Posts by Matt Bowen

Why you should embrace the NFL combine

There is an overwhelming opinion that the NFL scouting combine is a wasted step in the long and tiresome draft process.

I can see why that opinion could exist—to a degree.

NFL CombineThe NFL scouting combine is

There is an overwhelming opinion that the NFL scouting combine is a wasted step in the long and tiresome draft process.

I can see why that opinion could exist—to a degree.

NFL CombineThe NFL scouting combine is a three day job interview for rookie prospects.

Rookie prospects testing on the field in the 40-yard dash, short shuttle, vertical jump, etc. No pads. No game situations. Just guys running around in static drills that they train for months in advance.

Think about it. This is a take-home test. And prospects shell out big money (via their agents) to train at elite facilities around the country. The powerful start in the 40, the manicured steps in the short shuttle and the technique of the 3-Cone. That’s all practiced from the end of bowl season until now. Daily repetition designed to master these drills before they even count.

Those drills don’t tell us much about these prospects as football players. Nope. We get numbers from the combine. Numbers from guys in shorts. That’s it.

However, I still value the combine and see it as an important tool in the process.

I was gassed after the final drill inside of the RCA Dome back at the 2000 combine. My legs were tight, my back hurt from the turf and the stress of the three-day tour in Indy finally caught up with me. I was ready to get to the airport, head back to Iowa City and grab a Busch Light. Time to sit down for a minute. Heck, time to clear my mind.

The combine isn’t designed to be comfortable for these prospects. And it shouldn’t be. It’s a job interview. Remember that. Fly in and go through two days of interviews, bizarre written exams, medical testing, more interviews, the weigh-ins, bench-press, etc.

Then get ready to actually run on the third and final day in town.

That’s not easy. Trust me. These guys will be nervous when they set their hand down on the line, take a rehearsed stance and explode into the start of the 40-yard dash. Run hard. Run fast. That’s the goal. You get two chances to run the 40. So make them count. No stress there, right? And that can be applied to every drill on the field.

I don’t expect prospects to post their best times at the combine. That’s saved for the Pro Day when you can dress in your own locker room on campus and run in that comfortable environment. Easy work right there.

But not in Indy. No chance.

And that’s the reason I will always value the combine and the impact it has on rookie hopefuls. Put these prospects in an adverse situation and tell them to run, jump and do drills in front of the league’s top brass when they are stressed out and tired.

You can find out a lot about these guys in Indy. From the interviews to the workouts on the field, the NFL sends these young players through a series of tests. It’s a grind. A brutal grind at times. Just ask one of these prospects when the combine finally wraps up. They will tell you all about it.

And if I’m a scout, that’s exactly how I want it. Who can perform when the pressure is turned up in Indianapolis? We will find out soon…

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NFL combine: Five Senior Bowl prospects to watch

Before I head to Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine, I always go back and check out my notes from the Senior Bowl. Which players stood out? And who can boost their draft stock even more by testing well on the field in Indy?

Before I head to Indianapolis for the NFL scouting combine, I always go back and check out my notes from the Senior Bowl. Which players stood out? And who can boost their draft stock even more by testing well on the field in Indy?

Here are five prospects I will be watching during drills as the draft process rolls on at the combine:

Quinton PattonUS PRESSWIREAfter a solid week at the Senior Bowl, Patton can continue to drive his draft stock with a strong workout at the combine.

1. Quinton Patton, WR, Louisiana Tech: Patton was in the mix with a talented group of WRs down in Mobile that included Markus Wheaton (Oregon State), Chris Harper (Kansas State) and the speed of Marquise Goodwin (Texas). Patton ran smooth routes, showed the ability to win on the double-move and finished consistently down the field on the deep ball. Now I want to see him run and compete in drills at the combine. The 40-yard dash carries weight at the WR position. We all know that. And coming off his performance in front of scouts at the Senior Bowl, a strong workout can move the Louisiana Tech product up the board.

2. Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma: Luke Joeckel (Texas A&M) is projected to be the first OT off the board (possibly going No.1 overall) and Eric Fisher (Central Michigan) should be next in line this April. But don’t forget about Johnson. Talking with scouts at the Senior Bowl, the key with the Oklahoma product is the athletic ability he brings to the position. You could see that on the practice field with his footwork. In Indianapolis, Johnson has a great opportunity to showcase that athletic skill set during drills and possibly lock up a spot in the Top 15.

3. Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington: I always watch DBs closely in Mobile and Trufant was the best corner I saw on the field. Quick feet with the ability to open the hips and drive on the ball. Plus, he played with some swagger during one-on-one drills. Scouts will want to get a 40 time on Trufant and they will also grade his technique along with the ability to transition with speed. Corner is a prime position in the NFL and teams are always looking to make upgrades in the secondary. Trufant can earn some money at the combine.

4. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, BYU: There is no question the BYU product needs pro coaching. Watching him during one-on-one work at the Senior Bowl, the DE/OLB has to improve his technique at the point of attack and develop some counter moves outside of a speed rush. However, that will come once he starts to see reps in the NFL. And he has that raw talent clubs are looking for in an edge rusher. Ansah should post some impressive numbers at the combine.

5. Jonathan Cyprien, SS, FIU: The strong safety already has an NFL body, plays physical and had a good week in Mobile from my perspective. Scouts I talked to see Cyprien as an “in the box” player at the next level, but he will get the opportunity to display his range on deep ball drills at the combine. Remember, you don’t need 4.4 guys at the safety position. Anything in the 4.5 to 4.6 range sells when you find a safety that displays solid angles to the ball and shows some range from a deep middle of the field alignment. Let’s see how the FIU product compares to Kenny Vaccaro (Texas), Matt Elam (Florida) and Eric Reid (LSU) in Indianapolis.

Five more players that consistently showed up in my Senior Bowl notes…

– Marquise Goodwin, WR, Texas
– Brandon Williams, DT, Missouri Southern
– Larry Warford, OG, Kentucky
– Vance McDonald, TE, Rice
– Stepfan Taylor, RB, Stanford

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NFL combine: Time to answer some QB questions?

There are plenty of mixed opinions on the impact and the overall value of the NFL scouting combine. I get it. We will be talking about “measurables” for weeks (or months) after the combine, analyzing 40-yard dash times, the short shuttle, three-cone drill, etc.

There are plenty of mixed opinions on the impact and the overall value of the NFL scouting combine. I get it. We will be talking about “measurables” for weeks (or months) after the combine, analyzing 40-yard dash times, the short shuttle, three-cone drill, etc.

Geno SmithUS PRESSWIREGeno Smith and the rest of the top QB prospects will throw at the combine.

That’s before we get to the position work where these rookie prospects will go through stale (almost basic) drills that focus on footwork and technique. It doesn’t represent what you see on the tape and you can’t recreate game situations in shorts and Under Armour gear in Indianapolis.

But I still love the combine—because it puts stress on these prospects to work out and perform in front of the entire league.

I’ve been there myself as one of these rookie hopefuls back in 2000 at the combine (I will get into this more next week). You are tired, almost exhausted when this thing finally wraps up. It’s a grind.

Think of the combine as a job interview. Part of the process. Another tool for scouts, GMs, head coaches, etc. to evaluate your skill set.

And this year all of the QBs will be working out.

I like that. I like it a lot. And the reason is simple: I can’t tell you if there is a guy, a player in this class at the QB position that stands out.

When I was down in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, I asked three different scouts who had the best week of practice—and I got three different answers (Nassib, Glennon, Manuel).

In Indianapolis, Matt Barkley and Geno Smith will work out and throw on the field. That’s smart. Both QBs skipped out on the Senior Bowl and now we get to evaluate their footwork, arm strength, accuracy, mechanics, etc. when they throw the entire route tree at the combine.

Go out there, throw and try to connect with wide outs you have never seen before while the entire NFL is watching every move you make. Part of the challenge of producing at the combine.

This is an opportunity for Barkley, Nassib, Smith and the rest of the 2013 QB class to create some buzz about their skill sets. Go ahead. Turn some heads. Make teams go back and study more tape after a top tier workout and try to create some separation at the top of the class before the Pro Day circuit picks up.

And I’m excited to see them throw.

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NFL Playoffs revisited: Jones’ TD grab vs. Broncos

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Click here for the Cover 2 "cheat sheet."

Over the weekend I was asked a question on Twitter: what is the toughest route to defend? That’s an easy one for any

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Click here for the Cover 2 “cheat sheet.”

Over the weekend I was asked a question on Twitter: what is the toughest route to defend? That’s an easy one for any safety to answer: 4 Verticals. Why? Think of the stress the concept puts on Cover 2 (2-on-1 vs. the 2-deep safeties), Cover 3 (2-on-1 vs. the FS) or Cover 4 (SS, FS have to match and carry No.2 vertical from inside alignment).

Before we get into the All-22 tape and breakdown Joe Flacco’s last minute TD pass in regulation, here is a basic, static look at 4 Verts vs. Cover 2 on the chalkboard.

4 Verts vs. Cover 2: Posse Personnel (3WR-1TE-1RB)

Playbook

A couple of quick notes…

– I have both CBs playing a standard Tampa 2 technique: jam and sink. You want to take some stress off the safety (jam, re-route No.1) and allow the deep half player to stay on top of his landmark (top of the numbers). Force an inside release, sink and trail No.1 (until threatened in the flat).

– Why do you want to force the inside release? If your CBs play with a “soft squat” (no jam, sink at the snap) and allow the WR to take a hard, outside stem it can widen the safety off the top of the numbers landmark. That opens up a clear throwing lane to the inside seam (No.2).

-The Mike (MLB) will open his hips to the “passing strength” (two WR side or open side of the formation), carry No.2 and read the QB (flip the hips to come back to closed side of the formation).

– The safeties have to gain enough depth to play over the top of No.1 and overlap any throw to the middle of the field. Remember, you want to see downhill angles from your safeties in Cover 2.

Let’s move over to the All-22 and check out why Jones was able to get free vs. Denver’s Cover 2…

Ravens vs. Broncos
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles (2×2)
Route Concept: 4 Verts
Defensive Scheme: Cover 2

Playbook

– NFL offenses will run 4 Verts out of 2×2 alignment and a 3×1 alignment (called a “999” route with No.3 working back across the field). But given the game situation in Denver, this 2×2 alignment should be an automatic alert for 4 Verts from a defensive perspective. Both No.1 WRs will take an outside release (vs. a “soft squat” technique) with the TE and the open (weak) side slot WR pushing up the field on the inside seam routes. The RB will “check release” to the open side flat.

– The Broncos are playing Cover 2 out of their sub-package with a 3-Man rush. This looks similar to a scheme I call “Tent” of “Tent Robber” with the Mike (DB in the game) aligned deep off the ball and playing the inside vertical seam (alomst a 3-deep look). Both CBs will sink/trail under No.1 and the safeties will get depth.

Playbook

– This is where SS Rahim Moore gets into trouble. With Flacco stepping up in the pocket, the Broncos safety opens his hips to No.2 (TE). Remember, he has help vs. No.2 with the Mike playing to the inside of the TE. Moore needs to stay square in his pedal and continue to gain depth. This is all about angles. Maintain depth and put yourself in a position to play over the top of both No.1 and No.2.

Playbook

– Instead of taking a downhill angle on the throw (don’t break from the deep half until the QB throws the ball), Moore now has to flip his hips (called an open angle technique); transition and work back to No.1. That takes time and doesn’t allow Moore to create a positive angle to Jones on the deep 9 (fade) route.

Know the game situation

This is different than the chalkboard drawing I put up because the Broncos are protecting a lead late in the ball game with an opportunity to close it out. The dig, curl, comeback, etc. won’t beat you in this situaiton–but the deep ball will. No need to gamble or guess as a deep half safety. However, the techniques of the defense don’t change at the safety position when playing Cover 2 vs. 4 Verts.

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Can Rob Ryan bring immediate change to Saints?

Sit up straight. And bring a notebook.

ROB RYANUS PRESSWIRERob Ryan was hired for one reason: to fix the Saints' defense.

That’s my best advice for the members of the Saints' defense when they have their first

Sit up straight. And bring a notebook.

ROB RYANUS PRESSWIRERob Ryan was hired for one reason: to fix the Saints’ defense.

That’s my best advice for the members of the Saints’ defense when they have their first meeting under new coordinator Rob Ryan later this spring.

Schemes are one thing. Ryan will install a new playbook when the Saints start their offseason workout program and begin to prep for OTAs, etc. A switch to the 3-4 front and a secondary that will be asked to play more blitz-man with the multiple pressure packages Ryan carries in his Sunday game plan.

But that’s just chalkboard stuff. Xs and Os. Plenty of time to check out the Cowboys’ tape from the 2012 season and figure out where the Saints need to add personnel via free agency and throughout the long and tiresome draft process.

However, the players (the ones that survive offseason cuts) have to realize that Ryan was hired because they didn’t produce. That’s it. In a league based on winning games above anything else, this Saints’ defense didn’t play football at an acceptable standard.

And now Ryan is coming in to change that.

I’ve been there as a player. Twice actually. Way back in 2001 Lovie Smith was hired in St. Louis and in 2004 it was Gregg Williams in Washington. Two new coordinators brought in because our defense didn’t past the test the season before.

Lovie and Gregg are different in their personalities and how they approach the game, but the goal was the same: fix the defense.

That starts in the first meeting. There are new demands, new rules and a new sense of accountability in the defensive team meeting room. Everything is going to change. Get on board or get out. It’s that simple in pro ball.

Can there be immediate change in New Orleans with Ryan running the defense? Sure, that’s possible. And it could happen. Under Lovie and Gregg, our defenses played faster and produced at a much higher level after just one offseason.

The Saints will eventually get on the practice field after the draft and run around in shorts and helmets. A dress rehearsal until real jobs are won in camp when the pads go on.

But until then, those early meetings with Ryan will be key to developing a new style of defense in New Orleans. And the players have to be ready to buy into much more than just the schemes being drawn up on the chalkboard.

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NFL vets beware: the offseason cuts are coming

A phone call from an NFL head coach in February? Well, he isn’t calling to check in or ask about your family. Nope. That doesn’t happen in the pros.

Ahmad BradshawUS PRESSWIREThe Giants cut veteran RB Ahmad Bradshaw

A phone call from an NFL head coach in February? Well, he isn’t calling to check in or ask about your family. Nope. That doesn’t happen in the pros.

Ahmad BradshawUS PRESSWIREThe Giants cut veteran RB Ahmad Bradshaw on Wednesday.

You see, head coaches call veteran players after the season for only one reason: to let you go.

That’s right. You’re fired. Done. Finished. No more football for you in that city. Sit there on the phone for five to ten minutes and listen to the same speech that guys all over the league will hear this offseason.

The “tough” decision the coach had to make. Or the fact that the team “really values” your professional approach in the locker room. And maybe you will get the line that the club “might bring you back” later in the spring.

Sure, buddy. OK.

I’ve been there as a player—twice. And there is no perfect time for it.

Joe Gibbs called me up when I was getting off a plane in Vegas. And Dick Jauron let me know right as I was sitting down to eat dinner at my grandma’s house in Tampa (I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I just got fired).

And it’s already started again in the NFL. On Wednesday, the Giants cut Ahmad Bradshaw and earlier in the week other players were informed that their contracts—the ones they signed for multiple years—were terminated.

I knew it was coming both times in the offseason during my career. Fact is I didn’t play well enough nor did I stay healthy. Accountability. That’s what I call it in the NFL.

No excuses needed. That was the truth.

But it still stings when you glance down at your phone, see a number that’s not in your contact list and then check out the area code. Hey, if that area code matches the city you play in, well, it’s not good news. I can tell you that.

No one wants to get cut. Whether you are about to grab a taxi over to the MGM Grand in Vegas or eat a home cooked meal at grandma’s place down in Florida, the idea of becoming a free agent can cause a sense of panic.

I know it did for me.

You call your agent, start the waiting game of finding a new club, pack up and move—again. And that only happens if you get some interest on the market after the top tier free agents sign their new deals.

As I have said many times before, this is a tough, tough business. And it’s cold. Really cold. We aren’t even a week removed from the final game of the season and guys are already getting cut.

But I will say this: it’s part of the job as a pro. And if you play long enough, that call is coming at some point.

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Five NFL offseason storylines to keep an eye on

With the Ravens getting set to go through the parade circuit in Baltimore after their Super Bowl XLVII win, and the 2012 season behind us, here are five storylines to keep an eye on as the offseason begins. And there will be plenty more to get

With the Ravens getting set to go through the parade circuit in Baltimore after their Super Bowl XLVII win, and the 2012 season behind us, here are five storylines to keep an eye on as the offseason begins. And there will be plenty more to get into once the NFL scouting combine kicks off later this month in Indy.

1. The Revis situation: Can the Jets really trade away the NFL’s top player at the CB position? Of course they can. Given his age (he will be 28 at the start of the season), the ACL injury and the new money he wants, I can see why New York would look to make a move and try to maximize his value. Would I trade away Revis? Nope. Not in today’s game where secondary play is crucial. But remember this: players are independent contractors in the NFL. And they will follow the money. It’s not easy to find a sense of loyalty between the locker room and management in the offseason.

2. Manti Te’o’s draft stock: It’s time to look at Te’o the football player. We all know the story of the “hoax” and the former Irish LB will have to answer some tough questions when he interviews with teams at the combine. However, his workouts in Indy will carry some weight. I talked to a longtime NFL scout last night that called the LB’s game tape “excellent” outside of the BCS title game, expected Te’o to test well at the combine and run the 40-yard dash in the 4.65-4.7 range. And the majority of scouts I’ve talked to have Te’o graded as a mid-to-late first round prospect. Let’s see what he can do in front of the entire league at the combine later this month.

3. Flacco’s contract: I don’t think we can put Flacco in the same discussion with Brady, Rodgers or Brees, but look at the situation here. This is about opportunity. And in a contract year, the Ravens’ QB just put together a playoff run that is going to lead to legit money. $20-million a year? That’s a steep price. However, Flacco has leverage now after throwing 11 TDs and no interceptions on his way to scooping up a ring and the Super Bowl MVP award. That sells when it is time to discuss contracts. And Flacco deserves new money.

4. Chip Kelly, Michael Vick & the Eagles: I’m looking forward to checking out Kelly’s offensive system in the NFL because I want to see the type of adjustments he makes in the pro game. But who is going to play QB for the new Eagles’ head coach? Maybe Vick will take a pay cut. Maybe not. That remains to be seen as the offseason rolls on. If Kelly wants to run an offense with spread looks, movement, tempo, etc. I’m going to choose Vick over Nick Foles. But the money has to be right. And for all the hype surrounding Kelly’s hire in Philly, it still goes back to the QB position. Is it Vick, Foles, or a possible rookie draft pick? We will find out soon.

5. 2013 Rookie QB class: After the Senior Bowl week, I talked about the QBs down in Mobile. There wasn’t a clear-cut guy (an immediate impact player) you had to get on your roster. Does that mean Geno Smith and Matt Barkley are the top two QBs? This is a tough draft class to figure out at the QB position, and with multiple teams desperate to make an upgrade, we could see clubs reaching in the first round. And don’t forget about possible free agents such as Vick, Alex Smith or even a trade to get Matt Flynn out of Seattle. Not the year to fill a need at the position.

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SB XLVII: Flacco, Ravens knock out the 49ers

Moving beyond the Superdome blackout, let’s get into the Ravens’ 34-31 win over the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. My game notes before I take a closer look at the All-22 tape later this week.

JOE FLACCOUS PRESSWIREFlacco

Moving beyond the Superdome blackout, let’s get into the Ravens’ 34-31 win over the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. My game notes before I take a closer look at the All-22 tape later this week.

JOE FLACCOUS PRESSWIREFlacco threw 3 TD passes and took home the MVP award from Super Bowl XLVII.

Flacco wins the MVP award: I can’t argue with Flacco taking home the trophy after his production tonight (22-37-287-3TDs). He was able to navigate the pocket, work the TE position in the middle of the field, make throws in the red zone and protect the football. And I love the confidence to check to the back-shoulder fade on 3rd and short late in the game. Throughout this playoff run, Flacco was consistent in his play at the QB position throwing 11 TDs and zero interceptions. Not bad for a guy that is going to get paid big money in a contract year.

The “no-call” in the red zone: I will always come to the defense of the secondary when we talk about physical play and some contact on the release (or through the route stem). However, I can see why Jim Harbaugh had a serious issue on the fade route to Michael Crabtree vs. Jimmy Smith. As a DB, you can get away with a hold if you keep your hands inside of the shoulder pads from a press-alignment. But when you grab outside of those pads (as we saw with Smith on the release), that’s a call the refs probably should make. Rough night all around for the officiating crew down in New Orleans.

Ravens’ Cover 0 pressure: In two key situations (2 point play and the 4th down fade route), Baltimore played “zero-pressure.” Think of man-pressure with no safety help in the middle of the field. That’s smart football. Play with inside leverage and force the QB to throw the slant or the fade. This allows you to dictate the game situation from a defensive perspective.

49ers’ red zone play calling: San Francisco had something going when they burned a timeout on 3rd down (QB Counter Lead) in that final series, but I have to question the play coming off the timeout (quick flat route out of a bunch alignment) and the 2nd down call to run the Flat-7 (Sprint action). That’s a situation where you can throw inside breaking routes (Hi-Lo for example) or line up and go with the base downhill run schemes before throwing the fade on 4th down.

Kaepernick: The 49ers’ QB didn’t look comfortable early in that ballgame. He was late on some of his reads and missed on the deep inside cut to Randy Moss. However, he played with much more control as the game progressed. Look at the 3-level route concepts, the dig routes, the reads he made on the option scheme and the ability to break contain. The young QB put up big numbers (16-302-1TD-1INT; 7-62-1TD) in the loss.

Jacoby Jones: Can you make a case for Jones to win the MVP award? The kickoff return for a score and the double-move vs. Chris Culliver were two plays that we will remember from this Super Bowl. And the finish on the TD catch was just as good as the route.

The TE position: Production from both clubs. Pitta, Dickson, Davis and Walker. And it was Walker that also showed up in the run game plus covering kicks on special teams. Think matchups here when we talk about the TE position and the ability to beat Cover 1 (man-free) or work vs. LBs in both 2-Man and zone schemes.

Boldin shows up again: It’s been the same drill all post-season for Boldin in the red zone. Inside alignment, work the seam or the middle of the field. On the TD catch, Boldin stemmed his route to the Mike Backer (creates a one-on-one matchup) and then finished up the field vs. Cover 2. We could also look at the back-shoulder fade on 3rd down, the quick underneath concepts or the ability to convert a broken play with Flacco outside of the pocket. The key with Boldin: strong at the point of attack. He has no issues climbing the ladder and taking the ball away from a DB.

Pitta’s TD: Why did SS Donte Whitner jump outside vs. the TE in the red zone? Think like a DB here expecting to see the 7 (corner) route. Whitner over-played the route, worked to an outside alignment and that allowed Pitta to sit down in the end zone. It doesn’t have to be complicated inside of the red zone.

Ray Lewis gets another ring: I know the veteran LB didn’t have a great night. Lewis struggled to match up to Vernon Davis and he didn’t produce any impact plays throughout the game. But he retires with two Super Bowl rings—and he’s going to Canton. 17 years. That’s a heck of a career.

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Super Bowl XLVII: Five things to watch

Let’s get into some personnel, matchups and game plans as we look ahead to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. Here are five things I will be watching on Sunday night when the 49ers and Ravens take the championship stage.

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Let’s get into some personnel, matchups and game plans as we look ahead to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. Here are five things I will be watching on Sunday night when the 49ers and Ravens take the championship stage.

Colin KaepernickUS PRESSWIREKaepernick and the 49ers will run multiple schemes from the Pistol formation.

1. 49ers’ Pistol formation: I would expect the 49ers to test the discipline of the Ravens’ defense with Colin Kaepernick in the Read Option scheme, but we also have to remember that Jim Harbaugh’s offense will run the Power O, Counter OF, etc. from the Pistol formation. And that leads to play action opportunities. Think of schemes that will test the run/pass keys of the Ravens’ back seven and put some stress on the linebackers. Can’t stick your eyes in the backfield and expect to take away the intermediate route tree vs. play action.

2. The tight end position: How will these two defenses game plan Vernon Davis and Dennis Pitta? The 49ers’ TE has been targeted during the playoff run on the Hi-Lo concepts, the deep 7 cut, seam, wheel, etc. With Pitta, we are looking at a tight end that is underrated from my perspective and a key part of the Ravens’ offense inside of the numbers. We could see some 2-Man on Sunday night and that puts the LBs in a tough spot to matchup vs. the TE position. There will be opportunities for both Davis and Pitta to make impact plays.

3. Aldon Smith’s production: Smith hasn’t recorded a sack over the last five games and the 49ers need that production to collapse the pocket vs. Ravens’ QB Joe Flacco. With Smith drawing the matchup vs. Bryant McKinnie, the OLB must lean on speed and the ability to set up the Ravens’ LT. Can’t beat McKinnie with straight power moves. Smith has to get the LT off-balance, attack the edges and put the QB on the ground.

4. Safety play: Physical safeties that will put a helmet on you. That’s what I see with Reed, Pollard, Goldson and Whitner. All four will hit and they play the position with a physical style that shows up when you turn on the film. On Sunday night, watch for their ability to drive on inside breaking routes, add to the blitz front and drop down to fill vs. the run. And in a matchup where the tempo could be dictated by the run game, these safeties will be key to limiting plays that break to the second level of the defense.

5. Boldin vs. Rogers: This is the matchup I would expect to see when the Ravens move Boldin inside with their Posse personnel (3WR-1TE-1RB) on the field. The WR has been productive throughout the post-season in the red zone because of the ability to win on the release and stack on DBs within the route stem. But that’s why I like the idea of the 49ers using Rogers. The CB is physical, will use his hands on the release and can match Boldin in pressure situations. Limiting Boldin on 3rd downs and in the red zone will be crucial.

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All-22: How 49ers use ‘waste motion’ to create matchups

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Previous All-22 breakdowns:

Ravens’ defensive pressure looks
49ers’ Pistol offense (run game)
Anquan Boldin’s red zone impact
49ers’ Inverted Veer scheme

I wanted to take a quick look at one way the 49ers create matchups in the passing game using “waste motion” to target the deep 7 (corner) route. A concept/formation that has shown up all season on the 49ers’ tape with their Regular personnel (2WR-1TE-2RB) in the game. Widen the defense (both zone and man schemes) and get the matchup of TE Vernon Davis vs. a LB or SS in coverage on an outside breaking route.

Personnel: Regular (2WR-1TE-2RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot
Route: Smash-7

Playbook

What is “waste motion?” Offenses will motion the F/H-Back from a 2-back set to a No.1 alignment. The idea is to widen the CB in Cover 1 or Cover 3 (3-deep, 4-under) and work the ball to No.2 vs. a favorable matchup. Remember, the F/H-Back aligned as the new No.1 isn’t getting the ball. His job is to fill up space, remove the CB and allow the QB to target No.2 on the 7 or seam.

Playbook

The CB is now removed (Cover 1) and plays over the top of the new No.1 (F). This gives the 49ers the matchup they want: Davis vs. a LB in press-coverage. Win at the line, stem to the outside and push the route vertically up the field.

Playbook

With the LB stuck in a trail position (and the FS working from a deep middle of the field alignment), Davis can break to the 7 route. An easy read for QB Colin Kaepernick to target the 49ers’ TE.

Playbook

End zone angle of the finish from Davis. A basic scheme (Smash-7) that we see every Sunday in the NFL with some added window dressing of pre-snap “waste motion” to set up the ideal matchup for the 49ers.

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All-22: Can Ravens disguise pressure vs. 49ers?

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Previous All-22 breakdowns:

- 49ers' Inverted Veer
- Anquan Boldin's red zone impact
- 49ers' Pistol offense (run game)

With two

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Previous All-22 breakdowns:

49ers’ Inverted Veer
Anquan Boldin’s red zone impact
49ers’ Pistol offense (run game)

With two weeks to prep for the 49ers and QB Colin Kaepernick, the Ravens’ defense will install some new schemes for Sunday’s matchup in Super Bowl XLVII. But after watching tape from the post-season, Jim Harbaugh’s offense should expect to see multiple pre-snap looks that are scripted to create confusion in the protection count and force the 3-step hot reads.

Using the All-22 tape, let’s break down three examples of how the Ravens are disguising their pressure schemes.

Ravens vs. Patriots
4-Man closed side pressure (2-deep)

Playbook

The Ravens are showing Cover 1 (man-free) pressure with FS Ed Reed in a single high alignment and SS Bernard Pollard walked down over the TE to the closed side of the formation. With both the Will (Paul Kruger) and Mike (Ray Lewis) aligned to the open side, the Ravens want to show overload pressure. However, this is only a 4-man pressure scheme (Pollard and the Sam Backer blitzing to the closed side) with the protection of a 2-deep shell (nickel works to open side deep half). Underneath, the Ravens will roll both Krueger and Lewis with Nose Tackle Haloti Ngata dropping to the closed side seam-hook.

Playbook

Here is a look at the end zone angle of the Ravens’ pre-snap alignment. Pollard will allow the Sam Backer to clear on a vertical rush path and hit the closed side C gap with the underneath defenders dropping into coverage.

Playbook

2-deep over the top with the three underneath defenders playing the two seam-hook drops (Kruger, Ngata) and the middle hook (Lewis). That leaves the CBs to jam and run with the No.1 WRs. A 4-man pressure scheme that plays out like a zone blitz concept.

Ravens vs. Patriots
4-Man A-gap pressure (Cover 1)

Playbook

The Ravens are showing double A gap pressure (ILBs) at the line of scrimmage with Reed in a single high alignment. However, Baltimore is going to drop both OLBs (Kruger, Suggs) at the snap. Play Cover 1 in the secondary (Pollard matches up to Aaron Hernandez) and expect to see the 3-step game.

<p> Playbook

Again, only a 4-Man blitz from Baltimore. Show a 6-Man pressure scheme at the line and drop the OLBs into the underneath throwing lanes. The idea is to try and steal one by setting a trap for the QB.

Playbook

The Ravens want to impact the throw from Brady with Kruger dropping underneath the slant to the open side of the formation. The CB will drive on the route from an outside leverage position with Reed coming downhill on the throw.

Ravens vs. Colts
5-Man A-Gap pressure (Cover 1)

Playbook

Same idea as the pressure we just looked at with Reed walking down to hit the open side A gap and Lewis blitzing the closed side B gap. Again, drop both Suggs and Kruger vs. the 3-step game, “add” another backer to the blitz front (rush to coverage) and play Cover 1 in the secondary.

Playbook

This is a fee run at QB Andrew Luck. Because the Ravens are showing a 4-Man overload look to the open side, the Colts push the protection. And that allows Reed to come untouched through the A gap with Suggs dropping right into the throwing lane.

Playbook

Sideline view of Reed arriving at the QB, Suggs underneath the slant and the CB driving on the route. That’s good football.

What did we learn?

You don’t have to bring 6-Man or even 7-Man pressure to force the ball to come out. By giving the QB multiple looks at the line of scrimmage, the Ravens can disguise their blitz fronts, drop into coverage and still play for the quick passing game in 3rd down situations.

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All-22: A closer look at 49ers’ Pistol offense

Click here for my playbook breakdowns on the NFP "U" homepage.

Click here for a chalkboard look at the base NFL run game (Pro Set).

The Pistol offense and the 49ers. We all know that leads to talk of the

Click here for my playbook breakdowns on the NFP “U” homepage.

Click here for a chalkboard look at the base NFL run game (Pro Set).

The Pistol offense and the 49ers. We all know that leads to talk of the Read Option (Zone Read) and QB Colin Kaepernick. However, let’s not forget about the base run game. The same schemes we see out of a Pro Style system (Power O, Counter OF, Lead Open, Trap, etc.) show up in Jim Harbaugh’s playbook from the Pistol alignment.

Let’s start with a quick review of the Read Option and then get into the coaching points of the run game on the All-22 tape…

READ OPTION

Playbook

The 49ers run the Read Option out of their Regular (2WR-1TE-2RB) and Ace (2WR-2TE-1RB) personnel from a 2-back Pistol alignment. Ride the RB through the mesh point, wrap the F/H-Back up through the hole and read the end man on the line of scrimmage (DE in 4-3, OLB in 3-4).

Playbook

Look at Kaepernick’s eyes. He is reading the path of the DE. And as we all saw in the NFC Championship game, the Falcons kept their DEs up the field to play the QB. This is an easy read for Kaepernick on the give with the F/H-Back fitting up on the force player (Mike Backer/SS).

Playbook

A clear running lane for Frank Gore to square the pads, get vertical up the field and finish off a productive gain.

COUNTER OF

Playbook

Same blocking scheme you see from a Pro Style system with the 49ers getting the kick-out block from the TE in the “Diamond” alignment. The open (weak) side guard pulls with the F/H-Back working to the closed (strong) side of the formation.

Playbook

With TE Vernon Davis kicking out the edge support, Gore can follow the blocking path of the weak side guard and the F/H-Back. Let the play develop and pick a lane.

Playbook

Because of the safety’s entry point into the run front, Gore cuts this play back inside of the guard and picks up positive yardage.

POWER (BOB) O

Playbook

Think of running the Power O out of a Strong I alignment with Tank personnel (1WR-2TE-2RB) for Pro Style teams. The Niners start in a “Diamond” look, use short motion to create a “big wing” set (2 TEs) and run the Power O from the Pistol. Pull the open side guard and kick out with the F/H-Back.

Playbook

With the Y TE (on the line TE) working up to the inside linebacker and the “move” TE releasing to block the SS (arc release), the FB is going to kick out the closed side OLB (BOB O=Back on Backer). That leaves the open side guard on a path to work through the hole or block the first opposite jersey that shows to the play side.

LEAD OPEN

Playbook

Why can’t you run the Lead Open out of the “Diamond” alignment? It’s the same blocking path if you were to run this play out of the straight I, Weak I, Power I, Triple I, etc. With Ace personnel on the field, both TEs will work up to the inside linebackers. A base downhill scheme.

Playbook

Gore cuts this ball back and follows Vernon Davis up through the hole. The idea is to force the secondary to fill vs. the run game and tackle. That’s five to six yards before contact if the SS isn’t quick with his run/pass keys.

INSIDE TRAP

Playbook

The 49ers run the “Wham” play to trap the Nose/DT out of their one-back alignments and this is similar when we look at the inside blocking scheme. Block down with the center and the closed side guard with the open side guard trapping the 3 technique DT vs. this nickel defensive front from Green Bay.

Playbook

Remove both DTs with the trap and allow RB LaMichael James to get through the hole. And with a missed tackle, this turns into an 11-yard run. Not bad for a simple trap scheme.

What did I learn?

This Pistol offense is new to me. I didn’t see as a player back in the Big Ten or during my time in the NFL. However, I learn something every time I turn on the tape. With Kaepernick, the Read Option is always a threat. I get it. But after watching tape today, I’m more focused on the blocking angles and the path of the RB the Pistol offense creates. That’s tough to defend.

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Watch out for Boldin in Super Bowl XLVII

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Click here for my All-22 breakdown of the 49ers’ Inverted Veer scheme.

Anquan Boldin isn’t going to win with straight-line speed this Sunday vs. the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. That’s

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Click here for my All-22 breakdown of the 49ers’ Inverted Veer scheme.

Anquan Boldin isn’t going to win with straight-line speed this Sunday vs. the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. That’s not his game. The Ravens’ WR isn’t a 4.4 or a 4.5 guy when you put a stopwatch on him. However, Boldin has been very productive during this post-season run because of the ability to win within the route stem and play the ball at the highest point in the red zone.

Let’s go to the All-22 tape and take a look at Boldin’s three TD catches this post-season from an inside alignment.

1. “Sight Adjust” vs. Cover 0 (man-pressure, no safety help)

Playbook

With the Patriots showing zero-pressure, QB Joe Flacco checks at the line of scrimmage to the “sight adjust” (or hot read). Think of the 3-step route tree with Boldin (slot alignment) as the primary target vs. a DB playing with inside leverage (Cover 0 technique).

Playbook

Because the Patriots are sending a 7-Man pressure scheme, the Ravens will slide the protection to the open (weak) side of the formation—but the ball has to come out. Look at Boldin here. A quick step to the outside on the release that forces the DB to widen his feet and squat.

Playbook

The DB is already beat. Can’t stop your feet and allow the WR to create leverage back across your face with no safety help in the middle of the field. That’s trouble.

Playbook

Nice work here from Flacco putting this ball up so Boldin can climb the ladder. Let your WR go make the play and finish.

2. Seam (“Nod”) vs. Cover 0 (man-pressure, no safety help)

Playbook

I’m still calling this Cover 0 because of the leverage (inside shade) and the safeties. At the snap, this might look like a Cover 4 alignment. However, with the closed (strong) side safety aligned over the TE and the open side safety moving to a “rover position” once his coverage (RB) stays in on protection, this plays out like zero-man.

Playbook

We can call this a “Nod” route (or “Stick Nod”) with Boldin taking the release vertically up the field and sticking to the inside. That forces the DB to open his hips and creates separation up the seam. Put the DB in an adverse position and exploit his poor technique.

Playbook

With the DB stuck in a trail position, Flacco can once again put this ball up high for Boldin to finish the play. Even if the DB “plays the pocket” (stick the hand in between the WR’s arms), Boldin is too strong at the point of attack.

3. 7 (corner) route vs. Cover 1 (man-free)

Playbook

Base Cover 1 from the Colts with the FS moving to the deep middle of the field, the Mike Backer dropping to an inside rover alignment and the DBs playing with an outside shade (funnel WRs to help in the middle of the field). The Ravens are running the Smash-7 (Boldin aligned as No.2 to the closed side) with the TE on the inside vertical seam to occupy the FS.

Playbook

Boldin uses a hard, outside release to beat the DB’s initial leverage and stacks on top within the route stem. That’s an ideal position to continue up the seam or break to the 7 cut. And with the TE running the inside vertical to hold the FS, the Ravens have created another one-on-one matchup for Boldin.

Playbook

Quick end zone view with Boldin breaking to the 7 cut. What stands out? The separation and the Colts’ DB struggling to get back “in-phase’ (on the hip) vs. Boldin with the ball in the air.

Playbook

Another strong finish for Boldin. And that’s why I’m really interested to see how the 49ers match up to the Ravens’ WR once the ball crosses the 20-yard line this Sunday. Remember, Boldin aligns in the slot for a reason down in the red zone: to get the ball.

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What’s next for the Senior Bowl prospects?

With the Senior Bowl now complete, the focus is back on the NFL and Super Bowl XLVII. That’s how it should be with the Ravens and 49ers arriving in New Orleans to get ready for Sunday’s matchup.

Play for a ring and everyone

With the Senior Bowl now complete, the focus is back on the NFL and Super Bowl XLVII. That’s how it should be with the Ravens and 49ers arriving in New Orleans to get ready for Sunday’s matchup.

Play for a ring and everyone is watching.

EJ ManuelUS PRESSWIREE.J. Manuel and the rest of the Senior Bowl prospects will now continue their combine prep after a week in Mobile.

However, those rookie hopefuls we just checked out in Mobile this past week will get back to work.

That’s right. This isn’t time for a vacation. Nope. Hit the weight room, the track and start to prep for the next step in the process: the NFL combine in Indianapolis.

It’s coming at the end of February. And so is the talk of 40 times, the 3-cone drill, short shuttle, vertical jump, broad jump, etc. Mesurables that don’t define a prospect (or what you see on the tape), but still play a major role in the grading/scouting process.

And those drills (along with the static position specific drills) are practiced and perfected over the next month through training. Even down to the steps in the 20-yard short shuttle (5-10-5), these prospects will work daily with repetition, strength training and functional movements to show up and put their talents on display in Indy.

Run a 4.6 at the end of January? Well, the goal is to get that down to a 4.55 by the time you put your hand on the line at the combine. The same goes for a prospect that wants to get a high 4.4 40 time (4.8, 4.7) down to the low 4.4s (4.3, 4.2). Work on the start, the explosion in the first 10-yards and more. It can be done.

For many of the guys we just watched during Senior Bowl week, they will head back to some of the top training facilities in the country (thanks to their agents paying the bill). Think of IMG Academy or Athletes’ Performance Institute. And there are others that will work with their college strength coach on campus (Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle runs a combine prep program for former Hawkeyes).

I did it myself after graduating from Iowa and playing in the now extinct 2000 Hula Bowl All-Star game in Maui (too many good times on the islands to keep that event going). After starting a training program in Tempe with Athletes’ Performance, I flew back to the Phoenix area after the game and was in the weight room on Monday for another week. That was followed by a trip to Iowa City to finish my combine prep with Coach Doyle.

Remember, the All-Star games are the first step. That’s why we talked about footwork, technique, hips, route running ability, power, strength and so on this past week down in Mobile. That stuff matters. That stuff sells when you are putting your skill sets on display.

But it doesn’t stop now. Nah. This is when it gets interesting. Now we get to see who can master the “take home test” of the standard combine drills and show up in Indy ready to wow us with their speed and athletic ability in shorts.

So, while we will listen to stories from Super Bowl media day down in New Orleans or begin to break down tape in anticipation of Sunday’s ball game for the Lombardi Trophy, the prospects that want to be in the league will be training.

Time to work, rookie.

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All-22: A look at 49ers ‘Inverted Veer’ scheme

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Click here for my previous video breakdown of the Inverted Veer scheme.

Looking ahead to Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens will have to prep for QB Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers'

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Click here for my previous video breakdown of the Inverted Veer scheme.

Looking ahead to Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens will have to prep for QB Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers’ Read Option (or Zone Read). However, don’t forget about the Inverted Veer (Power Veer) scheme the 49ers put on tape in the NFC Championship. Another way for Jim Harbaugh’s club to test the edge of the defensive front with Kaepernick reading through the mesh point.

Let’s go to the All-22 tape and breakdown the scheme…

49ers vs. Falcons
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot (Gun Far)
Scheme: Inverted Veer

Playbook

– The 49ers are going to put stress on the closed (strong) side DE with the TE on an “arc” release (outside release to the second level) and the backside guard pulling (think of Power O blocking). Ride the RB (LaMichael James) through the mesh point and read the path of the DE.

– Why the “arc” release vs. the SS? Look at it as a false pass key. With the Falcons playing Cover 1 (man-free), the SS has to read Vernon Davis for his run/pass keys. By releasing Davis up the field, the Niners can remove the SS from the run front and create an easy blocking angle for the TE.

Playbook

– Here is a look at Kaepernick reading the DE through the mesh point. If the DE stays up the field (RB path), the QB will keep and follow the pulling guard through the hole. However, if the DE squeezes the hole (or hesitates), Kaepernick will give to James.

Playbook

– Because the Falcons’ DE hesitates at the point of attack, Kaepernick gives to James with the 49ers setting up a running lane. The backside guard gets enough of the Sam Backer to slow his angle to the ball and Davis fits up on the SS. With both the Nickel and closed side CB removed vs. the slot formation, the FS (deep middle of the field player) has to run the alley and make an open field tackle.

Playbook

– Speed sells with James. The 49ers’ RB eliminates the angle of the FS and puts this ball in the end zone. Just another example of what the 49ers can do offensively next Sunday on the Super Bowl stage.

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Ten observations from Senior Bowl week

After spending the week at the Senior Bowl down in Mobile, here are ten observations I took back with me to Chicago. My notes on the quarterbacks, the talent at the offensive tackle position, wide receivers, the best barbeque in town and more.

1. Questions

After spending the week at the Senior Bowl down in Mobile, here are ten observations I took back with me to Chicago. My notes on the quarterbacks, the talent at the offensive tackle position, wide receivers, the best barbeque in town and more.

1. Questions at QB: I asked three pro scouts who had the best week of practice in Mobile and I got three different answers: Ryan Nassib, Mike Glennon and E.J. Manuel. My take? I’m going with Nassib. The Syracuse QB will need to develop his overall game, but the skill set was the best I saw on the field. Without Geno Smith and Matt Barkley (both opted out of the Senior Bowl), this group didn’t have one QB that stood above the rest.

Denard RobinsonUS PRESSWIREIt will take some time for Denard Robinson to make the transition to the WR position at the NFL level.

2. Denard Robinson looked tentative: I know Robinson is making the transition to the WR position and that is going to take some time when breaking down his ability to run clean routes. And I also give Robinson credit for showing up to compete with a previous injury. However, I didn’t see the dynamic playmaking ability the former QB displayed at Michigan with the football in his hands. Whether it was fielding punts or showcasing his talent after the catch, Robinson didn’t play at a high level this week.

3. First Round Talent at Offensive Tackle: Both Eric Fisher (CMU) and Lane Johnson (Oklahoma) displayed solid footwork, technique, power and could be the next two tackles to come off the board this April after Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel. They weren’t perfect on every rep, but you could see enough in 1-on-1 and team drills to know that these two will make some money this year.

4. Solid group of wide outs: Markus Wheaton (Oregon State), Quinton Patton (Louisiana Tech), Chris Harper (Kansas State), etc. However, the one prospect I really enjoyed watching this week was Marquise Goodwin (Texas). The WR has legit speed and I’m interested to see how he fits in an NFL game plan next season. He could be a playmaker.

5. My top two DBs: CB Desmond Trufant (Washington) and SS Jonathan Cyprien (FIU). Both prospects have a swagger to their game and they want to compete. Trufant has quick feet, can turn the hips, change directions and play press. Cyprien is built like an NFL safety. And while he is a better fit in the box from the scouts I talked to, he also got some work in the deep middle of the field. Physical player that will use his pads in the run game and take proper angles to the ball.

6. Small school prospects: I love watching small school talent compete (and win) vs. prospects from BCS programs. That’s what I saw with DT Brandon Williams (Missouri Southern) and CB Robert Alford (Southeastern Louisiana). Williams is quick off the line and turned some heads in 1-on-1 drills. And while I did get some questions on Alford’s size (5-9), the CB has good feet and can close on the ball. Let’s keep an eye on these two throughout the draft process.

7. Raw talent at DE: Margus Hunt (SMU) and Ezekial Ansah (BYU). Both are really raw at this stage of their development and must work on their technique when they rush the passer. Can’t lean on the bull rush when you compete against top competition. They both need pro coaching. A pretty common theme when catching up with scouts before I left town this week.

8. The RB position: Two names that impressed me down in Mobile: Stepfan Taylor (Stanford) and Mike Gillislee (Florida). I liked their vision, burst through the hole and ability in the open field. Good backs that can fit in pro schemes.

9. 1-on-1 drills don’t disappoint: My favorite part of the week. There is so much you can get out of watching a DB or a WR or a DE in 1-on-1 work where they have to win with technique. You won’t get away with poor footwork nor can you lean on speed when the competition level rises down in Mobile. Some players were exposed while others stepped up in these matchups in front of the NFL’s top coaches, scouts and GMs.

10. Best barbecue in Mobile: There are some great places to grab food in Mobile when it comes to barbeque, but I’m sticking with the Brick Pit. My new favorite lunch spot during Senior Bowl week. If you get down there, make sure to stop by and get the pulled pork plate with baked beans and coleslaw. Outstanding food.

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Senior Bowl: Wednesday prospect notes

Click here for my notes from Tuesday’s practice notes.

Let’s run through some of my notes from the North and South squad practice sessions on Wednesday at the Senior Bowl down in Mobile.

GoodwinUS PRESSWIRETexas

Click here for my notes from Tuesday’s practice notes.

Let’s run through some of my notes from the North and South squad practice sessions on Wednesday at the Senior Bowl down in Mobile.

GoodwinUS PRESSWIRETexas WR Marquise Goodwin has top tier speed and showed the ability to win vs. press-man on Wednesday.

Goodwin’s ability at WR: I know the Texas product can run. Goodwin has top tier vertical speed. However, I was more impressed Wednesday with his ability to win at the line of scrimmage vs. press-coverage. Very athletic player when you watch him win on the release and get into the route stem. There has been a lot of talk from scouts on Markus Wheaton from Oregon State, but don’t forget about Goodwin as a WR that can earn an NFL paycheck inside of the numbers and pressing the top of the secondary.

CB Desmond Trufant: Smooth footwork, quick hips and he displayed the ability to play press-man in 1-on-1 drills. I thought Trufant played with a little swagger to his game and wanted to compete throughout the session on Wednesday. You can see the talent watching the CB change direction and drive on the ball.

BYU’s Ezekial Ansah: The DE has speed coming off the ball and I can see why scouts are drawn to his athleticism. But like most of the pass rushers down here in Mobile, Ansah has to develop his technique. Move past the bull rush, attack the edge of the blocker and use your hands to create leverage to the QB.

Stanford’s Stepfan Taylor: Thick build at the RB position (5-9, 216) with a solid burst to get through the hole and square the pads. If you look at the Stanford run game (Power O, Lead, Counter OF), Taylor is a fit at the next level.

DE Margus Hunt: The SMU product hasn’t had a great week of practice, but the opportunity to develop his skill set has to be attractive to NFL clubs given his size (6-8, 277). Hunt must develop counter moves when he gets on the edge of blockers and he needs pro coaching at the point of attack. Raw talent.

Gillislee’s vision: The Florida RB showed some vision on Wednesday when he got the second level of the defense. Gillislee was quick to create angles in the open field and I like the cut-back ability.

Quinton Patton: The WR runs clean routes. That’s why you see the Louisiana Tech product winning on double-moves. Set up DBs, chop the feet and then separate down the field. Patton had another solid practice on Wednesday.

Small school DT: Brandon Williams from Missouri Southern had a burst off the ball in 1-on-1 drills, displayed quick hands and plays hard. Keep an eye on him throughout the draft process.

Shawn Williams: The Georgia safety is going to hit and he will fill the hole in the run game. In 1-on-1 drills, Williams worked vs. the tight ends. And while he can slide the feet on the release and drive to the hip on inside breaking routes, he needs to keep TEs off his body at the top of the route stem. That’s where he allows some separation and finds himself in a trail position.

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Senior Bowl: Tuesday prospect notes

After watching both the North and South squads practice on Tuesday at the Senior Bowl, here are some of my notes from Mobile.

Eric Fisher is a true talent: It is easy to see the skill set the LT

After watching both the North and South squads practice on Tuesday at the Senior Bowl, here are some of my notes from Mobile.

Eric Fisher is a true talent: It is easy to see the skill set the LT brings to the field. Fisher has great flexibility, power in his base and is strong on the initial punch. The Central Michigan product stands out in One-on-One drills and plays with technique. That sells in Mobile when you can consistently win matchups in front of the entire league. There is no question Fisher carries a first round grade and I would bet he is climbing up some draft boards.

John JenkinsUS PRESSWIREJenkins showcased some power in One-on-One pass rush on Tuesday.

John Jenkins: The NT/DT from Georgia has legit power. During One-on-One drills, Jenkins beat up interior O-Lineman with a straight bull rush. Looks like a good fit as a 3-4 NT that can extend his arms and generate a solid push up the field.

Small school talent at CB: There are going to be questions on the size of CB Robert Alford (5-9), but the Southeastern Louisiana prospect wants to compete. I was impressed with his footwork, closing speed vs. inside breaking routes and the ability to change directions. A scout I talked to projected him as a guy who could fill the role as a No.3 corner.

More QB questions: I can see why scouts are looking at Syracuse QB Ryan Nassib. There are some skills you can develop when watching him in 7-on-7, team, etc. But I haven’t been overly impressed with the QBs so far. I’m anxious to start looking at college tape after the Super Bowl to get a better feel for this group.

Denard Robinson’s transition to WR: Route running. That’s where the former Michigan QB needs work. Robinson is a great athlete. And I could see that when he ran a couple of double-moves during the morning session. But for anyone trying to make the switch to the WR position, the ability to run clean routes is the biggest challenge. Right now Robinson will round his cuts coming out of his breaks and that allows DBs to close on the ball.

Keep an eye on safety Jonathan Cyprien: The FIU product stood out on the practice field and is built like an NFL safety. Cyprien took good angles to the ball and he was physical at the point of attack on Tuesday. A player to watch the rest of the week.

Lane Johnson: The Oklahoma offensive tackle has top tier athletic ability, good feet and moves well in pass pro. The question: can he add some more size to his frame? One scout told me he would like to put 10 pounds on Johnsion.

USC safety TJ McDonald: Scouts aren’t sold on his game tape, but McDonald showed some range on Tuesday, the ability to flip the hips in coverage and he wasn’t shy about setting his pads on the edge. I know McDonald is stiff in his pedal and needs to come out of his breaks with more speed. However, looking at his size (6-2), I see the USC safety as an interesting player.

WR speed: I will focus more on the WR prospects tomorrow, but check out Louisiana Tech’s Quinton Patton. He can push a CB up the field and get on top of the secondary. Deep ball speed.

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Senior Bowl: 5 things to watch on the practice field

Tape study is still the No.1 tool to evaluating and grading rookie prospects, but this week we get to see some of the top talent in the country at the Senior Bowl. And after checking out the North squad Monday afternoon, here are five things I

Tape study is still the No.1 tool to evaluating and grading rookie prospects, but this week we get to see some of the top talent in the country at the Senior Bowl. And after checking out the North squad Monday afternoon, here are five things I will be looking for on the practice field down in Mobile, Alabama.

E.J. ManuelUS PRESSWIREFlorida State’s E.J. Manuel is one of the QBs down in Mobile, Alabama this week for the Senior Bowl.

1. One-on-One drills: My favorite part of the week. DBs vs. WRs, O-Line vs. D-Line, LBs vs. RBs in pass pro. There is nowhere to hide in these matchups and you find out quickly who wants to compete in front of the entire league. Focus on the ability of WRs to run clean routes, DBs in their plant and drive, the footwork of Offensive Tackles in pass pro, the hand placement (counter moves) of DEs, etc. You can get a feel for where these prospects are at in their development by watching One-on-One drills throughout the week.

2. QB play: No Geno Smith or Matt Barkley, but we can still check out Ryan Nassib, Landry Jones, Mike Glennon, E.J. Manuel, etc. These QBs will see basic coverages in the secondary (Cover 1, Cover 3) and the routes are pretty standard (Curl-Flat, Slant-Flat, Levels, Verts). Because of that, look at ball placement, footwork in the pocket, accuracy, arm strength and study the route tree. Can these QB prospects throw the deep 7 cut or hit the comeback? There is enough here in 7-on-7 and team drills to evaluate the QB position.

3. Secondary technique: I spend a lot of time watching the DBs go through individual drills, One-on-One and 7-on-7 because it gives you an opportunity to study their technique. Last year in Mobile, Harrison Smith and Janoris Jenkins showcased their skill sets on the field and had scouts talking throughout the week. That’s what you want as a rookie prospect. Focus on their footwork in off-man, the ability to maintain their cushion (distance between DB and WR), the transition (open the hips) vs. the deep ball and the speed coming out of their breaks. And if they get beat, find out why. Did they take a bucket step (step behind on transition), stick their eyes on the QB or open too soon when the WR stemmed the route up the field?

4. Football speed: We will get into 40 times, the short shuttle (5-10-5), 3-cone drill, etc. when these prospects head to Indianapolis for the NFL combine next month and throughout the Pro Day circuit. However, I want to see who can display that speed in pads. I look at WRs at the top of the route stem, DBs playing the 9 (fade) route, RBs when they press the edge of the formation. That’s where you want the “football speed” to show up this week on the practice field. Play fast. That’s the drill.

5. Production under pressure: This is job interview. Every drill, every practice. There are head coaches and GMs in the stands with pro scouts lining the fences next to the field. Hey, everyone is watching. That’s not easy when these young players are removed from their college schemes, handed a new playbook for the week and have to respond to NFL coaching for the first time (Lions and Raiders staffs running practices). I want to see how they respond to the coaching and if they can make plays under the stress of the week in Mobile. That sells.

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Championship Sunday: Flacco, Boldin, Gore…

With the 49ers and Ravens set for Super Bowl XLVII, here are five things that stood out from my perspective after watching the NFC and AFC Championship games.

Joe FlaccoUS PRESSWIREJoe Flacco threw 3 TDs in the Ravens

With the 49ers and Ravens set for Super Bowl XLVII, here are five things that stood out from my perspective after watching the NFC and AFC Championship games.

Joe FlaccoUS PRESSWIREJoe Flacco threw 3 TDs in the Ravens 28-13 win over the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

1. Ravens’ 2nd half game plan: Give Baltimore OC Jim Caldwell some credit here for what Flacco and the Ravens did in the second half. Look at the screen game, the inside runs and the short to intermediate route tree. Flacco was able to work the middle of the field, throw the underneath option routes and target inside breaking cuts. And don’t forget about Anquan Boldin in the red zone. The Ravens’ WR beat Cover 0 (blitz-man with no safety help) on the inside release and then came back to set up the seam (quick inside step to force the DB to open the hips). Two solid routes that allowed Flacco (21-36-240-3TDs) to look up the WR for TDs. Adjust the game plan and win matchups. That’s what I saw from this Ravens’ offense in the second half.

2. 49ers’ Option scheme: Colin Kaepernick (16-21-233-1 TD) was impressive throwing the ball today in the Niners’ 28-24 win win, but let’s focus on the option game in Jim Harbaugh’s offense. Start with LaMichael James on the Inverted Veer (Gun alignment, backside guard pull) and then move to Frank Gore in the Read Option. With the Falcons keeping their DEs up the field (play the QB through the mesh point), the 49ers ran Gore on the inside give with the FB/H-Back leading up through the hole. Plus, with the TE using an “arc” release at the snap (outside release, work to the second level), the SS was removed from the run front (gives the safety a false pass key). It was obvious the Falcons game planned to limit Kaepernick in the option scheme off the Green Bay tape from last weekend, but they didn’t account for Gore (21-90-2TDs) or James on the TD run.

3. Ravens’ defense: I think this is a situation where we look beyond schemes or Xs and Os. This defense was able to match the pace and tempo of the Patriots, challenge receivers at the line of scrimmage, tackle and play physical. And they defended the end zone for the majority of the game when Tom Brady and New England moved the ball into plus territory. I know they gave up some numbers, but the Ravens played with an agressive style that will show up when you turn on the tape. A fast, physical defense that brought pressure and finished off ball carriers. This unit is going to put a helmet on you.

4. Falcons’ 4th down call: I know there is a discussion with Bowman vs. White on the inside option route, but I don’t see a flag there. Allow the defender to play through the break and establish some sort of position within five yards. However, what about the backside option for Matt Ryan? With Tony Gonzalez aligned as the X receiver, the Falcons ran a basic 3-step slant to the open (weak) side of the formation. That gives Gonzalez inside leverage vs. a CB with FS Dashon Goldson sitting over the top and driving the route. Looking at the game situation, isn’t this the matchup you want? Sure, this is a classic catch and collision play with the FS taking an angle to the slant (don’t know if that is a guaranteed conversion). But that’s where I’m throwing the ball on fourth down with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

5. Julio Jones: Even in the loss, we have to talk about the Falcons’ WR and his production. Jones (11-182-2TDs) is so strong within the route stem, can create separation back to the inside, plus he will go up and get the football at the point of attack. You could see the Falcons’ game plan early with Jones on the deep curl, the dig, etc. Create opportunities for Jones to push the CB up the field, work back inside and use his size to make the catch. And on the “Sluggo” (slant and go), there was Jones’ ability to finish in the end zone. A tough matchup for any CB that has to find the ball.

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49ers-Falcons: Is Whitner ready for Gonzalez?

Click here to see my All-22 Red Zone breakdown on Gonzalez.

49ers' Safety Donte Whitner is physical and has the lateral ability to play man-coverage vs. the tight end position. A good football player that will also put a helmet on you in

Click here to see my All-22 Red Zone breakdown on Gonzalez.

49ers’ Safety Donte Whitner is physical and has the lateral ability to play man-coverage vs. the tight end position. A good football player that will also put a helmet on you in the open field. But Whitner has a tough matchup this Sunday vs. Falcons’ TE Tony Gonzalez in the NFC Championship game. To give you an example of what Whitner is looking at on the tape, let’s break down Gonzalez’s TD vs. Seahawks’ safety Kam Chancellor last weekend on the goal line.

Seahawks vs. Falcons
Personnel: Jumbo (3TE-2RB)
Route: 7 (corner)
Defensive scheme: GL Man (match)

Playbook

With Gonzalez aligned to the open side of the formation, the Falcons run play pass out of Power I look. Sell the run fake and boot QB Matt Ryan out of the pocket with Gonzalez on the short 7 cut (corner route). For the Seahawks, a base goal line man (or match) scheme. Chancellor is the primary edge support player vs. the run and will take the first vertical (Gonzalez) on action/flow away.

Playbook

Great use of the hands by Chancellor. The Seahawks’ safety extends his arms to keep Gonzalez off his body and maintains the outside leverage position. Chancellor can now play an inside breaking cut or roll with the 7.

Playbook

In this situation, the safety in coverage has to play with a “basketball technique” (think of defending the low post on the court with your back to the ball). Use the end line as your help and stay on the hip of the TE. If you can, slide the elbow low on the waist of the TE and push him out of bounds (can’t be the first player to touch the ball). And you can get away with that if you don’t extend the arms up high on the chest/shoulder.

Playbook

What beats Chancellor? The ball placement from Matt Ryan. This is no different than throwing the back-shoulder fade on the 9 route in the red zone. The safety has coverage and is in the proper position to play Gonzalez on the end line. However, Ryan puts this ball on the back shoulder and the veteran TE does an excellent job of finishing the play. Is Whitner ready to check Gonzalez on Sunday? Let’s see how it plays out…

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Can Chip Kelly get it done in Philadelphia?

I wrote a post here at the NFP a couple of a weeks ago on Chip Kelly and the NFL interest in the Oregon head coach. That was easy to see even before the Ducks beat up on Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl

I wrote a post here at the NFP a couple of a weeks ago on Chip Kelly and the NFL interest in the Oregon head coach. That was easy to see even before the Ducks beat up on Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl with their fast-break style of offense.

Chip KellyUS PRESSWIREChip Kelly landed the head job in Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Hey, the majority of teams in the NFL searching for a coach this offseason pointed their finger at the offensive side of the ball. Play fast, score points, be creative, etc., etc.

Philly finally landed Kelly on Wednesday. A big move. A splash move, really, as the NFP’s Joe Fortenbaugh wrote. A hire that got everyone talking before the Manti Te’o story turned Twitter into a circus in the afternoon.

I’m sure Kelly will adjust and adapt his offensive scheme to fit pro personnel when he begins to install the playbook this offseason. That’s understandable. And we still have to wait for the decisions on Michael Vick, Nick Foles and the quarterback position for the Eagles.

Another aspect to keep an eye on during Kelly’s transition to the pro game.

The offense could be tough to prep for (think of the formations and alignments Kelly can roll out on the field) and it will carry that same pace and tempo we see from the Patriots.

However, will the players buy into his coaching?

That’s the drill for every new coach in the NFL. I even hit on with the Bears and Marc Trestman in my column over at the Chicago Tribune today. These coaches have to sell the players on a new system of learning, accountability, discipline and so on.

That will be a test for Kelly coming from the college game.

Look at Steve Spurrier in Washington. I wasn’t there for his first season as the head coach for the Redskins, but I saw it up close after signing as a free agent back in 2003 in Spurrier’s second (and final) year in the NFL.

I liked playing for Spurrier. He cared about his players. But something was missing. Something just wasn’t there in terms of getting the most out of the pro talent.

Smart when it comes to offensive football? Sure, that was Spurrier. He knew how to script an offensive playbook.

However, there wasn’t a connection between the locker room and the head coach. The discipline lacked towards the end of that season and Spurrier was back in the SEC before you knew it.

Xs and Os with Kelly won’t be an issue. He will develop an offense in Philly. Now let’s find out if he can run the show in the pros.

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Why pressure sells for Patriots on 3rd down

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

3rd and 7-plus situations present opportunities to take an aggressive approach to the defensive game plan. Send man-pressure, force the ball to come out, challenge receivers and tackle. This past Sunday, that's exactly what

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

3rd and 7-plus situations present opportunities to take an aggressive approach to the defensive game plan. Send man-pressure, force the ball to come out, challenge receivers and tackle. This past Sunday, that’s exactly what we saw from the Patriots in their win over the Texans. Using the All-22 tape, let’s take a look at how Bill Belichick’s defense used pressure to win on 3rd downs.

Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Slot Open
Route: “Seattle”
Defensive Scheme: Nickel Cover 1 pressure

Playbook

A 6-Man pressure scheme with the Patriots giving Schaub a 2-Deep look (think 2-Man with press-alignments). At the snap, the FS will roll to the deep middle of the field with the underneath defenders playing with an outside shade (Cover 1 technique). To the closed side of the formation, SS Steve Gregory matches up to the TE and will play with a flat-foot read (no backpedal, drive downhill on underneath release).

Playbook

What is the “Seattle” concept? Think of any 3×1 formation (Slot Open here from the Texans) with three intermediate vertical crossing routes and the backside No.1 (TE) on the underneath drag (crosser). And as you can see from the tape, the Patriots match the vertical crossers with Gregory driving to the TE from his pre-snap alignment.

Playbook

The base technique of Gregory: flat-foot read, drive to the up field shoulder of the TE, make a form tackle and get off the field.

Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot
Route: Sight Adjust (Slant)
Defensive Scheme: Nickel Cover 1 pressure

Playbook

The Patriots are again sending 6-Man pressure with the closed side LB using a “peel” technique (match to RB if he releases). Press-alignments across the board with Gregory rotating down over the TE (No.3) to play the “sight adjust.”

Playbook

What is a “sight adjust” read? The TE will release, stem to the inside (slant) and get the head back around. This gives Schaub a quick read vs. pressure. For the Patriots, same idea here: protect the sticks and drive the route.

Playbook

Wrap up, get the ball carrier on the ground and force the Texans to punt. Sure, the Patriots could play 2-Man (or Cover 2) on 3rd down. However, by forcing Schaub to unload the ball vs. pressure the New England defense dictated the game situations.

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All-22: How did Kaepernick target the Packers?

Click here for entire Inside the Playbook series.

We all know what Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers did to the Packers’ defense on Saturday night running the Read Option scheme. That was smart football from Jim Harbaugh when you break down the call

Click here for entire Inside the Playbook series.

We all know what Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers did to the Packers’ defense on Saturday night running the Read Option scheme. That was smart football from Jim Harbaugh when you break down the call sheet and add in the skill set of the QB. However, let’s not forget about the ability Kaepernick displayed in the passing game vs. the Green Bay secondary.

Using the All-22 cut-ups, let’s take a look at two big time throws from Kaepernick, talk route concepts and get into some coaching points…

Personnel: Ace (2WR-2TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles
Route: Double Post
Defensive Scheme: Cover 1 (Rover)

Playbook

The idea with the Double Post vs. Cover 1 (will also see the route vs. Cover 4 teams) is to put stress on the FS in the middle of the field. By running two inside verticals, the 49ers want to hold Charles Woodson between the hashes and target Michael Crabtree on the skinny post. Stem No.2 (TE Vernon Davis) directly at the FS and work No.1 (Crabtree) vs. a CB playing with an outside shade (Cover 1 technique).

Playbook

Tough spot for Woodson. Even though the FS has enough depth to create downhill angles to the football (drive to No.1 or No.2), Davis’ route is going to hold Woodson in the middle of the field. That creates an open throwing window for Kaepernick to target Crabtree—and this ball is out before the WR even breaks to the post.

Playbook

Sam Shields defends the post exactly how it is coached up at the pro level. The Packers’ CB plays through the release, stays “in-phase” (on the hip of the WR), maintains his leverage and drives to the up field shoulder. However, the throw beats him here. Kaepernick puts the ball to the inside (away from the defender’s leverage). Great throw, great catch.

Personnel: Ace (2WR-2TE-1RB)
Formation: Unit Slot (Big Wing)
Route: Verticals
Defensive Scheme: Cover 3 (3-deep, 4-under)

Playbook

Same route concept we saw from the 49ers vs. the Patriots. With Randy Moss aligned as the No.1 WR to the open (weak) side of the formation (deep ball speed), Kaepernick will move the FS out of the middle of the field and force CB Tramon Williams to play two verticals. That’s not easy to split both routes when you are playing an outside 1/3 zone technique (back to the sideline).

Playbook

I wanted to show you the end zone view of Kaepernick in the pocket because of the pump-fake. That’s all it takes to move Woodson when you have the threat of Moss on the 9 (fade) route. The QB puts his eyes on No.1 and then comes back to target Vernon Davis down the seam.

Playbook

With the FS now removed from the middle of the field, Kaepernick can target the inside vertical. The Packers have A.J. Hawk carry No.2 (Davis), but that puts the LB in a trail position vs. speed. And because Williams doesn’t get enough depth (needs to overlap both verticals), this turns into a footrace for Hawk.

Playbook

This is called a “bucket throw” from Kaepernick. With Hawk playing underneath and low to the inside hip, the QB drops this ball on the up field shoulder. Heck of a throw down the field on a vertical concept.

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NFL Playoffs: Patriots, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson…

Click here for my notes from Saturday’s matchups in the Divisional Playoffs.

With the Falcons and Patriots now advancing to Championship weekend, here are my quick game notes from Sunday’s Divisional matchups. Five things that stood out from my perspective…

Click here for my notes from Saturday’s matchups in the Divisional Playoffs.

With the Falcons and Patriots now advancing to Championship weekend, here are my quick game notes from Sunday’s Divisional matchups. Five things that stood out from my perspective…

TOM BRADYUS PRESSWIREBrady threw three TD passes as the Patriots advanced to the AFC Championship.

1. Patriots win with tempo, matchups: Look at the consistent matchups Tom Brady and the New England offense created today. Even without Rob Gronkowski (expected to miss the rest of the playoffs with an injury according to a PFT report), the Patriots used multiple personnel groupings and alignments to win on the edge and between the numbers. Hernandez, Welker, Vereen. Houston couldn’t play with the speed and tempo of this offense and was exposed when Brady (344-yards, 3 TDs) targeted the middle of the field or worked the boundary in the vertical game. The way I see it, you almost need a couple of built in checks (think base defensive schemes) to compete with the pace of the Patriots. There were times when the Texans couldn’t get lined up in the red zone—and you don’t get those snaps back.

2. Ryan, Falcons’ 2-Minute offense: Seattle challenged the Falcons’ QB in the final thirty seconds of the game by using five-man zone pressure schemes (3-deep, 3-under in the secondary). How did Ryan respond? The QB hit Harry Douglas on the deep out and then targeted Tony Gonzalez on the inside curl (excellent blitz pickup by RB Jacquizz Rodgers) to set up the game winning FG. No matter what your opinion was of the QB throughout the game (or after the pick he threw to Earl Thomas), give Ryan (24-35-250-3TDs-2INT) the credit for making the throws in a crucial situation to put his team in a position to win the ball game and advance to the NFC Championship.

3. Russell Wilson: The QB’s ability to throw the deep outside cuts to the sidelines (3-level schemes) and extend plays in the pocket continues to impress me. Sure, Seattle did show some Read Option looks, but this playbook was productive today because of Wilson and the passing game. The rookie plays with the poise of an experienced vet and he doesn’t panic vs. pressure. Work the pocket, keep the eyes down the field and make plays. That’s what Wilson (24-36-385-2TDs-1INT) did as he brought Seattle back from a 20-0 hole at the half. Excited to see him play next year as he continues to develop as a pro.

4. Pressuring Schaub: When the Patriots had the Texans’ QB in 3rd down and 7-plus, they went with pressure (both zone and man). In man-pressure schemes, align your DBs off the ball, drive the 3-step reads, make the tackle and get off the field. Don’t’ make it complicated when you know the ball is going to come out. And going back to Schaub’s INT, the Patriots again brought pressure (off the edge) with LB Rob Ninkovich dropping as a “middle hook” defender to make the play vs. the inside sight adjust. That’s smart football from a defensive perspective.

5. Seattle’s missed opportunities: Start with the 4th and 1 call in the second quarter. That’s a situation where you use the boot action with Wilson or let Marshawn Lynch run off tackle (Power O, Lead, etc.). However, running the base FB belly (dive) isn’t going to get it done. I have no issue playing for the sticks there (over taking the FG), but you have to put the ball in the hands of one of your playmakers. And then there was the end of the half with the lack of execution and the clock issues that took points off the board. Can’t come up empty in those situations on the road in the playoffs.

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NFL Playoffs: Kaepernick, Ravens, Manning…

After watching the Ravens and 49ers advance to Championship weekend, here are my notes from Saturday’s matchups in the Divisional Playoffs.

Colin KaepernickUS PRESSWIREKaepernick's skill set was on display in the 49ers' 45-31 win over the Packers.

After watching the Ravens and 49ers advance to Championship weekend, here are my notes from Saturday’s matchups in the Divisional Playoffs.

Colin KaepernickUS PRESSWIREKaepernick’s skill set was on display in the 49ers’ 45-31 win over the Packers.

Kaepernick lights up the Packers: The combination of the 49ers’ playbook and Kaepernick’s skill set at the quarterback position absolutely gashed the Packers’ defense. Look at the multiple personnel groupings, formations, alignments and schemes. Kaepernick’s ability to run the ball off the Read Option should be talked about (along with his top end speed in the open field), but let’s also focus on the throws he made from the pocket (deep seam, 7 route, skinny post, etc.). Easy to be impressed with the overall ability we saw from the Kaepernick tonight. That was a clinic. And the QB had the numbers to prove it (17-31-263-2TDs-1INT; 16 carries, 181-yards, 2TDs).

Broncos’ Moore gives up the deep ball: Can’t let this happen in a two-minute situation with an opportunity to close out a playoff game. In Cover 2 (smart call), the safety has to play with enough depth to take away the outside vertical. With Jacoby Jones releasing down the field (CB will trail underneath with no threat in the flat), Moore should have opened his hips vs. a single vertical and taken an angle that put him over the top of No.1. However, he was late coming out of pedal (need to transition sooner), took a poor angle and wasn’t in the proper position to make a play on the ball. Know the game situation; increase your pre-snap depth if you have to and don’t allow anything over the top. That’s poor technique on a throw that should have been intercepted to close that game out.

Manning’s INT: We all know Manning shouldn’t have thrown that ball in the second OT. With Brandon Stokley trying to convert his route, Manning threw back across his body. Sure, there are QBs that get away with it, but it’s a risk anytime you make that decision. I don’t want to take away from Corey Graham and the play he made, but a veteran QB with that much experience has to throw that ball away or look at another option. Crucial mistake that set up the Ravens to kick the game winning FG.

Capers’ game plan: There is no question the edge defenders (OLBs) in the Packers’ defense had issues with the Read Option, but I’m looking at Capers’ decision to bring pressure vs. Kaepernick in the first half on 3rd down situations. That’s tough when you don’t get home on the blitz, because DBs have their backs to the QB in coverage. How many times did we see the 49ers’ QB break contain or step up with plenty of open field to work with? In that situation, go with Cover 2 or even Cover 3. Keep it simple. Rush four and allow your second level defenders to drop to a landmark and read the QB. That was a rough night for Capers and his game plan.

Torrey Smith vs. Champ Bailey: The Ravens’ WR worked over Bailey in the first half. Look at the vertical speed (plus the ability to create separation) on the post or the body control to come back for the ball on the 9 (fade) route in the red zone. I know Bailey didn’t have safety help on the post, but that’s on him to play through the break, drive to the up field shoulder and stick to the hip vs. Smith down the field. Champ couldn’t match the speed or route running ability of Smith on Saturday.

Quick hits…

– Don’t forget about Ray Rice (30-141-1TD) or Frank Gore (23-119-1TD). In a passing league, you can still run the ball with production and win in the post season.

– You think Joe Flacco made some money today? The Ravens’ QB threw for 331-yards and 3 TDs.

– Michael Crabtree: route running and a burst after the catch. That’s obvious when you watch him play right now.

– John Fox should have to explain the decision to take a knee at the end of regulation with two timeouts left. Give Manning a shot to win the game.

– Where was the deep ball from Manning and the Broncos’ offense? Think of the defensive scheme from the Ravens. When they didn’t bring pressure, Baltimore played a lot of 2-Man. Underneath trail-man with safety help on top of the numbers.

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Can Packers limit Gore, 49ers’ run game?

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

As we look ahead to Saturday night’s Packers-49ers matchup in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, I want to go back to something I saw on tape from the Week 1 game at Lambeau Field. Jim

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

As we look ahead to Saturday night’s Packers-49ers matchup in the NFC Divisional Playoffs, I want to go back to something I saw on tape from the Week 1 game at Lambeau Field. Jim Harbaugh’s club did an excellent job of game planning the Green Bay defense and forcing the secondary to enter the run front vs. the “G-Lead” scheme.

Let’s use the All-22 tape, get into some coaching points and break down a couple of examples of the 2-Back scheme that gave the Packers issues…

Personnel: Regular (2WR-1TE-2RB)
Formation: I Slot
Scheme: G-Lead (Fold)

Playbook

What is the “G-Lead?” Think of the Lead Closed (strong) with the front side guard pulling to block the second level LB. Here, the Niners add a “Fold” technique (TE and RT switch responsibilities) to create angles in the blocking scheme. But the basic run action doesn’t change with the RG on the pull and the FB leading up through the hole.

Playbook

Because the 49ers align in a slot formation, CB Tramon Williams has to set the edge of the run front. As you can see here, the TE blocks down on the 5 technique DE and the RT kicks out the Sam Backer (“Fold”). With the RG now working up to the inside backer, the FB can lead through the hole on Williams.

Playbook

The Packers’ CB has to be much quicker in his run/pass read. When the TE blocks down, Williams should enter the run front and shorten the edge of the defense with a “Hammer” technique (attack outside shoulder of the block and squeeze the hole). However, because Williams is late on his read, the FB can kick out the CB and create an opening running lane for Gore.

Personnel: Regular (2WR-1TE-2RB)
Formation I Slot
Scheme: G-Lead

Playbook

The Packers have their nickel sub package on the field this time and are sending Charles Woodson on an open (weak) side pressure off the slot look. Up front, the Niners run the G-Lead scheme again and target the closed side of the formation.

Playbook

I talk about angles in the pass game and it is no different when you are primary support player vs. the run. With Vernon Davis using a “reach” block on the Sam Backer, and the RG working to the second level, the FB will fit up on Williams. However, because Williams doesn’t take an inside (45-degree) angle to close the edge of the formation (takes a straight downhill angle), the FB has an easy path to kick out the CB and create a lane.

Playbook

Gore can now square his pads, get up the field and go to work on the FS. An excellent use of formation and scheme from Harbaugh to target the CB and produce in the run game.

Will the game plan change?

These aren’t the same teams that we saw back in Week 1 and the 49ers have more options within the game plan because of Colin Kaepernick at the quarterback position. However, look for Harbaugh’s team to once again use their personnel and formation alignments to create blocking angles in the run game. That’s the key to this offense in San Francisco and the Packers have to prepare for another physcial matchup on Saturday night.

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Chancellor vs. Gonzalez? That’s good football

I hope the Seahawks put together a game plan that leans on some pressure and man-coverage schemes in Atlanta this Sunday. I really do. Think Cover 1 (or even Cover 0) in the secondary—because I want to see Kam Chancellor matchup vs. Tony

I hope the Seahawks put together a game plan that leans on some pressure and man-coverage schemes in Atlanta this Sunday. I really do. Think Cover 1 (or even Cover 0) in the secondary—because I want to see Kam Chancellor matchup vs. Tony Gonzalez.

Tony GonzalezUS PRESSWIREThe skill set of Gonzalez vs. the size and length of Chancellor…that’s the matchup I want to see this weekend.

I know what the Falcons have outside of the numbers in Julio Jones and Roddy White. Legit talent right there. That’s another good matchup to take in vs. Seattle’s Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. I would put those two corners in press-alignments for the majority of the game. Let them get physical at the line of scrimmage, mirror the release and play through the hands at the point of attack.

But I’m still focused on the matchup inside of the numbers with Chancellor and Gonzalez.

Look at the size and length of Chancellor vs. the skill set of Gonzalez. Think route running, body control and athletic ability at the top of the route stem. Gonzalez can still get it done…and I want to see how Chancellor attacks the tight end on Sunday.

Does he play from an off-position or will the strong safety walk up to the line and re-route Gonzalez on the release? Can Chancellor maintain his leverage throughout the route stem, use his free safety help and stay “in-phase” (on the hip) vs. Gonzalez on the seam or 7 cut (corner route) down the field?

Sure, the Falcons will use Gonzalez out of multiple alignments. That’s smart. The tight end will align attached to the core of the formation, as the backside X receiver, in a bunch, stack, etc. This is a tough offense to prep for because they are so multiple within the playbook.

I mentioned the seam already and we have to also throw in the Tare combination (Stick-Flat combo), the “Nod” (quick double move) and the Hi-Lo concepts (Hi-Lo opposite, Hi-Lo Crossers). And don’t forget about the Falcons game plan when they move the ball inside of the red zone. That’s where Gonzalez becomes a prime target for QB Matt Ryan.

Maybe the Seahawks show more zone looks or the Falcons lead with the run game. I don’t know that yet. But I’m hoping to see Chancellor vs. Gonzlaez. Two of the top players at their respective positions. And that’s exactly what we should expect on the playoff stage.

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Packers’ All-22: The ‘Dagger’ route

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

During the Packers' NFC Wild Card win on Saturday night, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense executed the "Dagger" route during the 2-Minute drill. A seam-dig (square-in) combo that

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

During the Packers’ NFC Wild Card win on Saturday night, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense executed the “Dagger” route during the 2-Minute drill. A seam-dig (square-in) combo that is designed to target Cover 2 (or Cover 3) with the No.1 WR working back between the numbers and the hash. And to give you a better idea of how the route scheme plays out vs. a 2-Deep shell, let’s go to the tape and take a look at the All-22 cut-ups of Rodgers’ pass to Jordy Nelson.

Vikings vs. Packers
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot Exchange
Route Concept: Dagger
Defensive Scheme: Nickel Cover 2

Playbook

– The Vikings are showing a single-high defense with FS Harrison Smith aligned as a deep 1/3 defender, but looking at the depth of the Mike Backer (and the press-alignment of the CBs), Rodgers can identify Cover 2. Both safeties will roll to their deep half landmarks (top of the numbers) at the snap and read the release of No.1.

– The idea is to clear out the vertical seam defender (Mike Backer) and target the deep middle of the field with an inside breaking route (similar to the “Sucker” concept I broke down in the Chicago Tribune). The Mike will open his hips to the passing strength (closed side of the formation in this situation) and carry the inside vertical (WR Greg Jennings). And with the LB now removed, Rodgers has a two-level read: Nelson on the deep inside cut and TE Jermichael Finley in the flat.

– A pre-snap key to keep in mind…look at Jennings’ alignment (exchange: No.2 on the ball). This is done so the No.2 receiver can get up the field before No.1 breaks back inside of the numbers.

Playbook

-This is a good view of the route on Nelson’s break. With the Mike carrying Jennings on the seam, Rodgers can read the drop of the Nickel and throw to an uncovered area on the field. Even with the Nickel gaining depth, we have to remember that he is playing with his back to Nelson.

Playbook

End zone angle of the catch. Look at the hole in the zone coverage. The SS will drive from the deep half, but he has to play with enough depth to overlap the seam route. This is exactly how the “Dagger” should play out vs. Cover 2 if you execute the scheme.

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How did Alabama’s McCarron beat up Notre Dame’s Cover 2?

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Click here for my Cover 2 "cheat sheet."

A.J. McCarron and Alabama put it on Notre Dame last night to win their second straight BCS National Championship. With the Irish playing

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Click here for my Cover 2 “cheat sheet.”

A.J. McCarron and Alabama put it on Notre Dame last night to win their second straight BCS National Championship. With the Irish playing some Cover 2 (and Cover 6: Quarter, Quarter, Half), the Tide ran a base 2-Deep beater (Flat-7) to produce in the passing game. Let’s go back to the video and breakdown some coaching points from last night’s matchup.

1 .Flat-7: Jet Personnel (4WR-1RB)

– Motion to a stack alignment on the closed (strong) side of the formation. Why? To get a free release off the line of scrimmage for WR Amari Cooper. The CBs in Cover 2 are taught to jam (re-route) No.1 and then sink at a 45-degree angle to protect the deep half safety. However, with a stack look it forces the corner to play off (called a “soft squat” technique). That gives Cooper a free run up the field.

– What are the WR splits telling the Irish here? Tight to the core of the formation (plus a stack alignment) should be an automatic alert to the Flat-7. Alabama is using this reduced split to create room for Cooper to work the deep 7 cut (corner route).

– Set the bait for the CB (Flat route) and go to work on the safety with a deep, outside breaking route. And as we can see on the replay, the Notre Dame CB bites up on the flat and leaves the safety in a tough spot driving the 7 cut from his Cover 2 landmark (2-yards on top of the numbers in college).

– Notre Dame wants this ball to go to the flat. If the CB gains depth in his drop and cushions the 7 route, the defense can force McCarron to come off his deep read and dump the ball underneath. However, with the CB now removed, McCarron can step into this throw and hit Cooper for a explosive gain.

2. Flat-7: Ace Personnel (2WR-2TE-1RB)

– Alabama has Ace personnel on the field and aligns in a bunch look to the closed side of the formation. Off of play action (Counter OF), McCarron will roll out of the pocket and work a two-level read.

– Check out the pre-snap alignment of the CB. You won’t get a re-route vs. a bunch look. Again, the CB has to sink hard underneath the 7 route and force McCarron to dump this ball in the flat.

– With the safety late off his landmark, and the CB sitting short, this is another example of how ‘Bama targeted Cover 2 last night on their way to the championship.

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Are the Texans ready for Patriots’ play action?

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Going back to the Week 14 matchup in Foxborough, the Patriots used multiple schemes (and personnel groupings) to roll up 42 points vs. the Texans' defense. And after watching that tape, play action was

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Going back to the Week 14 matchup in Foxborough, the Patriots used multiple schemes (and personnel groupings) to roll up 42 points vs. the Texans’ defense. And after watching that tape, play action was one of the issues for Wade Phillips’ unit.

Using the All-22 cut-ups, here are a couple of examples of how Tom Brady and the Patriots produced in the play action game vs. the Texans’ secondary…

1. Deep Post: Heavy Personnel (1WR-3TE-1RB)

Playbook

– Think pre-snap keys here. Ball on (or near) the plus-40 yard line (alert to a vertical shot) with the WR in a reduced split (close to the core of the formation). The antenna has to go up in the secondary for a possible play action scheme. Read your keys and trust your eyes.

– Smart call to bring Heavy personnel on the field. With three TEs in the huddle and a crack release (hard inside stem from a reduced alignment), the Patriots want to show the stretch or outside zone scheme.

– Three-deep look from Houston. That shouldn’t be a problem even with the closed (strong) side CB playing from an outside leverage position. Funnel the WR on the post (Brandon Lloyd) to the FS help in the middle of the field.

Playbook

– Poor eye placement. For all the technique in the secondary that I talk about (footwork, leverage, cushion, hands, etc.), eye discipline is the No.1 reason DBs get beat. Focus on Glover Quin (FS) and the backside 1/3 defender (Manning). What do we see? Eyes in the backfield vs. a High-Hat read (pass read).

Playbook

– Sideline angle of Lloyd stemming to the post. With both the FS and the outside 1/3 defender now removed because of the play action, Brady can target Lloyd working away from leverage.

Playbook

– Here is the finish. I like the play call and the use of personnel from the Patriots given the field position. That’s smart football. However, this was too easy for Brady because of the poor discipline in the secondary.

2. Underneath Crosser: Ace Personnel (2WR-2TE-1RB)

Playbook

I’m calling this a “dash” concept. The Patriots use run action with Ace personnel on the field in a 2-back alignment. TE Aaron Hernandez will come back across the formation on the underneath route with both WRs (Lloyd and Wes Welker) on deep dig (square-in) concepts.

Playbook

The Texans are playing Cover 1 (man-free), but again we are talking about eye discipline. The run/pass key for the SS in man-free is No.2 (or the TE). No need to focus on Brady or the run action. This is a clear pass read. Play the release of the TE and drive to the up field shoulder on a crossing route.

Playbook

Look at the room the Patriots have created in the middle of the field for Hernandez. With the FS removed because of the outside dig routes (and the SS working to recover vs. the TE), Hernandez can come back across the field and make the catch.

Can the Texans make the proper corrections?

This is a crucial week in the film room for the Texans’ defense and I’m interested to see Phillips’ game plan on Sunday vs. Brady. But what we are looking at here is more about discipline than scheme. And the Texans will play a much better brand of football on defense if they focus on their base run/pass keys vs. play action. As a coach would say: “Keep your eyes on your work.”

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Wild Card Sunday: RG3’s injury, Lynch, Boldin

Click here for my notes from Saturday's Wild Card matchups.

The Seahawks and Ravens got the wins today in the Wild Card matchups to advance. Let's breakdown some notes and take a quick look ahead to next weekend's Divisional games.

Click here for my notes from Saturday’s Wild Card matchups.

The Seahawks and Ravens got the wins today in the Wild Card matchups to advance. Let’s breakdown some notes and take a quick look ahead to next weekend’s Divisional games.

Robert Griffin IIIUS PRESSWIREShould the Redskins have pulled RG3 before he went down with a knee injury?

RG3’s injury: Should Mike Shanahan have pulled the rookie QB early in today’s ball game? This is a good discussion to have, because the player is never going to take himself out of a game. Not in pro sports. We have to understand the pro mentality when it comes to injuries: push through, play in pain and deal with the consequences after. But who is protecting the player himself? That’s the key. We could all see that Griffin was struggling to move, plant in the pocket and protect the knee. Plus, when he did go down, his knee lacked any sort of stability as it gave out. Just based on a pure football and production standpoint, I would have gone to backup Kirk Cousins to get some rhythm and flow to the offense. The Redskins struggled to run their scheme with Griffin’s lack of mobility. But in terms of the larger discussion, there has to be some accountability from the sidelines when it comes to the health of the player. Remember, these guys are too competitive and too proud to duck out of a game (especially on the playoff stage).

Marshawn Lynch’s production: Impressive football player. If you were to breakdown Lynch’s game, where would you start? He can run out of multiple schemes (2-Back power game, Read Option, inside zone, etc.), press the edge of the defense, work inside of the tackles and use vision in the open field to beat up defensive secondaries. In the Wild Card win over the Redskins today, the Seahawks’ RB rushed for 132-yards and a TD (on 20 carries). Those are big numbers. And I love the fact that he will finish runs. Look at the pad level on contact. That’s what you want in a No.1 back.

Boldin’s impact: Here’s the thing on the Ravens’ WR: he isn’t going to win with straight-line speed. That’s not his game. However, if you watched the WR today, he can win at the point of attack and within the route stem. Go back to the TD catch (play the ball at the highest point, finish strong) or the deep ball on the quick double-move (created separation). The Ravens generated explosive gains on offense today and Boldin (5-145-1TD) was a major part of that because he made plays for Joe Flacco.

Russell Wilson gets a playoff win: The rookie had the one miss on the deep seam route, but looking at this entire ball game, you had to like what Wilson did in his first playoff start. I know he can run, break contain and make some plays on the Read Option scheme. But I’m more focused on the deep out cuts or the sideline throws that have to be put on the up field shoulder away from the defender.

Ravens’ pass rush: Why not send overload pressure, use zone blitz schemes and even play some Cover 0 (man pressure with no safety help) vs. this Colts’ O-Line? This was matchup Baltimore could exploit today and I like the idea of using multiple blitz schemes. This defense did allow Andrew Luck and the Colts to move the ball, but they made the plays in red zone situations. That sells in the playoffs. I don’t know if having Ray Lewis back in the huddle was the key, but this unit played a much better brand of football today.

A quick look ahead to the Divisional Playoffs…

Ravens at Broncos… If you are going to blitz Manning, then you have to win in the backend. That’s what I’m looking at in this game. Can the Ravens matchup to Thomas, Decker and the Broncos’ TEs when they send pressure vs. Manning?

Packers at 49ers… Power O, Lead Open, Counter OF, Wham, etc. The base power run game from the 49ers. The Packers have to win at the point of attack with their defensive front seven, fit up the run and force Colin Kaepernick to challenge the secondary.

Seahawks at Falcons… I can’t wait to see Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez matchup to the Seahawks’ defensive backs. A physical secondary that wants to compete and play press-coverage vs. legit talent at the skill positions. That’s good football.

Texans at Patriots… Wade Phillips’ game plan has to improve. The Patriots whipped the Texans in that Monday night matchup and its on Phillips to create a game plan that will impact Brady. Big week in the film room for the Texans’ defense.

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Wild Card Saturday: Rodgers, Foster and more

Looking back on the Wild Card wins from the Packers and Texans today, here are five things that stand out from my perspective as we get set for the Sunday playoff schedule tomorrow.

Aaron RodgersUS PRESSWIRERodgers put on a

Looking back on the Wild Card wins from the Packers and Texans today, here are five things that stand out from my perspective as we get set for the Sunday playoff schedule tomorrow.

Aaron RodgersUS PRESSWIRERodgers put on a clinic at the end of the first half in the 2-minute drill during the Packers’ 24-10 win over the Vikings.

1. Rodgers’ 2-Minute production: That was impressive football from the Packers’ QB at the end of the first half. Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson on the “Dagger” concept (clear out seam-deep dig combo), moved the ball underneath and then came back to Nelson again on deep comeback. And it was that comeback route (off of boot action) that should be shown on teaching tape. Rodgers threw that ball on a rope (to the up field shoulder) and that led to John Kuhn finishing off the drive on an inside run vs. a 2-deep alignment. The execution from Rodgers (and the play calling) in that drive put this game away at the half.

2. Limiting Peterson: The Vikings’ RB still posted 99 yards (on 22 carries), but we didn’t see the explosive runs that have been an issue for the Packers in their previous two matchups. Green Bay was able to maintain leverage on the edge of the defense, hold their gaps and take the proper angles from the secondary. Plus, how many times did we see multiple hats on the ball carrier? I don’t think any defense can shut down A.P. completely, but given the QB situation for Minnesota tonight, the Packers did enough on early down and distance situations to impact the Vikings’ game plan.

3. Foster’s running style: Footwork and vision. That’s what I focus on with Foster. Look at the cutback runs today or the ability to set up a defender in the open field. One-cut, square the pads and work to the second level. With the Bengals’ defense playing some Cover 2 and taking away the deep ball, Houston ran the game plan through Foster (32-140). The Texans will need more production from Matt Schaub to beat the Patriots next week in the Divisional round, but today they leaned on Foster and the run game.

4. Dalton’s deep ball issues: The Bengals’ QB had two deep ball opportunities with A.J. Green today that he missed. Start with the post. Green had Johnathan Joseph beat and created separation back to the middle of the field. However, Dalton left this ball short and allowed Joseph to get back in-phase with the WR to finish the play. Later in the 4th quarter, the QB had Green on quick double move outside of the numbers. This should have been six points with the FS breaking late from the middle of the field, but Dalton overthrew the route. Can’t miss on these two plays and expect to advance.

5. Joe Webb’s inexperience: Webb played like a QB that lacked experience. Look at the shaky footwork, his inability to make quick decisions with the ball or his lack of touch down the field. The Read Option was a nice addition to the game plan early with Christian Ponder out, but the Vikings struggled because Webb couldn’t make enough plays from the pocket. To beat Green Bay, you need to score points and convert 3rd down situations. That didn’t happen with Webb tonight.

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NFL playoffs: Are you ready to see some speed?

“Hey rook, the playoffs are no joke.”

I heard that all week leading up to my first playoff game as a rookie back in the 2000 season with the Rams. One week after beating the Saints on Christmas Eve to get in the tournament, we

“Hey rook, the playoffs are no joke.”

I heard that all week leading up to my first playoff game as a rookie back in the 2000 season with the Rams. One week after beating the Saints on Christmas Eve to get in the tournament, we would do it all over again. Get on the plane, fly down to New Orleans the next weekend and repeat the drill.

Andrew LuckUS PRESSWIRERookie Andrew Luck will make his first playoff start this Sunday vs. the Ravens.

I thought the vets were full of it to be honest. I did. How could the league possible get faster in a week’s time? Come on. I wasn’t buying it. It’s still football.

Man, I was dead wrong.

The hitting, the speed, and the tempo of the game lived up to everything the vets told me throughout the week.

I had experienced the jump in speed from the preseason to the regular season. That’s shocking when you get on the field as a rookie vs. veterans that get paid big money to play this game for a living.

Speed in the college game? Sure. But it doesn’t compare to this.

It took me some time to get adjusted.

But this game down in New Orleans on Wild Card weekend was even faster.

Special teams? No time to think. Guys were running for their lives covering kicks, exploding into the wedge (when it still existed in the NFL) and sacrificing their bodies to make a tackle inside of the 20-yard line.

So, why does the speed increase so much?

Think about what these guys are playing for. We are talking about a chance to land a Super Bowl ring and collect more playoff checks. That’s cash on top of what you made during the season. And the more games you win, the more exposure you get as a player on the biggest stage in America.

That leads to larger contracts, more job security, and, well more money.

You make a play in the post-season and everyone sees it. That’s the truth. For many young players a post-season run can jump start a career and give you options moving forward.

It’s a beautiful thing.

Next weekend, we will get to see Peyton Manning and Tom Brady play. On Saturday night, it will be Aaron Rodgers. Those QBs have been through this drill multiple times and have rings to show for it.

But what about the rookie QBs that are slated to play this weekend? Think of Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III. And let’s not forget about Christian Ponder and Colin Kaepernick in their first post-season start over the next two weeks.

That’s great theater. I want to see these young QBs handle the stress of the playoff stage. And everything is a test.

My advice to the rooks? Listen to the veterans when they talk about the speed of the game in the post-season. It could shock you a bit. However, with rings, money and jobs on the line, what would you expect?

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Does the ‘cross-country’ trip impact NFL playoff teams?

We left on a Thursday. A mild January afternoon with occasional episodes of sun. Mostly clouds.

An early practice at Redskins Park followed by a short window of time to run to the house, grab a suit, some toothpaste, an overnight bag and head back

We left on a Thursday. A mild January afternoon with occasional episodes of sun. Mostly clouds.

An early practice at Redskins Park followed by a short window of time to run to the house, grab a suit, some toothpaste, an overnight bag and head back to the team bus for the ride over to Dulles International Airport.

Pete CarrollUS PRESSWIRECarroll and the Seahawks have a long trip to D.C. for the NFC Wild Card game vs. the Redskins this Sunday.

After a five game run to get into the dance, we knocked off Jon Gruden’s Bucs 17-10 in Tampa to win the Wild Card the previous weekend. Up next, a trip to Seattle for the Divisional playoffs. Holmgren, Hasselbeck, Alexander and the Seahawks. The afternoon kickoff on a Saturday.

NFL road trips are really business trips. That’s the truth. You don’t have time to hit up the nightlife in town. This isn’t the NBA or MLB. No clubs or bars or late nights. Teams usually leave the afternoon before the game, check into the hotel, grab a nice dinner in town (players love to find a solid steak house the night before), sit through a meeting or two and go to bed.

Wake up, hit the pre-game meal, play the ball game and head back to the airport or the train station as we did for the trips to Philly and New York.

Boring? Yeah, it’s not as cool as you would think. And you usually sit on the plane for at least an hour while the gear in loaded.

However, when you travel across the country as we did early in 2006 to play the Seahawks, the routine is flipped a bit. We left two days before the game that season. Smart with a five-hour flight all the way up to Seattle (with choppy weather on tap for the ride).

And our owner, Mr. Snyder, took care of us.

We chartered a double-decker plane, Morton’s catered the meals and the veterans relaxed in style up in first-class seats on the way to Seattle. Guys watched movies on laptops and DVD players (remember, there were no iPhones or iPads back in ’06), played cards, dominoes, etc. With PSP (the portable Play Stations) the new thing for NFL team flights, there were plenty of matchups over the skies of the Midwest in Madden football (I always played with Vick and the Falcons if you are curious).

That was a long plane flight and we were all exhausted when we touched down in the darkness of Seattle (after pushing through the rain). I was tired, dehydrated and wanted to go to bed.

We checked into the hotel, had dinner, were given a curfew (one that guys don’t break because of the ridiculous fine attached to it) and shut it down for the day.

On Friday (think Saturday in a standard NFL work week), we had meetings at the hotel, attempted to get adjusted to the time change on the west coast and went through our walk-thru session at the airport in one of those private hangers off the runway.

That’s right. Get on the bus, take in the scenery of Seattle on a wet morning and go back to the airport—for practice.

On cold cement we went through the game plan in shorts and jerseys (no helmets the day before a game). Offense, defense, special teams, etc.

That was a great coaching staff under Joe Gibbs. It didn’t matter if we had practiced on the street that day (in traffic). Gibbs, Gregg Williams and special teams coach Danny Smith had us prepared to play.

We were sharp going through adjustments, our checks and so on. The session was fast and there weren’t many questions. You get to this point of the season with a shot at advancing to the NFC Championship game there is really no excuse to walk into a game unprepared.

The rest of the day played out as it would on a road trip to Philly or Dallas: nap, dinner, team meeting, position meeting, bed.

Again, nothing to see here.

Did we win on Saturday in Seattle? Nah. That was the day our season ended with a 20-10 loss to the Seahawks in one of the loudest environments I’ve ever been in as a player or as a fan. That place was rocking.

The Seahawks went on to win the NFC Championship and eventually lost to the Steelers in the Super Bowl.

For Pete Carroll’s team flying east this weekend to play RG3 and the Redskins, their routine will change a bit. I’m sure they will leave on Friday, stay downtown D.C. and find a spot to have their walk-thru on Saturday.

But regardless of the time change or the long flight, the game on Sunday will still come down to execution for both the Seahawks and the Redskins. Pro ball players are always ready for change and adjust quickly when their routines are flipped. They are programmed that way.

Maybe the long flight will be discussed if the Seahawks get off to a slow start on Sunday. But that’s just talk. It really is. Carroll’s club has already put in some flight hours this season. And if they treat this game like a business trip (as I expect they will), the flight across the country into D.C. won’t impact them at all.

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Why wouldn’t there be NFL interest in Oregon’s Kelly?

No one should be surprised to see the reports coming in today on Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. I get it. We all should. With interest already from the Eagles, Browns and Bills, the Ducks head coach could possibly make the jump to the

No one should be surprised to see the reports coming in today on Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. I get it. We all should. With interest already from the Eagles, Browns and Bills, the Ducks head coach could possibly make the jump to the NFL after the Fiesta Bowl this week out in the desert.

Chip KellyUS PRESSWIREThere is plenty of NFL interest in Oregon head coach Chip Kelly.

Will Kelly succeed at the pro level? Maybe. Maybe not. We don’t know that yet. And I am always curious to see how NFL players respond to a coach coming from the college game after playing for Steve Spurrier myself during his time as the Redskins head coach.

Some vets buy into it, while others don’t want any part of it. That’s just how it works with professionals.

But the sudden rise (or demand) for Kelly is reflective of the game we are watching today in the NFL. It is about speed, athleticism, tempo and points on the offensive side of the ball.

This isn’t the same league that I played in or even the same league we saw three years ago. There are no standard schemes; no required skill set for the quarterback position and everyone wants to push the ball up the field.

Get creative, win with the game plan and dictate the flow for four quarters.

Hey, Lovie Smith was just fired here in Chicago with a defense that finished in the top five this year. The problem? Not enough execution, production and results on the offensive side of the ball.

That’s why Denver’s offensive coordinator Mike McCoy is a hot name in this town and the same reason we are hearing the names of Kyle Shanahan, Darrell Bevell, etc. These guys can coach and scheme on offense. They can create and force defenses to panic when they go through a week of game prep.

The NFL has always been fast. Always. Turn on the tape and you can see it for yourself.

But with the spread offenses making their way into the NFL, and the type of athletes that are arriving each year, the game is finding ways to become even faster than I ever imagined.

Heck, I couldn’t even play in today’s game and I have no problem saying it. An “in the box” safety? Forget about it. Those don’t exist anymore. Dinosaurs.

Like I said above, we can’t predict that Kelly will win in the NFL if he does decide to take a pro job, but I understand the interest level. His offense at Oregon is hell to prepare for. Why not try it out in the NFL?

Its worth a shot—and everyone wants it.

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Don’t forget about Lynch

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

I expect the majority of the hype surrounding the Seahawks-Redskins matchup in the NFC Wild Card to focus on quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. These two rookies have played like vets throughout

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

I expect the majority of the hype surrounding the Seahawks-Redskins matchup in the NFC Wild Card to focus on quarterbacks Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. These two rookies have played like vets throughout the season and are tough to prep for from a game plan perspective.

But let’s not forget about Marshawn Lynch and the running game under Seahawks’ coordinator Darrell Bevell. Look for multiple schemes out of a variety of personnel and alignments.

Using the All-22 tape, here are three runs to breakdown…

1. Lead Open: Regular personnel (2WR-1TE-2RB)

Playbook

One of the 2-back power runs (Lead Open, Lead Strong, Power O, Counter OF) in the Seahawks’ playbook. Playing vs. the Rams 4-3 front, Seattle is going to lead the FB to the open (weak) side on the Will LB and work up to the Mike with the LG. No window dressing here. A base downhill scheme.

Playbook

With the FB kicking out the WLB, Lynch is going to read the path of the LG. Allow the blocks to develop and then make the cut.

Playbook

As we can see on the tape, the LG washes the Mike past the hole and Lynch now has a clear lane to square his pads. Solid execution of a scheme that is installed on the first day of camp.

2. Read Option: Posse personnel (3WR-1TE-1RB)

Playbook

The Seahawks have been productive this season with Wilson and Lynch on the Read Option. Working here vs. the 4-3 front, Wilson will read the DE (OLB in 3-4 front). If he stays up the field, give the ball to Lynch on the downhill path. If the DE crashes, Wilson will pull and get to the edge.

Playbook

Here is a look at the “mesh point” with Wilson and Lynch. With the DE staying to the outside, this is an easy read for the QB. Give the ball to Lynch and let him get him up the field.

Playbook

Again, look at the running lane for Lynch. With the LT getting to the second level of the defense, Lynch can play off the block and cut to the outside.

3. Zone (Stretch): Ace personnel (2WR-2TE-1RB)

Playbook

The Zone (or Stretch) series out of the Pistol alignment vs. the 49ers. The idea is to get the ball to Lynch deep in the backfield with zone blocking up front. You want the RB to have options. Read the backside pursuit, pick a lane and get vertical.

Playbook

Lynch shows his patience on this run and extends the play to the edge of the defense. And with another open hole to work with, this turns into an explosive gain for Lynch. The Seahawks are going to show the Redskins’ defense a variety of looks this Sunday in Washington. That leads to play action opportunities along with the movement passes (boot, sprint, dash) for Wilson. A great matchup to watch.

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How impressive is Alfred Morris?

I’m impressed with the play of Alfred Morris. You should be too. Heck, who isn’t talking about the rookie after he rushed for 200-yards and 3 TDs in the Redskins 28-18 victory over the Cowboys?

ALFRED MORRISUS PRESSWIREMorris rushed

I’m impressed with the play of Alfred Morris. You should be too. Heck, who isn’t talking about the rookie after he rushed for 200-yards and 3 TDs in the Redskins 28-18 victory over the Cowboys?

ALFRED MORRISUS PRESSWIREMorris rushed for 200-yards and 3 TDs in the Redskins’ 28-18 win over the Cowboys.

During a win that gave the Redskins their first NFC East title since the 1999 season (and guaranteed a home playoff game this Sunday), Morris played like an established vet.

Sure, the schemes are unique in Kyle Shanahan’s offense. I get that. And it’s also easy to reference the Pistol formation, the Read Option, etc. when talking about this Redskins’ team with QB Robert Griffin III running the show.

But regardless of the playbook, that game was more about the talent of the sixth-round pick out of FAU. Look at Morris’ vision, the balance, the ability to run with a low pad level and drive his legs on contact.

That’s a skill set we can apply to any offense and the majority of his production came in a classic zone-based run scheme vs. Dallas last night. Get downhill, find a running lane, cutback and burst to the second level of the defense.

I have talked about my former teammate Clinton Portis often here at the NFP because I loved the style he brought to the stadium. And in 2005 when we went on a five game run to get into the post season dance under head coach Joe Gibbs, it was all about Portis. A physical back that could carry the game plan, move the sticks and respond time after time in crucial situations. If we needed a play, C.P. would respond.

Portis was one of the toughest players I’ve even been around at the pro level. That’s the truth.

And up until last night, Portis held the Redskins’ record for rushing in a single-season (1,516-yards). Well, there is a new record now (1,613-yards) because of Morris. Not bad for a rookie, right?

I understand Griffin is the key to how the Redskins’ set their game plans. But after watching Morris run vs. the Cowboys—and throughout this season—let’s give the rookie RB the credit he deserves.

He carried that team last night–just like Portis did back in the day.

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NFL Sunday: A.P., Redskins, Lovie Smith and more

Looking back on the final Sunday of the 2012 regular season, here are five things that stood out from my perspective—starting with A.P. and the Vikings.

Adrian PetersonUS PRESSWIREAdrian Peterson rushed for 199-yards as the Vikings beat

Looking back on the final Sunday of the 2012 regular season, here are five things that stood out from my perspective—starting with A.P. and the Vikings.

Adrian PetersonUS PRESSWIREAdrian Peterson rushed for 199-yards as the Vikings beat the Packers to get into the NFC playoffs.

1. Adrian Peterson, Vikings make the tournament: I don’t want to take anything away from Vikings’ QB Christian Ponder (16-28-234-3TDs) because he made some big plays today in Minnesota’s 37-34 win over Green Bay. Break down the red zone throws or the deep ball when he caught Sam Shields looking in the backfield on the double-move (Sluggo). But my focus is on A.P. and his 199-yards on the ground (only 9-yards short of Dickerson’s record). I saw the power, speed and the violent style with the ball that has Peterson in the discussion for the MVP award. Find me a safety or a corner that consitently wants to square-up and tackle A.P. for three hours on a Sunday. He takes away the angles, runs through contact and forces defenders to lunge in the open field. That’s four straight wins for the Vikes with another shot at the Packers this Saturday night in the Wild Card.

2. Alfred Morris beats up the Cowboys: How about the rookie? This isn’t new to see Morris produce in the Redskins offense, but in a game for the division title he played like a vet. Sure, RG3 and the Redskins are going to use the Read Option looks that freeze the DE, but we have to recognize Morris’ ability to run the ball in the basic Zone schemes up front as well. That’s where I saw the cutback vision from the rookie and the quick burst to get to the second level. The RB has balance, runs with low pad level and can carry the game plan. 200-yards and 3 TDs on 33 carries. That’s impressive right there as the Redskins take home the NFC East title.

3. Romo’s INTs: We all know this is going to be a discussion point moving forward because the Cowboys’ QB made some questionable throws. Look at the 9 (fade) route early in the game that he left short and to the inside or the 4th quarter INT to the flat. In a crucial situation, that’s a throw off the back foot vs. pressure with air under it. You just cant make that throw with an underneath “buzz” player reading the QB and working to the flat. I give ‘Skins defensive coordinator Jim Haseltt a ton of credit for his game plan. He came to the stadium with multiple blitz packages. That’s smart football. But this is still on Romo and his decision making on another big stage.

4. Decision time in Chicago: Fire a 10-6 coach? That’s a tough call for GM Phil Emery and the Bears. I would make the move because I believe its time for a change in Chicago. Looking at Lovie Smith’s team, I understand the personnel issues they have on offense. They need to upgrade the O-Line, the TE position and add some legit speed at WR. But after failing to make the dance after a 7-1 start and now missing the playoffs for the fifth time in the last six years, some new leadership is needed from my perspective. Lovie is a very good football coach, but this could be an opportunity for Emery and the team to go a different direction.

5. Slumping Texans: The Texans have gone from the No.1 seed to playing on Wild Card weekend and it starts with the QB position. If Houston wants to beat Cincy this Saturday and advance, they need to get more consistency from Matt Schaub. And I would also look at the secondary play from the Texans. That has to be better. Checking out the AFC bracket, its hard not to envision the Broncos and Patriots meeting in the Championship game right now. But isn’t that where we had the Texans slotted for most of the season? Houston lost three of four to close out the year and I’m curious to see if they can raise their the level of play in the post season.

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How can Cowboys prep for Redskins ‘Sprint’ action?

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

RG3 and the Redskins are tough to game plan for inside of the red zone because of their multiple options within the playbook. Think of the Read Option, the boot game, QB

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

RG3 and the Redskins are tough to game plan for inside of the red zone because of their multiple options within the playbook. Think of the Read Option, the boot game, QB Draw, dash and the sprint action.

However, the Cowboys’ defense can use film study to track some pre-snap tendencies based on alignment and formation leading up to Sunday night’s matchup for the NFC East title. Using the All-22 coaches tape, let’s take a look at one of RG3’s TD passes off of sprint action from the Redskins-Cowboys matchup on Thanksgiving.

Redskins vs. Cowboys
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles
Route: Curl-Flat (Sprint)
Defensive Scheme: Cover 4

Playbook

I want to start with a quick look at the end zone angle before the snap because the RB’s alignment tells you the story. This is called a “chowed” alignment (outside leg of the tackle). From a defensive perspective, when you see a RB with a “chowed” split to the open side of the formation it is an automatic alert to the sprint game (RB will seal the edge).

Playbook

There are two routes you will see inside of the 10-yard line off of sprint action: Curl-Flat and Flat-7. That’s pretty standard across the league. Here, the Redskins are running the Curl-Flat with No.1 pushing up the field on the curl and Santana Moss on the quick burst to the flat.

Playbook

Contain principles. That’s a must vs. Griffin and the Redskins. The Cowboys are in position to defend the route with the FS working to No.1 and the nickel back driving to Moss on the flat. However, once the QB breaks contain and extends the pocket, Moss can convert this route up the field (converts to a wheel concept).

Playbook

The back-shoulder throw. As you can see on the end zone angle, RG3 throws this ball to a spot—before Moss opens the hips. That’s a tough position for any DB in coverage that is working vertically to stay on the inside hip of the WR.

Playbook

Look at the ball placement here. RG3 puts this throw to the outside and on the boundary. This allows Moss to make the catch, tap the feet and finish the play. But it all started with the Redskins’ sealing the edge of the defense and Griffin extending the pocket. That’s a correction the Cowboys have to make Sunday night.

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Week 17: Three NFC matchups to watch

Looking ahead to the Week 17 schedule in the NFL, here are the three Sunday NFC matchups I'm focused on. Let’s talk scheme, some personnel and break these down.

Robert Griffin IIIUS PRESSWIRERG3 and the Redskins can look to target the top of the Cowboys' secondary with

Looking ahead to the Week 17 schedule in the NFL, here are the three Sunday NFC matchups I’m focused on. Let’s talk scheme, some personnel and break these down.

Robert Griffin IIIUS PRESSWIRERG3 and the Redskins can look to target the top of the Cowboys’ secondary with play action schemes.

1. RG3 vs. Cowboys’ safeties: Think eye discipline here. Yes, I know this sounds elementary when we talk about basic run/pass keys at the pro level. But if the Cowboys want to limit Griffin and the Redskins’ offense it has to start with the ability of the safeties to read High-Hat (pass) vs. Low-Hat (run). I expect the ‘Skins to set up this Dallas secondary early with the Read Option out of the Pistol look just as they did in their previous matchup on Thanksgiving. And if Griffin can force those safeties to stick their eyes in the backfield (Cover 4 reads) or take a step to the line of scrimmage, there will be deep ball opportunities on the post and seam. For Dallas safeties Danny McCray and Gerald Sensabaugh, this game will be a test. And with the NFC East title on the line, you can’t afford to give up a free one over the top. Trust what you see and play ball.

2. Adrian Peterson vs. Packers’ run defense: In their first matchup this season, Peterson rushed for 210-yards in a loss to the Packers and now needs 208-yards to break Eric Dickerson’s single season record (2,105). Can he get it on Sunday? That’s a big number. But in a matchup the Vikings need to land a spot in the playoffs, why wouldn’t Minnesota run the game plan through A.P.? You will see the Lead Open, Power O, G-Lead, the Zone, etc. These are downhill schemes from the Vikings in both one and two-back alignments. From the perspective of the Packers, focus on the defensive front seven, gap control and tackling with their second level defenders. Going back to that first matchup, Green Bay did not tackle on the edge of the defense or square-up in the open field. But if the Packers want to lock up the No.2 seed in the NFC (and grab a first-round bye), it will come down to base fundamentals vs. the league’s top back.

3. Calvin Johnson vs. Charles Tillman: The Bears’ CB limited Johnson back in October (3 receptions for 34-yards) in Chicago’s single-high safety defenses: Cover 1, Cover 3 (3-deep, 4-under) and pressure (both zone and man). Tillman was physical on the release, played the ball at the point of attack and matched Johnson down the field on vertical concepts. On Sunday, Tillman has to play for the 9 (fade) route, the deep dig (sqaure-in), skinny post, underneath crosser (Hi-Lo combination) and prevent Johnson from creating separation. Plus, don’t forget about Cover 2. If the Bears start to lean on their 2-deep shell, Tillman must re-route Johnson on the release and sink to protect the deep half safeties on a possible 7 cut (corner route). Let’s see what Tillman can do vs. Johnson in a must-win game for the Bears.

Follow me on Twitter: @MattBowen41

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How did Flacco beat Giants’ Cover 0 pressure?

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

I’m always interested in defensive game plans when the ball is in the red zone. Think of it as an opportunity to dictate field position and force the QB to make quick decisions. However, if you want to lean on your blitz

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

I’m always interested in defensive game plans when the ball is in the red zone. Think of it as an opportunity to dictate field position and force the QB to make quick decisions. However, if you want to lean on your blitz packages then you better play some technique in the secondary.

Looking at the tape of the Giants-Ravens matchup from this past Sunday, New York played some Cover 0 (man-to-man with no safety help) inside of the 10-yard line and gave up the slant route to Torrey Smith. Let’s check out the All-22 cut-ups and breakdown some coaching points on Joe Flacco’s TD pass.

Giants vs. Ravens
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Empty
Route: Tare/Slant
Defensive Scheme: Cover 0

Playbook

This is the basic “Tare” concept out of an empty alignment. To the closed (strong) side of the formation, the Z receiver will run the clear out 9 (fade) route with No.2 and No.3 on the “stick” combination. With Smith in the slot to the open (weak) side, and Ray Rice removed as the No.1 receiver, the Ravens are running double slants. A three-step concept that will allow Flacco to get the ball out vs. 6-Man pressure.

Playbook

Check out Smith on the release vs. Corey Webster. In Cover 0, the DBs are taught to play with an inside shade (no safety help) and take away the slant in a red zone situation. However, Webster doesn’t slide his feet to mirror the release and that allows Smith to win on the inside stem. Remember, because of the route combination, the Ravens only have five to block six. The O-Line slides the protection to the open side, but that leaves the closed side DE free off the edge. The ball has to come out or the QB is going to be on the ground.

Playbook

Look at the middle of the field. With no safety help (or a LB dropping to the middle hook), Webster is on an island. Flacco can make a quick decision to the open side of the formation and target Smith knowing there is backside pressure.

Playbook

Can’t get beat to the inside. That is exactly what a pro DB coach would say in this situation. I like the call from the Giants to send pressure and force Flacco to make a quick decision under stress. We see that across the league in the red zone. However, technique still sells in the secondary.

Follow me on Twitter: @MattBowen41

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Is Vick ‘playing for a job?’

Another opportunity. Another chance to put some good football on tape. That’s how I see this game on Sunday for Eagles’ QB Michael Vick.

Micahel VickUS PRESSWIREMichael Vick is expected to get the start for the Eagles this Sunday vs. the Giants.

With rookie Nick

Another opportunity. Another chance to put some good football on tape. That’s how I see this game on Sunday for Eagles’ QB Michael Vick.

Micahel VickUS PRESSWIREMichael Vick is expected to get the start for the Eagles this Sunday vs. the Giants.

With rookie Nick Foles out with a broken bone in his throwing hand, Vick is expected to get the start vs. the Giants. It will be the veteran’s first game since suffering a concussion back in early November and I’m looking forward to seeing him play again.

I like Vick’s game. I always have. And this goes back to my time in the league defending the quarterback when he was playing down in Atlanta.

We all know Vick is most likely going to play for a new team in 2013. That’s the reality of this business when pre-season expectations aren’t met. Vick will move on as will many other players in that Eagles’ locker room. With a possible coaching change, Philly will have a new look next season.

And with so many teams in desperate need of change at the QB position (Cardinals, Jets, Bills, Chiefs, etc.), Vick should draw some interest in the offseason. Sure, he isn’t going to see top dollar as he did with the Eagles just a couple of seasons ago and there should be concerns about his injury history.

However, there will be opportunities for the QB to play some ball next year.

This matchup does give Vick a chance to showcase his talents once again and reassure teams that he is still capable of producing in a live game situation. That’s pro ball. I would look for Vick to be smart when he gets outside of the pocket (and in the open field), but I bet there are some teams that want to see the QB take a couple of hits. That’s all part of the drill this Sunday.

As for Vick truly “playing for a job,” I’m not buying it. That’s for young and unproven talent at the end of the season. Those are real job interviews, resume builders early in careers.

Not with Vick. The NFL knows what he can do. This is just one game. And we should expect the veteran QB to find a new home this offseason.

Follow me on Twitter: @MattBowen41

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Welcome to the ‘real’ NFL, Tim Tebow

Tebow would just be a “gadget guy" in the NFL.

How many times did we hear that during the draft process when Tebow came out of Florida? You all know what I am talking about here. A highly successful college player that just wouldn’t make it in the NFL.

Tebow would just be a “gadget guy” in the NFL.

How many times did we hear that during the draft process when Tebow came out of Florida? You all know what I am talking about here. A highly successful college player that just wouldn’t make it in the NFL.

Tim TebowUS PRESSSWIRETebow might have been promised more, but he was just a “gadget guy” for the Jets this season.

The transition would be too tough. That was the general opinion.

However, go back to last season in Denver. Look at the run he put together or the win over the Steelers in the playoffs. That was good football and the Broncos did a heck of a job building an offensive system that fit the skill set of their QB.

I was a fan. Why not? Tebow was making plays to win games. It didn’t matter if it was conventional or not, because the proof was in the results.

But it doesn’t take an expert to see that the Broncos and John Elway wanted more. That’s why they signed Peyton Manning and traded away Tebow in the offseason. They made an upgrade at the QB position and Tebow, like hundreds of other players in the NFL, found out he was easily replaceable.

I’ve been there as a player. I was cut three times. Its no fun to find out you are essentially being thrown out for something better. Yet, it happens. That’s life as a pro.

This season Tebow has been a part of the circus act under Rex Ryan in New York. A lot of talk and attention surrounding that team, but little to show for it. A disaster of a season for everyone involved.

In fact, it has been ridiculous.

Tebow was that “gadget guy” for the Jets. He played on special teams, ran the wildcat offense in awkward game situations and didn’t produce any real numbers to talk about.

Was he promised something more, something bigger this past offseason and in training camp? I’m sure he was, but the NFL isn’t always fun and games. It’s just not. That’s reality.

At times, it is a league built on lies when it comes to personnel. The coaches will tell you what you want to hear, but come game days it’s never that easy.

Tebow is no different than plenty of guys who went into this 2012 season expecting more only to become afterthoughts as the season progressed. And according to reports this week, the QB asked to be taken out of the wildcat package when he found out he wasn’t going to be named the starter for the now benched Mark Sanchez.

That surprised me. It really did. Tebow taking himself out? Come on. Not that guy.

There are opinions out there that have applauded Tebow for doing so (if the reports of his actions are completely accurate) and those that have questioned his ability to deal with some adversity.

I don’t agree with anyone sitting down and passing up an opportunity. Whether it is covering kicks or running the option, passing up time on the field doesn’t sit well with me as a former player. That’s as honest as I can be. And you don’t have to agree. That’s not my point here.

Maybe Tebow does land in Jacksonville next season and wins a job in camp. Maybe not. I don’t know that right now. No one does.

But after this year in New York, one thing is for sure with Tebow: he found out that this league isn’t always fair.

Follow me on Twitter: @MattBowen41

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This is how you execute the ‘Tunnel Screen’

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Earlier this week, I talked about the Falcons and their play calling in the win over the Lions. A good mix of the run game, the screen action and some vertical shots down the field during their Saturday night matchup

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Earlier this week, I talked about the Falcons and their play calling in the win over the Lions. A good mix of the run game, the screen action and some vertical shots down the field during their Saturday night matchup in Detroit. Today, let’s go back to the All-22 tape of Roddy White’s TD on the “Tunnel Screen” and breakdown the play that allowed the WR to get up the field.

Falcons vs. Lions
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles
Route: Tunnel Screen
Defensive Scheme: Cover 2

Playbook

With the Lions in Cover 2 (7-Man box), the Falcons use some window dressing to set this play up in plus territory. Atlanta wants to show the Crack Toss to the open side of the formation and come back to White on the closed side Tunnel Screen. The Falcons motion to a crack alignment (WRs close to the core of the formation), with the closed side OG pulling and the RB (Jacquizz Rodgers) on the toss action. The idea is to force the LBs to step to the play action side and come back to White with the TE (Tony Gonzalez) and the LT working to the second level.

Playbook

The end zone angle of QB Matt Ryan and Rodgers on the toss action. Look at the linebackers and the closed side DE. They all take the bait (eyes in the backfield). With Gonzalez and the LT now able to release to the second level of the defense, the Falcons have exactly what they want to set up the screen.

Playbook

White can set up the block of Gonzalez and get up the numbers. And for any safety that is attacking the screen downhill from the deep half, be alert for a cut-block. An offensive tackle isn’t going to play around in the open field. Get your hands ready, push down on the shoulder pads and kick the legs back when the O-Lineman goes low. You have to stay on your feet in this situation and force the WR to cut back to the defensive pursuit.

Playbook

This is how you draw it up on the chalkboard when we talk about execution on the offensive side of the ball. Gonzalez turns the CB out and the LT cuts down the SS in the deep half. That leaves a clear lane for White to get vertical up the field and take this to the end zone for six points.

Follow me on Twitter: @MattBowen41

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Cowboys-Redskins for the NFC East? I’m jealous

I could feel Fed Ex Field shake on opening day when Joe Gibbs came back to coach in Washington. That stadium was electric as fans waited for the opening act on a warm, but somewhat manageable afternoon down on the field in Landover.

Joe GibbsThe atmosphere at

I could feel Fed Ex Field shake on opening day when Joe Gibbs came back to coach in Washington. That stadium was electric as fans waited for the opening act on a warm, but somewhat manageable afternoon down on the field in Landover.

Joe GibbsThe atmosphere at Fed Ex Field was electric when Gibbs came back to the sidelines in 2004.

We ran the Counter Trey, blitzed at least twenty-times under new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and beat Jon Gruden’s Bucs 16-10 on that Septmeber day in 2004.

But the game itself was almost secondary to the carnival-like atmosphere that developed when Gibbs jogged onto the field. Redskins’ fans had their coach; their guy back in the mix and optimism (or hope) was at an all-time high.

I played in some great backdrops during my career: Lambeau, Philly, Texas Stadium, the late afternoon kickoff at the Meadowlands, Soldier Field, Arrowhead, Monday night, every playoff game.

But I can’t say that any of them stood up to that opening day game in Washington.

However, can you imagine what Fed Ex will feel like when RG3 and the ‘Skins host Tony Romo and the Cowboys this Sunday night?

One game for the NFC East Championship. And I’m jealous. I really am.

Who wouldn’t want to play in that game under the lights? Come on. That’s pro football right there. The speed of the game is going to increase, the in-game coaching will be crucial and the true emotion on the field will carry over through the whistle.

The hitting? I expect it to resemble the post-season stage where guys are playing for rings and bonus checks. Win and you take home the division title along with a spot in the dance.

I don’t cheer for the NFL teams that I played for and my days as a Bears fan ended a long time ago when I was a kid. But I still know people in the building over at Redskins Park in Ashburn, Virginia and it’s going to be hard for me to look at this game completely unbiased.

Cowboys-Redskins is one of the best rivalries in pro sports and these games are as physical as any I’ve ever played in. That’s the truth.

This Sunday is great theater, great drama on the national stage. And that’s how it should be when these two clubs play football.

Have a great Christmas Day…

Follow me on Twitter: @MattBowen41

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NFL Week 16: Russell Wilson continues to impress

Looking back on the Week 16 NFL schedule, here are five things that stood out from my perspective—starting with Russell Wilson’s production in the win over the 49ers.

Russell WilsonUS PRESSWIREWilson and the Seahawks ran up 42 points on the 49ers Sunday night.

1. Russell

Looking back on the Week 16 NFL schedule, here are five things that stood out from my perspective—starting with Russell Wilson’s production in the win over the 49ers.

Russell WilsonUS PRESSWIREWilson and the Seahawks ran up 42 points on the 49ers Sunday night.

1. Russell Wilson on the prime time stage: If you were watching Wilson play Sunday night vs. the 49ers, then you saw the ability he brings to the Seattle offense. Sure, the Read Option adds to the playbook and it is tough to prep for when Marshawn Lynch is also in the backfield. However, I’m more focused on the rookie’s ability to navigate the pocket, get to the edge of the defense and make the tough throws. Focus on the deep out, the 7 (corner) route in the end zone, etc. Can we put him in the discussion for the Rookie of the Year award? Sure we can after Wilson and the Seahawks dropped 40-plus on one of the best defenses in the NFL.

2. Ponder, Vikings beat up the Texans: I had no problem saying the Texans could win this matchup if they limited the explosive gains from Adrian Peterson (25-86) and put the game plan in Christian Ponder’s hands. Well, that didn’t happen because the Vikings’ QB played some good football and the Minnesota defense shut the door on Houston. Ponder made plays with his feet, escaped pressure, protected the ball and did enough in the passing game (16-30-174-1TD) to put the Vikings in a position to get a win on the road vs. a quality defensive team. And now all Minnesota needs is a win at home next week vs. the Packers to punch a ticket to the playoffs.

3. Roethlisberger’s 4th quarter INT: This is the type of play we are accustomed to seeing the Steelers’ QB execute. Extend the pocket, allow the WRs time to convert their routes and make the stick throw to continue the drive. However, with the Bengals playing Cover 2, Roethlisberger sailed a ball intended for Mike Wallace and Bengals safety Reggie Nelson was waiting in the deep half for a classic “basket” interception. That play helped set up Cincinnati for the game winning FG and it also knocked the Steelers out of the playoff mix. Think about it: that’s now two straight games where Roethlisberger has thrown an INT in a crucial situation.

4. Giants continue to slide: Look at the last two weeks for the Giants. That tells you the story here. Inconsistent play on the offensive side of the ball, a lack of production from Eli Manning and a defense that is getting lit up. This Ravens’ team came into Sunday under a lot of heat, but Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and the rest of the offense put up over 500-total yards of offense vs. the Giants. The New York defense isn’t getting the big plays up front along the D-Line and that is exposing the secondary outside of the numbers. Tom Coughlin’s club needs some help to get back to the post season if they want to defend the title.

5. Falcons’ play calling: On Saturday night, Matt Ryan and the Falcons played every bit like a pro offense during their win over the Lions to lock up the No.1 seed in the NFC. The run game, the screen passes, the multiple personnel groupings and the vertical shots down the field to WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones. This is a tough offense to stop when Atlanta opens up the game plan and goes to work. And when you mix play calling, use balance and highlight some real talent at the skill positions, you are going to score points.

Follow me on Twitter: @MattBowen41

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All-22: Are 49ers ready for Seahawks ‘pick’ route?

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

When NFL clubs set their game plans, they study the last four tapes of the opposition. That’s how they chart tendencies, set their play cards for practice and begin to breakdown personnel, formations, etc. However, when you matchup with a divisional opponent

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

When NFL clubs set their game plans, they study the last four tapes of the opposition. That’s how they chart tendencies, set their play cards for practice and begin to breakdown personnel, formations, etc. However, when you matchup with a divisional opponent for the second time in a season, that first game tape in valuable to seeing how they scripted the call sheet on both side of the ball.

Take the 49ers-Seahawks matchup back in Week 7. What is on the tape that can prep a player for the game tomorrow night in Seattle? Is there a certain formation, alignment or even a personnel grouping on the field that can give you a quick pre-snap key to go make a play?

Using that tape, here is an example of how the Seahawks were in position to pick up an explosive play in Week 7. Let’s take a look at the All-22 cut-ups and focus on what the Niners’ defense can look for tomorrow night.

Seahawks vs. 49ers
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot “Dakota”
Route: Rail (“Pick”)
Defensive Scheme: Cover 1 “Rover”

Playbook

With the Seahawks in a “Dakota” alignment (TE removed as backside X receiver), the 49ers walk SS Donte Whitner down in coverage (Cover 1). However, look at the split of the TE and the alignment of the RB. With the TE in a reduced or nasty split (close to the core of the formation) and the RB in a “chowed” alignment (outside leg of the tackle), this should be an automatic alert to the Rail route (similar to a Wheel concept) and a possible “pick” situation. Remember, DBs and LBs have to recognize the pre-snap splits of the receivers.

Playbook

Here is a look at Robert Turbin’s alignment in the backfield. Anytime you see a RB aligned behind the tackle, expect him to release into the route scheme. The Seahawks are setting up the “pick” route. Get the RB quick to the edge on the Rail concept and release the TE inside to chip LB Patrick Willis.

Playbook

With Whitner in an off-man position, he will slide his feet laterally on the inside release from the TE and top his coverage. However, the Seahawks are going to force Willis to make a decision: cut underneath the TE or “bubble” over the top. Either way, Seattle has created a deep ball opportunity by using the “pick” concept to get Turbin up the sidelines.

Playbook

Because San Francisco is playing Cover 1 (single high safety defense), Turbin can stem this route outside of the numbers. That’s a lot of ground for FS Dashon Goldson to cover from the deep middle of the field. And with Willis now stuck in a trail position, QB Russell Wilson can target the RB down the sidelines.

Playbook

The Seahawks didn’t finish this play because of the drop by Turbin, but the scheme was solid. They had the perfect route called to target Cover 1 and create an opportunity down the field.

Will the Seahawks come back to this route?

This is what you have to study from the perspective of the 49ers. NFL offenses will come back to the same route scheme and use window dressing to disguise it (flip the formation, use different personnel, etc.). There are always ways to dress up a route concept you have already shown on tape. However, the pre-snap keys won’t change (reduced split, chowed alignment, field position). Let’s see if the Seahawks come back to this route tomorrow night and if the 49ers are ready to defend it.

Follow me on Twitter: @MattBowen41

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NFL Week 16: Five matchups to watch

Let’s look ahead to the Week 16 schedule in the NFL with a focus on personnel and game plans. Here are the five matchups that I will be watching.

Colin KaepernickUS PRESSWIREKaepernick has to matchup with the talent of the Seahawks' safeties on Sunday night in

Let’s look ahead to the Week 16 schedule in the NFL with a focus on personnel and game plans. Here are the five matchups that I will be watching.

Colin KaepernickUS PRESSWIREKaepernick has to matchup with the talent of the Seahawks’ safeties on Sunday night in Seattle.

1. Colin Kaepernick vs. Kam Chancellor/Earl Thomas: The second-year pro lit up the Patriots secondary this past Sunday, but I’m anxious to see him play vs. the talent Seattle has at the safety position. Thomas has the range and speed to make plays from the deep middle of the field in Cover 1 and pressure schemes. Plus, don’t forget about the size and length of Chancellor in matchups vs. TEs Delanie Walker and Vernon Davis. This will be a test for Kaepernick vs. two of the best young safeties in the NFL. Can the QB make the proper reads and protect the ball? We will find out on Sunday night.

2. Eli Manning vs. Ed Reed: When looking at the Giants passing game, think of Victor Cruz inside of the numbers (Seam, Hi-Lo) and Hakeem Nicks on deep inside breaking cuts. However, for Manning to work the middle of the field he has to account for Reed in both single high safety defenses (Cover 1, Cover 3) and 2-deep schemes (Cover 2, 2-Man). The Giants’ QB has to hold Reed in the middle of the field and be smart with the ball to target the deep dig (square-in) or the inside seam. This Ravens’ defense isn’t a top tier unit, but Reed can still break on the ball. Manning can’t give him a free one.

3. Adrian Peterson vs. Texans’ Front Seven: With the way Adrian Peterson is running, no one is going to shut down the Vikings’ RB. However, can the Texans limit the big plays and yards after contact? It is critical to tackle in the open field vs. Peterson, stay disciplined in your run fits, get multiple hats to the ball carrier and win on early down and distance situations. Easy for me to say, but if the Texans can force the Vikings into 3rd and 7-plus situations where Wade Phillips can bring pressure, I don’t see Christian Ponder beating this Houston secondary.

4. Rob Ryan vs. Drew Brees: Tony Romo and the Cowboys’ offense should move the ball vs. the Saints, but how does the Dallas defensive coordinator game plan for Brees? That’s what I want to find out. Is this a game where Ryan brings pressure early or will see more zone based schemes vs. the Saints? With Morris Claiborne expected back in the lineup, I like the matchup of the Cowboys’ CBs vs. Colston, Moore and Henderson. Think Xs and Os here from the perspective of the Cowboys’ defense in a crucial late season game.

5. Brandon Marshall vs. Patrick Peterson: I like Peterson’s skill set. The Cardinals’ CB is physical, will use his hands at the line of scrimmage and wants to compete. And we know the ball is going to Marshall within the Bears’ game plan. This is a matchup that will be won at the line of scrimmage. Focus on the release, Marshall’s ability to gain leverage inside and the closing speed of Peterson. In a game the Bears must win, Marshall will have to carry the load once again in the passing game.

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What can we learn from Brandon Carr’s INT?

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

When studying defensive backs on tape, I always focus on technique and scheme. Where are their eyes? What about footwork, leverage, angle, etc.? And how do splits and formations impact their production? Whether it is a DB making a play

Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

When studying defensive backs on tape, I always focus on technique and scheme. Where are their eyes? What about footwork, leverage, angle, etc.? And how do splits and formations impact their production? Whether it is a DB making a play or getting beat over the top, there is always something to learn when you watch the tape.

Going back to Brandon Carr’s INT vs. Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers in OT, I see three keys that allowed the Cowboys’ CB to make a big time play. Let’s go to the All-22 cut-ups and take a look at Carr matched up vs. Mike Wallace.

1.WR Splits

Playbook

Always check the splits of the WRs when you break the huddle—because they tell you a story. Here, Wallace is aligned at the bottom of the numbers. With the ball on the near hash, that is a pre-snap key to play for the Out cut. By shortening his split, Wallace is trying to create room to run an outside breaking concept. And with the Cowboys playing “3 Buzz” (Cover 3 with the safety dropping to the middle hook), Carr is going to matchup vs. Wallace playing the outside 1/3 from an off-man position (7-8 yards).

2. Route Depth/Cushion

Playbook

Outside of the 3-step passing game (slant, hitch, smash, etc.), every route breaks between a depth of 12-15 yards (another reason not to bite on the double move). Carr shows patience and tempo throughout his backpedal and maintains his cushion (distance between DB and WR). This allows Carr to play though the vertical stem of the route, open his hips (zone turn) and create an angle to drive the outside breaking cut. Remember, you don’t want the WR to press your cushion up the field. That forces you to open and run vs. an intermediate route. Maintain that cushion and don’t let the WR create separation through the stem.

3. Break/Angle

Playbook

Smooth. That’s what I see from Carr and his ability to transition to the football. Because Carr is open to the QB, he has to flip the hips, plant and drive on the throw. No false steps or wasted movement. And when Roethlisberger leaves this ball slightly to the inside, Carr breaks at a 45-degree angle to finish the play.

Follow me on Twitter: @MattBowen41

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