The Second Level: What You Need to Know Heading into NFL Week 4

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterSeptember 26, 2013

Every week, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen brings you “The Second Level,” a breakdown of the league from multiple angles.

10 Things I Learned from the Week 3 Film

Here are 10 things that stood out from my perspective when watching the game tape from last week's action:

1. DeMarco Murray and the Cowboys Gashed the Rams

Murray rushed for 175 yards, and I’m surprised how easily he got to the second level of the Rams defense. Whether it was the zone scheme out of the one-back looks or the Counter OF out of the gun, the Rams looked soft up front and failed to take the proper angles in the secondary. This game was too easy for the Cowboys.

2. Jimmy Graham and the Saints' "Dakota" Alignment

When the Saints tight end is aligned as the backside X-receiver in a 3x1 formation ("Dakota" alignment), safeties have to prep for two routes: the slant or the fade. 

However, what is the proper technique for defensive backs? Should they play off-man at seven yards? Should they press, or should they bail?

Right now, it doesn’t matter, because Graham is going to use his size/length to win on the slant or climb the ladder to finish on the fade. That’s exactly what happened to Cardinals safety Yeremiah Bell on Sunday.

Graham is a nightmare matchup for NFL defenses.

3. The Colts Didn’t Need Window Dressing to Run on the 49ers Defense

I didn’t see anything unique in terms of formation alignment or personnel from the Colts when they ran the ball with Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson versus the 49ers front seven. 

The schemes featured basic stuff: Power O, Lead Open, Counter OF, etc. They simply tried to put a helmet on someone and open running lanes. Let’s see if this tape forces the 49ers to get out of those two-deep looks moving forward.

4. The Chiefs Defense Shows up in Prime Time

Here’s what I like about the Chiefs defense: They win one-on-one matchups across the board.

This defense played a ton of press-man in its win over the Eagles, as it whipped receivers at the line of scrimmage. Furthermore, Justin Houston and the rest of the talent in the Chiefs' sub-packages up front collapsed the pocket versus Michael Vick.

The Chiefs believe in playing Cover 1 and rushing the passer; it doesn’t have to be complex all the time.

5. The Giants Offensive Line Lacks Technique

I know the Panthers have a nasty front seven on defense, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of technique from the Giants offensive line during the loss in Carolina.

This unit was slow to get off the ball, plus it was routinely beaten by edge speed and counter moves. Allowing six sacks in the first half is simply bad football.

6. More Clutch Throws from Jay Cutler

Cutler continues to make big plays in crucial game situations.

During the fourth quarter of the Bears' win over the Steelers, Cutler targeted Brandon Marshall on the fade and also hit Earl Bennett for a touchdown on the 7 cut (corner route). The key with both third-down passes was the fact that Cutler put the ball to the outside (away from the defender’s leverage) versus man coverage and gave his receivers a chance to finish.

The Bears quarterback is showing up when it counts so far this season.

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears drops back to pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the game on September 22, 2013 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

7. Peyton Manning Versus the Raiders' Red Zone Cover 2

Cover 2 in the red zone (or "Red 2") is a smart call, as it allows your corners to sink hard and force the ball underneath. However, if you are going to show two-deep versus Manning, you have to play the technique of the defense.

On the touchdown to Wes Welker on Monday night, the Raiders' Mike 'backer never got his eyes back to Manning, the underneath seam-hook defender didn’t get enough depth in his drop and safety Charles Woodson guessed on the route at the top of the stem. That calls for trouble when Manning is running the show.


8. Don’t Forget about the Ravens Defense

The issues the Ravens defense had on opening night versus the Broncos seem like a long time ago after watching this unit play an aggressive style of football to shut down Matt Schaub and the Texans.

The Ravens challenged receivers in Cover 1 (plus 2-Man), and the pressure was back in play up front.


9. Leon Hall’s Interception Should Be on a Teaching Tape

Leon Hall might be the best inside nickel defender in the league, and we were reminded of that when the Bengals cornerback intercepted Aaron Rodgers on a wheel route. 

Working against Randall Cobb in the slot, Hall played through the initial stem to the flat and then drove to the hip of the receiver up the field. That put Hall "in-phase" and allowed him to get his head back, find the ball and finish. That is top-tier technique right there.


10. Jordan Cameron Continues to Impress in Cleveland

On the game-winning catch, the Browns tight end displayed his athletic ability when he was matched up with Vikings safety Harrison Smith in man-coverage. 

Instead of taking a straight vertical stem off the line of scrimmage, Cameron slow-played Smith with a stutter step, forced the safety to “open the gate” (step behind, open the hips) and separated on the corner route to make the play on a great throw from quarterback Brian Hoyer.

5 Things to Watch Heading into Week 4

Here are five things I’m focused on heading into the Week 4 NFL schedule:

1. Rams Defensive Game Plan Versus the 49ers

In 2012, the Rams used a nice mix of pressure and coverage in their defensive game plan versus Jim Harbaugh’s team. St. Louis played some Cover 2, brought pressure and also did a solid job defending the read-option scheme. 

What should we expect on Thursday night?

The 49ers have not been productive over the last two weeks versus man coverage, and I would expect the Rams to lean on Cover 1. However, if the 49ers can get back to running the football with production, this offense will have a much different look.


2. Bucs Rookie Mike Glennon Gets the Start

Is anyone surprised by the move from Greg Schiano to bench Josh Freeman this week? Via Josh Katzowitz of, rookie quarterback Mike Glennon will get the start in place of the troubled fifth-year signal-caller.

The Bucs are 0-3, the coach is on the hot seat and the rookie quarterback was drafted for a reason.  This was a move that should have happened sooner rather than later in Tampa.

I’m very curious to see how Glennon responds on Sunday versus the Cardinals defense, and if he can make some plays in his first NFL start, this will look like a smart move from Schiano.


3. First Real Test for the Patriots Defense

Sep 8, 2013; New Orleans, LA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) against the New Orleans Saints during the first half of a game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots are 3-0, and their defense is playing solid football. But with wins over the Bills, Jets and Bucs, is this defense really a legitimate unit?

That’s what I want to find out on Sunday night when they travel to Atlanta to match up with Matt Ryan and the Falcons. Can Aqib Talib hang with Julio Jones? Also, who can run with Tony Gonzalez in the middle of the field?

This will be a good test for Bill Belichick’s defense on the national stage.


4. The Eagles Head to Denver

Remember the Eagles' Monday night win over the Redskins in Week 1? After that game, everyone (including myself) was on the Eagles train, talking about the offensive tempo, Chip Kelly’s playbook and the pressure defense.

But after two straight losses, this team is looking at a possible 1-3 start with a trip to play Manning’s Broncos this Sunday.

The Eagles have had extra time to prep for the Broncos, and that should lead to solid game plans on both sides of the ball. However, if the turnovers continue, and if the defense fails to challenge the Broncos receivers, Kelly's squad will be looking at a three-game losing streak. 

5. Ryan Tannehill Versus the Saints on Monday Night

I wrote about Tannehill's early-season production on Wednesday, and I can’t wait to see how he performs versus Rob Ryan's defense down in New Orleans on Monday night.

The Superdome is a tough place to play, and it is a very adverse environment for opposing teams. Can Tannehill handle the Saints' pressure schemes behind a very suspect offensive line?

This is a great matchup to finish out the week.

All-22 Rewind: Broncos Red-Zone Play Action

Let’s go back and take a look at Manning’s touchdown pass to Eric Decker off play action inside the 5-yard line from Monday night. This is one of the toughest concepts to stop, regardless of the coverage called in the defensive huddle.

Game: Raiders vs. Broncos (Monday, Sept. 23)

Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)

Formation: Doubles

Offensive Concept: Play Pass Seam Route

Defensive Scheme: Cover 2

The Broncos set this up by alignment (wide receiver in a crack-block split) and with the counter protection up front (guard pulls to the play side). Both of these drew the strong safety and the second-level defenders to the line of scrimmage. In turn, this opened up a clear throwing lane to target Decker when the receiver stemmed up the field.

The Raiders lost the Cover 2 safety here as he tried to get under the expected crack-block from Decker. This is always an extremely hard read to make inside of the 5-yard line, where one false step can lead to a touchdown. With the cornerback outside in Cover 2—and the Mike 'backer opening his hips to the passing strength of the formation—the middle of the field was wide open.

The Raiders were playing Cover 2 in this situation, but they would have lost the strong safety in Cover 4 or Cover 1 versus that wide receiver split and initial inside stem. Once the safety was removed, Manning had an easy read to look up the quick seam route for six points.

Football 101: Chiefs "Jump" Technique

Last Thursday night, the Chiefs used a "jump" (or "cut") technique in their Cover 1 defense to take away the Hi-Lo crossers concept from Michael Vick and the Eagles. Let's check it out.

Game: Chiefs vs. Eagles (Thursday, Sept. 19)

Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)

Formation: Doubles "Orange" (2x2 spread)

Offensive Concept: Hi-Lo Crossers

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1 "Jump"

With DeSean Jackson on short motion to the core of the formation, free safety Kendrick Lewis drove downhill on the receiver’s inside stem ("jump" technique) with cornerback Brandon Flowers replacing him in the deep middle of the field. The Chiefs could have still played Cover 1 (press-man outside of the numbers), but they avoided having Flowers chase Jackson across the field from an outside leverage position.

Lewis took an angle to the upfield shoulder of Jackson, and Flowers worked back to the middle of the field. With the Chiefs locking down Vick’s other options in the route scheme, there was nowhere for the quarterback to go with the ball in this situation.

With Lewis driving to Jackson, Vick had to force this ball to Riley Cooper, and Sean Smith was in the proper position (outside leverage) to make the play.

This was another Eagles turnover caused by a simple adjustment in man coverage.

Inside the Locker Room: Browns Fake Field-Goal Attempt

I’m shocked that this gadget play actually worked for the Browns.

In fact, I’m floored that an NFL special teams unit failed to look outside to see if anyone was hanging out near the sideline. That is priority No. 1 when you line up to defend a field goal.

This is one of the oldest tricks in the book, and it is talked about every Saturday during special teams meetings across the NFL before (and after) the final walk-through.

How does it play out?

Usually, the coaching staff starts yelling at one offensive player to get off the field. They are dramatic, they drop F-bombs, they wave their arms frantically and they stomp the ground.

Said player then runs to the sideline (at full speed) with fake panic in his eyes. However, he stops just short of the line, checks with the official to make sure he is in the proper alignment and then stands there to wait for the ball.

Remember, he is an eligible receiver because of the formation.

The holder takes the snap, rises up and throws a pass to the uncovered (and wide-open) man standing there all alone—doing absolutely nothing at all.

That’s it. High school stuff, really.

For the Browns, this couldn’t have played out any better, as it was a free six points for Cameron.

And for the Vikings, that had to be an awkward atmosphere—for both players and coaches—when they turned on the film Monday morning to see this fake field goal all over again.


Seven-year NFL veteran Matt Bowen is an NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.



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