Sunday rewind: Week 13

The National Football Post’s Matt Bowen takes a look back at some of Sunday’s key Week 13 action in the NFL — breaking down the action from a scheme and game-plan perspective.

Game planning the Vikings

Watching the Cardinals on both sides on the ball last night was impressive from a scheme perspective. On defense, the Cards, who can be a heavy pressure team, used a variety of coverages in the back end with success employing a four-man rush. ‘Zona often dropped seven, and even eight at times, into coverage. They played Cover 2, 2-man, Cover 1, Cover 1 Robber (rover in middle of the field) and variety of combo coverages (essential double) on the slot with Percy Harvin. Brett Favre struggled because the Cardinals were able to take away throwing lanes and take away options in the passing game by their ability to switch coverage schemes and give him so many different looks. Plus, you add in a front four that was able to get to Favre without sending extra pressure, using stunts up front like the Tex (DT and DE stunt) and the pure speed rush on the outside, which negated Favre’s ability to keep plays alive. Great game plan.

On the other side of the ball, Arizona did what we should have expected. It used the running back to create a six-man protection, scanning him to DE Jared Allen’s side, and essentially used a double-team when they released the back into the route, using the tackle to set on Allen and the guard to help on any inside pass rush move from the Pro Bowl-bound DE. By doing this, QB Kurt Warner was able to exploit the major weakness of the Vikings -- their secondary. They can’t match up with Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald without help from the pass rush.

Arizona looked like a team that was much more prepared than Minnesota to play because it installed a game plan earlier in the week and executed last night.

Roy on the goal line

Roy Williams showed up on Sunday, and despite Dallas’ loss to New York due to giving up big plays late, I like what the Cowboys did with him in the red zone. Like Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson or even Terrell Owens, Williams can be huge near the goal line if the Cowboys run the right routes. What we expect to see in these situations is either the one-step fade or the three-step slant — and Williams scored on both. Everyone runs the goal line fade, but with Williams, you have a receiver who can beat press coverage in that area of the field and has the size to go up over smaller corners at the point of attack. On the slant, even with the play action, a corner like Corey Webster isn’t physical enough to cut off Williams with a hard inside release. The Cowboys need to stay with this for the month of December, because Williams gives them that advantage on the goal line. He doesn’t have the top-end speed or lateral quickness like some of the league’s best, but he can be effective in that area of the field if he’s used the right way.

The Saints target Landry

Outside of the some of the most unconventional plays I’ve seen in a while that it took for New Orleans to win a football game, I want to take a look at how Saints coach Sean Payton game planned LaRon Landry on two big scoring plays. Landry is an aggressive safety who likes to drive from top down on inside-breaking routes for the Redskins. He has an explosive burst out of his back-pedal, and when he can get to a comfortable depth on the field, he can make plays when he breaks on the football. But this is the exact reason he was beaten twice for huge plays Sunday.

On the first TD, a 43-yard pass to Marques Colston, Landry was playing Cover 2 — dropping to his landmark on the top of the numbers — and broke downhill when Colston sold the deep Dig Route (which breaks at 15 yards). Landry plants and drives to cut off the route, but Colston turns up field. It’s a classic way to beat an aggressive safety in Cover 2. On the second TD, a 53-yard pass to Robert Meachem, we saw almost the same double move, this time with Landry in a Cover 4 — or Quarters look. Meachem stems inside (which usually tells the safety that an inside breaking route is coming), stutters his feet and goes up field—splitting Landry and the corner. These are the types of plays that are designed to scheme one player from film study. A perfect example of how game planning comes into effect on Sundays, and how coaches pick and choose whom they want to exploit.

The Steelers don’t make plays

The most eye-opening stat I saw on Sunday night was that of the Steelers’ six losses, five came after they held a fourth-quarter lead. That’s shocking, given the defense this team has and the schemes it runs on defense, which put players in position to make plays. That’s why the Steelers zone blitz, and that’s why they overload protection schemes — as it forces quarterbacks to throw the ball where Pittsburgh wants it to go. But the results aren’t there, and yesterday was a perfect example. Raiders QB Bruce Gradkowski threw the ball 33 times — with no picks. Now, we all know there were opportunities for the Steelers to close this game out on the final drive, but the fact remains that this defense isn’t making the plays that need to be made in order for their defensive scheme to be successful. You must get pressure on the QB, and the ball must come out quickly in Dick LeBeau’s scheme — and when it does, the secondary has to make plays on the football for the defense to be successful and produce the turnovers it demands.

Tennessee in the red zone

The Titans played well enough on both sides of the ball to win, but when their offense watches the tape today and sees what they did in the red zone, they’ll be sick. Tennessee went 2 for 5 in the red zone, and against a team like Indy, you can’t leave points on the field — because Peyton Manning will take advantage of missed opportunities. Indy was able to penetrate the line of scrimmage near the goal line in the run game, and when Vince Young did drop back to pass, they played a nice mixture of Cover 2 and man defense. We can talk about Chris Johnson’s production or the fact that Tennessee put up a bigger number than Manning and the Colts in total yards, but the key to winning in December is scoring touchdowns in the red zone, and when the field shrinks, it becomes a lot tougher for offenses to score. Routes have to broken at shorter distances, and the holes to throw into out on the field are gone because of the end line — that acts as a 12th defender for the defense. This is what cost the Titans a chance to keep talking about a post season run — and poor red-zone football always gets you beat at this level.

The Pats’ D

Does anyone feel threatened by the Patriots secondary right now? As usual in the NFL, teams spend the majority of Monday night, Tuesday and Wednesday game planning for their next opponent, and that tape of the Pats-Saints game is being passed around the league right now — and it’s exposing the Patriots. Miami had no issues with challenging that secondary, and this is another game that will be on tape for teams to see. New England’s defensive front does not impress me, nor does its secondary, and teams are realizing that you can beat the Patriots by challenging their secondary, which doesn’t tackle well and right now is very suspect when it comes to competing against receivers. Bill Belichick is going to have to make some scheme adjustments down the stretch and create pressure, create turnovers and create opportunities for his guys to make plays. Because they look very beatable — and no one is going to stop challenging them until they get it corrected.

The Alex Smith decision

I’m very curious to see what the Niners have in store for the quarterback position this offseason. Is it time to use a high draft pick on a QB, or does this franchise stay with Alex Smith and build the talent around him with draft picks? I’m still on the fence when it comes to Smith, only because I want to see that dominant drive, or a fourth quarter where he takes over — like a franchise QB. Smith has the tools of a pro QB: He can throw the deep out, he can throw the ball through tight windows down the seam, and he has athletic ability in the pocket. The only issue I have with him is consistency, as he goes from hot to cold from one series to the next. I agree that he’s the best QB for the Niners right now, but with a loss that has basically knocked them out of the playoffs, the next four weeks will be big for him from an evaluation standpoint — and should forecast his future with this organization.

The Vick factor

Do we see more of Michael Vick in December — and January? I’m not going to get overly excited about his return to Atlanta against a team that’s lost without its franchise QB, but the opportunities are there — especially in the red zone and in third-and-short situations where the Eagles aren’t very good. Why not uses more of Vick in the spread option — the same offense we see with Tim Tebow at Florida. Instead of using Donovan McNabb in the sprint-out game — which every defense expects from this team in third-down situations — or the backside slant to the “X” receiver, use Vick creatively. If anything, you put that on tape and force defenses to waste valuable practice and meeting time installing a defense to stop it. There is a place for the spread option at this level if you have the personnel to run it — just like the wildcat.

Follow me on Twitter: MattBowen41

To read about who may win the muddled AFC East, check out this article from Bleacher Report.

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