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19 Jan 2007

Too Deep Zone: Four Teams, Four Plays

by Mike Tanier

Are you drowning in a sea of hype?

If so, here's a football-shaped life preserver: a no-nonsense breakdown of all four conference title contenders. There's nothing fancy in the Too Deep Zone this week, just four teams, four plays (five, actually), and a bunch of diagrams to give you a closer look at what you should expect on Sunday.

Saints Waggle

Figure 1: Saints pre-snap motion
Note: #12 Marques Colston mistakenly marked as #87.

The Saints have a balanced offense in the truest sense of the word. They can throw long or short to various receivers, and they can run inside or out with Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush. Opponents cannot really scheme to stop one particular aspect of the Saints offense. If your run defense is strong, they'll throw the ball. If you drop to stop the pass, they'll run. And they have a playbook full of gadgets to attack you with once you are on your heels.

The Eagles defense was starting to fall back on its heels late in the first quarter on Saturday. McAllister had already ripped off 12-yard and 28-yard runs, both of them on simple handoffs to the right side. The Eagles were defending the pass well, and they were clearly committed to stopping the run on first-and-10. Sean Payton wanted to catch them off balance, so he called for a waggle: a play-action rollout designed to get the ball to a tight end on a crossing route.

Figure 1 shows some of the subterfuge that is giving Payton a reputation as a master schemer. Before the Saints set, Mark Campbell lines up as the tight end on the left side, Terrence Coooer as the split end to the right, and Marques Colston as a flanker left. Then they quickly shift, with Campbell moving left to right, Colston stepping up to the line of scrimmage, and Copper sliding into the left slot. The Eagles don't react much, because they haven't really set yet; only Sheldon Brown really changes his position, moving into a force alignment when Copper disappears. The pre-set motion shortens the amount of time the Eagles have to make pre-snap decisions, and it helps disguise this play action pass.

Before the snap, Copper moves again, from slot left to flanker right, and Brown must again adjust to cover him. Figure 2 shows what happens at the snap. The Saints linemen slant right, with left tackle Jammal Brown climbing out to the linebacker level. Jammal Brown must be careful: this is a pass play, so he cannot get more than two yards down field. He manages to sell a run block well while avoiding a penalty. Brown's block is further sold by the fact that Trent Cole, the Eagles' best pass rusher, is allowed into the backfield on the play. All signs point to another run off right tackle by McAllister.

Figure 2: Saints waggle to Mark Campbell

But this is a play-action pass. Drew Brees sells the fake, then turns and rolls left. Cole is blocked by fullback Mike Karney. The fake was incredibly successful. Eagles linebackers Omar Gaither and Jeremiah Trotter sold out on the running play. The rookie Gaither obligingly runs right into Brown's block, while Trotter recognizes the fake a split-second too late. Campbell runs a simple crossing route, and he's wide open the moment he leaves Dhani Jones's zone. Brees actually has two open receivers on this play: after Karney slows Cole down, he leaks into the flat and could easily gain 10 yards on a short pass. But Brees connects with Campbell for 23 yards.

It appears that Gaither and Trotter had zone coverage responsibilities on this play. But convincing play action by the Saints, made possible by their strong running game, forced the Eagles to vacate their zones. It's a simple play, but great execution and a well-timed call made it extremely effective.

The Saints may reach deep into their bag of tricks on Sunday because they aren't good enough to match up physically with the Bears defense. They must be wary of relying too much on double-reverses and hide-the-Bush plays, because disciplined defenses can sniff those out and turn them into big losses. But a simple waggle can take away some of a defense's aggressiveness and get linebackers, even great ones, thinking instead of attacking.

(Note: Error confusing Joe Horn and Colston with Colston and Copper has now been fixed.)

Bears Cover-2 Dog

We spent last week diagramming Bears offensive plays, so it made sense to analyze a defensive play this week. The most interesting call I saw on Sunday was one that didn't work, but one which I have seen the Bears use effectively earlier in the season.

Figure 3: Bears Cover-2 Dog

When the Bears are defending their red zone or have an opponent backed up deep in their own territory, Ron Rivera likes to deploy six-man and seven-man fronts. Most teams blitz from such heavy fronts, but the Bears frequently drop defenders into zone coverage from a six- or seven-man look. The Bears can do this because defenders like Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher are incredibly fast when dropping off the line and can react quickly to the offensive play. The offense is often left in a choose-your-poison scenario: run against the stacked front, risk a pass against a blitz, or try to exploit the middle of the field, only to find that Urlacher dropped into coverage and is waiting for you.

Figure 3 shows a formation the Bears used on third-and-10 in the third quarter against the Seahawks. It's a heavy blitz look. Both defensive tackles are playing 3-technique, creating a wide lane for Urlacher to blitz through. Briggs (offensive left side) is also in position to blitz, and slot defender Ricky Manning could also blitz if the Bears decided to leave Jerramy Stevens to their safeties. But the Bears are just dogging; at the snap, Uralcher, Briggs, and Manning all drop into zones, with Urlacher making one brief jab step toward the line of scrimmage before backpedaling.

Figure 4: Seahawks draw off Cover-2 Dog

This scheme and others like it were very effective against the Vikings and Rams. But you probably recognize the formation and situation from last Sunday: the Seahawks ran a draw play against this defense, and Shaun Alexander scored a touchdown. Figure 4 shows the basics of the Seahawks call: Stevens blocked inside on the play, center Chris Spencer nailed Urlacher as he dropped into coverage, and Briggs was suckered into the Urlacher-Spencer-Stevens traffic by a fine Alexander cutback. This was a great call by Mike Holmgren, and the Bears defenders could do little to stop it. In slow motion, it's clear that Urlacher and Briggs read the play quickly, and Urlacher sheds Spencer only to collide with Stevens. The Seahawks call lots of third down draws, so Rivera probably should have defended the middle of the line of scrimmage better. In most situations, though, this is a scheme that makes great use of the Bears personnel.

Rivera will probably throw a lot of heavy fronts at the Saints this week. He'll want his defenders to string Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister out at the line of scrimmage when possible, and he wants those backs blocking, not running routes, on passing downs. The Saints ran well against the Eagles' four-man fronts last week, but the Bears have the talent on defense to attack them with a very different look.

Patriots Shotgun Pass Combo

I reviewed the Patriots-Chargers game looking specifically for plays that the Patriots offense might use against the Colts. That was tricky, because the blitz-happy Chargers execute a scheme very different from Tony Dungy's Cover-2 system. Late in the first quarter, the Patriots ran a two-play sequence that could be very effective against the Colts. Like the Bears play from the last segment, these plays were ultimately unsuccessful for the Patriots last Sunday. But that doesn't mean they'll be scrapped.

Figure 5 shows a play the Patriots ran on second-and-9 from the Chargers 40-yard line. The Patriots are expecting a blitz, so they keep tight end David Thomas in as an extra blocker to neutralize Shawne Merriman (#82 vs. #56). Tight end Ben Watson is in the right slot, just a yard left and three yards behind receiver Jabar Gaffney. The close formation suggests that the Patriots may attempt some kind of cross or wipe. The formation also makes Tom Brady's read easier: only cornerback Drayton Florence is aligned against the bunched duo of receivers, so the Chargers are clearly not in man coverage (the left split receiver and cornerback are irrelevant and omitted for space purposes).

Figure 5: Patriots out and corner
Note: #86 David Thomas mistakenly marked as #82.

The Chargers do blitz at the snap, sending both Merriman (technically a down lineman on this play) and Shaun Phillips. Thomas' presence makes blitz pickup easy. The Patriots flood the right side of the field with receivers at three depths. Corey Dillon rolls into the flat at a depth of about three yards. Watson runs an out route at a depth of about 12 yards. Gaffney starts his route with an inside move, fakes briefly toward the post, and then heads to the corner of the end zone.

The Chargers, who appear to be in a Cover-3 defense behind their blitz (this is a real guess), don't defend this play well. Florence follows Watson to the sidelines, apparently losing track of Gaffney when the receiver works inside. Dillon is not picked up at all. Gaffney is isolated against safety Marlon McCree, who is not in good position to make a play. Gaffney beats McCree, Brady smells a touchdown, and only a slightly off-target pass prevents a quick score. Brady could have gained 10-15 yards by dumping off to Dillon, but you can't blame him for taking a shot on this play.

This route combination can be very effective against a two-deep zone, which would require a cornerback to break off and defend either Dillon or Watson while a safety defended the corner route. If a defense countered with man coverage, Dillon would probably beat his defender to the flat for a solid gain.

Figure 6: Brady to Brown vs. Cover-2

The Patriots coaches clearly liked what they saw on that play despite the incompletion. They ran a similar play on the very next down. Figure 6 shows the Patriots in their nickel personnel package, with Troy Brown as the split receiver and Kevin Faulk in the backfield. The faces have changed, but the basics of the play have not. A tight end (Watson this time) is still assigned to help block Merriman. The back still runs to the flat. Pre-snap motion by Brown creates a formation similar to the one in Figure 5, and Brown takes an inside release behind Gaffney. This time, though, Brown isn't running a corner route. Instead, he's looking for a soft spot in the Chargers zone coverage while Gaffney tries to clear out behind the safeties. But the Chargers are in a vanilla Cover-2, and they defend the play well. Florence drops off at the snap and gives plenty of cushion to Faulk on third-and-long. Donnie Edwards drops precisely and reacts quickly when Brown sits down to catch the ball. The play nets seven yards when the Patriots needed nine, but the reception does put the Patriots in field goal range.

Route and play combinations like these force the linebackers and safeties to make reads and react quickly to the ball in the air. Colts linebackers may be cheating toward the line of scrimmage on Sunday to defend the run, and the Colts have a rookie and a run stopper at safety. Brady will try to flood zones, find soft spots, and pick his spots to go deep when Bob Sanders or Antoine Bethea is isolated against a receiver. This two-play sequence is a good example of how the Patriots can use the similar-looking plays to attack two different points on the field. Imagine it in reverse -- a short pass to Brown to set up second-and-3, followed by a deep attempt -- and you can see how deadly it could be.

Colts Strong Side Stunt

The Colts run defense has improved drastically over the past two weeks, but players swear they aren't doing anything different scheme-wise; they are just executing better. To an extent, that's true. The Colts haven't made major modifications on defense, and they are executing better than they were late in the season. But they have made some tweaks defensively.

One way for a smaller, quicker group of defensive linemen to gain an advantage over bigger blockers is by stunting. The Colts stunt frequently on third-and-long situations, but they don't often do it on neutral downs. While we usually think of stunting as a pass rushing strategy, stunts can help a team's run defense as well: they mix up blocking assignments and clog lanes that a running back expects to be open.

Figure 7 shows a strong side stunt that the Colts used early in the game against the Ravens. It's second-and-9, a passing down for most teams but a neutral down for the more run-oriented Ravens. The Ravens line up in a strong-I formation with H-back Dan Wilcox playing fullback and split receivers (not shown). The Colts are a basic 4-3 with their linebackers about five yards off the line of scrimmage. Nothing unusual there.

Figure 7: Colts run stunt

At the snap, Raheem Brock (#79) and Robert Mathis (#98) execute a stunt on the offensive right side of the formation. Stunts succeed because of timing, and my diagrams don't display timing very well. Brock initiates the stunt by slanting hard across the face of right tackle Tony Pashos. Mathis takes a jab step forward, loops behind Brock, and attacks the gap left of guard Keydrick Vincent. Mathis executes the loop on the Ravens side of the line of scrimmage as he is supposed to.

The stunt confounds the Ravens' blocking scheme. Pashos has no help from tight end Todd Heap, who is feigning a pass route so he can block a safety. The Ravens center and left guard are double-teaming Booger McFarland, so Vincent doesn't have much help either. The Ravens are trying to run an inside delay to Jamal Lewis, the type of play that the Jaguars and Eagles got big gains out of against the Colts defense. Ideally, the Ravens want Heap and Wilcox on the second level to block linebackers. But Wilcox is forced to help Pashos, and when Lewis takes the handoff, he finds that the middle of the field is clogged by Mathis and McFarland, and that linebackers Gary Brackett and Rob Morris are unblocked.

Lewis attempts to make something happen by bouncing the play outside to the right. His quick cut is initially effective: Brackett and Morris are drawn towards the line by his inside move and get caught up briefly in the Wilcox-Brock-Pashos mess. But Brock makes a great individual play, shedding Pashos and making contact with Lewis. Morris breaks through to finish off the tackle for a minimal gain.

The differences between a 20-yard burst in Week 13 and a two-yard run in the playoffs are subtle. Signs of the old Colts defense were evident on this play. McFarland was pushed about four yards off the line by the double team. Brackett and Morris took bad angles to Lewis. But the stunt call, coupled with a great effort by Brock, changed the whole outlook of this play. Brock, Mathis, and McFarland occupied five blockers on this simple delay, limiting the amount of blocking Lewis could expect at the linebacker level.

A strong side stunt on a rushing or neutral down is a dangerous call, and you shouldn't expect to see the Colts do this very often against the Patriots. As an occasional wrinkle, it will keep the Colts from becoming too predictable, and it should slow down New England's delay-and-draw game.

Miles Ahead

If watching game tape has taught me anything, it's that coaches, in their effort to stay one step ahead of each other, are always miles ahead of armchair analysts like me. If I've spotted a strength or weakness, you can be assured that the coaches have known about it for weeks and have devised a dozen strategies for countering it.

But that doesn't render all of this work useless: the Bears ran many of the same plays last week against the Seahawks that they used against the Bucs and Rams. Tape study gives us a little leg up and a little extra insight. Best of all, it reminds us how much we don't know: for every play I feel confident diagramming and explaining, there are a dozen that I omit because I don't feel I know for sure what happened.

Next week, we'll diagram a few more plays by the Super Bowl participants, then we'll put the playmaking software away for a while. Good thing, too. I'm starting to see little tan circles and blue triangles in my sleep.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 19 Jan 2007

51 comments, Last at 20 Jan 2007, 12:11pm by mb

Comments

1
by Boots Day (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 12:53am

Joe Horn? He didn't play at all against the Eagles on Saturday.

2
by Boots Day (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 1:09am

Other than that, though, a fascinating piece. I just wish you had picked a Bears play that had worked.

3
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 1:16am

MT, Thanks for putting in the time on what must have been pretty monotonous stuff.

BTW, I don't care too much that Booger gets pushed off the line by a DT, especially after initially clogging the middle of the line--isn't that a large part of his job description, taking on multiple blockers to free up the fast LBs? Any actual plays he makes are gravy....

4
by Jay (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 2:21am

Did the Pats keep in Graham or Thomas? Cuz 82 is Graham, and is much more likely to have been on the field, especially in a blocking assignment. /nitpicking

5
by Kuato (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 2:34am

Another TDZ. This recently has become one of my favorite FO articles.

Keep up the good work and the nice diagrams!

6
by Cosmik Debris (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 2:45am

Colston is # 12, not # 18.

7
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 3:08am

But a simple waggle can take away some of a defense’s aggressiveness and get linebackers, even great ones, thinking instead of attacking.

Great linebackers? Philly? Mike, what the devil are you...

Oh, wait. You're talking about Chicago's linebackers.

Whew. For a second, I thought you had lost your mind.

8
by MattinDenver (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 3:25am

Great article Mike, as always. The second play set would be great for New Orleans actually - use the pass to set up a run against that defense.
The Colts diagram was interesting also. I think that's the story of the postseason - what the heck happened to the Colt's D? They've looked great two weeks in a row.
They definitely need pressure on Brady.... should be a great game.

9
by MattinDenver (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 3:31am

Open question to the FO staff (or anyone reading) - what is the best way to get complete-game coaches film - or any coaches film from NFL games? Prior years? What does the NFL/CBS/NBC/ABC do with old game footage - any way you can get a broadcast of an older game - just the broadcast?
Best football website on the internet, FO, as it is every year.....

10
by Terry (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 3:35am

3: Bobman, I agree with you-- as someone cheering for the Colts on Sunday, any play where Booger is double-teamed by Pats linemen is a win for Booger in my eyes.

11
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 4:25am

MattinDenver,
Pretty sure the annual FO pilgrimage to NFL films to study with Jawarski for a day (there was one article on this last season and this) might have your answer: I don't recall exactly, but NFL film/coaches' films are pretty different from broadcast and I don't think they are available. Aaron and MDS should know this for sure and maybe a direct email to them is in order.

As for network game films... interesting question. My impression is that the NFL owns them too, or shares ownership, (express written concsent and all that), but heck, these enterprises are around to make money, so they should be willing to sell them, no? How??? I have no idea.

Personally, I'd love to relive two painful defeats: Raiders/Colts 1977 double OT playoff game and the 1995 AFCC with Pit beating Indy by about 3 or 4 (before the dubious honor of being dismantled by Dallas in the SB--Hah!). Hell, might as well go for the hat trick and SB #3--my dad brought his old super-8 movie camera and for some unfathomable reason, filmed the halftime show. Can you reverse-disown somebody? Jeez.

12
by ammek (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 4:35am

Wow, I've just read an article about this weekend's games that does not contain the words Manning, Belichick or moxie.

Thank you.

13
by Bobman (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 5:05am

ammek,

Swagger? I missed, but it must be there.

It DID include the word Booger, though, because you can't have good journalism without using tghe word booger a few times. Of that I am certain.

14
by coyotl666 (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 6:05am

c'mon, the obvious brady - brown play is the pick strip. just to counter all the arguments about luck.

15
by Podpeople (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 7:32am

Are Phillies linebackers as much of a glaring weakspot as they seem to be? It seems like whenever the defense lets a big play trough it's either Lito Sheppard being called for pass interference on Plaxico Burress or the Linebackers completely misreading a play.

16
by RMoses (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 8:43am

The Iggles linebackers has been a weak link since 2002 when they felt the need to copy Tampa Bay's philosophy of small, but fast linebackers (i.e. Nate Wayne, Mike Simoneau, Bow Tie Guy, Mike McCoy). They forgot they need to be smart as well. The return of Trotter has been a bandaid to the suspect run defense and the bleeding returned (N.O. game). Plus he is basically a fifth defensive tackle in a two-point stance. Reid/Johnson will seriously need to look at this position and hope a major free agent is available (Lance Briggs) and their coveted draft picks (McCoy, Gocong) can make that leap to dependability.

Mike thanx for the great analysis each Friday.

17
by Waverly (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 9:28am

Mike, thanks again for a great article.

Re: #12, actually, the article did contain the name "Manning", but not the usual one.

18
by dryheat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 10:12am

Bobman, In case you aren't aware, the NFLN is showing SB3 on Super Bowl Eve.

19
by Harris (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 10:49am

"hide-the-Bush plays"

So Sean Payton is Brazlian?

20
by MikeT (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 11:10am

I had some mixups with numbering. That player in the Patiots play is supposed to be Thomas, so my picture is mis-numbered. The guy in motion in the Saints play is #18, so that's Copper,and I had him misnamed. Which means the other receiver is probably Colston. It's really hard to see the players at the edges of my television screen sometimes :(

21
by B (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 11:17am

19: Those would be wax the Bush plays.

22
by podpeople (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 11:31am

yea, Dhani Jones is kind of an ass. I've heard his name mentioned maybe three time this season in refference to a defensive stop, but most of the time it's "so and so ran right by dhani jones" or "Dhani Jones just completely missed the tackle." Hopefully Gocong comes in next season and rocks the house. Omar Gaither hasn't been that bad either. At least not as bad as Jones.

23
by Charles the Philly Homer (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 11:50am

Linebackers have sucked on the Eagles since Carlos Emmons left. Dhani Jones was a big mistake. Trotter did well for a year, but age finally got him this season. Gaither/McCoy were question marks, and only McCoy has a definitive answer: not an NFL linebacker.

Lance Briggs would be absolutely amazing. The Eagles front seven would be unstoppable if they could rely on the middle 3.

24
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 11:52am

#15: Er? Philly's secondary hasn't been that big a deal. The big plays given up have usually been the safeties screwing up coverage - Jim Johnson needs to realize that no one else can play like Brian Dawkins, and stop trying to use Lewis/Considine in that role - or, like you said, the linebackers getting juked out of their shoes and forcing the safeties to make the stop after a gain of 7.

#22: Gaither hasn't been that good, honestly. Both in the Giants game and in the Saints game, there were several plays when he was on screen, wrapped up by a fullback and clearing a giant hole. But he's a rookie, so not being glaringly bad is pretty impressive.

#16: The reason the bleeding's returned is because Trotter's age is finally showing. He's not quick enough to get around blocks anymore. Philly must have another MLB next year and get Trotter off the field more. JJ's actually said so, so I think they know this - I'm guessing Gaither's moving to MLB, Dhani and Gocong will probably split time at SLB, and McCoy will start at WLB. Hopefully they'll draft another LB as well, because I'm not sold on Gaither or McCoy.

25
by podpeople (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 11:54am

Re #24
It's not that they need another Dawkins, it's that they didn't need Michael Lewis making huge mistakes and getting burned. and I didn't say gaither was great, I just said he was better than Dhani Jones.

26
by J.D. (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 11:55am

#22: Jones is the Eagles' second highest paid LB behind Trotter... they could save about $2.3 mil by cutting him in the offseason. So given Joe Banner's ruthlessness, if they determine that Gocong is anywhere close to Jones in ability, Jones will be gone.

The Iggles only have about $75 mil committed to next year's cap, and their only major FAs are Barber, Buckhalter, Garcia, Hood, and M.Lewis. So they will definitely have room to make a run at Briggs (and a safety, if need be).

That said, the Bears only have about $80 mil committed, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them keep Briggs.

27
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 11:56am

#23: Two years. 2004 and 2005. Trotter was great last year. Philly's run defense was definitely not the problem last year.

28
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 12:00pm

#25: No, they need another Dawkins. Absolutely. Dawk's career could be extended several years if they could move him into more of a strong safety role (and man, they'd be able to hide bad linebackers real easily then) but no one else on the team is anywhere near as good a free safety. Anywhere near.

Though, we really should be talking about one of the four teams in the playoffs...

How about that Mark Simoneau guy? Why the heck hasn't he been a liability for New Orleans?

29
by Bjorn (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 12:02pm

Well chicago ran both their tackles in 3-technique a lot against Green Bay and trouble containing Favre on draws/scrambles up the middle.

If Reggie Bush is in the backfield this defence is way too exploitable to draw plays for long yardage to be used much in my oppinion. One good move on the LBs and he will be off for a very gain.

30
by Charles the Philly Homer (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 12:07pm

27:

Absolutely. Sorry, sense of time was off. I didn't watch much of 2005 after I went to the Monday Night against Dallas that ended the season.

In terms of offseasons priorities, a stud OLB or MLB and a FS are top of my list. Beyond that, a backup CB, developmental QB, and depth at DE.

31
by James, London (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 12:27pm

Another grweat TDZ. This stuff is terrific.

And all you Eagles fans conducting rational discussion of your team. Have you forgotten that rationality is strictly forbidden this week?

32
by DGL (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 12:30pm

Mike, you had me at "flanker."

33
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 12:40pm

#31: Crap, I forgot! Clearly, the Eagles linebackers lack swagger. Mark Simoneau got a swagger transfusion from Jeremiah Trotter in the preseason (it was a life-or-death situation, I think I saw it on PBS). I'm pretty sure Sean Payton extracted some swagger from Roy Williams and injected it into the rest of the Saints defense (or so I'm told - maybe he has a swagger supplier down in Mexico).

So clearly, the Saints are going to win.

34
by James, London (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 12:49pm

#33

So you're saying that Payton has a supplier in Mexico?

Michael Vick is only alleged to have been carrying weed in that bottle. Calling him a dealer is a little harsh don't you think?

35
by mb (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 12:58pm

Considering all of the Bears' troubles stopping runs up the middle minus Harris, I'd really prefer it if Ron Rivera could refrain from opening up the middle of the line even if it is nominally an effective scheme and use of personnel. If you have to pick your poison against the Saints I'd rather match the speed of Urlacher and Briggs to string out Bush (unless he turns the corner and gets into space of course) than just let Deuce pound them into oblivion.

Philly fans: If it is a phenomenal free safety you seek look no further than Reggie Nelson of Florida. That kid is blazing fast, he hits like a freight train, and he has a crazy knack for making huge plays a la Dawkins. Of course I'd prefer he was a Bear as there's a good chance they'll lose Mike Brown but they have more pressing concerns, like rebuilding the aging O line.

36
by MJK (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 1:26pm

Question for Mike (or anyone who has the game on tape)

In NE@SD last week, on the play where Caldwell got the big reception at the end to put the Pats up for the go ahead FG, did they run this same play? I noticed that Caldwell ended up single covered (badly)--was it because the Pats executed something like you detail, and it finally worked?

37
by MikeT (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 1:31pm

36: Nope. I am pretty sure that was a go route by Caldwell with an outside release to go up the sidelines. Chargers only had 1 deep safety. I didn't diagram that play because it seemed to me to be more about execution than design: great effort by the receiver, perfect pass, not a lot of trickery. I try to diagram plays that show more about the gameplan.

38
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 1:40pm

#35: I would be amazed if Nelson lasted to #26 after the high profile he just got. I'm hoping more that Penn State's linebacker falls to them (through sheer stupidity, and the fact that in PSU's highest profile games during the season, he was still learning a new position). A linebacker who can tackle and cover? Who woulda thunk it!

39
by mb (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 2:10pm

Pat: I'd also be pretty darned surprised if Reggie Nelson fell that far in draft. However...you Iggles guys were talking about the need for a great FS and he is a great FS. If Dawkins could keep it up for one more year you guys could try to finagle your way up in the draft next year (assuming that the Eagles have a relativey successful 2007 and don't wind up with a high pick) and go for LaRon Landry from LSU. His brother, as you probably know, plays for the Ravens and he's also really good. Also, by PSU LB you mean Posluzny, right? What new position? Did he move from WLB to MLB or something?

40
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 2:34pm

#39: Yup. He moved from WLB to MLB. I'm pretty darn sure most of the "mock drafts" are smoking odd crack, because I doubt he falls past 15, but if he's there when Philly's on the board, I really, really hope they take him. Philly tends to love versatile linebackers, too.

41
by ABW (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 2:49pm

Re: 36 & 37

I'm pretty sure that what happened there is that the Patriots were going to do something completely different(like run a draw play or throw to a TE), and Brady audibled to a go route for Caldwell as soon as he saw press coverage with one deep safety, figuring(correctly) that the CB would be gassed after playing man coverage all day. I could be wrong though, I had the flu that day and was not exactly 100% focused on the game and I don't have tape. Anyhow, once the go route was called, I don't think anything else mattered on the play - everyone else was going to block and Brady was chucking it deep come hell or high water.

Everyone talks about the great throw Brady made, but recognizing that matchup is the real reason why Brady is a great QB, not the throw.

42
by Charles the Philly Homer (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 3:16pm

40:

You mean Philly loves bad linebackers. Every time I watch Dhani Jones whiff a tackle I flash back to Dave Spadaro saying "this guy is totally as good as Carlos Emmons." On the plus side, Emmons was never the same after hurting his leg like that.

I really think they need a free agent. Rookie linebackers are never good in Jim Johnson defenses; I can't think of an exception to that rule.

43
by Jon Coit (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 3:23pm

Add my thanks to the pile, another very informative article.

36, 37, 41: Yes. If you want to identify a single Pats player who was critical in the game it was Caldwell. My Bolts had also left him in single coverage on his TD, and he recovered the McCree fumble. Argh.

44
by Jon Coit (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 3:25pm

Also: a great and informative demonstration of something I "get" at an intellectual level but never quite understood: how changing formation before the snap can disguise the play and get the D guessing. Thanks again!

45
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 3:46pm

#42: When's the last time the Eagles ever drafted a highly-regarded LB? Remember, McCoy was not expected to go that high.

46
by Charles the Philly Homer (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 4:58pm

45:

Point stands up to research.

I think this would be a very good year to test their personnel skills with LBs.

47
by RMoses (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 5:50pm

Philly Homer - We agree strongly about Carlos Emmons. I think he was the best FA the Iggles had since William Fuller. I'm assuming Banner/Reid short changed Emmons forcing him to move on. They've been paying for it ever since. As far as "testing their personnel skills" Pat, hopefully they can break the cycle of subpar picks such as Barry Gardner (2nd/1999), Quinton Caver (2nd/2001) and I'll include McCoy (2nd/2005) because he spent most of the first half of the Colts game on his back and never saw a defensive snap again. Free agency has been a bit more successful way of adding linebackers for the PE.

48
by Pat (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 6:01pm

Free agency has been a bit more successful way of adding linebackers for the PE.

I disagree. They both sucked. :)

49
by Will Allen (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 10:05pm

Good article, and it makes me wonder, if we are now about to enter a new era of defensive dominance that the league will try to offset with rules changes designed to keep scoring averages constant: is perhaps relaxing the regulation of offensive linemen downfield on pass plays something that might work without changing the game too much? It would make reads by the defense much harder, but it still wouldn't penalize physical defensive play. It would also open the playbook to more ways to counteract a very agressive pass rush. I certainly would consider this before making life more difficult for defensive backs by restricting their ability to be physical even more than it is now.

50
by Gordon (not verified) :: Fri, 01/19/2007 - 11:50pm

Charles/Pat:

About 80% of the Eagles' first round picks in the last dozen years or so have been linemen (both O and D), with notable exceptions being McNabb, Lito, and, uh, FredEx. (I do realize you're talking more about first day picks than first round; I just had that fact in my head from the other day and felt like sharing.)

I'd definitely like to see them grab a LB in the first round. No opinion on whom, as I simply haven't had enough time to watch a whole lot of college ball and form assessments this year.

I don't see the Eagles pursuing either Briggs or Adalius Thomas in FA; I simply don't expect the front office to throw that much money out there for either of them, especially considering their apparent commitment to their recent draft picks. If they do pick up a free agent linebacker, I envision them going for a more reasonably priced veteran to help bring the rookies along and provide experience while Gaither and company develop.

Does anyone else find it funny how many boards have us taking a WR in the first few rounds? They just don't get it, do they...

51
by mb (not verified) :: Sat, 01/20/2007 - 12:11pm

Gordon: There's not a whole lot available at LB this year, by which I mean there are no sure things like AJ Hawk last year. You have Lawrence Timmons from FSU, who was overshadowed by Ernie Sims for most of his college career, Patrick Willis from Ole Miss, and Posluzny from PSU. After that, I don't really know, as far as more traditional 4-3 LBs go (there are a couple of other 3-4 OLB/DE hybrid type guys like LaMarr Woodley and maybe Jarvis Moss). I wouldn't be all that surprised if the Eagles took Willis or Posluzny if either of them are available that late, and maybe you guys will luck out into a DeMeco Ryans type thing (although that would obviously be pretty darned lucky).

Also in a previous post I incorrectly indicated that LaRon Landry was not going out for the draft this year. That's wrong; he's a senior and it's a tossup who'll be the first safety taken, him or Reggie Nelson.