Tale of the Tape from NFL Preseason Week 2

Matt Bowen NFL National Lead WriterAugust 18, 2014

USA Today

Throughout the 2014 preseason schedule, Matt Bowen will bring you an X’s and O’s look at the NFL. Here are his five key plays from the second weekend of the exhibition season.


Steelers Rookie LB Ryan Shazier Showcases His Athletic Ability

The rookie linebacker out of Ohio State put his athletic ability on display this weekend, running the inside seam to make a play on the ball in 2-Man coverage versus Bills quarterback EJ Manuel.  

Let’s go back to the route concept (Semi-Curl), break down Shazier’s technique (“trail-man”) and focus on the finish at the point of attack that led to the interception for the Steelers defense.


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

Formation: Doubles Slot Gun Far

Offensive Concept: Semi-Curl

Defensive Scheme: 2-Man

Credit: NFL.com

With the Bills running the Semi-Curl (seam-curl-flat) versus 2-Man (two-deep, man-under), Shazier is matched up against tight end Scott Chandler on the inside vertical seam.

In 2-Man, the Steelers linebacker has help over the top, with both the free safety and strong safety driving top-down to overlap any throw to the middle of the field. This allows Shazier to play with a “trail” technique (inside leverage, drive to hip) versus the vertical stem.

From a pre-snap pressure look (interior pressure), Shazier drives to the inside hip of Chandler and runs/carries the seam to stay “in-phase” against the tight end.

Credit: NFL.com

When Manuel reaches the top of his drop, he targets Chandler running the seam to expose the two-deep shell (weakness of 2-Man is up the seam to split the safeties).

However, look at the hard, inside leverage from Shazier on the vertical stem. He is tight to the hip and now in a position to “wall-off” the tight end while getting his head back around to locate the football.

Credit: NFL.com

Here’s the finish from Shazier to play this ball at the highest point and come down with the interception versus the seam route.

The rookie linebacker looked like a strong safety running the middle of the field to make this play. And he also added a 27-yard return after securing the catch.

Check out the entire play below:

Credit: NFL Game Rewind


Russell Wilson, Seahawks Utilize the Read-Option in the Red Zone

The Seahawks' ability to use packaged plays (multiple reads within the scheme) creates stress for defensive run/pass keys and option responsibilities inside of the red zone.

On Friday night in Seattle, Russell Wilson scored on a one-yard touchdown run off the packaged read (read-option) versus the Chargers’ zero-pressure scheme when he beat linebacker Manti Te’o to the edge of the formation.

Here’s a breakdown of the play, Wilson’s initial read and the Chargers’ inability to execute the “scrape exchange” technique versus the option scheme.


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

Formation: Slot Open Gun Near

Offensive Scheme: Packaged Play (Read-Option)

Defensive Scheme: Zero Pressure (Cover 0)

Credit: NFL.com

In this situation, Wilson can throw the bubble screen (Percy Harvin) to the open side of the formation or read through the mesh point (quarterback-running back exchange) to option the closed-side edge defender.

Here, Wilson reads the path of the closed-side edge defender. If the outside linebacker crashes inside (dive), Wilson can keep the ball and test the linebacker’s ability to scrape over the top.

This is called the “scrape exchange” technique (defensive technique to limit the option) with the edge defender taking the dive and the linebacker working to the quarterback.

Credit: NFL.com

With the Chargers sending zero-pressure (safety pressure), and the edge defender crashing inside to play the dive (inside zone scheme), Wilson can pull the ball and test the speed/angle of Te’o.

However, because of the slow read from Te’o at the second level, the linebacker is late to scrape outside. And that will create an opportunity for Wilson to keep and press the edge of the formation.

Credit: NFL.com

Because of the hesitation from Te’o through the mesh point, the linebacker is now stuck trailing the play and can’t create a positive angle versus the speed of Wilson.

And the result is six points as Wilson exposes the linebacker’s flat angle to the ball on his way to the end zone.

Here’s a look at the read and finish from Wilson:

Credit: NFL Game Rewind


Jadeveon Clowney Flashes Again in Second Preseason Game

For the second week in a row, the No. 1 overall pick showcased his speed off the ball when he created an angle on the edge to blow up the inside trap play versus the Falcons on Saturday night.

Let’s break down the Falcons’ trap scheme and Clowney’s ability to beat the “fold” technique to register a vicious hit in the backfield.


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

Formation: Doubles Gun Near

Offensive Concept: Inside Trap

Defensive Scheme: Cover 1 (Rover)

Credit: NFL.com

Here's an inside trap out of the gun with the Falcons’ right tackle pulling to “wham” the open-side defensive tackle in order to create a quick, inside running lane versus the Texans' sub-package front.

However, I want to focus on the open-side blocking technique with the left guard/left tackle versus the linebacker and Clowney.

This is called a “fold” technique, as the tackle works up to the linebacker while the guard sets and kicks out Clowney. This allows the guard to wash Clowney up the field while eliminating the rookie’s ability to flatten out to the ball-carrier.

Credit: NFL.com

This is where we once again see Clowney’s speed off the ball as he accelerates up the field and beats the guard’s initial set in the “fold” technique.

With the guard now beat, Clowney can turn the corner, flatten his angle and track the running back on the inside give from the gun.

Credit: NFL.com

I expect opposing offenses to use trap/draw schemes often this season to counter the speed we’ve seen from Clowney in the first two weeks of the preseason.

However, in this situation, the Texans rookie used his athletic ability to take advantage of the Falcons' blocking technique while delivering a violent strike to running back Antone Smith.

Check out Clowney’s burst off the ball:

Credit: NFL Game Rewind


Kyle Rudolph Exposes Cardinals' Three-Deep Coverage

The Vikings tight end is going to play a key role in Norv Turner’s offense this season because of his ability to create matchups in the passing game while working the middle of the field versus zone-based schemes.

On Saturday night, quarterback Matt Cassel targeted Rudolph on the “999” concept (four verticals from a 3x1 alignment) to beat the Cardinals' three-deep coverage for a 51-yard touchdown.


Personnel: Regular/21 (2WR-1TE-2RB)

Formation: Doubles Slot “Dakota”

Offensive Concept: 999 Route

Defensive Scheme: Cover 3

Credit: NFL.com

The “999” route is one of the top Cover 3 beaters as it occupies both the open-side cornerback and free safety—creating a deep throwing window to target the tight end (or No. 3 strong).

Here, the Vikings align in a 3x1 “Dakota” formation and occupy the open-side cornerback with an outside 9 (fade) route.

This clears out the deep third while the slot receiver to the closed side (No. 2) holds the free safety in the deep middle third on the seam route.

And with the cornerback now removed, Rudolph can stem this route back to the opposite numbers to find the vacated zone over the top of the curl/flat defender underneath.

Credit: NFL.com

Look at the soft zone/throwing window for Cassel to target Rudolph versus the Cardinals’ Cover 3.

With the curl/flat defender sitting short, and the cornerback over the top versus the outside 9 route, Rudolph can make this catch in the intermediate hole to expose the zone defense.

That forces the cornerback to take a poor angle to the ball (missed tackle) and allows Jerick McKinnon to look up the free safety driving from the middle of the field on the throw.

Credit: NFL.com

After Rudolph beats the cornerback in the open field, McKinnon peels back to pick up the free safety. This creates a clear run for the Vikings tight end to walk into the end zone on a route we will see every Sunday during the regular season.

Take a look at the route scheme:

Credit: NFL Game Rewind


Kelvin Benjamin Beats Sean Smith on the Dig Route

As the Panthers rookie continues to develop at the wide receiver position with more reps on the field, I’m focused on his ability to win versus press-man while creating separation at the top of the route.

On Sunday night, Benjamin showed more positive signs outside of the numbers when he beat Chiefs cornerback Sean Smith on the deep dig route (Dagger combination).

Let’s talk about this one-on-one matchup from a technique perspective to focus on Benjamin’s release, stem and break.


Personnel: Ace/12 (2WR-2TE-1RB)

Formation: Doubles Slot “Dakota”

Offensive Concept: Dagger Route

Defensive Scheme: Cover 4

Credit: NFL.com

With Benjamin in a “plus-split” (three yards outside of the numbers), Smith uses an inside-eye alignment and plays from a press-position (use sideline as help).

However, Smith takes a slight false step (step forward), widens his base and allows Benjamin to cross his face on a hard, inside release. 

The rookie receiver slaps down on the hands, forces Smith to “open the gate” (open hips) and gains inside leverage to stem to the numbers. That’s solid technique from the rookie to win on the release.

Credit: NFL.com

On a dig route (square-in), the wide receiver will stem to the top of the numbers and stack on the cornerback.

That’s what we see here from Benjamin as he stacks on Smith to put the veteran cornerback in a trail position. And now the Panthers wide receiver is in control to continue his stem up the field before the break point (12-15 yards).

Credit: NFL.com

At 6’5”, 240 pounds, Benjamin can create leverage consistently back to the middle of the field on inside breaking routes when he can gain separation at the top of the route.

Here, Benjamin sinks at the top of the route and breaks inside (with Smith trailing) to finish this play on the throw from quarterback Cam Newton.

Here's the progression from Benjamin to win this matchup:

Credit: NFL Game Rewind


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