Tale of the Tape from NFL Week 10

Matt Bowen @MattBowen41NFL National Lead WriterNovember 11, 2013

Every Monday, former NFL defensive back Matt Bowen brings you an X’s and O’s look at the game. Here are his five key plays from the Week 10 Sunday NFL schedule.


Tavon Austin Runs Past the Colts Secondary

Austin hasn’t produced at the rate we all expected when he was drafted in the top 10 back in April, but the rookie put on a show in Indianapolis during the Rams' 38-8 upset win. Austin posted over 300 total yards, and his speed was on display all afternoon in the open field.

Let’s go back to Austin’s 81-yard touchdown catch on a simple shallow drive route to highlight the Colts' coverage issues and Austin’s playmaking ability after the catch.


Rams vs. Colts

Personnel: 11 (3WR-1TE-1RB)

Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Far (Bunch)

Offensive Concept: Z Drive

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1 (Rover)

With Austin on short, divide motion (motion into the core of the formation), the Rams can get to a bunch alignment to the closed (strong) side of the formation versus man coverage. The idea is to create a pick situation and force Colts cornerback Vontae Davis to bubble over the traffic. That allows Austin to use a hard, inside release and work away from Davis’ initial leverage on the drive route.

The Colts jam tight end Jared Cook and have a linebacker playing the “rover” position (drops to the underneath hole). But they don’t use a “banjo” technique here (in and out) with Davis and Darius Butler. Instead, Butler plays from an off-man position to avoid the pick, and Davis has to chase versus Austin.

Davis doesn’t bubble over the inside traffic and drive to the upfield shoulder of Austin (coached technique). As you can see here, he goes under the release of Cook and puts himself in an automatic trail position versus an inside breaking route with no help from the linebacker.  

Even with the technique and communication errors versus the bunch, the Colts still have a shot here to get Austin on the ground and limit the damage. However, without shortening the angle to Austin—and using the sideline as his help—safety Antoine Bethea allows the receiver to cut back. With the rookie’s speed in the open field, that’s six points every time.


Panthers Add Some Window Dressing to the Counter OF

The Panthers played lights-out on the defensive side of the ball during their 10-9 win over the 49ers out in San Francisco, but I wanted to focus on Williams’ touchdown run to discuss how Carolina used alignment to disguise the power run game.

Let’s break down the Counter OF from the Pistol and discuss why Williams was able to get to the second level of the defense off the option look.


Panthers vs. 49ers

Personnel: 11 (3WR-1TE-1RB)

Formation: Pro Strong I (Pistol)

Offensive Concept: Counter OF

Defensive Scheme: Cover 4

The Panthers have 11 personnel on the field and motion receiver Brandon LaFell into the backfield to form a two-back Pistol alignment (triple-option alert versus Carolina).

At the snap, Cam Newton and LaFell will work to the closed side of the formation to sell the option with Williams on the counter action. That allows the Panthers to pull both the open-side guard and the tight end to kick out the edge force while leading up to the second level.

No different than aligning in a Strong I set with the fullback and open-side guard working the blocking scheme, the Panthers pull the guard to the edge and lead up through the hole with the tight end. Create a clean running lane and let Williams square his pads. This looks like an option scheme at the snap, but we are still talking about one of the classic power runs (Counter OF) at the NFL level.

Once Williams gets to the second level of the defense, he plays off the block from the tight end, presses the ball to the sideline and breaks a tackle to get into the end zone. Strong finish from the Panthers running back and the only touchdown we saw in the most physical football game on the Week 10 schedule.


Nick Fairley Closes Out the Bears

The Bears had an opportunity to extend this game and send it into overtime versus the Lions at Soldier Field. But after a suspect call (and personnel grouping) on their first two-point attempt, Marc Trestman’s team was bailed out by a Lions personal-foul penalty and given a second chance to tie this one up.

Here’s a look at the inside zone scheme Fairley shut down to close out the win for the Lions. Let’s talk about the scheme and focus on the defensive tackle’s burst off the ball to eliminate the play.


Lions vs. Bears

Personnel: 11 (3WR-1TE-1RB)

Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Near

Offensive Concept: Inside Zone

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1

The Bears have 11 personnel on the field with Brandon Marshall in a nasty (or reduced) split to the backside of the formation (crack block alignment). With Matt Forte offset to the closed side, the Bears run the inside zone—one of their top schemes out of the gun. Give Forte the option to press the open side of the formation or cut this ball back based on the defensive pursuit with zone blocking up front.

Center Roberto Garza has to “reach” block Fairley (scoop technique to outside shoulder) and eliminate any inside penetration. However, because of Fairley’s quickness and burst off the ball, the defensive tackle gets on the edge of Garza. That allows Fairley to get vertical to the point of attack in the backfield.

This is a heck of a play from Fairley. He eliminates the reach block at the snap, penetrates the line of scrimmage and wrecks the two-point attempt from the Bears to get the win. Impressive stuff.


Saints, Darren Sproles Target the Cowboys' Nickel Front

The Saints rolled up 625 yards on Monte Kiffin’s defense during their 49-17 win on Sunday night. And it started with their ability to run the football against this soft Cowboys defensive front seven.

Let’s look at an example here in the red zone on Sproles’ touchdown run out of the Pistol to break down the multiple issues for the Dallas defensive front.


Cowboys vs. Saints

Personnel: 11 (3WR-1TE-1RB)

Formation: Doubles Exchange

Offensive Concept: Inside Zone

Defensive Scheme: Nickel Cover 2

With the Cowboys playing Cover 2, the Saints get to work against a seven-man front in the red zone (nickel back walked down to open side of the formation). The Saints wash DeMarcus Ware up the field, double down on the 3-technique defensive tackle and chip to Mike ‘backer Justin Durant. However, keep an eye on nickelback B.W. Webb. He is unblocked—and this is his play to make.

The Saints seal the defensive tackle and work up to Durant at the second level. That leaves Webb unblocked and in a position to fill the hole. But the defensive back is late in his run/pass keys, gives ground and now has to work back downhill to make an open-field tackle in the hole versus Sproles.

Instead of attacking (or squeezing) the hole, Webb takes a poor angle and stops his feet. That forces him to lunge and miss the tackle. With Durant being blocked all the way back to the goal line, there is a clear running lane for Sproles to find the end zone. That’s bad defensive football.


Broncos Execute the Tunnel Screen to Demaryius Thomas

Peyton Manning threw four more touchdown passes in the Broncos' 28-20 win over the Chargers in San Diego, and the screen game was back in play at the wide receiver position. Let’s talk about the execution from the Denver offense and check out Demaryius Thomas on the tunnel screen.


Broncos vs. Chargers

Personnel: 11 (3WR-1TE-1RB)

Formation: Slot Open

Offensive Concept: Tunnel Screen

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1 Pressure

The Broncos align in two-back Pistol and motion Thomas to the open side of the formation to create a bunch look versus Cover 1 pressure. At the snap, Manning will show closed-side run action and target Thomas on the tunnel screen (No. 1 receiver on the screen). Get blockers to the second level on a high-percentage throw to catch the Chargers in a blitz.

With both Eric Decker and Wes Welker kicking out the secondary support, left tackle Chris Clark can work up to safety Eric Weddle. That allows Thomas to set up his blocks and get vertical in the open field.

Once Thomas gets the running lane he wants, the receiver sticks his foot in the ground and accelerates to the end zone. Both the tunnel and the bubble screen (No. 2 receiver/slot receiver on the screen) are showing up more often in the NFL. But there isn’t a team that executes the concept better than the Broncos right now.


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