Wild Card Film Room: NFC

by Andy Benoit

Click here for the AFC Wild Card Film Room. Come back Friday for FO's stat-based Wild Card previews.

Minnesota at Green Bay

Vikings offense vs. Packers defense

There’s not a lot of mystery to this one. The analysis from our Week 17 Film Room still applies. The Packers can’t stop Adrian Peterson. Right now, no one can. Last Sunday, as expected, the Packers regularly brought safety Morgan Burnett into the box. B.J. Raji dominated right guard Brandon Fusco in the trenches. Linebacker A.J. Hawk staunchly took on blockers at the point of attack. The Packers as a whole tackled much better than they did against Peterson in Week 13. But, just like in Week 13, Peterson still got his yards.

The reason Minnesota got a win in Week 17 was, unlike in Week 13, Christian Ponder avoided mistakes and made just enough plays when needed. Though Ponder has now done this two weeks in a row, the Vikings aren’t about to put more on the young quarterback’s plate. Expect Minnesota to feed Peterson 25-plus times and protect Ponder with simple, defined reads on almost every dropback.

A great tactic for Minnesota would be to roll Ponder and give him the option to scramble. This will help neutralize Clay Matthews off the edge, not just physically but schematically, as Dom Capers likes his star to shadow mobile quarterbacks behind a three-man rush. It will be on Ponder to stay disciplined. With the Packers likely to play a lot of man coverage, running lanes will be available on the outside. However, with eight-man coverages, there will also be plenty of linebackers and safeties keeping eyes on the quarterback.

Packers offense vs. Vikings defense

[ad placeholder 3]

The Packers, knowing their offensive line can’t keep Minnesota's front four away from Aaron Rodgers, will frequently keep an extra tight end and a running back in as blockers. The interior line is an issue, as left guard T.J. Lang has struggled with short-area lateral movement while Evan Dietrich-Smith’s inexperience at center has shone through. But Green Bay’s biggest concern is on the edges. Jared Allen may now be Minnesota’s second most dangerous pass rusher, given the emergence of super athlete Everson Griffen. The Vikings usually play Griffen at defensive tackle in nickel. Leslie Frazier and defensive line coach Brendan Daly may want to considering flip-flopping him with Brian Robison a few times. Robison, a very capable rusher outside himself, probably doesn’t have the interior moves to thrive at defensive tackle -- especially against a formidable pass-blocker like Josh Sitton. But the Vikings must do all they can to maximize Griffen’s athletic dominance.

Even with six- and seven-man protections, Rodgers will find himself throwing under duress. That’s fine; he can still be great. The return of slot ace Randall Cobb should help the pass game. Greg Jennings was outstanding filling in at the slot last week, but Cobb is Rodgers’ go-to-guy late in the down. When Rodgers isn’t throwing quick screens and slants, he’ll likely be "sandlotting" in hopes of breaking down Minnesota’s zone coverages. Will veteran slot corner Antoine Winfield be able to play at full strength with a broken hand? If he can’t, the Vikings will have to decide whether to roll the dice with the clearly overmatched Marcus Sherels or play one of their outside corners –- Chris Cook, A.J. Jefferson, or Josh Robinson –- out of position inside.

Seattle at Washington

Seahawks offense vs. Redskins defense

The angle most media outlets will take for this game is "Hey look everybody! The meager third-round rookie quarterback for Seattle has actually been as good as the celebrity first-round rookie quarterback for Washington!" That’s fair –- Russell Wilson deserves the praise. But really, from a pure football standpoint, the most impressive story coming into this game is the job Jim Haslett has done with Washington’s defense. This is a defense that, after Brian Orakpo’s season-ending injury, was deprived of their only viable pass rusher. (And don’t say "Hey, what about Ryan Kerrigan?" Kerrigan is a good, versatile player. That’s it. He recorded a respectable 8.5 sacks on the season but never commanded regular double teams -– not even against right tackles.) Haslett has also had to manage a secondary that’s low on cover safeties and inconsistent wherever DeAngelo Hall lines up.

Hall’s journey in 2012 is a great illustration of how this defense has evolved. He began the year in the slot with hopes of being the next Charles Woodson. Thanks to improved tackling, he fulfilled these duties at times, but his coverage limitations inside were often too much of a problem. Around November, Haslett started playing Hall more towards centerfield as part of Washington’s base package -- which utilizes three corners and one safety. That was mostly successful. This past Sunday, Hall worked almost exclusively at his old outside corner position, where he had one of the best games of the year, holding Dez Bryant to four catches.

Sidney Rice has become Seattle’s clear cut No. 1 receiver, but unlike Bryant with the Cowboys, Seattle’s offense doesn’t hinge on the top receiver making explosive plays. Thus, there’s no telling how Washington will use Hall in this game, and there’s no telling whether Haslett will blitz as relentlessly as he did last Sunday night. The Redskins, with their litany of different personnel packages, pre-snap looks, and hybrid coverages, are very tough to predict.

Of course, the real key to beating Seattle is stopping Marshawn Lynch. Defensively, that means playing basic, fundamentally sound football and not giving up big momentum-shifting runs. Lately, the Seahawks have presented another dimension to their zone-running game for defenders to worry about: It’s the same dimension that Washington’s offense rode to an NFC East title.

Redskins offense vs. Seahawks defense

The read-option is what everyone is talking about these days. It’s this year’s Wildcat, only it has a legitimate chance to actually revolutionize pro football in the long haul. The brilliance of Washington’s read-option is that it’s designed in a way that can render star edge-rushers obsolete without even being blocked. (This, by the way, is why it was unjust for left tackle Trent Williams to make the Pro Bowl ahead of Matt Kalil; Williams gets to avoid a lot of the toughest assignments.)

The Seahawks have an extremely athletic front seven. Those athletes, particularly sinewy defensive end Chris Clemons, will have to play with unnatural discipline by being thinkers first and reactors second.

In terms of raw yardage, Washington has the league’s most productive ground game. And even with Robert Griffin being hampered by a bum knee, it’s a ground game that’s getting better, as Alfred Morris is one of the few rookie workhorse running backs in history who has gotten stronger in the late season. That said, very few teams this season have been able to run the ball down Seattle’s throat for four quarters.

In all likelihood, Griffin and the Redskins will have to make some plays through the air. Their money play is the quick slant off a read-option fake. That’s a perfect play to run against a Cover-3 scheme, which Seattle loves.

Graphics by Matt Glickman

The Seahawks play Cover-3 a vast majority of the time. There are two unique elements in their Cover-3 that explain why this defense is so good.

1. Corner strength. Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner play with very little cushion. Often, they eschew their zone responsibilities and play outside man concepts instead. Most corners are incapable of this because it can involve toggling between inside and outside technique and press technique, but most corners aren’t as physical as Browner and Sherman.

2. Safety range. Sherman and Browner can play man concepts from zone because free safety Earl Thomas has terrific speed and horizontal range. Also, Kam Chancellor -– who, as a strong safety, is considered an "eighth man in the box" in Cover-3 –- has fantastic north/south range.

Let’s look at a play from Carolina’s Week 5 game at Seattle that shows what Seattle’s unique Cover-3 looks like, as well as how to beat it.

Graphics by Matt Glickman

The key on this play was the blitz vacating the right side of the field and forcing Chancellor to follow Louis Murphy’s seam route. But even without the blitz, this design would have had a good chance of working because every defender was facing a north/south direction while Brandon LaFell was running east/west. Expect to see this type of play from the Redskins on Sunday; the Shanahans love to use crossing patterns in their route combinations.

Follow @Andy_Benoit
e-mail Contact Us


56 comments, Last at 26 Mar 2013, 10:54pm

1 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

Crossing underneath routes have been the bane of Seattle's defense all season. When teams have moved the ball consistently on the hawks it has been by attacking the center of the field with crossing routes. Detroit, NE, Miami, Chicago (for some of the game) and St. Louis all attacked the middle effectively using different personnel sets. Seeing that the 'skins have a proclivity for doing the same scares me as a Seahawks fan.

2 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

I think the biggest difference in the two Packer games is that Ponder's mistakes weren't caught by the Packers. He threw one bad pass in the end zone that ended up being a TD. Another ball that was bounced up in the air was caught by the Vikings (incorrectly mind you). They also had a couple big plays that were just communication errors on the Packers which could have been from the noise I'd imagine or just because they are so young in the secondary. Ponder still made a lot of really bad passes that game.

5 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

Eh, I'm not a Ponder defender at all, but it is common to pay a lot more attention to the bad throws that a bad qb gets away with, than it is to do so with the bad throws a highly lauded qb gets away with. Go look at a recording of the NFCCG played in January 2010 as a prime example.

8 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

Other than some very minor accuracy details (which is what I think puts Rodgers above most other QBs), I think all QBs need their WRs to make plays. I have not watched enough of the Vikes this year, but I do know that Roders expects his WRs to make the play when given the opportunity. This can make a pass look bad when it is really just basic expectation that the WR needs to win the 1-on-1 matchup. James Jones has done much better of that this year (with some visible lapses) and Cobb is getting open because of scheme.

I think the key is for the Pack to make a small number (3-4 maybe) of backfield tackles in situations where they have #28 behind the line and force longer down/distance for Minnesota. This is easier said than done because not many have defenses been able to do it all year. He is really having an amazing season. My only hope is that Woodson can help make their tackling better when he returns and not cause more inconsistency with backfield communication from not playing in the scheme for 9 weeks.

I would like to understand if the Vikings blocking scheme has helped significantly somehow in allowing Peterson to bounce away from bad plays up the middle and get outside or if it is really just all about the man and his lateral movement.

12 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

Brad Jones not being a candy8ss and playing solid contain defense would be a nice start for Green Bay.

And Matthews had a few moments where he did not pinch the end. But the bulk of Peterson's break aways were opposite from Matthews side.

Raji destroyed the middle of the Vikes line. With just decent contain defense the Packers hold Peterson to more like 120 yards and win going away.

13 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

I think Minnesota would stand a better chance to neutralize Raji if they swapped Schwartz and Fusco and right guard. I wonder if/when they'll figure that out. Sullivan is a very good center, but Raji is having the best stretch of his pro career so far.

Matthews needs to show that he's truly a leader among the defense by making the guys around him more disciplined and better tacklers this weekend.

14 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

Musgrave does a nice job with schemeing for good blocking angles, but make no mistake: every defense puts more helmets for tackling at the point of attack than the Vikings can put helmets for blocking, and Peterson just consistently makes large fast humans look foolish. I really believe he has improved his lateral quickness by a significant amount, less than 1 year removed from major reconstruction of his knee. It is simply astounding, and I've never seen anything like it. A cynical fellow might suspect pharmacological assistance, but I'm at the point now that I really don't care about that stuff.

3 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

Very one sided analysis. How about breaking down what Seattles offense will do against Redskins defense?

33 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

To be fair, it was mostly how the Redskins defense should play to beat the Seahawks defense. Would've been interesting to compare the Seahawks' read-option to Washington's read option.

43 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

I agree. That sounded like it was written by a Skins homer. Sorry, but while it was very informative on what the Skins need to do to beat Seattle, it told nothing on the other side except what a great job Hastlett's done evolving that Washington D into something better than what he had to begin with. Oh, and stop Marshawn Lynch.

Really? How about some of the same great analysis you gave on the other side of the ball?

42 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

I agree. It was how the Redskins Defense will beat the Seahawks Offense and how the Redskins Offense will beat the Seahawks Defense. Seems like it is missing half the story.

4 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

The Vikings were pretty unlikely to prevail in this game in any case, but with Antione Winfield unlikely to be close to full strength, if he can play at all, and Cobb back this week, the Vikings just don't have the required depth in the d-backfield to win, in a game where the Packers offense won't be inhibited at all by crowd noise. A lesser qb woud be disrupted by some pretty good Viking pass rushers, but the insurance pitchman ain't a lesser qb.

On the other side, I've got to believe that those Defenders of the Cheese who were so badly shown up by 28 last week (I'm talking about you, Tramon Williams), will exhibit some professional pride, and at least fake an attempt at a tackle. Absent the Ponderous Passing Game making yet another very large step up the performance curve, which will require the contributions of both the qb and the receivers, which is unlikely, I'd say the Packers win by a couple touchdowns.

On the other hand, I've been completely wrong about the Vikings for about a month now, and mostly wrong all season, and a win Saturday night would make this the greatest Viking season of my life, seasons which encompass losses in four straight Super Bowl appearances, followed by losses in five straight conference championship game apperanaces. 54 more hours to dream!!!!

11 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

4th quarter. Minnesota is leading 24-17. Green Bay is driving. Rodgers summons his inner-Favre and throws an interception.

Minnesota begins eating the clock, driving with short runs. False start. On first and 15, Green Bay blitzes a couple of extra rushers, and Ponder tosses a duck to Rhett Ellison, who has a few blockers. Miraculously, he makes it to the end zone, where he faux-moons the crowd, heads to the sideline, and removes his helmet to reveal a remarkably volumous afro. He then points to the scoreboard.

Minnesota hangs on to win it, dances the dirty bird in Atlanta for all of the fallen heroes of 1998, and flies out to Seattle for the conference championship.

Russell Wilson leaves the game early in the 3rd quarter and Flynn tosses 2 INTs in relief.


39 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

"Over it"? You mean like being "over" what happened 44 years ago (Hank Stram cackling), 40 years ago (Larry Csonka fullbacking), 39 years ago (L.C. Greenwood passbatting), 38 years ago (Drew Pearson MaryHailing), 37 years ago (Art Shell roadgrading), 25 years ago (Darrin Nelson td passdropping), or 3 years ago (multiple weirdness/disastering), and leaving some memories out, for the sake of brevity? No.

Bitter? Who, me?

20 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

Was that your dog that would leave a paw print on the kitchen counter to show he's smart enough to get up there and take your lunch? I seem to remember that in another thread.

22 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

I believe that was Independent George's. My canine type opens the gate, lets himself out of the backyard, and lounges by the driveway, waiting to smirk at me.

6 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

Regarding the zone read revolutionizing the NFL, in the old days, the problem would have been solved by trading some penalities, and some big runs by the running back, for lighting up the qb every time the play was run. By the fourth quarter of the first game in October, the play would not be on the coach's sheet any longer.

Given what we know now, it is good that this solution is no longer available, and it will be interesting to see what solutions do come forth.

(edit) On the other hand, is there anything illegitimate in telling a de to assume the qb is going to keep the ball very time he faces the situation, and tackle him accordingly, in a manner that doen't involve something above the chest? How frequenty does a team want to subject a smallish RGIII or a small Russell Wilson to a tackle where he doesn't have the opportunity to really lower his shoulder to accept the blow?

27 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

What you said. Give RGIII a clean, solid tackle every time the zone read is run. Coach the DE to always hit the QB, and be sure to do it clean, with your head up and your shoulder in his belly.

31 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

By the time that influences events it could be several games if not a season in the books.

Do folks really think that several tackles a game will stop a coach from calling that play?

The solution described might aid another team down the road but not the team going that route in the here and now.

And that is why some other method will have to be devised that helps you win the game NOW. Not sometime in the future

37 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

If I'm a young D-Lineman in the NFC East faced with the prospect of defending Griffin twice a year over my career, I'm certainly looking for methods that might wear him down in the long run.

38 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

You don't have to hit him with your shoulder in his belly. A running quarterback no longer enjoys special protections, and cannot be considered defenseless, so as long as you don't launch yourself, you should be able to hit him in any way you see fit. Now for referees to actually call this correctly is another issue entirely, but a bit of lobbying the referees by the coaches prior to the game certainly wouldn't hurt. That's what I didn't understand about the Cowboys last week, DeMarcus Ware is unblocked, and has one of the greatest size/speed combinations in all of football, and they are giving up 5-10 yard chunks of easy yardage while he stands there. Just hit the quarterback until they stop calling the read option. A personal foul along the way is a comparatively small thing in the big picture.

51 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

Once the QB handsoff the ball and puts his hands up (ie. stops faking it) he can't be hit. After the Bengal game there was some talk about how RG3 was putting his arms up after the handoff and the officials knowing that he couldn't be hit once he stopped faking...

52 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

Just wanted to add that I never thought an NFL offense could run what the Redskins have done this year with success... my far-out-there idea for an offense was one where the snap always went to the "RB", who either handed it off to the traditional QB or simply ran with it. I don't think Atlanta or Philly ever utilized Vick in this type of run-action passing offense... and I was surprised at how easy it was to gash Dallas (the only other time I had a chance to see most of Washington was against Carolina... they also managed to control that game with their running attack but couldn't score) watching the game on Sunday.

RG3 also looked like he was only running at 60-70% as well...

45 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

The offensive solution to that is to the run the shuttle pass version of the zone read. Being a pass, if the DE then continues on and hits the QB, it's a personal foul. Multiple similar fouls in a game would likely lead to ejection and suspension.

30 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

That's what the Bengals D did against it in week 3. Got a fumble out of it to go up big in the first half.

In the second half, Washington turned to a different old college offense and got back into the game. A pair of TD strikes against the Washington D put it away.

Neither team was as good then as they were now, but using an athletic end like Dunlap to tip away tosses and get a turnover was a problem for them.

7 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

I am more than a bit surprised that anyone thought Green Bay tackled well last Sunday as the defensive backs, namely Tramon Williams, just waved at Peterson as he run by. The front seven played fairly well but the secondary was a disaster not just in run support but in pass coverage.

One would like to think that these guys will seek to make amends but who knows?

24 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

I'm starting to read more and more about Ponder's injured elbow - I wonder how Minnesota's chances change when Green Bay suddenly has to adjust to Webb's QB style?

29 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

Well, he's more scrambly, I guess. I'm remembering the Eagles game in 2010 where the Vikings didn't have a prayer, and after a Webb-led Minnesota team shocked everybody, I heard "well it's hard when you game plan for one QB and end up playing another".

I'm thinking a lot about this game, but if Webb plays half or more of the game, it will almost certainly go differently than I'm imagining.

32 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

Well, in the vein of "Hell, the Vikings are very likely to lose anyways, so why not?", it would be fun to see a qb with extreme speed, like Webb has, run the read option with 28. I doubt if they have ever tried it in practice, however.

35 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

I always felt giddy when I saw Webb playing in the past. I would love to see what a coach like Belichik or Shanahan (can't believe I'm putting the two in the same sentence now) could do with his skills.

41 The Seahawks play more Cover-1 than Cover-3

I'm not sure if this is a typo or just confusion:

"The Seahawks play Cover-3 a vast majority of the time."

While the Seahawks corners don't always play in press-man, they do so often (as they are better in man coverage than zone) and usually with inside leverage.

46 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

It may be worth pointing out that the Seahawks' DBs are generally familiar with defending zone read offenses, many of them having run them in college.

47 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

"But really, from a pure football standpoint, the most impressive story coming into this game is the job Jim Haslett has done with Washington’s defense."

The Redskins defense only declining 3% in DVOA from last year even though they lost their best pass rusher is pretty good, but is a unit ranked 17th in DVOA really the "most impressive story"? More impressive than a 3rd round rookie QB less than 6 ft tall being one of the best QBs in the league? It's ok to say you'd rather cover an important under the radar story than a story everybody knows about (that's one of the great things about FO!), but you don't need to be pointlessly contrarian about it. This isn't Slate!

Otherwise, very informative piece.

56 Re: Wild Card Film Room: NFC

Around November, Haslett started playing Hall more towards centerfield as part of Washington’s base package -- which utilizes three corners and one safety. פסיכומטרי