Breaking down Calvin Johnson in the red zone

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With all of the talk surrounding the Lions this offseason, let’s take some time today to breakdown Calvin Johnson and the Detroit offense in the red zone using video to discuss technique and scheme.

Let’s set it up. 4th down situation, down five points in the red zone. The Lions have their Posse personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB) on the field vs. the Redskins Nickel sub package (5 DBs) showing pressure from their pre-snap alignment. Check out the video replay and then we will get into some coaching points on why the ball was going to Johnson before the ball was even snapped.

Coaching points:

Johnson’s pre-snap alignment: The Lions WR is in the slot of a 3x1 formation to the field. From a defensive perspective, this should immediately tell you that something is up. When a No.1 WR is aligned inside of the numbers, he is there for a reason—to get the ball. A specific route scheme designed to create a favorable matchup for the offense. No different than what I saw during my career with Terrell Owens and the Eagles. Put him in the slot and get him open.

Calvin Johnson ICONDetroit's Calvin Johnson.

The route scheme: What are we looking at here? Five-man route with the RB releasing to the open (weak) side flat. As we said above, the ball is going to Johnson on the “nod” route (vertical release, stick inside, carry the route up the seam), but outside of that, this is nothing more than a slant-flat concept. Expect pressure in a 4th and 1 situation and run quick, 3-step routes where the ball can come out if the QB is under pressure.

The coverage: This looks like a Cover 2 shell with the safeties playing the deep half, but look at the CBs after the snap. They play a “soft squat” or what I call “Gold.” It is a trap coverage to take away any 3-step route to the flat (think option, flat, out) with the safeties playing the vertical release of No.1 top down—almost like off-man coverage. Sets up perfectly for the slant-flat combo we see here. The issue? The Nickel CB, Carlos Rogers, now has to play Johnson with no help in a “solo” technique.

CB technique: This is pretty solid coverage from Rodgers. Plays with inside leverage, stays on top of the WR through the “stick” move and is able to play the pocket once the ball is thrown. Only suggestion I have? As a DB, when you use the “baseball turn” back to the middle of the field, you can get out of phase with the WR. That’s what happens here with Rogers. Instead, keep your leverage, stay in contact with the WR and don’t flip your hips.

Stafford’s throw: Let your guy make a play. That’s what I see here. We can talk about ball placement from the Lions QB (thrown low and to the inside), but this is more about taking the best player on the field and giving him a one-on-one matchup. Create an opportunity to beat the defender in the red zone in a crucial situation of the game.

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