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NFL Breakdown

After 2 long weeks of build-up, the Super Bowl had now been and gone. The season finale was a tense close affair between 2 teams that can play great football. I will get straight into it this week. The plays we are going to look at came early on and set the tone for the rest of the game. They will also be the 2 stories of the game. Denver’s ability to get to the QB and Carolina’s in-ability to catch the football. The 1st play we are going to peak at comes on the Panther second drive of the game. There’s 7:23 left in the 1st Quarter. Its 1st Down on the Carolina 15. The Panthers go for one of their Play Action Passes. Its develops like an Inverted Veer, but instead of reading the Edge defender, Cam Newton is reading the ILB’s and Safety. He’s hoping the ILB’s bite down on the Run, and the Safety to drift with the Run opening up the Skinny Post by the Slot receiver in either Man coverage or Cover 3. The Hitch by the WR at the bottom of the pic is more of a decoy route. The WR at the top of the pic is going to settle down is a where he hopes is a bubble of space in what we will see is Zone coverage. And here is that Zone coverage. It’s Cover 3. Nothing complex about it. They are dropping he Field-side OLB to match the Offence’s formation. The Play Action does what is was designed to do. It Freezes the ILB and the OLB that were due to drop into the Interior zones. The Safety has drifted with the run, and Cam is reading it perfectly. The space is right there for the taking. The Slot just has to set up the Defender aligned over him to create a lane to get past on the inside. Developing just as it was drawn up. Slot get past inside. And look at all that space, Cam just has to put the ball on him and you’d expect at least a 15 Yard gain, if not more.   Cam puts the ball right on him. The Slot bobbles it as he takes the ball to the ground. This was challenged. Now I am not going to go into this as I have issues with the ‘Catch rule’ as it is currently. I thought it was a catch watching the replay, they came back with it being incomplete. Fine, whatever, that’s the call, you’ve got to get on with the game. The Slot should have caught it cleanly and taken it out of the refs hands. This is why scouts talk so much about ‘natural hand catchers’ and hate ‘double catches’. If he catches this pass, the following play may never happen… 2 plays later, it’s 3rd Down and 10. 6:34 on the game clock. Panthers come out in an Empty set (no RBs in the backfield). The Broncos are stacking the line trying to confuse the Panthers blocking scheme. Odds are, with this ‘Down and Distance’ and formation, And that’s what we get from the Panthers. A deep passing concept. We have a Shake style route from the WR at the top of the pic. A Switch concept at the bottom, with a Drap from the far TE (a RB lined up at the TE position) and a Delayed Flat from the bottom TE. They need 10 yards for the 1st Down so Cam eyes will be working through the deep routes first. This is important, as you will see the Drag open later on, but there is no way Cam has time to get to in time. The Broncos have come out again in a Cover 3 look. This time rolling their Safeties to the top of the field, instead of the 1 High Safety we saw earlier. After having all those players stack on the line, to drop off would create a bit of confusion but not enough to create a free runner to the QB. As for the Coverage itself. The Broncos are onto a winner. 3 Deep Routes, all working towards the 3 Deep Zones. Now to where the action happens. Note the 2 highlighted areas. On the Left we have Greg Olsen and on the Right we have RB Mike Tolbert. They both have the same job in the blocking scheme for this play, Protect their OT on the outside. I have drawn up what should happen with the rushes that take place. Olsen should drop and sit for a second or 2, making sure nothing tries to come round the corner from the inside, then release into the Flats. Tolbert should see the outside rush of Miller, attack it, pushing him wide and off line. Then release into his drag route… However, He doesn’t make any contact with Miller, opening up a nice angle for him to attack the now exposed Right Tackle whom you can see, is slightly on his heels. This turns into an easy win for Miller, add that to the fact Newton is still looking down field… This all leads to a pretty simple strip sack for Miller. The Ball kindly bounces towards the end zone where Jackson and Ware are there to pounce on the loose ball for a TD and 6 points. TDs were always going hard to come by in this game, and the Panthers gave one away early. Those 7 points had a huge effect on the game on a game that was close throughout. Take the TD away from Denver and Carolina would have been leading in the 4th quarter, not chasing. They would have been in control of the game. It could have been a completely different affair. But Like I said towards the start of this article, in the end it was all about Denver’s ability to put pressure on the QB and the inability of the Panthers WR to catch balls thrown their way that lead to the final result.
What a great game of football. For the neutral that likes to watch good defence, this was one of the best games of the season. Even on paper coming in. Denver having the #1 ranked Defence in the NFL led by one of the best Coordinators in the business Wade Phillips, playing against a weakened and underpowered Pats offence being carried once again by the broad shoulders of Tom Brady. On the flipside, you have the savvy and multi-fronted Patriots defence controlled by Matt Patricia, playing against the Denver offence led by the ageing Payton Manning and his slowly failing arm. This has close game written all over it from the start. This week, I am going to rave about the Broncos Defence. But no just the play of the very talented guys on the roster, but the play calling. Wade Phillips called an outstanding game from the sideline. I mean, Jesus, there were times where Tom Brady lost trust in what he was seeing out there. When you play against the likes of the Pats, you need to do 2 things. Firstly, you need to accelerate Brady’s ‘internal clock’. By that I mean, make him speed up his process, make him think he doesn’t have a lot of time on every snap. You do this by getting consistent pressure that gets to him in a hurry, it doesn’t have to be a sack but it does have to make him throw the ball early. Second thing is to mix up your coverages and personnel. Most teams struggle with this part because of the weapons the Pats have. It’s hard to find 1 guy capable of covering Gronk or Edelman let alone 2 or 3, but that’s what you need. If you have just one guy lined up on either of them all game, you are just telling Brady what coverage you are in or how you want to lose the game. You put a Safety over Gronk, Pats are just going to use his size and reach, put a Linebacker on him and they will put him in space and use his athletic abilities. You run loads of zones, Edelman will just keep sitting in the seams and gaps for quick passes. You a load of man and you’ll start seeing the little double moves and Crossing patterns. It needs to be a whole team effort in coverage. As a play caller, you can’t play 1 way against the Patriots you have to mix it up. Wade Phillips and the Bronco’s Defence both did these key things very well. The following plays will show you just how hard it was for Brady and the Pats Sunday. We start at the opening of the second quarter. 1st and 10 after a Broncos Punt. Brady’s been hit a few times already and there has been no help from the running game. There is nothing overtly special about the Broncos Pass rush on this play. Sending the stand 4 rushers out of a Sub-Package. The Coverage in behind is a Basic Cover 3 ‘Sky’ look with #20 down in the Box filling in for a Motion that I have not shown you. This is the Blocking scheme and releases for the Pats. They are running a Play-Action Pass. To make it look like a run, in an attempt to draw in the Inside Linebackers, They are going to pull the LG all the way across the front to block #58 Von Miller. He won’t be alone, as he should get help from the RB. Note the TE’s Release, Gronk is going to try and run up the seam and into the middle of the field. As the play rolls on you can see #48 has been sucked into the Run Action. You can also see who the Double team between the pulling LG and the RB should develop from this point. There should only be 2 options for Miller. Either try and split the Double team, or Bubble over it. Either way, the Guard should be in a position ‘under’ the pass rush so he can push the rusher over and past Brady. Giving his QB space for him to step up into his throw. Namely Gronk moving up the seam. It’s hard to see here, but the Guard has made a costly error before he even makes contact with Miller. He’s come a tad too deep and too far over, leaving Miller an inside lane to get to the QB (shown by the Orange line), basically making the double team useless. A Guard ‘1on1’ with one of the better rushers in the league is not what the Pats would have wanted on the play and you can see why here. The Guard can’t react quickly enough to his mistake or the move by Miller. Miller now has a free lane to Brady, and there is no way he is out running Miller. Brady manages to find a receiver and throw the ball away before Miller gets him to the floor. It’s not a Sack, but Miller has still got to the QB in a hurry. All these hits are adding up and playing tricks in Brady’s mind. Then the very next play, 2nd and 10. This is where Wade Phillips shows how clever he really is. Starting with the Pats Play call. A Basic West coast style concept. At the bottom of the screen we have a motion. The WR is going to move into the back pocket of the slot and run a Drag/Spot/short crosser off his backside. The Slot himself is going to run a short Post. At the Top of the screen you’ll see a nice little zone beater. The WR is going deep on the fade to clear out any Deep Zone, the TE is running an Out and the RB is going into the flats. The idea is to make the Flats defender make a decision. Does he stay deep and take away the Out, leaving the Flat open. Or does he drive down on the Flat, but leave the Out open. The Broncos ARE in a Zone coverage. But not the standard Cover 3 that they are showing. They are going to drop the extra defender, and this is the clever bit. They are going to drop Miller and run a ‘3 Over 5’ coverage. Normally once a pass rusher gets a sack or a hit, you send him again with some encouragement. Wade is clever in knowing the damage has already been done. He doesn’t need the pressure now, what he needs is to confuse the mind on Brady now his mind is racing. Coming back to the extra man in the Zone. That now takes away the easy read for Brady. The extra zone means that there is no Conflict between the Out and the Flat, as there is an extra defend in the area. The Flats defender is going to take the Flat, with Miller expanding with the Out from his Curl/Hook zone. We are going to see that process from Brady’s eyes. This is him making his 1st read. He has already looked off the FS in the 1st second of the play. He is making a read now on the Fade. We saw in the shot above that there was Press on the top WR, so Brady is making a quick decision on whether he can take a quick shot down the Sideline. We know it’s a 3 deep zone, now he does by seeing that the fade isn’t on. He will also notice the Flats defender step down towards the RB going to the Flats. Bingo…   Brady knows exactly what his next read should be… Gronk on the Out. But he sees Miller in a zone? Alarm bells are going off. He doesn’t know if they have sent a Blitzer from the backside. If it’s just 3 rushing. He has no idea how long he has in the pocket… So Brady makes the decision. He would rather make the throw to Gronk against Miller, than stand in the pocket any longer and risk the sack. Bad Decision. Miller shows some of the coverage skills he picked up when Denver ran the 4-3 defence. Runs under Gronks route and makes the easy pick. The Pats were lucky that Miller slipped during the return, as it could have been a pick 6. I say lucky… It only took Manning 3 plays to score a TD from the excellent field position. These plays only happened in the 2nd Quarter, but it would be a sign of things to come. Constant harassment in the backfield and a mixture of coverages limited Brady’s ability to effect the game, these 2 plays were the best and instant representation of this.
Divisional Week rolled into town with 4 great games, all expecting to be close, and all finishing with a points margin of less than 8 points. This week, I will be taking a look at Packers trip across the US to Arizona. Arizona was coming off a Bye week after earning the #2 Seed in the NFC. Lead by veteran QB Carson Palmer, the offence finished 2nd in Scoring Offence, 2nd in Passing Yards and Top of the pile in Total Offence. Their Defence wasn’t shabby either, ranking 8th in Scoring Defence and 5th in Yards Against. Add to that a finishing record of 13-3, going 7-1 down the stretch, and you can see why teams would have wanted to avoid coming up against the Cardinals. Then there are the Green Bay Packers. Up and Down season by their standards but still managed to put together a respectable 10-6 record. QB Aaron Rodgers is always on the list of MVP candidates at the start of the season and a defence that on its day can smother an offence. But that’s been their problem, it’s been the whole teams’ problem. They haven’t been on there day, enough to scare teams like the hosting Cardinals. These teams had met before during the run to the post-season, with Arizona taking the upper hand. They comfortably saw off Green Bay, 38-8. But when it comes to the second game, you knew HC Mike McCarthy would have made the necessary adjustments. This was a close one throughout, low scoring in the 1st Half, but coming alive in the Second. 27 points scored by both teams in the 2nd Half, 17 in the 4th Quarter including another converted Hail Mary by Rodgers. We are going to jump straight to Over Time for this week’s piece. Cardinals have won the toss and chose to receive. When you choose to receive in OT, it is key that you put points on the board in that 1st drive. By choosing either way you are saying ‘this is our best unit and we are going to win this way’. This is the 1st play of OT. So here we go. Arizona come out swinging from the start. HC and decision maker Bruce Arians has decided that their best chance on moving the ball is going to come from Veteran Superstar WR Larry Fitzgerald (Circled at the bottom of the shot). Starting out aggressive they are going to move him tight in motion pre-snap then have him running an intermediate crosser underneath a Slice and a Fade by the stacked receivers at the top of the formation. The HB is staying home to help block while the TE is going to have a delayed release into the flats for a check-down. The Packers Defence is running a Biltz. This should be the perfect playcall for what the Offence is running. Palmer needs time for Fitzgerald to get open, so by sending 6 the Packers are going to stress the Pass Protection. This is where it gets murky. I have drawn in what I think the coverage due to experience of the Packers Defence and their style of protecting their blitzes. I believe it to be a ‘3 under 3’ zone as I doubt that Green bay would want Peppers matched up on a HB. Now keep an eye on the 2 circled defender, they affect how this play develops…   As you can see, #23 has turned Fitzgerald loose as he breaks across the field (adding this to a big man in coverage enforces my suspicions of zone coverage). However, the player I circled at the top of the screen has stayed on the WR he was aligned over. This creates a huge hole at the top of the screen for Fitzgerald to run into and settle down. The Pressure almost bails the Packers out, but Palmer does just enough to escape and find his target for what seems to be a 1st down that will get about as far as Midfield at best. Now kids looking for a WR to sculpt their game around won’t go too far wrong looking at Fitzgerald. Now there is a time and a place for running this down the line and going out of bounds. But that’s not what Larry has on his mind. He’s going to keep going ‘north, south’ while running to space. If #37 or any of the noted Defenders bring him down in the next 5 yards, he’ll neither have lost nor gained any yards. But if he makes #37 miss, he brings blockers into play.     Another coaching tip for all Receiver… If you don’t have the football, make yourself useful. You never know when the chance for a big play is going to happen, don’t miss it by being lazy. Arizona’s Receivers work hard to get down field and spring some key blocks as the ageing Fitzgerald strolls closer and closer to the End zone… He makes it inside the 5 yard line before the Packers eventually bring him down. That’s around 40 extra yards because Fitzgerald didn’t want to give up. This huge play sets up the eventually game winner that is a clever play in itself, but without this play, the Cardinals may never have got down there.  
15.01.2016
UKFirstdown
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So here we go. The Play-offs are finally here and the 1st game is down to be a close one. Chiefs traveling to Houston. Chiefs had been playing some solid ball down the stretch and were coming into this one of the back of a 10 game winning streak. Houston made it in after scraping through the terrible AFC South, however they had won 4 of their last 5 home games only losing to the Pats in week. These 2 teams had met before, all the way back in week 1, when Kansas racked up a big early lead with Houston making a fight back to make the result a bit more respectable. Hoyer was benched in that game for Mallet, who is no longer on the roster. This game was over early, so it no surprise that the plays I will be showing you are in the 1st Half of the football game. Our opening play, is the opening play of the game. The Kick-off. This play can easily set the tone for the 1st few drives, big plays on either side can give your team a huge boost. So let’s look at the play and see what happens. So this is the Alignment for the opening Kick-Off. Chiefs have a 6-man front line, 1 player watching for the chip, and 3 lead blockers. Knile Davis is the player circled up in the centre of the End zone. At the moment of the kick the Blockers start moving back and towards the Left Hash if we were the return team. What leads me to think this is a called return to the Left is the aggressive block attempt at the bottom left of the picture. To spring a return, you need good blocking at the point of attack, to take it all the way you need to block the ‘safeties’. This I think, without scouting the Texans Kick-Off unit, is an attempt to hamper one of the safeties. So once the returner has caught the ball and the Blockers have turned to face the coverage team, you can see that the front line players have created an angled wall of blockers. 2 of the Lead blocker have created a Wedge, with the 3rd sitting just behind them. The Wall of blockers are going to do their best at stopping anyone to their right get across or behind them. The Wedge is going to work on the 2 remaining coverage players on the return side, and the last remaining lead blocker is going to clean up the most dangerous coverage player that slips through the Wall. The Texan circled at the bottom right of the pic is the ‘free player’, he should make the tackle if everyone else is blocked correctly. You can see here, as the play has rolled on, the tight lane created for Davis to get the initial yards. The Texan circled is the same player from the pic before, and you can see, he has come too far inside almost expecting Davis to cut the return back towards the middle of the field. Davis doesn’t cut it back. #21, a different Texan, is still looking inside. He has no idea that Davis has all the space in the world, thanks to the great block to the right of the pic, and no one between him and the End zone. So it becomes a footrace between Davis and the ‘half-blocked’ Linebacker. It is only going to end one way, with the Chiefs 3rd string Running back in the End zone untouched. This play gives the Chiefs an early 7-point lead. This is not what you want if your Brain Hoyer and the Houston Texans. You know from 1st hand experience how hard it is to come about against this Defence, now you’ve just made your life harder by giving up points on ST. We skip ahead to the 2nd Quarter with only 3:53 remaining in the Half. Hoyer has turned the ball over twice already and Kansas have added 2 FGs to make the score 13-0. The Texans finally have themselves going on Offence on a big run from Running back Alfred Blue. They now find themselves running their Goal Line offence. Though some people have, a problem about the play call on 1st down, I am going to look at the 2nd down play. Let look at the full situation for the Texans, they are 13-0 down and are really not playing well. You have to run your full Goal Line set. So I understand your 1st play call. Sure, you are trying to do something a bit different that might get you an easy score if the D misaligns or misplays the formation. It was obviously part of the game plan as it is the 1st play they ran. It fails, fine. Now run the normal stuff. And this is what we get… We get a 2X2 formation with a Stack on both sides. We have a motion at the bottom of the pic with the back man on the Stack moves inside and runs a Quick Out under the Fade by the Receiver outside him. At the top of the pic we see Houston’s best Receiver, Hopkins in the lead position, running a nice little double move route. Starting out straight, making it look like he’s going to head to the back pylon, then cutting inside to sit in the space he’s just created. The Receiver in behind him is going to run off anyone that sitting inside the Stack, making sure Hopkins has space to come back into, and then head to the back pylon. The HB has a responsibility to make sure no-one gets the QB off the left edge, then to sit in front of the QB as a dump off. From the line up of the Defence and the route combos he has, Hoyer will have worked out how he wants to make his reads. He should Peak at the Quick Out quickly, and if that is not on he should make a read on the combo on the other side of the field either hitting Hopkins or going to the back pylon on the throw away… He makes his peak to the Quick Out and rightly turns it down as you will see in a later pic. So we would now expect him to flip to the other side of the field. On a side note, Chiefs only end up sending 3. This will become important in the next pic. Hoyer thinks he is under pressure, expecting Kanas to send the 5 that were lined up in a rush position. They don’t, this confused the OL, meaning that the NT #92 gets left 1 on 1 with the Center. This is not the match-up the Texans wanted. Hoyer sees this panics and goes straight to his Dump-off, which it he is Running back… Fine you think, it is what the route is there for, but what Hoyer hasn’t seen is the Linebacker reading his eyes and making a move towards the passing lane. The Throw itself that wans’t great due to the pressure, making the Linebackers job too easy. The ball is caught and returned in an instant. This just kills you as a team. Why pass the ball on 2nd down? In addition, if you are going to pass, why is it not a quick jump ball to Hopkins? Your best receiver. Houston must have been in 4 down mode. You need to get yourself back in the game, be that scoring a TD or putting the Chiefs Offense back on the field with their QB standing in the End zone. What you can’t do it throw that pick! My god, take the sack if you have to and settle for a FG. Just a boggling play call and even worse execution by a QB that might not have a Job this time next year.
12.12.2015
UKFirstdown
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This week, there were plenty of game that were close on the scoreboard. But this week, I am looking at a Primetime match-up between Divisional rivals. At a glance, the NFC East looks like the division nobody want to win. All 4 Teams show flashes of why they might just claim the top spot, but nobody really shows any extended success. Looking both Washington and Dallas, they are both having the seam problem. Scoring points. Dallas currently sit 29th in Scoring Offence, with Washington at 21th (assisted by the big outing against the Saints). This was evident in Monday Night’s game as the 1st score didn’t come till around midway thought the 2nd Quarter, and the Half Time Score sat at 3-3. The Key Play we are going to take a gander at is a punt return. Its 4th and 10 on the Dallas 43 with 1:47 on the Game Clock. Dallas have decided to punt the ball away. As you can see from the picture above, the Redskins have 2 blockers aligned over the Cowboys gunners. This normally suggests they are full focused on setting up a good return. There won’t be too much of a rush from the main part of the Return formation, just enough to hold the Cowboys line in place during the process of the kick. Out of shot, Washington have Desean Jackson as there returner instead of their normal returner. Jackson was a full time returner during his tenure at the Eagles and had a reputation of being a good returner.   Special Team doesn’t always get a lot of love in the football world so I will give you some background info. As a ST Coach on Punt Return, you want a few things. Clean Catch, Pick up your blocks, and Play safe with the Fair Catch etc. etc... But the Bold, Underlined RULES are, don’t lose Yards, and Don’t Lose the Ball. They don’t care if you don’t get any yards. You could Fair Catch all day and still do a good job on Punt Return. Just get the ball safely to the Offence while gaining as many yards as you can. Having those rules in the back of your mind. You would think this would be the safest return lane. You have the chance to get a nice little return down the sideline. Pick-up around 10-20 yards, step out of bounds if you sense a bit hit coming and give Cousin’s and the Redskins Offence the ball around the 30 yard line. Jackson stutters a bit on the return to try and open a bigger lane but it really just costs him a handful of yards. He has started the Return down the sideline. But 10 yards isn’t enough for Jackson. He’s looking for another lane to try and take this one all the way for 6 points. So when I see Jackson starting to go backwards across the field I am thinking someone is going to get a right talking to when they get off the field. You best only have 1 man to beat if you’re going to give up ground. There is too much speed at the NFL Level and you are normally running away from your blocks. The moment you give a Coverage Team chance to recover, the half decent ones will make you pay.   Here we can see how far back Jackson goes before he starts going forward again. He is on his own 2 yard line. That’s a 20+yard loss compared to where he was when he started to reverse field. To prove my point about running away from blockers. Count the Redskins I have marked out. These are all the blockers that are out of the play. That’s 7 Redskins that can’t help Jackson right now! Now count the Cowboys I have marked out. These are the players that are in a position to make a play on Jackson. That’s 8, and all 8 have the pace to get the job done. Just to prove that I am not lying about the speed on Punt Coverage. This shot is just before Jackson gets tackled. He has 6 Cowboys surrounding him     And the Tackle is just brutal. Soo brutal that... Jackson loses the football. So going back to what a ST Coach wants, Jackson has not only lost his team yards, but he has also failed in keep hold of the ball! Double whammy. Dallas now have the ball deep in Redskins territory. They go on to score the 1st TD of the Match, giving them a foothold they desperately needed to eventually go on and win the game.
The Offense… well, what can I say. If it wasn’t for Arron Rodgers, this team wouldn’t even be in with a shout of making the play-offs right now. But his play alone isn’t enough. The Panthers game is a great example of this. Rodgers seemed to be on the run the whole game. They still managed to keep up with really a mis-matched Panthers offence. Thought probably the game deciding play shows why you can’t live on the run as a QB in the NFL. Green Bay have worked themselves all the way back from 7-27 at HT, to having a chance to take the game to OT. Its 4th and 4 at the Panthers Goaline. Packers come out in a Gun look with 2 backs, a ‘Wingback’ and 2 wide-outs. To the Top of the Picture we have a normal slant, towards the bottom we have a Pick play with the Wide-outs slant working as a block for the motioning Wingback to come open on the Flat route. Both Running backs are in Pass Pro with the one having a middle release. Rodgers makes his 1st read to the Pick play. Panthers have sniffed it out pretty well. Now they are forcing Rodgers to make a second read behind an OLine that has struggled all game. Just a second later, this is what we are seeing. Rodgers is on the move in the Pocket with nowhere to go with the ball and pressure on him. Rodgers has backed off and bought himself enough time to spot one of the 2 open WRs after 2 Panthers fall down. Though because of the pressure coming from the Panthers, Rodgers is throwing off the back foot. This is a recipe for disaster. The throw doesn’t even have enough on it to clear a straggling pass rusher. It ends up getting picked. No amount of arm strength will save Rodgers and Green Bay from this happening more often, just ask rivals Jay Cutler and the Bears. They can’t even lead on the Run as they just can’t seem to get a consistent running game going either. Neither Lacy nor Starks are having much sustained success, though Stark has been having a better run of it compared to the hampered Lacy. This lack of production isn’t because of the talent in the backfield. And it’s the same reason why Rodgers is under duress on a regular basis. The Offensive Line is struggling, A LOT! They played the Lions last week, who had the 4th Worst Run Defence in the NFL. Yet Green Bay only managed 47 Yards collectively on the ground with only 18 rush attempts compared to 61 Pass attempts. You aren’t winning many games with that type of Run:Pass Ratio in the NFL.     I will now show you the opening 3 running plays by the Packers, as I believe early running plays should set the tone for your Offense. Run 1: Firstly, It says something that your 1st run play you call isn’t until the 5 play of your opening drive. But here we are 2nd and 6 on the GB 43 (Note: ball is close to midfield, a very safe area of the field. Like Green Bay didn’t want to risk running the ball deep in their own half early).     Packers are lined up in the Gun with the RB to the Right and a TE to the Right as well. They find themselves facing a light box, the Lions have only 6 playing the run against the 6 blockers. This suggests the Packers are onto a winner.   This is the play they have drawing up. The blocking will go something like drawn above. Double Teaming at the LOS then trying to get quickly to any flowing LBs at the second level. Starks is trying to get to the outside here and force one of the Safeties to make a tackle. All that above, like all draw-up blocking schemes, is if the OL wins every block. In this case the Lion in the middle of the picture has basically beaten the block of the RT. Making Starks have to make a choice, either stick with the play and try and beat him to the edge, or Cut back and let the RT run him out of the play. Starks cuts back. However more missed blocks means, instead of running into just a Safety. There are 3 free Lions to make the tackle. This play ends as a nice 5 yard gain. Though looking at it from behind, focusing on the blockers, you can see this should have gone for at least a few more yards. Run 2: The next play just so happens to be a Run as well. 3rd and 1… Packers start off showing an Empty set. Lions are is a pass rushing look. Widening their DL looking to get after Rodgers. Though you can see Rodgers calling for a motion. Once Starks gets into the back field, and settles down to the left of Rodgers, this is how the blocking is supposed to look like. As you may have noticed, the Blocking is going the wrong way. But there is still a Lane for Starks to get the 1 Yard he needs for the 1st down. Again, the blocking turns into a bit of a mess. The 2 inside LBs bite hard to the right, opening up a huge cutback lane for Starks to get into the Secondary again. Starks ends up running into his own man, #75 as he had been pushed into the running lane. This gives the DE to come all the way across and make the tackle. 2 Yard gain that once again, should have been more. Run 3: We don’t see another run play until the second play of the second drive. Its 2nd and 10 on the GB 39. Packers are in the Gun again, with Starks to the left of Rodgers. Blocking upfront is pretty safe and not really asking too much. Double Team at the point of attack, with a blocker peeling off to get to the only LB in the box. This should be a run straight to the Secondary. To either the Left or Right of the Double Team. As the play develops. Starks is led by the handoff towards the Inside hole. The Lane is right there, and a wide as any you’ll see, but unfortunately it doesn’t stay that way… The RG loses his block after the Center peeled up towards the LB, even then the Center doesn’t drive the LB back. Add to that, the LG loses his block on the backside. This leaves Starks penned in. This end in just a 2 Yard gain. All 3 plays were limited by missed blocks against one of the worst Run Defences in the league who weren’t exactly keying on the run. When you’re not blocking well upfront. Life is never going to be easy. But it’s effecting Rodgers and the Packers more than some other teams because of the way Green Bay like to move the ball. For years we have been watching Rodgers dive the ball Deep or Push the ball vertically through the Seams to the Receivers that he trusts and has ‘Connections’ with. Now he doesn’t have the time to let these plays develop nor the chemistry with some of the younger players. Add that to Zero Running game, which limits the effectiveness of the Play Action. You are left with a short passing game. And that is how the Lions beat Green Bay on Sunday. Not by being the better team, but by taking advantage of reduced the play calling options. It became obvious that the Lions had keyed in on this as the Game went on. And teams will continue to do so until something changes.
The Green Bay Packers have been one of the premier franchises in the NFC for what seems like forever. They have also been one of the best teams offensively since Arron Rodgers settled into the Starting QB role. However, they are currently sat 2nd in the NFC North with a 6-3 record following 3 Straight losses. This team has been struggling for a while, but Arron Rodgers has been keeping them alive, but this can’t last forever. So today, instead of looking at a key play from 1 game, I will look at some Key plays for the Green Bay over this last few weeks, picking out the plays that show why Rodgers COULD carry them into the play-offs and why they MIGHT eventually fall short without any improvements. It would be easy to point to the Defence for the Packers problems. Sitting 23rd in Yards, 21st against the Pass and 24th against the Run. But Points is how we score the games, and they are currently the 12th best Defence in the NFL in Points per Game. These number don’t lie. Their Defence sucks in the open field. They rely on the shortening of the field to help them defend in the Redzone. We can see this Redzone Defence at its best in the Lions game this week. The Lions are driving down the field with relative ease. Until the get close to the Redzone. This is the 3rd and 9 play on the Packers 23.       As you can see, The Lions are spread out in a 3x1 formation. Packers are in a Pass Rushing look. They have earnt themselves a passing down and are about to take full advantage. The Deep Pass just isn’t on for the Lions. The 2 High Shell takes away any chance of Fades outside. And there is not space over the top. The Only chance they have is a Post to split the Safeties… The Offense has called a play that looks like there is only one option for the QB pre-snap. And it’s that Post route we were talking about earlier. It looks like those out breaking Routes by the Wide-Outs will be doubled up by the Corners and Safeties. Leaving the Slot 1 on 1 over the middle. Let’s see how this plays out.   What Green Bay actually do, is get real aggressive. Blitz hard and play some Man cover 1 in behind. That Post is now no longer on as you have the 1 Safety play man on the Slot receiver and the other playing the deep middle. Stafford doesn’t work out the coverage quickly enough and tries to fit the ball into a tiny window. This never going to work with one defender cutting under the route and the other attacking from on High. This play ends with a Pick by the player in man coverage and the Lions walking away with Zero points after rolling down the field with ease. This is all well and good, playing good Redzone Defence. But you keep giving teams opportunities to score and you asking for trouble. It only takes a game like that against the Panthers, and a team that you should be keeping in check can turn around and score 30+ points. The Panthers had 7 Offensive drives in the 1st Half of that game. Only 1 ended outside of FG range and 2 Redzone TDs for the Panthers, who scored 27 points in that Half. This play from the Panthers game is what I mean about soft open field Defence. We find the Panthers on 3rd and 16 deep inside their own half of the field. This should be Christmas for a defence. You want to make the Offence make a quality play to even get close to a 1st down. As you can see, the Panthers are in a type of Empty set (no RB in the backfield) trying to spread the Packers out. Green Bay have 4 players looking like they are going to rush the passer. That leaves 7 Defenders to cover 5 Receivers. So the Packers aren’t exactly leaving themselves shorthanded on the backend. Panthers, knowing they need a lot of yards have gone for a Vertical play call. A deep out at the 1st Down marker (1st Down line shown in Yellow) and a Switch combination with the Stack at the bottom of the picture. The 2 ‘wingback’ TEs are the dump down options. These are key for most 3rd and long plays as most Offenses are looking to get at least some yards on the play, even if they can’t push the ball deep for the 1st down. Green Bay’s Defence is pretty much a Standard 3rd and long call for the area of the field they are in. Don’t want to be too aggressive and risk a Blown Coverage. So you break out a more passive, containing play that respects that the O will look deep down field while also keeping an eye on a mobile QB and any check downs. I feel they have gone a bit too soft upfront, dropping a DL man into a Spy/Rat style zone. But it shouldn’t affect the play too much. The Cover 3 they are running behind it is the perfect coverage. 3 Deep routes against 3 Deep Zones, and 4 underneath zones that are going to stretch all the way back to the 1st down marker. Panthers shouldn’t have a chance. So let’s see how the play develops. Here we see where the play goes wrong. The players running the Hook/Curl Zones (the middle 2 underneath zones in a Cover 3) have rightly let the Vertical route working over the middle go, thinking their Safety in the Deep Middle Zone has them covered. And to be fair to them, he should. But his eyes are on the Receiver running deep against the Corner at the bottom of the picture. This lets that opens up the whole middle of the field for Seam/Post route to exploit. Panthers QB, Cam Newton, takes a while to release the ball, which gives the Safety time to spot his mistake, but not enough time to recover… Ending with a catch passed the 1st marker and room to run. This play goes from being 3rd and 19 on the Panthers 26, to 1st and 10 on the Green Bay 15. 2 plays later, the drive ends in a Touchdown. Green Bay went from having a chance to get the ball back with OK field position, to conceding 7 points in 3 plays. You can’t afford to do that against the better teams and get away with it.
This week, we will look at a game that you could argue was altered more by penalties than big plays. Yet there is one that helped settle the game. This wasn’t a great one on paper. The lions were the only winless team in the NFL coming into the week and had just self-destructed the week before against the Cardinals. The Bears were coming in with some momentum. They had won their last 2 games, scraping past the Raiders and Chiefs. Though injuries and a lack of talent on Defence limits the optimism around the Bears. We find this week’s Key play in the Overtime Period. It had been a pretty close game all the way through with both teams having multiple chances to put the game away in their favour. The Lions find themselves with the ball just over 6 mins remaining in OT after failing on 2 previous drives. This drive wasn’t going great either. Just about getting two 1st Downs and having a Run stuffed on 1st and 10.   2nd and 10, DET 37 with 3:55 on the clock. Detroit are in a 2x2 formation with 2 WRs to the Right (Bottom of the screen) and a TE and WR to the Left (Top of the screen). Bears have moved into one of their Sub packages. With just 2 Down Linemen bringing in the Nickle Corner. Lions run a bit of motion at the start of the play to help Stafford work out the coverage. No-one moves with the Motioning TE, giving the offence a hint that the coverage might be Zone.   The actual play is a Play Action Pass. Stafford is going to fake the handoff left to dangerous RB Abdullah, then boot to the right. The TE that was previously in motion is now in Pass Pro on the right side of the formation on a Sprint style block, dealing with any rush from that right hand side. The lone WR on the left is running a Dig route coming across the field. The Slot Receiver on the right of the offence is running a very loose Deep Out and the WR outside him is going deep on a Fade route. At the start of the play, most of the Pass Rushers fall of the Play Action. However the coverage on the backend doesn’t. All of them get to their assignment. The exact coverage is hard to work out at this point but at the moment it looks like a ‘3 Over 5’ Zone coverage with the Safeties Rotating to their left. As the play develops further, one of the ILBs joins in on the Pass Rush, leaving more of a Cover 3 Cloud look. Wille Young, the LOLB whose job it is to stop the QB escaping the pocket, gets blocked but the TE. This gives Stafford the opportunity to extend the play. This is the Key moment in the play. IF Young gets pressure on Stafford, the play is over. Everyone is covered. There is nowhere to go with the Ball! Now the play has extended past the point the Defence really wants. The CB (Tracy Porter) at the bottom of the screen now has to break off from the WR (Calvin Johnson), who keeps going deep on the Fade, to pick up the Deep Out coming into his zone. This is why that pressure was Key. Johnson was schematically Double Covered by Porter and the Safety (Harold Jones-Quartey) at the point Stafford should have been forced to throw. But now Porter has to drop off. This leaves one of the best WRs over the last 3-5 years, 1 on 1 against a Rookie who wouldn’t be on the field if it wasn’t for injuries. There is just one outcome… Stafford puts it up for Johnson to do what Johnson does best. Locate and Attack the Football. This play ends with the Lions safely inside FG range. 2 plays later they would knock over the FG to walk off with a win. If this play fails, Detroit would have been in a hole on 3rd and 10 inside their own half. Giving Chicago another chance to take the game.    
New York, making their second appearance on SNF, facing off against the struggling 49ers. The Giants find themselves coming off a 2 game winning streak, beating the Redskins and Bills in the last 2 weeks. San Francisco on the other hand have had a very rough start. After beating the Vikings in the season opener, they have gone 0-3 since. Only scoring 27 point over those 3 games. Really it the match-up of contrasting Offences, Giants just getting theirs firing while the 49ers can find anything. The Play we are going to look at today just so happens to be the Game winner. The Giants have got into the 49ers Red zone, but are running out of time at the end of the 4th. They need a TD to take the lead, a FG is useless as they are currently losing 27-24. 1st and 10, SF 12 with 0:26 on the Clock.   Giants are in the Gun. TE Trips to the top of the screen with a lone Wideout to the bottom. SF are showing 4 rushers down on the line and 2 High Safeties Giants have called a Pass. The lone WR is running a Fade. Running back, who had been destroying the 49ers on passing plays throughout the game, Releases to the Lefts on an Out. To the Trips side. The TE is running a Seam, Slots on what some would call a Smash or Slam route, and the Wideout is going deep with a Fade. There is nothing special about the Coverage by the Defence. They in straight up, Man to Man with 2 Deep Safeties. Though the pass rush has a nice looking twist called on the left side. The Giants Offensive Play call is pretty good when you take into account the structure of the Defence. The Fade/Stop and go on the outside stretch the field both vertically and horizontally. As the Safeties they will have either a responsibility to help the Corners defend the deep routes, leaving the middle of the field open for that Seam route. Or they will roll to the Trips side leaving the bottom WR, 1on1 on the Fade. As we roll the play on. The Defence starts to show Eli Manning the Man coverage. However, Manning is doing some work of his own. Looking off the Backside Safety. To Manning, this seems like the only player that can jump the TE’s route…         But it’s the play side Safety that is in the dangerous position. Instead of working out toward the WR going deep. He sits and reads the eyes of Manning. Any sort of Reaction or flow to centerfield by that Safety and the play is broken up. But he just sits there not wanting to commit, ending up in no-man’s land. Not able to get to the Seam up the middle or in a position to get to the sideline to help on the Fade. Manning sees that the Seam is open and fires the ball in quick and with elevation.   Because of this, the LB in Man coverage has no chance to play the ball. All the Giants need is for Donnell to come down with the ball and complete the catch. With barely any time left on the clock, the Giants give themselves a 3 point lead after the PAT. 49ers are doomed to another defeat.    
Miami Dolphins vs New York Jets (Wembley Game #1)   Well. What can I say about this game? As a neutral that loves Defensive Football, I loved watching the Jets. It’s hard for me to describe this love to a footballing world that seems to be driven by Offense and scoring points. This isn’t a flashy Defence like that in Seattle. It’s not pretty, filled with fast ball hawking players. It’s Strong, Solid and built to give teams a beating upfront, while playing smart on the backend. This will be less of a Key Play, but more of a Key Unit. Showing how the New York Jets made life hell for the Dolphins. Now I could go through the whole game and take up hours of your time showing you a multitude of plays where the Jets play great Defence. However, I am just going to focus on the 1st Half, as this sets the tone for the rest of the game. Miami’s 1st drive isn’t too bad. Some smart play calling poorly executed, more than the Jets playing good defence. The 2nd Drive is where we get our 1st look at this Monstrous Defence. Tannehill finds himself under pressure on a mid-ranged passing play, Sailing the pass over both target and covering cornerback. 2nd Down is where we start to see the power New York have upfront. This is a Run play so we will keep this all focused on the Line. We have a Zone run to the left. Miami, expecting a hard time on the ground anyway, are looking to play on the edges where a seam is more likely to open up and hopefully start setting up for Bootleg Play Action Passes later on. Miller, depending on the blocking, can either stay on course working off the outside hip of the LG, cut back to the inside, or Bounce it outside. Basic Zone rules. Jets are in a Basic Nickle 40 Front. The motion means the 3 tech ends up on the Weakside of the formation. Jets #78 gets penetration on the Left edge stopping the sideways movement you tend to see on Zone runs. On the right you see #92 collapse the cutback lane. Finally, in the middle you see #52 close the B Gap and #25 free to flow should Miller find any room.   The Big boys then swarm to make the tackle. Textbook defence of a zone run and a sign of things to come.   Moving on to later in the 1st Quarter. 1st and 10 after a Jets FG and Miami come out passing. They go play Action looking for the big play. Everyone working down field with just the Running back in the flats for a check down. Jets, now in a 3-4 Look, running is a standard Cover 3, but by putting both OLB (#98 Couples and #97 Pace) on the line they make it difficult for Miami to work out if who they are dropping into coverage or if they are sending a blitz. #97 is going to pretend to rush for a few steps holding the TE before dropping into the Flats. This stops any help getting over from the left. Leaving the right side of the O Line 2 on 2 with Couples and #96, Wilkerson. This is not a good match-up, as you can see. Pressure gets there while Tannehill was trying to throw to the Check down forcing the ball to go backwards out of his hand. Luckily the Running back was alert enough to realise that the ball goes backwards and recovers the fumble.           2nd and 9 at the start of the 2nd Quarter. Miami have just got a short gain on a running play and are looking to get something going. A nicely designed play with some short crossing. Exactly what you want when you’re having trouble blocking up front. Jets have a Blitz called trying to get to Tannehill quickly, and are playing Press Man the Receivers to stop any quick passes. Tannehill makes a quick read to the Running back, who was covered. But before Tannehill can find the open receiver on the drag (the only player the Defence couldn’t get a good press on), Harris hammers him in the backfield after coming through the line untouched. Moving onto a quick ‘3 and Out’ now. This starts with around 4:40 left in the 2nd Quarter. 1st and 10. Mia 24. We get a run call. Nothing too fancy. Just the LG pulling, trying to get out in front and RG trying to help both C and RT. But as you can see the Jets have 5 Men down on the line with the 3 interior players in a TNT alignment. Add to that, 2 LBs sitting behind them, and you get a BEAR Look. The pulling LG is going to create a hole that #78 is going to explode through and get to the Running back deep into the backfield. Throwing off the timing of the play.       2nd and 10. This is a miss by Miami. Tannehill has the right play against the play call, but he fails to step into the throw. Previous pressure seems to be making an impact already.               3rd and 10.   Miami have found themselves in a hole once again. The comeback on at the bottom of the screen is the Key route as the corner has been slowly bailing out during the cadence. Tannehill wants to release this the moment the receiver makes his cut. Jets have a blitz called again. Trying to get to Tannehill quickly. However, Jets get the pressure they need to force Tannehill to take off. The ball should have been thrown now. However Tannehill is still escaping the pass rush and is unable to throw the ball. Disrupting the timing causes the throw to be late, the catch to be in front of the 1st down marker, giving the beaten Corner time to recover and drive back to make the tackle. The Front helping the Backend get the job done.   The Unrelenting pressure, mass of talent and clever play calling by Todd Bowles makes this Jets Defence one of the best in the NFL if not the best. Miami were ill equipped to deal with it. The second half looked a lot like the 1st. With the Jets only having themselves to blame for the points they conceded (Penalties and Poor Offence/ST).