Let’s take a look back at the Sunday action in the NFL. Ten things that stood out, some X’s and O’s, plus game balls to hand out and some quick extra points.
Ten things that stood out in Week 3…
1. The Atlanta game plan
The game plan put together by offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey is a perfect example of why Atlanta can be a player in the NFC South. We will see the spread sets, TE Tony Gonzalez aligned as a receiver removed from the core of the formation and the weapons QB Matt Ryan has on the outside. But this offense is built on the running game. Just like we saw with the Saints on Monday in San Fran, their defensive front has issues with basic downhill runs—and Atlanta exploited that. Power O, Counter OF, the Lead Open and Lead Strong. Two backs in Michael Turner and Jason Snelling who can break tackles, use their vision and make plays in the cut back game. The Falcons rush for 202-yards on 50 carries as a team.
2. Vick continues to play good football
ICONVick continues to play at a high level for Andy Reid's Eagles.
Eagles QB Michael Vick looks confident—and you can see the results in his play. Active in the pocket, but not rushed. His feet look good, he is squaring his shoulders on his throws, and going through his entire route progression. Can’t deny the numbers right now: 17-31-298-3TDs and 30 yards with another TD on the ground. We should talk about his stat line, but the play that sticks out to me was when Vick hit WR Jeremy Maclin on the comeback for the TD. Maclin was Vick’s last read—on the backside of the formation. The Philly QB stood in the pocket, showed some patience and came all the way to the backside to make a play.
3. The Colts’ WRs
Let’s take a minute to talk about the Colts’ offensive route tree. Every WR—and TE—has to be able to run the basic concepts: the 5-yard china, the smash, the deep 15-yard dig, the 7 (or flag), the seam and the 9 (or fade). Run those routes out of two personnel groupings: Ace (2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB) and Posse (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB). WR Austin Collie is no different. Steps in for the injured Pierre Garcon, and with Broncos’ CB Champ Bailey playing over the top of Reggie Wayne, the Colts featured Collie in the game plan. Manning throws for 325-yards and 3 TDs and Collie catches 12 passes for 172-yards and 2 TDs. Nothing new.
4. Carson Palmer continues to struggle
The Bengals are bad on offense right now and it starts at the QB position. Simple throws, the 3-step game, the out route, the underneath crossers. Basics, like the slant route, look poorly executed. Palmer does not look comfortable and he doesn’t seem to have any rhythm with Terrell Owens or Chad Ochocinco. You can get away with that against a Carolina team that is in trouble after 3 weeks, but that won’t sell going forward in the AFC North. I like the Bengals because of their defense and the amount of carries RB Cedric Benson can handle on Sundays, but you still need to make plays in the passing game.
5. The Cowboys’ game plan
ICONWilliams caught two TD passes in the balanced Cowboys' game plan.
This is what wins. Forget the 51 passes that Tony Romo threw last week. The Cowboys were much more balanced and we could see it in their production. 27 plays on the ground and 30 passes. Romo was great in the 3-step game, took advantage of the Texans’ Cover 2 looks and Roy Williams (5-117-2TDs) came to play outside of the numbers. The weapons are there, and when offensive coordinator Jason Garrett can be balanced in his play calling, this offense will score points.
6. Cassel and the 3-0 Chiefs
Make some plays. That is what I have been looking for out of QB Matt Cassel. The first two weeks of the season, the Chiefs’ QB didn’t have good numbers and this club was relying on big plays in the kicking game and on defense to win games. Cassel throws for 250-yards and 3 TDs in the Chiefs 31-10 win over San Fran. He has options in Charlie Weis’ offensive scheme with Dexter McCluster, plus the running game of Jamal Charles and Thomas Jones. The numbers just have to stay consistent for the 3-0 Chiefs.
7. Keller and the Jets
I like what the Jets are doing with TE Dustin Keller. They can align him as the X receiver on the backside of a 3×1 formation and he is a big part of their play action game. And, let’s not forget about the red zone where he can get the matchups we saw in the Jets 31-23 win over the Dolphins. This is big for QB Mark Sanchez as it gives him a real option in the middle of the field and outside the numbers—where Keller can use his athletic ability to run the 7 route, out route and double moves. 6 receptions for 98-yards and 2 TDs are big numbers for a tight end in any scheme.
8. Bad special teams
San Diego: can’t give up two kickoff returns for touchdowns. A perfect example of poor tackling, players getting out of their lanes and guys not getting off of blocks.
New Orleans: can’t miss filed goals in OT against divisional opponents. Garrett Hartley missed the kick that should have sent the Saints to 3-0.
Oakland: the same as New Orleans. Bruce Gradkowski gets this team in position to kick a field goal to win it in the 4th quarter down in Arizona. But, Sebastian Janikowski pushes it right—his third miss of the day.
9. Charlie Batch and the deep ball
ICONBatch and the Steelers are 3-0.
Mike Wallace caught TD passes of 41 and 46-yards and Batch threw 3 total TDs in the 38-13 win over Tampa. The deep ball forces the defense to walk that SS back out of the box, play some 7-man fronts and open the running game up for the offense. Look at the numbers: Rashard Mendenhall goes for 143-yards and a TD and the Steelers as a team rush for over 200-yards. Connecting on those deep balls causes defensive coordinators to panic—and start playing coverage.
10. Vince Young and the Titans
Nothing flashy, but after getting the hook last week, V.Y came back and did exactly what the game plan told him to. He didn’t force passes or make poor decisions with the football. 10-16 for 118-yards and a TD. We might see better numbers from a QB in an option offense in college, but when you can use RB Chris Johnson (32-125-2 TDs) and make some plays on 3rd down there is no reason to over analyze the Titans. This is how they win football games.
X’s and O’s…
Patriots' Ace Personnel: We talked about Ace Personnel above (2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB), and I like what New England can do out of this personnel grouping. Get rookie TEs Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski on the field, continue to run the various 2-man routes on the outside with WRs Randy Moss and Wes Welker, plus use the entire playbook of one-back runs. Expect to see more of this moving forward—tons of options.
Cowboys on the goal line: On Marion Barber’s TD run, the Cowboys had Jumbo personnel on the field (3 TE, 2 RB) and used TE Jason Witten in pre-snap motion to set up the “Power I” look in the backfield. What do you run out of that? The same thing we all ran in high school—the double-lead Iso. Downhill with two lead blockers on the linebackers. Classic football.
ICONThe Saints' Lance Moore.
Lance Moore burns the Falcons: This is great play to talk about. The Saints are in their Posse personnel vs. the Falcons nickel Cover 3. Align in empty and run “999” (four verticals out of 3×1/ 3×2 set). By sending No.3 to the FS and the CB trying to split No.1 and No.2 down the field in a 3-deep scheme, there is a hole in the defense. Moore stems his route away from the CB and catches the ball with no one in position to make a play. 80-yard TD on a scheme designed to beat that exact coverage.
Brandon Lloyd’s TD: Great scheme to talk about—again against a 3-deep look. The Broncos have Ace personnel in the game, and align with a slot to the field. The No.2 WR runs a deep post at the FS and carries it across the field, while Lloyd runs a deep double-move (Dig and up). What this does is force the FS to choose. Stay short on the post or flip his hips and run with Lloyd? The FS stopped his feet, and with the CB playing with outside leverage, the WR can go for a 48-yard TD.
Miami’s final play: Need a play to try and extend the game on fourth down. But, Miami runs the simple 5-yard TE option route? Was expecting to see the Dolphins get Brandon Marshall in a stack or bunch look where they could eliminate safety help and avoid press coverage at the line of scrimmage. There has to be a better option in the Dolphins' playbook in that situation.
Game balls to hand out…
Leon Washington, Seattle: Two kickoff returns for TD (101-yards/ 99-yards). Big plays as the Seahawks go to 2-1.
ICON160-yards and two TDs for A.P.
Adrian Peterson, Vikings: 160-yards on 23 carries and 2 TDs. Peterson is the offense for Minnesota right now.
DeMarcus Ware, Cowboys: 6 tackles and 3 sacks in the Cowboys first win of the season. The Dallas’ OLB linebacker was disruptive all day.
Austin Collie, Colts: As we talked about above, Collie was the No. 1 target for Peyton Manning. 12 receptions, 172 yards and 2 TDs in the Indy win.
Anquan Boldin, Ravens: 8 receptions, 142-yards and 3 TDs for a Ravens team that comes back to beat Cleveland.
Quick extra points…
– More interceptions for Brett Favre. Did throw a TD pass vs. a blown coverage in the Lions’ secondary, but now has 6 INTs in three games. Bad football.
– That is a big win for Steve Spagnuolo and the Rams at home over the Redskins. Closing out games is part of the learning curve for a young team.
– What is going on with Mike Singletary’s 49ers? They were physical pushed around by the Chiefs and are sitting in the basement of the NFC West at 0-3.
– Every time I see Kyle Orton play in Josh McDaniels’ offense I am impressed. 476-yards, a TD and an INT in the loss to Indy.
– Texans’ RB Adrian Foster reminds me of Eddie George when we talk about running style. High knees and power when he takes on defenders.
– Jimmy Clausen’s first start? Average. He played better as the game progressed, but with no real receiving options outside of Steve Smith, the former Irish QB will have to lean on the running game. Goes 16-33 for 188-yards and an INT.
– The Giants? Not much to say right now. Two straight bad losses.
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