Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Football Musings (WITH MINOR UPDATE)

Turnover Battles for the Week

Totals for Week6-5-2
Totals for Season75-19, 80%

Table Tutorial

Turnover Season Numbers by Totals

TotalRecordWin %

Table Tutorial

100 Yard Rushers

Chris JohnsonTenJac228W
Maurice Jones-DrewJacTen177L
DeAngelo WilliamsCarArz158W
Michael TurnerAtlNO151L
Steven JacksonSTLDet149W
Ryan MoatsHouBuf126W
Thomas JonesNYJMia102L
Totals for Week4-3
Totals for Season39-16, 71%

Table Tutorial

300 Yard Passers

Peyton ManningIndSF347W
Drew BreesNOAtl308W
Totals for Week2-0
Totals for Season32-10, 76%

Table Tutorial


TC's Drive Of the Week: (Each week, my young, trusty intern, TC Fleming, breaks down a drive from around the NFL from a purely X's and O's perspective - just because he can. Warning, when other people say "break down" they are not serious. TC is very serious)

For this week, I have opted to be uncharacteristically topical. Don’t worry about the world being turned upside down or anything though, it’s still going to be super wordy. I’d like to take a look at the Eagles. They didn’t have a drive that I’d normally be looking for (5-8 plays, 60+ yards, I guess). I guess we shouldn’t be stuck in a box like that though, so I actually picked three drives, though only totaling six plays. I feel like that’s indicative of the Eagles: when they’ve got their offense working, they pick up a great number of yards in a small number of plays.

Our attention turns first to the opening drive of the game. The Eagles begin in shotgun with four wide receivers split out. One is tight end Brent Celek, so the Giants counter with your standard nickel package and don’t really adjust their positioning when Celek lines up in the slot. Celek is in the right slot very close to Jason Avant with DeSean Jackson farther out of both of them. Jeremy Maclin is split wide to the other side. LeSean McCoy is in the backfield to McNabb’s left. As mentioned, the Giants leave the middle and weakside linebackers in their normal spots lined up behind the defensive line. The nickel back is over the two slot receivers, and the two safeties are 15 yards deep. The two linebackers both blitz, meanwhile McCoy heads right for a screen. The lineman make an effort to get out on the screen, but they hold their blocks longer than your average screen in my estimation. That keeps them from being of much help downfield, but it also prevents any of the defensive lineman from catching the play from behind, which is certainly a concern with guys like Justin Tuck (Go Irish). As to the wide receivers, they start the play by running some realistic-looking routes, especially with Avant running what at first looks like a drag. Then all of the receivers do just a superb job of blocking. With the lineman holding their blocks for an extra beat, the pressure is on the receivers, and they really step it up. With the two linebackers blitzing and the receivers blocking their men one-on-one, the free safety is the only unblocked defender, and McCoy has gained 16 yards before that safety can get to him. It’s a draw called against a blitz where everyone executes their blocks. That’s always just neat.

On the second play of the three-play drive is a toss to the right. Leonard Weaver comes in at fullback, Celek is on the line to the left. The two receivers are both to the right with Avant on the outside and Maclin in the slot (I was kind of surprised to see the Eagles have sets that don’t feature DeSean Jackson). Avant motions towards the formation before the snap, and that’s part of the major wrinkle on this play: Avant cracks the defensive end, Justin Tuck, while Winston Justice, the right tackle who would normally block Tuck, pulls around and blocks on the far outside of the play, outside of Maclin. It’s an interesting idea, but ultimately a pretty bad one. If everything goes to plan, Avant catches Tuck by surprise and gets enough of a block on him for McCoy to get by before Tuck bowls Avant over while Justice gets out and demolishes a defensive back on the edge, freeing McCoy to get into the secondary. What actually happens is that Tuck is too strong for Avant while the corner is too fast for Justice. Tuck chases McCoy down from behind. Meanwhile, Cory Webster, the cornerback on Avant, kind of hides behind safety Michael Johnson as Johnson is engaged with Maclin. That keeps him free of Justice’s block and available to help Tuck from the other side when they take down McCoy. Given that the two primary tacklers on this play were the two defenders for whom the Eagles switched assignments, it’s safe to say they’re getting too cute here. I think they could have gained more yards by just playing it straight and executing the expected blocks.

On the third play, the Eagles deploy their 12 package, with the standard one tight end to each side with a receiver wide of both of them. Leonard Weaver, normally the fullback, is the single back behind McNabb. The Giants are in their base defense with strong safety CC Brown about 10 yards off the line on the right and free safety Michael Johnson out of the picture, at least 15 yards back. McNabb makes some calls at the line, possibly changing the direction of the run. If that’s his call, it’s a huge one, because CC Brown is blitzing, and the run is (now) going away from the blitz, which is key to the success of the play. My inexperienced eyes think it looks like an inside zone run, though Jason Peters pulls outside of tight end Alex Smith. I don’t think that’s common of zone runs, though I guess it makes sense: they’re still blocking a zone, it’s just not the zone directly across from them at the snap. As far as the numbers game is concerned, there’s seven men in the box and seven offensive players along the line. Everyone on offense picks up a member of the front seven, doing a nice job of not getting caught up in the defensive line and making sure to get out and get the linebackers. They also do a very admirable job of getting the line moving. Weaver seems to be aiming for where the left guard was before the snap, but the way the line gets movement, he ends up running behind the right guard. He uses his considerable size to get through the line with force and is upright on the other side. With the Eagles’ seven men taking out the Giants’ seven, the remaining matchups are the two wide receivers blocking the two corners and the two safeties running free (because of McNabb and Weaver not blocking anyone). Weaver is running towards Maclin’s side. Maclin does the usual receiver routine of diving at the corner’s legs. In this case, it’s key to the play’s success. Not only does it slow down Terrell Thomas long enough for Weaver to get by him, it also creates the trash that slows down Michael Johnson, the safety to that side. The other safety, CC Brown, takes himself past the play by blitzing and is chasing from behind from there on out. By the time Brown catches up enough to be near the play, he gets caught in the disruption created by Maclin. It’s probably a mix of luck and skill, but that little block takes care of the second level by itself, springing Weaver for the touchdown. Weaver isn’t fast enough to run away from the crowd that forms once they sort past Maclin, but he doesn’t let them catch up either, which is pretty surprising for a fullback. I guess you shouldn’t have questions after a TD run like this, but I do wonder what Weaver brings that LeSean McCoy doesn’t. He might be better at powering through the hole, given his size advantage, but if that’s so important, why not move Weaver to halfback? If McCoy has the skill set to be your choice at halfback for just about every other play—and McCoy played very well in this game—then why take him out here, on the third play of the game? Still so much I do not understand.

The next two drives I’d like to discuss are the last two Eagles drives of the first half, the point where they really put this game out of reach. They both occur within the two-minute warning on either side of an Eli Manning interception.

On the first ‘drive,’ a possession that lasts for just this play, the Eagles line up in a formation similar to the first play, though this time they do it from 12 personnel. Both tight ends are in the left slot, close to each other with DeSean Jackson to the outside. McNabb is in the shotgun with McCoy on his right, and Maclin is out wide on the other side. This is a max-protect pass, with both tight ends and the running back looking to pass protect at the start of the play. As the play develops, both Celek and McCoy head out on routes. Maclin runs a square-in while Jackson runs kind of a smash. Really, I think Jackson is just running to the open areas down the field. The coverage, at least to Jackson’s side, looks like it’s Cover-2. The cornerback runs with him until he sees Celek head to the flat, then he stops his pursuit of Jackson. Meanwhile, the safety to that side, CC Brown, is playing very deep and backpedals at the snap. By the time the corner turns Jackson over to him, he is sprinting backwards. As he seems to do with fair regularity, Brown is playing terrified, looking to make a tackle 40 yards downfield rather than break up a pass. This, combined with McNabb moving Brown inside with his eyes, create a huge space for Jackson to work in. Jackson makes the easy catch and in a terrible ironic turn, outraces Brown to the end zone. The protection is important here. Jackson doesn’t have the time to give Brown nightmares but for the well-executed max protect. That, Jackson’s speed, and CC Brown’s ability to play football well make this play successful.

After Manning is picked, the Eagles go shotgun with four receivers wide and McCoy to McNabb’s left. Celek is in the slot to the left with Maclin (I think, the angle isn’t terribly clear) outside of him. Maclin takes a few steps forward before rounding towards the opposite sideline—your typical drag route. Celek runs a ‘Go.’ I can’t discern what the assignments are for the Giants defenders to that side, but whatever they are, they execute them poorly. The corner over Maclin, Cory Webster, runs backwards at the snap. He appears to be staring at MAclin but makes little move to follow him on his drag route. Maybe Webster was trying to anticipate a double move by Maclin or maybe they were in zone and he just didn’t want to get moved out of his area. Whatever the case, he isn’t within five yards of an offensive player and is pretty useless. Meanwhile, Michael Johnson is lined up over Celek. He, too, drops back at the snap, and when Maclin commits to the drag, he stops his backpedal and takes a step forward. Keep in mind this does not bring him into any position to defend a pass to Maclin, but it does let Celek get pretty far past him. The end result is Johnson and Webster standing next to each other defending area totally devoid of offensive players. I have to assume there was a breakdown somewhere. The safety over the top on that side is CC Brown. As is his wont, he’s 30 yards deep (this is not an exaggeration), so Celek is very open. He has to come back a little to make the catch, so he falls down bringing the ball in. Brown is so far back he has to run up considerably just to touch the receiver down on a 20-yard completion. I know the job of the safety is often just to keep the play in front of him, but this can’t be acceptable defense. The idea behind a ‘play it safe’ defense is that it’s okay to concede five yard gains, hoping that if the defense has to march downfield five yards at a time, they will eventually make a mistake. That makes some sense to me. However, letting the defense march down the field 20 yards at a time as CC Brown (or his defensive coaches, if they ask him to play this way) seems okay with based on how far back he plays, that does not make sense. His method seems less likely to force offensive mistakes.

The final play is again in shotgun. This time, there are three receivers, with one in the slot to the right. Celek is on the offensive line to the right. Maclin is the lone receiver to the left. Judging by the pre-snap alignment, the Giants are in zone coverage, so in theory, Maclin could be triple-teamed: he is the only threat to speak of for the cornerback over him, the weakside linebacker (it’s actually a defensive back, since the Giants are in their dime package, but I’m slow, so I don’t know what to call him) and the free safety. Celek does run kind of a post route, so he is on their radar, but still. Maclin is the primary concern for three defenders. Jeremy’s running your standard ‘Go’ route. CC Brown is playing too deep (weird, I know) and, thanks to some pump fakes by McNabb, too far inside. That’s the first defender. Maclin uses his speed to get behind the weakside linebacker/defensive back (who could probably defend himself by saying that Maclin left his zone, but really, it would have helped to go with Maclin in this case). That’s the second defender. As he is running down, Maclin has worked inside of his cornerback. Donovan throws him the ball, he goes up to get it and shields this third defender from it, and the Eagles have overcome triple coverage to score a touchdown. It’s a simple play that succeeds because of good protection to give Maclin time to get downfield, good work by McNabb to move the safety an put the ball in the right spot, good positioning and concentration by Maclin on the catch and bad coverage by the left half of the Giants’ defense.

I guess the biggest thing that jumped out to me is how bad the Giants’ pass defense was, and given they were just as terrible against the Saints, I feel confident saying that is not a pass defense of a division winners. McNabb did not feel real pressure on any of these plays, and the puts far more strain on the secondary than it can handle. That said, the Eagles protection deserves credit for the lack of pressure. And as to the secondary looking bad, that is also a function of the Eagles’ play-makers. I think the Eagles’ receivers showed us exactly what we thought they would: they’re fast. Maclin’s touchdown grab was the only catch with any level of difficulty. None of these plays required anything that would strike me as advanced route running. That isn’t to say they don’t have good hands or that they don’t run good routes, just that their speed was manifested in such a way that those other things were moot. I also think it’s notable how often CC Brown shows up. It certainly seems that the coaching staff saw a weak link in the defense and found a number of plays that left one of their play makers isolated on that weak defender. In these last five minutes of amateur hour, I’d like to opine that the Cowboys only real hope of avoiding the sort of evisceration the Giants’ suffered is to break down the protection. Jason Peters is an elite left tackle, but DeMarcus Ware is supposed to be just as good or better. The secondary, however, can make no such claims. These defensive backs will not survive extended exposure to the speed on the outside of this offense, so the key is to force a throw before DeSean Jackson is alone against a safety. As was the case in the game against the Saints, the Giants blitzed sparingly (a third of the plays, and with just terrible timing), asking for their front four to defeat five pretty good linemen and get to a mobile quarterback without help. I would take my chances with some extra rushers. Heck, if I were the Giants, you might as well send CC Brown on every play. It’s not like he’s going to hurt you any more than he already is. But for the Cowboys, they need to place a premium on getting pressure and forcing throws before the receivers’ speed can really create separation.


The Giants seem to agree with my assessment of CC Brown's performance this year. As they say at Berkner, number 41 sits on the bench.


fickle said...

Don't forget to add Michael Turner as a 100 yard rusher who lost.

Joe said...

So glad Bob is back to this blog rather than the Inside the Corner.