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.

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