Turning Point Week 2: HOU/CIN, PHI/KC, DAL/DEN


Texans @ Bengals

2nd Quarter: 1:03 remaining, CIN 49 yard line (Wide Shot)

Offensive Personnel: 20

Offensive Formation: Spread Gun Spilt

Offensive Play: Double Seam Slide BS Dig (Scramble)

Defensive Play: Tampa 2

Result: TD


With the half winding down, Houston is looking to cap a long drive with a last second field goal try. With the ball at midfield, Cincy chooses to play Tampa 2. In this coverage there are 2 deep safeties responsible for sideline deep balls, and a mike backer expected to carry all seem routes all the way to the goal post. In regular cover 2, the mike backer is taught to release the deep seam and settle. The Bucs made this defense famous in the late 90s and early 2000s with the emergence of super athletic linebackers like Derrick Brooks.

When I saw this play live, I assumed the Bengals were caught in man coverage. This is generally the culprit when QB scrambles are successful. With everyone’s eyes on the quarterback (one of the many benefits of zone coverage), a scramble should never get “out-the-gate”. The play starts with a decent pass rush and good coverage. The backer carries the deep seam and the play-side safety nicely midpoints his vertical threats. With nothing really there, Watson’s internal clock tells him to take off (his QB coach may tell him to be more patient and wait for Hopkins’ dig to clear the backer) and this is where the trouble starts for Cincy.

Complete and total lack of effort from many players, most obviously Adam Jones, cost the Bengals a touchdown, and potentially their season. He turns and watches the play happen. If I was the defensive coordinator I would 100% bench Jones next week. This is what losing looks like. The weak-side safety takes a leisurely trot towards the play, but that’s about it. 3 of the 4 defensive linemen never even crossed the 40 yard line in pursuit! They fired the wrong coordinator. This is nothing short of embarrassing.

I saw similar things from the Dolphins early in the 2016 season. Coach Gase apparently saw it the same way, and benched many key defensive players following their early Thursday night loss to these same Bengals. The culture changed. Miami went on to make the playoffs. Effort is everything. As a former colleague once told me, in this game “what you save you lose, what you give you keep”.

Chiefs vs. Eagles

3rd Quarter: 1:30 Remaining, KC 47 yard line (Tight Shot)

Offensive Personnel: 11

Offensive Formation: Ace Gun Queen

Offensive Play: G-Lead

Defensive Play: Raider Sword Man Free

Result: TD


In more generic terms, the eagles are running a slant-weak line stunt complemented by a strong-side LB pressure. On the backend, they are in man coverage with a single high safety and no hole defender (man free). This can be a nice look to run the ball against, because once the line of scrimmage is broken, only a free safety stands between the ball carrier and the end zone.

On this play, the chiefs run a standard G-lead scheme. This is essentially the spread offense’s version of Iso. The goal here is for the center and left guard to get enough push to force the weak-side backer (#58) to retreat while scraping laterally before he can fit into the front-side gap. In this case, however, the chiefs get virtually no push up front The eagles execute the line stunt beautifully and win at the point of attack. Hicks should be reading the guard directly in front of him and be able to laterally pace the guard, and fill it for close to no gain. Even Jenkins even does a nice job (for a safety) in hammering the guard back inside so the hole isn’t massive. The play is right there for the taking. This is a clear illustration of how a great defense takes all 11 players doing their JOB on every single play. One guy didn’t here, and it cost the Eagles six.

Hicks completely ignores his keys. He stays in a now vacated weak-side B-gap. (Gaps are constantly moving and changing, never more clearly than when guards pul)l. Because of the coverage type, this missed assignment is compounded and they are left with a one on 1 with the tailback and free safety. This is an exchange that the offense will win nine times out of ten. Suddenly this vaunted Eagles front seven looks rather pedestrian. The good news for Bird fans are the mistakes are mental, therefore completely fixable. Expect the giants to throw in some similar gap-scheme runs this week to see if Philly learned from this massive mistake.

Broncos vs Cowboys

2nd Quarter: 6:09 remaining, DAL 16 yard line (Wide Shot)

Offensive Personnel: 11

Offensive Formation: Trips Open Gun Queen

Offensive Play: Texas

Defensive Play: Trips Check – Quarters / Backside 20

Result: TD


This critical 3rd and 9 came on a drive that was prolonged by a rare leveraging penalty call on a FG attempt. Denver was trying to re-take the game over after a hot start, but a sloppy turnover resulting in a Dallas TD. Dallas, on the other hand, could have clearly regained momentum with a defensive stand. A subtle yet important detail on this play is that the broncos went to a 4 receiver formation via a 3 receiver personnel package (TE Derby is the #3 receiver at the bottom of the screen). This guaranteed the cowboys would keep 2 backers on the field, or play big nickel, rather than go to a dime look. Another detail in Denver scheme was going to a 3×1 look. By this stage in the second quarter, Dallas had likely shown they were going to play “20” backside when Demaryius was singled up.

By “20” I mean man-under. The corner expects deep safety help while playing man coverage. This allows the corner to absorb the route and assume a trail position. Sometimes cover 20, or, man-under 2-deep, is called “trail-man”. While it’s unimportant to this particular play, the corner executes this technique to perfection. The linebacker to the single receiver side, actually safety Jeff Heath (essentially a linebacker), is singled up in man coverage on the running back. This is a highly stressful task. Man coverage from depth with no help is no fun. They play a bastardized quarters coverage front side, which allows them to bracket vertical threats (a common NFL 3rd and long scheme). Sean Lee has a key role in this coverage. He CANNOT allow any shallow crosses to cross his face onto the man coverage side. There will be nobody home as the man defenders will be chasing their routes with their backs turned.

CJ Anderson vs Heath in the open field was a matchup Denver really liked. Siemian identifies the backside man coverage and knows exactly where he’s going with the ball. Derby does a nice job occupying Sean Lee who, remember, is chiefly concerned with denying the crossing route. While this was clearly a bad situation for Heath, he could have done two things differently. First of all, he is way too tight to the line of scrimmage. The route gets on top of him really quickly due to his alignment. The second error he makes is a situational one. On 3rd and 9, he needs to chase the flat route with less urgency. More often than not, CJ Anderson is running something into the flat here, but knowing they need 10 yards for a first down, Heath needs to be thinking angle or wheel route. He should be breaking way more patiently on the out-cut and rally to it late. Just because it’s a bad matchup doesn’t mean the offense has to win. Dallas lacked fundamentals, awareness, situational football, and toughness in their week 2 loss. Big D’s D is looking rather small at the moment.

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