensive back blitz at the snap. The secondary implements Cover 0 with each defensive back utilizing “catch-man” technique, an alternative to press coverage limits a defense’s vulnerability to pre-snap movement. It calls for the defenders to play man coverage but aligning 8 yards off the line of scrimmage pre-snap. Rather than press/jam the receiver early in the play, the DB will “catch” the WR mid-route. The goal is to reroute the receiver and throw off his timing.
Here, the Saints’ offensive line picks up the pressure and keeps a clean pocket. The play consists of three go routes and two slants. Graham runs a go route to one side of the field. To the left, the two outside receivers in the quad formation each run go routes. These three vertical routes occupy their respective defensive backs, leaving the two slant routes run by the two inside quad receivers:
The WR gains more than 50 yards before Lowery finally drags him to the turf.
Expect Drew Brees and the New Orleans passing game to attack this soft underbelly of the Atlanta defense early – and often – on Sunday.
Kansas City vs. Pittsburgh – Will the Lead Counter Roll On?
Earlier this week we demonstrated how Pittsburgh relies on a power lead counter to get blockers in front of running back Le’Veon Bell. Will the Kansas City defense be able to slow this play in their huge tilt with playoff implications for both teams? If this play from the Chiefs’ visit to Buffalo is any indication, all signs point to an answer of no.
The Bills face 1st and 10 at their own 38-yard line. Kyle Orton is under center with 12 personnel on the field. Buffalo has Anthony “Boobie” Dixon as the single back in the backfield, with a TE/twins formation to the right side of the field. Kansas City calls on its base 3-4 defense for this play, showing Cover 1 in the secondary. As in the Saints-Falcons play above, the defensive backs are in catch-man alignment:
The Bills run the lead counter to the right side of the formation. Left guard Kraig Urbik pulls around right end to lead Dixon on this play:
The right guard and right tackle get a good double-team on the defensive tackle at the point of attack. Outside linebacker Justin Houston (#50) cuts to the inside of Lee Smith (#85), so the TE wisely rides him inside and away from the hole. Dixon’s counter-steps to the left hold the inside linebackers in place – and give Urbik time to get up to speed:
With the defensive tackle and outside linebacker occupied, the guard’s target is inside linebacker James-Michael Johnson (#52):
Urbik gets a great seal block on the linebacker, turning Johnson’s shoulders perpendicular to the line of scrimmage. The wide receivers also handle their defenders, and the running back rips off a nice gain:
With footage like this at his disposal, Todd Haley might call the lead counter play 25 times Sunday.
Indianapolis vs. Dallas – Can Anyone Stop Dez Bryant?
Not without safety help. Enjoy the games everyone.
All video and images courtesy the NFL, NFL Game Rewind and NBC.
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