The NFL season kicks off in earnest on Sunday, with Week 1 matchups to watch all over the league. The Philadelphia Eagles and Chip Kelly face off with the Atlanta Falcons and Dan Quinn, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles begins his sophomore campaign, the St. Louis Rams dominant defensive line squares off with the shaky Seattle Seahawks offensive line, and the top two picks of the 2015 NFL Draft, Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota make their debuts.
Chip Kelly v. Dan Quinn
A major story line this offseason has been the transition of Sam Bradford into Chip Kelly’s offense. The Philadelphia coach has incorporated many elements of the offense he directed at Oregon into the Eagles’ playbook, and using triangle routes with switch elements is one such aspect. Bradford showed in the preseason the ability to function well in Kelly’s offense, including with this concept. On this play from Philadelphia’s third preseason game Bradford executes to perfection. The quarterback stands in the shotgun with 20 personnel on the field, trips to the right with wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews, and running back Darren Sproles aligned from outside to inside. The Packers have their 4-2-5 defense in the game showing Cover 1 in the secondary:
The Eagles run the triangle concept to the trips side, with a switch element. Agholor runs a snag route cutting to the inside of the field, while Matthews cuts over him to the outside on a corner route. Sproles runs a simple out route to the flat.
The Packers stick with man coverage and cover this play fairly well, but Bradford executes a perfect throw to the sideline for a 17-yard gain:
Standing across the sidelines this weekend will be rookie head coach Dan Quinn of the Atlanta Falcons. For the past two seasons Quinn was the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks, guiding one of the league’s best defenses to back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. In Atlanta he inherits a defensive group that he will look to mold in the form of his previous unit.
Kelly’s triangle concepts is a scheme Quinn is intimately familiar with, as the Eagles and Seahawks met last season. On this play, the Eagles have Mark Sanchez in the shotgun with 11 personnel in the game against Seattle’s 4-2-5. On the left the Eagles have slot formation with Matthews inside and Riley Cooper outside, while Sproles stands to Sanchez’s left in the backfield. The Seahawks show their Cover 3 in the secondary with the cornerbacks in press alignment:
Prior to the snap Sproles bursts to the sideline in deep motion, giving the offense a trips variant with three receivers to the outside. From there the Eagles run the triangle concept, with Sproles sitting in the flat while Cooper and Matthews execute the snag/corner combination:
Seattle defends this very well. The outside cornerback recognizes Cooper’s snag route but maintains his deeper leverage, sinking underneath Matthews’ corner route. In addition, the slot cornerback widens to the flat outsize zone, taking away Sproles on the flat route. This forces Sanchez to come to his third option, Cooper’s snag route. By that time the linebackers are flowing to the hook zone, and the defense is able to hold this to a minimal gain:
It remains to be seen if Atlanta has the personnel to duplicate what Quinn built out west, but the triangle concept should be something the Falcons are prepared for this weekend.
Every summer football fans are inundated with stories about how a young quarterback is finally starting to refine and improve his mechanics, and this offseason was no different. While much of the attention focused on Tim Tebow trying to dial down his trebuchet to a mere catapult, a similar story was playing out in Jacksonville. Leading up to the 2014 draft one of the concerns about Blake Bortles was his throwing motion, and the young QB put in a great deal of work before the draft trying to refine his mechanics. But when Bortles was pressed into action early last season, some of his bad habits resurfaced — as discussed at length in “Teddy and Blake” from last September. Here is a video from 2014 of Bortles throwing a short out route to his right:
Notice how his left/lead arm flares down throughout the throwing motion, and never comes above his waist? That might work for a student driver signaling they are slowing down – but it actually works to slow down the throwing motion and prevent the thrower from generating torque in the upper body.
Here is a play from this preseason, with Bortles throwing the short out route to his right:
The mechanics here are improved when it comes to that left arm. The quarterback keeps the elbow bent and the left arm above the waist, which helps him through the turn and throw, allowing him to squeeze in this pass to the outside with decent zip. But we will get a true sense of how improved his mechanics are when the regular season action begins this weekend.
Rams DL v. Seattle OL
While the main storyline out of Seattle focused on the ongoing holdout of strong safety Kam Chancellor, the defending NFC champions have concerns on the offensive side of the football — specifically the offensive line. The Seahawks traded starting center Max Unger to New Orleans as part of the Jimmy Graham trade, and lost starting left guard James Carpenter to the Jets in free agency. Center Drew Nowak steps in to replace Unger, and the coaches have kicked former RT Justin Britt inside to left guard and slotted Garry Gilliam in at right tackle.
But the transition has been rough. The unit allowed two sacks of Russell Wilson in the preseason opener against Denver, and the quarterback was under duress throughout the preseason. In the second game against Kansas City, Wilson tries to execute a quick three-step drop, but the pocket completely collapses:
Things will not get any easier for this unit on Sunday as Seattle makes the trip to the midwest to take on division rival St. Louis. The Rams have assembled one of the more talented defensive fronts in the NFL, with Chris Long and Robert Quinn attacking off the edges, Aaron Donald pressuring pockets on the inside, and a talented group of linebackers including Alec Ogletree. This is a group that generates a great deal of pressure on opposing quarterbacks — like they do here to Andrew Luck from the third preseason game:
Both Quinn and Long win their battles on the edges, with Long getting to Luck first to force a quick throw that is intercepted. While the play is called back because of a defensive holding penalty away from the play, it stands as a good example of how the Rams generate pressure — and what awaits this new OL group for Seattle.
Mariota and Winston
Finally, a bit of NFL history will take place Sunday when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers host the Tennessee Titans. For the first time the quarterback drafted first overall will meet the quarterback drafted second overall in the season opener. While there was a great deal of debate over the two quarterbacks in the buildup to the draft, both players enter the NFL with some very impressive traits at the quarterback position. For Winston, one of his more impressive qualities is his quick release and strong arm talent:
Not only does the QB snap this throw out quickly, but he is able to put zip on the football while still dropping it over the second-level defenders.
For Mariota, a discussion of his better traits begins with his athleticism and ability to extend plays with his feet:
Even in limited action this preseason, both rookies have shown these traits at the professional level:
From a player evaluation standpoint, it will be interesting to see if the traits identified in both quarterbacks before the draft continue to develop as they transition to the NFL — or if one or both rookies begin to regress. This Sunday is just the first step down this road.
Enjoy the games everyone.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.
All video and images courtesy the NFL and NFL Game Rewind.