Chalkboard: Dallas Cowboys Continue to Struggle Closing the First Half

GarrettFinger

Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action.”

– Auric Goldfinger from the James Bond novel Goldfinger

It’s a saying so true that during the Cold War, spies operating in Russia integrated it into what they called the “Moscow Rules.”

Someone should let the Dallas Cowboys know though because we’ve seen three instances of making some poor choices at the end of the first half which have resulted in big problems later.

Last time we looked at this, it was during a two-minute drill at the end of the first half against the New Orleans Saints.

Then, the Cowboys were down—as they were Monday night against the Chicago Bears—and went to the air, leaving a ton of time on the clock for Drew Brees to add some extra points on the board and essentially put the game away.

In the aforementioned Bears game, the Cowboys did it again—this time down just 17-14.

As with the Saints game, the Cowboys received the ball with under two-minutes to go.

They still had two of three timeouts as they set up for the beginning of their drive on their own 29-yard line.

1-10-DAL 29
(1:27) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short left to D.Bryant to DAL 39 for 10 yards (T.Jennings; M.Wright).

While Dallas has shown itself to have a lot of bad habits, you can give them credit for one thing—they didn’t leave the backfield empty.

The Cowboys line up with running back DeMarco Murray in the backfield, and four receivers wide—two on either side of the line.

The left side consists of tight end Jason Witten just off tackle and receiver Dez Bryant along the sideline.

Unfortunately, it’s obvious from the snap that Murray isn’t getting the ball. There’s no fake or play-action, so the linebackers know right away that they can drop into coverage. In fact one of the three linebackers sneaks up to the line of scrimmage prior to the snap—so you have to imagine they knew the pass was coming anyway.

Given what we’ve seen of Dallas’ tendencies, that’s no shock.

DeMarco Murray is ignored by the defense for the most part as he slips out on a short route. The most attention he gets is from a safety creeping up after the snap.

The receivers to the right of the line head out on deeper routes, while Witten drags across the middle.

Bryant runs a short hook route along the left sideline.

1st DownWhile it’s great that Murray is out there, not using him to fool the defense makes it too easy on them.

After all, with 70 yards to go in 90 seconds or so, a defense is pretty sure a throw is coming—even with two timeouts.

Because the defense doesn’t need to give the run a thought, they are in perfect position to cover.

1st Downcoverage

As you can see in the accompanying screen grab, The coverage is very good because nobody is worried about playing the run. Instead all they need to focus on are the receivers and the far safety (all the way at the left edge of the screen grab) can just hang back and contain.

The only person with even a little room is Bryant, because the corner is so concerned with Bryant’s speed that he has given him a nice cushion.

Even then, when the pass is completed, it takes a huge effort on the part of Bryant for the team to gain a first down.

Worse, he ends up hurt and, because it is within two minutes, the Cowboys have to squander one of their timeouts.

Perhaps if the team hadn’t had to waste one of their timeouts, head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan might have run the ball a few times. Maybe they wouldn’t have abandoned the run again since it had been so effective (Murray had 13 carries for 99 yards at the half).

1-10-DAL 39

(1:13) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass incomplete short right to J.Witten.

The Cowboys once again line up with four wide—this time in trips right (three receivers on the right side of the line) and with Bryant once again on the far left side.

Murray is in the backfield as well, and it does look like he could be set to run the ball.

The Bears are set in their 4-3, the corners in single coverage. The corner on Bryant plays press off the line, to negate the receiver’s speed while the other corner leaves a bit of a cushion.

Again the ball is snapped and, again, it is immediately obvious this is a pass play.

The linebackers drop into coverage. This time out, Witten is open, though there are defenders right there. He drops the ball, one he should have caught.

Two things stand out.

First, it’s bitter cold. The announcers mentioned the temperature several times and it hovered around 7 degrees with the wind chill. When it’s that cold, not only do your hands feel like popsicle but the ball is hard as a rock.

Not an easy catch, especially on a literal frozen rope.

While you understand the decision to throw because of how far the offense has to go, you have to wonder if a shorter pass or a run might have been a better decision. The team still has plenty of clock left and a running back averaging 7.6 yards per carry.

Instead we see a route which is no more than 11 yards at the most, in brutal conditions to catch balls in.

Which is my second point. In these conditions, with a running back who is breaking off big yards, why are you throwing?

Let’s move on.

2-10 DAL 39

(1:10) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass incomplete short left to D.Murray.

This time out, the Cowboys set up with just three wide receivers with Witten joining Murray in the backfield.

If you’re interested in tipping off that you’re passing, a tight end lining up in the backfield is a good way to go.

Again, we’ve got plenty of clock to call for a run, and a timeout, but the Cowboys want the ball in the air.

This time the play is a good one, it’s just executed badly.

Murray squirts out on a short out. The defense has once again dropped back with the receivers going long, so Murray ends up wide open with nobody around him for ten yards.

He gets to the end of his route and stops—

3rd Down Murray
—and quarterback Tony Romo overthrows him.
3rd Down Murraymiss
Romo didn’t like that, something which announcer Jon Gruden said was probably because Murray may have drifted in the route once he got open.

TONYNOLIKIE
And sure, Murray should have been more still perhaps but it’s not like Romo threw to a spot where Murray wasn’t or Murray ran the wrong route. The pass was in the area—it was just too high and too hard.

So as much as Murray should have sat down when he finished his route, Romo needed to take something off the pass. It’s cold, people are dropping passes and it’s a running back he’s targeting.

You take something off the throw. That wide open there is zero reason to rocket the ball into the receiver.

3-10-DAL 39

(1:05) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass incomplete short right to T.Williams (Z.Bowman).The Cowboys run basically the same formation as they did previously and you can see the Bears defense jumping up and down as they recognize it.

This time though, Murray actually stays in to block. Witten heads out on a route, but the Bears are not fooled and blanket him.

Romo has time and chooses to go to rookie Terrence Williams, who is coming back to help him out along the sideline. Cornerback Zack Bowman makes a nice play and bats the ball down.

The Cowboys have to punt.

Interestingly, Romo misses Miles Austin on a “go” route out of the slot.

Austin isn’t wide open but he does have a couple of steps on the coverage. Romo could have hit him with a long pass rather than try to force the throw into tighter coverage.

AustinSpace

It could be he was worried about the deep safety, but it’s the sort of pass Romo can make so it’s surprising he didn’t take a shot given they needed a first down.

Even if Williams had caught the ball, he would have been short of a new set of downs.

The Cowboys are forced to punt and five plays later, the Bears score—arguably putting the game away.

Dallas never regained any real momentum on offense. After running the ball 13 times for 99 yards in the first half, Murray only runs five more times, though he gained 47 yards doing so.

The Cowboys had too many three-and-outs, rarely burned any clock and kept giving the Bears good field position.

Sure, the defense was horrible—the Bears never had to punt—but the offense absolutely didn’t help them out.

If you look at the game and want to find a tipping point, it looks to me that it’s easy to find.

Once again the poor play-calling prior to halftime, which led to a last second score by the opposing team, seems to be the beginning of the end.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

Chalkboard: Josh Gordon’s 95-yard Touchdown vs. Jacksonville’s Cover-2

titleSuffice to say that when a wide receiver drops 261 yards and a pair of touchdowns on your head, a secondary had better take a close look at the film to see what went wrong whether their team won or not.

That Josh Gordon destroyed two defenses in a row at least might offer some comfort. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers both got torched by Gordon for 200-plus yards in back-to-back games—the first time in NFL history that has happened.

Gordon ran a variety of routes Sunday, but the one which killed Jacksonville most consistently—and the one which burned them for a 95-yard touchdown—was the simple “dig” route Gordon ran.

Virtually every time he went out on that route, not only did he catch the ball, but the catch resulted in a big chunk of yards.

The problem was that he was able to repeatedly find the open space between the cornerback and the safety. The coverage never seemed to tighten up, so Gordon and quarterback Brandon Weeden kept exploiting it.

The Cover-2 is a pretty simple zone defense. In it, the linebackers often drop back into coverage in the middle of the field (on occasion one might rush the passer, but often it is left to the four linemen), the corners spread wide and the safeties drop back—each taking one half of the field.

cover_2

If the receiver crosses out of the corner’s zone, the safety on that side will pick him up. Of course if the safety is too deep, a large open space can develop between the zones—which is what Gordon was taking advantage of.

This time out, Gordon (red highlight) and Weeden saw the Jaguar defense dropping into the Cover-2.

The “dig” is a pretty straightforward route. It’s really a straight route for anywhere from 10 to 20 yards, then the receiver crosses in (towards the ball) and moves through the middle of the field.

There are primarily three windows you can hit the receiver in (as illustrated below) although Gordon and Weeden were doing their damage in the first window pretty much all day. I don’t think I saw Weeden even bother hitting Gordon in the middle of the field or all the way across it.

digroute

Since Gordon was so open for that first window, so often, why mess with success?

The problem is, because that’s how they ran it every time, Jacksonville safety Guy Winston is pretty sure it’s coming.

He hovers, and spies on Gordon as the receiver runs his usual 15-yard route, settling at the 20 yard line, where Weeden delivers ball.

splittingthezone

Honestly it doesn’t even look like he’s subtle about where it’s going. While you can’t see Weeden’s eyes, and therefore can’t be 100 percent sure, his head never swivels off of Gordon.

Everyone knows where this is going.

Winston has two choices. He can get on Gordon and try to jar the ball loose, at best breaking the pass up, at worst tackling him immediately. Or he can try to jump the route and attempt to intercept the pass.

He chooses the second option. That aggressiveness isn’t a bad thing for a safety and if he makes the pick, he could actually take the ball back for six points.

However, he misses it and—well you can see what happens.

Yoink

Here’s where the gamble comes in when you go for the pick, not the play. There is nobody behind Winston. As the safety, he is the last line of defense. Everyone else you see trying to get Gordon is at a huge disadvantage, coming from behind and across the field.

openspaceLook at that open green space.

Nobody is catching Gordon on that play.

Not #27, Dwayne Gratz who is trailing. Not #37, rookie Johnathan Cyprien who has a bad angle coming across the field and trailing.

In this case, when Winston rolled the dice, they came up craps and wiped the table.

Gordon’s touchdown gave the lead (28-25) with under four minutes to play.

Unfortunately for the Browns, the defense couldn’t hold and Cleveland lost a tough one.

The Jaguars may have won the war, but their secondary is still wondering how Gordon single-handily won so many individual battles.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

Chalkboard: Case Keenum’s Mad Scramble and 42-yard Touchdown Pass

GrahamBirdOftentimes choosing which play I break down is difficult. We can pick out a dozen plays on any weekend and make an argument for or against breaking any of them down.

Sometimes they leap right out at you.

Two plays did that this week, but by now we’ve all read enough about the Carolina-New England pass interference penalty (and a wide open Danny Amendola) to have our fill.

The other play not only was amazing on its own merits, but even more so in the face of the benching of the quarterback involved later on.

Houston Texans quarterback Case Keenum has looked very good since taking over for an imploding Matt Schaub in keenumWeek 7. Since then he has completed 55.5 percent of his passes for 992 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception.

Considering he was undrafted in the 2012 NFL draft and spent that year on the practice squad, that’s pretty impressive.

As was his scramble and touchdown pass.

The play took place on a 3rd and 1, with 12:09 left in the second quarter.

The Oakland Raiders are clearly thinking run and with Ben Tate and a fullback lined up in the backfield as well as an extra tight end to the right side.

Another tight end, Garrett Graham, is to the left and behind the line of scrimmage.  The Raiders have a defender on him because he could go either out on a route or block easily.

It’s a tight offensive formation, built to run and the Raiders react accordingly, with ten players in the box, eight of which are on the line of scrimmage.

Graham goes in motion though, pulling a defender with him to the right side of the formation. Again, this absolutely signals run to the defense as the formation is now heavily stacked to the right side.

Graham Route

Even when the ball is snapped, the offensive line blocks to its left, away from the way the runner would go, thereby selling the run even more.

Keenum snaps the ball and instead of handing it off, drops back.

Graham ignores the defender in front of him and appears to move to the second level to block.

With Graham going out, defensive end Lamarr Houston plunges into the backfield unchecked and Keenum is forced to leave the pocket very early.

Scramble2

While Houston is chasing Keenum down, the quarterback keeps his eyes downfield, clearly looking to throw if he can. He gets outside quickly too—Houston is immediately a step behind and therefore is at a bad angle of attack.

The result is that when Keenum cuts towards the sideline, Houston can’t react quickly enough and dives at the quarterback, hoping to trip him up.Keenum Dodge

He misses though, and Keenum is able to get to the sideline, set and throw the ball downfield.

Meanwhile, Graham, having also ignored defenders at the second level, has gone out on a “fly” route and managed to get behind veteran free safety Charles Woodson.

UPDATE POST-ALL22 VIEWING

Now that All-22 Coaches film is out, Wodson’s actions become much clearer, as I assumed they would.

On the play, Graham’s route stops at about the 25-yard line., where he turns a bit towards the right sideline. Woodson is about five yards beyond him and closer to the sideline and both players drift back towards the play as Keenum scrambles.

Once Keenum eludes Houston, Graham turns and sprints upfield. Woodson, who has moved towards the play sees this and tries to turn, stumbling as he does so.

That momentary delay allows Graham to get to top speed before Woodson can accelerate.  All things being equal, Woodson does an excellent job catching up to Graham and the pass.

Woodson he goes from five yards behind Graham and catches up to him, though that is also in part because Graham slows down to catch the ball.

However, he doesn’t get there quickly enough and Graham makes the catch for the touchdown.

Graham Separation

The play is the result of some great work by the quarterback. Keenum doesn’t panic, doesn’t try to force something. He scrambles, keeps his eyes downfield looking for Graham and then decisively delivers the ball when he see Graham break free.

Of course, it’s help by an over-committed Raiders run defense, but we shouldn’t take anything away from the excellent play by Keenum.

Which makes his benching for Schaub all the more perplexing.

He did throw an interception early but he was hit while he threw, resulting in a wobbly and off-target pass. It was also his first interception this season.

Keenum also fumbled the ball in the third quarter, though Graham recovered it.

It could also be that before he was yanked, he had directed three series where he went three downs and out. When he was removed the Texans were behind 28-17, but at that point doesn’t the defense hold some responsibility? They’re the ones letting up 80-yard touchdown runs.

However, those are the moments you want to find out about your young quarterback. Can he bounce back? Can he lead the team from behind?

Instead you stick in a quarterback who had been horrendous when starting this season and manage to show that with one more pass attempt, he can throw for less yards.

Keenum gives you mobility Schaub will never have and while he is young, brings a poise to the pocket which was lacking prior to his first start.

Coach Kubiak is unimpressed by your antics Keenum....

Coach Kubiak is unimpressed by your antics Keenum….

It’s hard to look at the game completely and see what head coach Gary Kubiak was seeing, or understand why Schaub was plugged back in.

Did they lose every game Keenum started? Yes, but looking at his run, that’s as much an indictment of an under-performing defense as it is Keenum—perhaps more of one.

Keenum will get the start but we got no real clarity from Kubiak’s explanation of going to Schaub, so it’s not beyond belief that it could happen again.

If he does, it might be Kubiak—not Schaub—who gets booed by the crowd and yelled at by Andre Johnson.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?

Chalkboard: Dallas Cowboys 2 Minute Drill vs New Orleans Saints

romo

I nearly called this, “How to Telegraph Every Play in a Panic.”

Because the more you look at the Dallas Cowboys’ 1st half 2-minute drill last Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, the more you wonder how it a team with so much time on the clock can sabotage themselves.

Near the end of the first quarter, Dallas was trailing New Orleans 21-10. The Saints had just scored a touchdown but there was plenty of ballgame left and the Cowboys had 1st and 10 at their own 20 yard line after the ensuing kickoff.

In order to fully set the stage, you need to know a few other details.

At this point in the half, quarterback Tony Romo had thrown for 12 yards on six attempts. Running back DeMarco Murray had been much more effective with 11 carries for 80 yards and a touchdown.

Also, the Cowboys would get the ball back at the start of the second half.

While the Cowboys trailed by 11 points, there was ample time to get going.

You wouldn’t have known it by what happened on this drive.

1-10-DAL 20

(1:32) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass short right to J.Witten to DAL 28 for 8 yards (C.Lofton).
1stdwn_1 copy
Now, as announcer Chris Collinsworth mentioned in the broadcast, the formation Dallas is in here is the one they used to beat the Minnesota Vikings the previous week.
The thing is, the Saints’ defense is much better than the Vikings this season and more than likely they’d watched the tape of that drive. Also, there should be a different mindset driving 80 or 90 yards with 2 minutes to go in the game versus less than 2 minutes to go in the first half.
Still, the play is a good start. The receivers on the right run vertical routes, which clears out the underneath for Jason  Witten, who cuts outside and away from his defender for a nice 8-yard gain (highlighted in green again).
1stdwn_2Now the flipside to this—and the staff should have seen this—is that every receiver is well covered. With an empty backfield, the Saints can just lay back and wait for the inevitable throw and what’s more, the safeties can hover and wait to see where Romo is looking. They don’t have to worry about the running back eating up yards.
This will come up again shortly.
2-2-DAL 28 

(1:09) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass incomplete short middle to T.Williams (C.White).
The Cowboys set up for second down in the exact same formation, including the empty backfield.
2stdwn_1Now, with the time left, you can understand not using Murray out of the backfield on a run.  Dallas has no time outs and can’t burn much clock.
By the same token, not having Murray back there at all once again opens things up for the secondary, especially the safeties.
Dez Bryant is up top and runs a “go” route, while Witten is lined up off the left tackle and runs a “post.” In the slot between them is Cole Beasley who just runs a short hook.
On the right side of the line, receiver Dwayne Harris also runs a short hook.
The green highlighted route is rookie Terrance Williams, who is lined up on the far right outside. Williams had been targeted twice to this point, but had no catches.
Unlike the first play, which utilized the outside receivers to clear traffic away for the underneath route, Williams’ route takes him right into the middle of the defense.
There are no receivers clearing out the area and because there is zero run threat, the safety is just hanging out there waiting on the pass.
2stdwn_2
The above screen grab has the defenders general area of coverage in red, with the relative area of effect for the receivers in yellow.
Romo has a great option—two in fact—but either has predetermined Williams is the guy to go to or completely misses both Witten (wide open just past the 40 yard line) and Beasley (open short).
It’s possible he saw Beasley and opted to not go short, which given the time is understandable to a point.
How he missed Witten is a mystery—until you look at the All-22, particularly the end zone angle.
Romo2ndDown3At most, Romo throws a cursory glance towards his left, more of an attempt to look the safety off than a check to see if anyone was open.
Going back to the previous screen grab, you can see that Bryant is perfectly covered up top (with one safety in place to help) and Harris is equally covered on his short hook.
Williams is not open either and is bracketed by cornerback Corey White low and a safety over the top.
That doesn’t stop Romo who is lucky he isn’t picked off by White or the safety, Rafael Bush.
Even if Williams had made the catch, he’s in the middle of the field with no time outs.
Witten is open along the side and could have easily made the catch and continued out of bounds. Or you might as well have run the ball, picked up the first and hurried up to the line. Just like you would have if Williams had caught this ball.
3-2-DAL 28 

(1:04) (Shotgun) T.Romo pass incomplete short middle to C.Beasley (C.White).
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
An empty backfield, five wide receiver set. The defense is once again able to allow their safeties to hang back and allow the play to form before needing to react.
3rddwn_1
Keep in mind that at this point, not even thirty seconds has elapsed. The Cowboys have no timeouts, sure, but the Saints do and the Cowboys are not managing the clock.
An efficient offense could move the ball, including runs and short passes, without timeouts. We see guys like Drew Brees, Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers do it all the time and sometimes they even run the ball.

There is no efficiency in this drive, no working the sidelines, no moving the chains. So here they are on 3rd and 2, and in this situation they chose to just try to get the first down on a short slant to Beasley.
As they were clearly not trying to hit a home run, why not have Murray in the backfield to give Romo more options, give the defense more to think about it or perhaps even give the ball to your running back, who has been averaging 7.3 yards-per-carry.The play itself features three deep routes, Witten on an “in” route and Beasley on his slant.Once again though, the routes of the other receivers don’t help clear the way for Beasley and, in point of fact, Witten’s route brings up a defender into the area Beasley is going into.Theoretically, the idea might have been that Witten pulls coverage with him in the opposite direction Beasley is going in while the vertical routes open up the sideline.Witten doesn’t run his pattern quick enough or Romo hurries the play. He certainly had time to let Beasley get a bit further on his route, enough time for Witten to pull his defender away.3rddwn_2Either way, the pass is deflected by White again and the Cowboys are forced to punt.Not even 30 seconds have elapsed. The Saints get the ball back on their own 31 yard line with 53 seconds left and then show the Cowboys how to run an efficient offense.Sure, they have timeouts to burn, but they attack the inside, don’t get cute and concentrate on picking up yards.If you give Brees a minute and three timeouts, you get this.SprolesTD4If you want to know what the tipping point for this game was, folks you’re looking at it.Although there is a strong argument to be made that poor playcalling and obvious formations by the Cowboys in the plays leading up to the Saints’ last first half possession played their part.Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

Chalkboard: Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings’ Run Blocking

ADCoverThere’s no doubt that Adrian Peterson is one of the greatest running backs of all time and we saw more evidence of that Thursday night against Washington.

As good as Peterson can be though, he’s even better when his offensive line is blocking. During long stretches of Thursday night’s game, that wasn’t the case, but really that just highlighted how good he was.

And how much more impressive he is when the blocking is there.

Today, we’ll break down two of Peterson’s big runs from Thursday night.

18-yard Touchdown Run, 5:17 1st Quarter

This run was largely one which happened because of Peterson’s speed and elusiveness. Once he was at the second level, tacklers just couldn’t get a bead on him.

That said, for several runs prior to this Peterson had been struggling because the offensive line just couldn’t make the blocks he needed.

On this play, he got the sort of support he got more frequently during his 2012 NFL campaign.

Peterson lined up well in the backfield with fullback Jerome Felton set forward and to his right and quarterback Christian Ponder under center.

Tight end John Carlson and receiver Greg Jennings are also to Peterson’s right—the formation is heavily weighted right.

ADTDrunpresnapAt the snap, as announcer Mike Mayock mentions, center John Sullivan steps forward to engage the defensive lineman directly in front of him.

ADTDrun1stblockThere are a few things also worthy of note but not brought up on the broadcast. The left side of the line—left tackle Matt Kalil and backup center/guard Joe Berger do an excellent job sealing off the rush on that side and clearing the run lane.

Wide receiver Jerome Simpson (near the bottom of the screen) also gets out and sets up a nice block.

Sullivan passes off the defender he initially engages in to right guard Brandon Fusco, then steps out to pick up an incoming linebacker, Perry Riley.

ADTDrunLaneBoth sides of the line do a really nice job creating space, though Peterson himself shows off his vision and ability to “get small” in order to get through the sliver of space in front of him.

Once he gets to the second level, Peterson cuts the run outside to his left and turns on his speed. A few bad angles by tacklers later and he’s chalking up his eighth touchdown.

16-yard Run, :41 1st Quarter

Another solid example of good blocking came at the close of the 1st quarter.

The Vikings were on their own 43-yard line on second down with five yards to go.

Peterson had just caught a pass for five yards and the Vikings were driving down the field attempting to respond to a Washington touchdown.

AD16ydrunpresnap

The Vikings went four wide, spreading the defense and trying to keep them from stacking eight or nine men in the box in case Paterson ran. Peterson is the lone back, with no blockers or anyone else in the backfield save Ponder, who is in the shotgun.

Spreading the defense out gives the offensive line a better advantage in numbers—with receivers on either side of the line going out, there will only be the front four of Washington’s 4-3 clogging up running lanes.

The linebackers will probably initially hold off to drop into coverage, only stepping up when Peterson is well on his way to the hole.

AD16ydpostsnap1

As you can see after the snap, the offensive line does a great job of holding off the pass rush, save for Sullivan who has a little bit of an issue with his buddy from the touchdown run, Perry Riley.

Save for that, though, you can see that the line is firing out and has the defensive line on it’s heels. And since the defense was spread out, there is a spare offensive lineman—guard Brandon Fusco.

As you can see on the screen-capture, Fusco immediately gets to the second level and is in perfect position to throw a block at either of the linebackers there—both of whom are still hesitating to make sure the hand-off really happens and isn’t a play-action.

You can also see receiver Greg Jennings just off the left tackle, moving out as if going on a route. That holds a linebacker in place but also will allow Jennings to block for Peterson momentarily.

AD16ydpostsnap3

Sullivan shoves Riley out of the play as Peterson heads to the “6” hole, just off the right tackle, where receiver Joe Webb is blocking as well.

Note that Fusco and Jennings are now about to engage the linebackers in preparation for when Peterson reaches the second level.

As it stands, there is nobody in position to stop him the running back from doing so either.

AD16ydpostsnap4

Once Peterson gets through the hole, the blocking up ahead by Fusco and Jennings—as well as the receivers on the far edges of the play—allow him to have multiple choices and angles to take the ball.

This is where Peterson is most dangerous, at the second level with open space. He’s a pain to bring down at or behind the line but when he has space and speed he’s an absolute nightmare.

AD16ydpostsnap5

With a safety coming up to fill the gap to his right, Peterson wisely follows his blockers, which gives them about six more yards before he is brought down.

There’s a lot that Peterson can do on his own, but the difference between when he has to, versus when he has solid blocking is phenomenal.

When the Vikings offensive line can fire out and hit their blocks, Peterson goes from “dangerous” to “potentially lethal to the opposition.”

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

 

 

Chalkboard: How Andy Dalton Got Sacked in OT against Miami

DaltonSafetyCoverWhile it’s been a week since the Miami Dolphins upset the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday Night Football, a lot of the actual game has been lost in the tumult of the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin imbroglio.

The play we’re looking at today is the one which ended the game—the sack by Cam Wake of Andy Dalton in overtime.

This had not been Dalton’s best game—all the more shocking given the tear he had been on the previous few weeks. Dalton seemed out of sync with his receivers, held the ball too long and made some very poor decisions when he did get the ball out.

The Dolphins did an excellent job keeping him under pressure.

In overtime of the 20-20 game, the Dolphins had pinned the Bengals back on their own eight yard line. Dalton had thrown two incomplete passes before the final play. Miami brought five pass rushers on the first play, but only three on second down, choosing instead to blanket the receivers.

After two failed passes, Dalton was faced with a 3rd-and-10 in his own end—not the best situation to be in. We can debate the wisdom of the first two plays all we want—personally I think they were questionable at best—but regardless, the Bengals were in a hole.

The Bengals, having to throw, set up with four receivers wide and Cedric Peerman the lone running back.

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Meanwhile, the Dolphins aren’t trying to hide anything—they’re coming for Dalton, hard. He’s going to need to get the ball out quickly if he’s to avoid a fatal sack.

On top of that, the secondary is largely playing well off the receivers. They don’t care about the short pass on 3rd-and-long—they don’t want to get beat deep.

In the end the Dolphins only rush five, but the Bengals’ offensive line is immediately on its heels.

Wake slides over to engage with second year guard Kevin Zeitler.

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Zeitler holds him up for a moment—

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—but then lets Wake break inside.

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Instead of controlling and maneuvering Wake where he wants him to go, he allows Wake to dictate where his path will be. Leaning into the block as Zeitler does, he lacks the leverage to hold Wake and on top of it, he hasn’t shifted with Wake and is no longer in front of him.

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Since we don’t know the call and responsibilities on the field it’s hard to kill Zeitler too much—he might have expected help from Peerman, who stepped up to the right to hold off another incoming Dolphin.

However, his technique looks pretty shoddy and he was just plain overmatched by the quicker and stronger Wake.

Meanwhile, Dalton may have very little time to react to all this, but he compounds Zeitler getting beat in several ways.

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First of all, Dalton is very clearly looking left for either A.J. Green or Mohamed Sanu.

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It’s probably Green, since Sanu is open very quickly and Dalton is obviously waiting for whomever he is looking at to break free—Green is well covered during the play. On top of it his route takes him right into the teeth of the coverage covering tight end Jermaine Gresham.

It’s safe to assume that perhaps the read is Sanu and that Green and Gresham are supposed to clear coverage out. Again though, this play needs to come off quickly and Dalton needs to see up front that there is no way he will have the time to wait for that play to develop.

postsnapYou can see Dalton is sacked and all three receivers are still covered.

While he’s staring Green down, he’s also missing Marvin Jones open across the middle.

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It could be that by the time Jones really got separation that Dalton is already about to get creamed by Wake, but I question the logic of going deep—a pattern you have to wait on—when you’re at your own eight yard line in an obvious passing situation.

It seems to me—and of course, this is speculation—that Dalton would see Wake and the Dolphins preparing tobring the house and adjust to a quicker route.

Get the first and keep going down the field. You have time, there’s no need to go for it all.

Of course, we can ask a similar question of offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. You have six minutes. Why go for it all on every down?

This was one of the worst series of play selections I saw all weekend and I still can’t figure why anyone would call the plays Gruden did in that position.

The second, and more important point is, Dalton cannot take that sack. Even if he thought he was out of the end zone, he has to get rid of the ball or move out of the pocket.

He has a second—albeit a split-second—where he can step to his right and stretch the play out.

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Instead he turtles and gives up the sack.

The best case scenario is you end up punting from the one. The field position—and here again is the problem I have with the play selection—is going to be great for the Dolphins.

You can’t do that in overtime. You just can’t.

Well, you can—but it ends much like it did in this game.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

Chalkboard: Packers Jordy Nelson’s 76-yard Touchdown Highlights Chemistry with Aaron Rodgers

Bromance! Rodgers and Nelson are a match made in NFL production heaven. (image via SI.com)

It’s taken place quietly, but this season has shown the NFL that there are few—if any—better quarterback/wide receiver combinations in the NFL than the Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson.

That was on constant display Sunday night when the Packers—minus three key pieces in Jermichael Finley, Randall Cobb and James Jones—took the field and appeared to have not even missed a beat.

Yes, props need to go to Jarrett Boykin and Myles White, two players who were an afterthought going into the season and Eddie Lacy, who has given this team a legitimate ground game.

Still, it was Nelson who Rodgers looked too most in the game and Nelson who caught all but one pass thrown his way.

Rodgers knows where Nelson is, where he will be and that if he puts the ball anywhere near Nelson, the receiver will catch it. We saw it all day Sunday, just as we have all season.

Nelson’s 76-yard touchdown in the second quarter was a great example of all of the above, but also featured an interesting defensive shift which Rodgers saw and was able to take advantage of.

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The play takes pace on a 3rd-and-6 in the second quarter with the game tied 10-10.

The Packers set up with four wide receivers and just fullback John Kuhn in the backfield. White is in the slot (or “Y”) position, while Boykin is lined up at flanker (or the “Z”). Both are off the line of scrimmage.

On the far side (top of the picture), tight end Andrew Quarless is lined up at split end (or “X”). Jordy Nelson is lined up on the line in the spot where the tight end would normally be, which might be part of the reason why the pass works so well.

The Vikings are lining up in their 4-3, despite defensive end Everson Griffin up and walking around. He eventually settles inside, though he remains upright without his hand in the dirt.

NelsonTDGBroutesAs Rodgers snaps the ball, all four receivers head out on routes, as well as Kuhn. The Packers keep nobody back to help protect Rodgers so the line has to hold up and Rodgers needs to get the ball out as soon as possible.

Kuhn runs a screen while Quarless clears out the cornerback with a short slant in. Boykin runs a post route while White goes underneath with a short slant.

Nelson also appears to run a post, though his cut is very shallow, so he might have been running a go and just adjusted to Rodgers as he ran.

NelsonTDMINstuntMeanwhile, when the ball is snapped the Vikings run what I call a “ripple stunt.” A regular old stunt is when two players on the defense (usually defensive linemen but sometimes they involve linebackers or defensive backs) trade roles in the hopes that the offense will be confused, making it easier for the defenders to beat them and get after the quarterback.

This particular stunt is what’s sometimes referred to as cross-rushing—when a defensive lineman drops back and a linebacker charges forward hoping to take the offensive line by surprise.

I call this a ripple stunt because it involves three players in a sort of waterfall effect.

Griffin drops back to the linebacker position while strongside linebacker Chad Greenway shifts to the right and middle linebacker Erin Henderson blitzes. If you’re wondering where the other outside linebacker is, it looks as though he was replaced on this play with an extra defensive back. No. 35, Marcus Sherels is lined up across from White and blitzes.

Which is a gamble anyway because it leaves White completely uncovered. If Sherels doesn’t get to Rodgers in time—and he doesn’t—Rodgers has an outlet for the first down anyway.

It’s not a bad stunt as far as gambles go, but it has one (other) fatal flaw.

NelsonTD3Looking at the left side of the above screen-capture, you can see how far Greenway has to go to get in position to cover Nelson.

All things being equal, Greenway does a good job getting over to Nelson, though his momentum is moving in the wrong direction and his back is to Rodgers.

Still, he’s where he is supposed to be.

Here’s where that remarkable chemistry between Rodgers and Nelson comes in.

Nelson knows he essentially has Greenway beat. He knows the ball will be coming quickly and he has to be ready.

Meanwhile, Rodgers likely read the coverage shift as soon as the snap went off (assuming this isn’t something he saw in film study last week) and loved the mismatch of a linebacker on Nelson. He also knows that the sooner he gets the ball into Nelson’s hand, the better.

So Rodgers gets the ball out quickly and Nelson is ready for it when it rips past Greenway’s ear.

Because Greenway’s momentum is going the wrong direction, he loses precious moments as he tries to adjust.

Meanwhile, Nelson accelerates and few bad angles and missed tackles later, he’s in the end zone.

This was just one example of the synergy that Nelson and Rodgers have. The first touchdown Nelson caught was much the same sort of throw—pinpoint accurate and on a rope.

Rodgers knows he can throw it that way to Nelson because he knows Nelson will make that catch happen 99 times out of 100.

As for the Vikings, this is the sort of gamble which can pay off big but when it goes wrong, it really stings. While the real kill-shot was probably the 93-yard punt return touchdown by Mycah Hyde two minutes later, this was the play which really seemed to open up things for the Packers’ offense.

In a close game a gamble like that can turn things in your favor. In this case, it started an avalanche of momentum that spelled doom for the Vikings.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.