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If we want to talk about true open field speed in the NFL, then we have to go back to last night’s Falcons-Steelers game to check out Antonio Brown. The Steelers WR took a deep dig route, turned up field and ran past this Atlanta defense for a 77-yard score.
Today, let’s look a little closer at this play; discuss the route scheme, coverage and see why speed still sells in this league. Check out the replay and then we will break it down.
Route scheme/ WR Split: Focus on Brown here and check out his split. With a WR aligned on top of the numbers, the defense has to play for both inside and outside breaking routes. However, once Brown releases with a vertical stem, what you are going to get is one of two routes: post or dig. Here, Brown breaks off the dig at a depth of 15-yards in front of the FS.
Coverage: Base Cover 3 out of Nickel personnel for the Falcons. A 5-under, 3-deep zone concept with the CBs playing outside leverage. Run the dig at the proper depth to give Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger a throwing lane over the top of the underneath zone droppers.
CB play: In the Cover 3 defense, the CBs are taught to drive hard to the hip of the WR on any inside breaking routes. That’s exactly what Atlanta gets on this play from Brent Grimes (using a “bail” technique). And on a ball that is isn’t perfect from Roethlisberger, I can’t fault Grimes from cutting in front of the WR and trying to make the play. But you still have to come up with the ball if you are going to take that risk.
Angle to the ball: I talk about angles often when breaking down secondary play in the NFL, and this is no different. Check out the FS on the replay. As a deep middle of the field defender, you want to drive downhill on the dig at an angle that puts you on the up-field shoulder of the receiver. The last thing you want to do is track the ball, as that will put you in a position where you can’t make a tackle. Exactly what we see here–and that opens up the running lane for Brown.
The rest of this play? Just pure top end speed from Brown. Nothing complicated here. A route we see in every NFL playbook vs. a base defense that’s installed on the first day of camp. But when technique and angles break down vs. speed, we are going to see big plays.
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