Casey Sully

Taysom Hill Proved He’s a Starting Quarterback

Taysom Hill finally got his shot to start for the New Orleans Saints and he did not disappoint. He showed good mechanics and accuracy and was routinely able to move through reads. He dealt well with pressure off of play-action, understood where his hot routes were, and his ball placement helped keep his receivers out of harms way. While it wasn’t a perfect game and he was inconsistent with his anticipation throws, it was a very good showing for his first start as a quarterback.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.


Reading the Defense

One of the more common pass game concepts that the Saints run is Dagger. It involves a clear out from the slot and a deep dig in behind it from the #1 receiver with a shallow drag from the receiver to the backside of the play. The clear out takes away the deep defenders and the shallow drag is designed to help hold the linebackers underneath which opens up space for the deep dig. This play shows the versatility that Taysom Hill brings to the quarterback position.

He did a really good job most of the game keeping his eyes up when moving in the pocket and getting outside. Taysom comes out of the play action and looks to locate where the underneath defenders are to see if they’ve gotten under the dig. As he diagnosis that, he feels pressure and has to climb up and out of the pocket. A really good indicator that he has a chance to become a legitimate starter is that he keeps his eyes up instead of relying on his legs. He sees that the dig has made its way across the field and delivers a really accurate ball on the move to his receiver.

This is that same Dagger concept but I want to use this example to show Taysom’s ball placement ability and his understanding of defenses and holes that appear. The Falcons here are bailing to a two-high safety look with the slot defender immediately turning his hips and bailing at the snap. Again, off of play-action, Taysom has to quickly diagnose this shift and process what that means for the play.

With that rotate and with no receivers releasing to the top of the screen, Taysom understands that that corner can now get under the clear out and the original middle field safety is freed up to rob anything in the middle. This means that Taysom needs to protect his receiver on the deep dig if that’s what he’s going to throw. He can’t lead him into the middle of the field because that free safety will be able to deliver a big hit or impact the throw. Taysom is able to diagnose all of that and throw to the back hip of the receiver to slow them down and prevent a big collision with the safety.

Taysom Hill showed a few good anticipation throws throughout the game as well. The guy might be 30 years old, but for a first start and his prospects of being a legitimate starter, these are some really big things at the quarterback position. Taysom consistently had a stable base which allowed him to be accurate and stay on rhythm to throw with anticipation. Here he’s seeing the space underneath the deep curl is open and begins his throwing motion just as his receiver is breaking down. These are the kinds of throws that can be problematic if you throw them late or aren’t seeing the defense well but Taysom was able to hit a number of these through the game.

He wasn’t perfect, but the throws he made were definitely good indicators. Here again, he keeps a solid base and begins his throwing motion just as the receiver is starting to break their route off and hits him at eye level for an easy completion.

Ball Placement

That ball placement is what I found most impressive.  It’s starting quarterback caliber. He’d throw back hip to slow receivers down and protect them from hits, give them balls that they could easily run with after the catch, and showed decisiveness and zip on a lot of his underneath and intermediate throws even with pressure in his face.

Understanding Blitzes

While he showed good understanding of where his hot reads were, there were a couple times where he didn’t realize he was hot. Based on what the defense is showing here, there are seven total potential rushers and the Saints are in an empty formation with no running back to help in pass protection. Taysom knows that if more than five rushers come, he has to get rid of the ball.

The Saints are running a half line slide here to the side with more potential rushers. From the center over, they’re sliding right to take care of the three “bigs” or defensive linemen to that side. Taysom Hill has to know that if either linebacker comes on a blitz to that side, he’s hot and has to throw to the area that that linebacker is blitzing from. The Saints have a drag from Michael Thomas built in that would be the route Taysom should throw since the linebacker is blitzing from that area. However, Taysom doesn’t look to check for a blitz and therefore doesn’t see the pressure coming soon enough. By the time he feels it, it’s already too late and he takes a sack.

Late Reads

While Taysom did show a number of anticipation throws, there were also some reads where he was a beat late. On his only turnover worthy throw of the day here, he’s seeing the window, but throwing it late. He initially wants the route out of the backfield to Deonte Harris but holds onto it for a beat too long. There’s a window for the drag to Thomas but it has to be thrown with anticipation. With Taysom being a beat late, the defender is able to close the opening and get a hand on the ball.

It’s a small sample size in his first start but there also may be some concern for his deep ball. Taysom Hill had no issue driving the ball on intermediate throws but the two times he tried to load up and throw deep, he ended up underthrowing his receivers. It worked out both of these times, but if he’s going to attack deep downfield, he might need to be a guy that does it on rhythm much like Drew Brees does. He doesn’t seem to be a guy that can throw it late on a broken play since he’s topping out at about 50-55 yards on these throws. That’s more than enough for normal fades and rhythm posts, but not quite enough to sling it late downfield.

Arm Strength

Running Threat

Of course, while Taysom Hill may struggle throwing deep late, he does bring his ability to scramble and run to the table which can’t be overlooked. The Saints really didn’t do anything fancy but ran this quarterback power lead play five separate times in the game. It helps the offense gain an extra blocker when the quarterback is the ball carrier and adds to Taysom’s ability and utility. In important situations, he’s able to get yards with his legs and adds another dimension to the Saints attack.

We knew Taysom Hill was a versatile player before this but I came away very impressed with his accuracy, clean mechanics, and ability to keep his eyes downfield when under pressure and outside the pocket. He’s always a threat on the ground but if he wants the opportunity to be a legitimate starting quarterback, he’s going to have to continue to put together games like he did against the Falcons. It wasn’t perfect, but it showed his ability and gave the Saints something to think about going forward. Maybe all that talk Sean Payton did about him being the next Steve Young isn’t so far off and the Saints will be set for years to come.

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NFL Film Breakdown: How Rams DC Brandon Staley Has the LA Defense Playing at a Championship Level

The LA Rams have a new defensive coordinator in Brandon Staley and have been shutting down the run game while maintaining a two-high look, adapting to their opponents, and pairing excellent play from defensive front and their secondary. They’ll use Jalen Ramsay to lock down receivers in man which opens up their safeties for run fits and more aggressive play and have mastered using Eagle and hybrid fronts to bring pressure and simultaneously have the 5th best run defense in the league. Staley worked with the outside linebackers under Vic Fangio his whole NFL career up until his defensive coordinator job with the Rams and a lot of the Fangio tenets have appeared with the Rams but Staley has done an incredible job of adapting his personnel and front to react in-game to what offenses are doing as evidenced by allowing just three or fewer points in the second half in eight out of the nine games the Rams have played in so far.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

Rams’ Samson Ebukam #50 and Aaron Donald #99 sack Giants quarterback Daniel Jones] #8 during their NFL game at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, CA., Sunday, October 4, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Where Staley has really begun to blaze his own path with the Rams is how he has used the Eagle front to great effect this season. There’s a lot of subtle naming differences when looking at fronts so to keep things simple, I’ll refer to any front with three players aligned in a nose or nose shade and tackles lined up as a 4 or 4i technique as an Eagle front. What that means is that the nose tackle is either directly over the center or shaded to one shoulder of the center and that the tackles are lined up directly over the offensive tackles or on their inside shoulders. The Rams will also then bring their outside linebackers down into wide 9 techniques which places them outside of the tight end and allows the Rams defensive front to flow into and out of different front alignments like more generic 3-4 and 4-3 looks. With the interior linemen in 4 or 4i techniques, this makes blocking and climbing incredibly difficult for offensive linemen. It almost mandates double teams across the board and if a guard leaves on a power or hard stretch, it’s very easy for that 4i technique to attach at the hip and follow down the line of scrimmage. That’s what the Eagle is really designed to do. Create free runners at the linebacker position and help defensive linemen penetrate.

We’ll start with how the Eagle front works in the run game. You can see how each defender fits in their run gaps with the nose tackle two-gapping and reading which direction the play is going and run support coming from the safeties. The tackles are responsible for the B gap and the Nose has the play-side A gap which forces him to two-gap as he’s feeling the movement of the center and attacking that direction. The linebacker then has the weak A gap but can flow over the top with split zone looks, fullbacks, or any other movement to help with cutback contain. The outside linebackers have the C or D gap with the strong side outside linebacker typically being the rush end and the weak side outside linebacker dropping into coverage. If that weak outside linebacker does have to run in coverage, the safety now replaces him as the C gap player. Bonus Clip for Patreon

Here, the Bears are running stretch split zone to the outside with a crunch block from the H-back. Since the line is stretching hard to the left, that allows the 4i defensive tackle to go to work. That slight alignment to the inside of the offensive tackle makes it hard for the offensive line to reach him. With the guard vacating to try and help double the nose before climbing to the linebacker, that leaves the tackle all alone to try and cut off Michael Brockers. With Aaron Donald winning his B gap and the nose tackle demanding a double team, that keeps the linebackers completely clean and forces the running back to work to the backside.
That’s where #90, Michael Brockers has beaten his man to the inside B gap because of his alignment and is waiting there for Montgomery to cut back into him. It’s great team defense. The running back has nowhere to go and has to stay play-side because Brockers beat his man, Donald is able to shed his block, and #59 Micah Kiser is also there to help fill.

If you have good tackles and a nose that can demand blocks like the Rams do, you really don’t even need exceptional athletes at the linebacker position. If they play decisively and can read the flow of the offense, they’ll be just fine since they won’t often have to shed blocks when the Rams use their Eagle front.

Since the linebackers are kept clean and are able to be free runners, the Rams often don’t put extra men in the box and maintain a two-high safety look. To combat some of the issue of having lighter boxes, they align their safeties close to the line of scrimmage at 10-12 yards. This allows them to be quicker contributors in the run game and protect gaps on the backside. These safeties are essentially just deep linebackers. Here, with the Dolphins set up with their strength to the left, Micah Kiser is shaded over the tackle to help seal the C gap inside the tight end, with the outside linebacker #54 Leonard Floyd there to seal the D gap outside. So that means Taylor Rapp, the safety #24 is now responsible for that weak side A gap. With the motion though, you can see the gaps shift over for the Rams defense. The slot corner over the receiver bumps down to take the C gap from Micah Kiser, Kiser bumps to take the weak A gap that was held by Taylor Rapp, and Rapp bumps over with the motion. On the snap, the H-back now also crunches across the formation which yet again shifts the gaps. There’s now no longer a D gap, so Leonard Floyd is responsible for the C gap which allows #22 to bump over and take the weak A now and Kiser takes the C gap outside where the crunch is headed to. That’s a lot of adjustment but the three down linemen still have their same assignments and even if the linebackers and secondary get out of position, the front again forces double teams and keeps the linebackers clean. Notice that none of the linemen are initially able to move up to the second level because they are forced by alignment to be solo on blocks or double team Aaron Donald. The Rams are one of the most sound defenses when it comes to playing with gap integrity. Each man does their job and they have the horses upfront to hold blocks and allow their linebackers to fill and fly around.

The run fits and gap assignments upfront make the whole defense go and while the Rams don’t blitz often, they will use their Eagle front in interesting ways to confuse offenses by walking up linebackers in the same alignments as they usually have their down linemen in. You still have someone aligned in a 0 over the center and two guys lined up in a 4i while you now have Leonard Floyd and Aaron Donald with their hand in the dirt to rush the tackles. This can cause protection issues and force solo blocks on some of their best pass rushers. Offenses don’t know who will drop out by alignment and the Rams are stressing every gap. This forces the Bears into sliding to the left to take care of three potential rushers to that side. This however leaves a two on two to Donald’s side with an additional corner blitz. They’ve isolated their best pass rusher one-on-one and overloaded one side with a corner blitz all because of the front. The best thing is that they’ve manufactured this pressure while only rushing four guys so the structure of their coverage isn’t compromised.

They’ll give teams multiple blitz and pressure looks from that same stand up Eagle look with their linebackers. In the second quarter against the Seahawks, the Rams gave them that look and brought Kiser on the blitz while also running a stunt with him and the defensive tackle to try and bait them into opening a lane. Brandon Staley just wants to find any way possible to get his guys into one-on-one situations because he knows over the course of the game, they’re going to win more of those than they’ll lose.

Now that they established that look, late in the 4th quarter the Rams showed the exact same thing. This time, Kiser doesn’t come on the blitz but the center pauses and waits for the rush from Kiser before realizing he isn’t coming and going to help the guard late. That small pause and hesitation of not knowing if Kiser will come gives the rest of the defensive line chances to win their one-on-one matchups and that’s exactly what Michael Brockers does. With no inside help, he works the guard upfield before swimming underneath him to the inside and getting a direct line on Russell Wilson for the sack.

The Rams love this look with additional pressure and if the offense does run it, they still have everyone in their base gaps and assignments. Even though it may look like the Rams are bringing a lot of pressure, they’ll often rush just four but you have no idea where its coming from. Even if they aren’t getting home all the time, they almost always create significant pressure out of these stand-up Eagle looks.

What helps even more with pressures, the run game, and coverage is that they’ll often run Ramsey on lock calls which means he is man-on-man with the receiver. This then allows the safeties to fit their run gaps faster and support the linebackers more quickly because they don’t have to worry about getting over the top to help Ramsey.

You can see an example of this here with Ramsey locked to the top of the screen and the safety Taylor Rapp, doesn’t have to worry about helping him or getting over the top of his receiver. Instead, he can now help bracket and rob routes and crossers in the middle of the field which the 49ers love to run. Ramsey’s ability as a pure man corner frees up the secondary everywhere else and allows them to play aggressive and fast and gain players in other areas of the field.

Having a corner in Jalen Ramsey who can hold a top tier receiver like DK Metcalf to 2 catches for 28 yards and not a single target until the last minute of the 3rd quarter can do incredible things for your defense. It just condenses the field for the offense with more players in less space. Nobody has to get under his route or over the top and keeps defenders closer to the formation.

The Rams rank second in yards per game and are allowing just 18.7 points a game. They’re shutting down teams on the ground and through the air and Brandon Staley has used the pieces that the Rams have to perfection. He has found ways to get his guys in a position to succeed while being aggressive and balancing that with maintaining integrity to prevent big plays behind it with his two-high safety looks. Talent has met scheme in LA and it’s the Rams defense that has them thinking that they just might recapture that 2018 magic and make it back to the Super Bowl. 

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Suscribe to our YouTube page for our video breakdowns. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

NFL Film Breakdown: How Lamar Jackson Has Grown as a Passer and is Used in the Ravens Run Game

Lamar Jackson is one of the most unique quarterbacks in the NFL right now with over 2,000 yards rushing in his career paired with almost 6,000 passing yards and a 102.1 passer rating. A lot of talking heads diminish Lamar’s ability calling him a running back playing quarterback like it’s some kind of knock or dig at his ability. Some of the criticisms are valid, he can struggle mechanically and can overly rely on athleticism but trying to box Lamar into the strict definition of what a quarterback is as foolish as trying to tackle him in the open field. He isn’t a normal quarterback. So why try to define him as one? Lamar is an all-world runner so people try to point out his his ability, or inability, to throw – especially this year where his completion percentage has dropped (although his receivers have dropped 4.9% of his passes) along with his sack numbers rising and a higher rate of fumbling and interceptions. He’s not producing at his 2019 MVP level but let’s take a look at Lamar the player and not just as a pure passer – though we’ll look at that too. When looking at Lamar you have to take a wholistic view and understand how he helps that offense operate both in the run game and the pass game.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

Nick Wass/Associated Press

Lamar is at his best in the passing game when he’s working the underneath game and throwing on rhythm. Because he’s such a dynamic runner, when he progresses through his reads, he can start to get jumpy in the pocket and is prone to try to escape because, ultimately, I think he still trusts his legs more than he does his arm. However, he has started to throw with really good anticipation that shows trust in the scheme, his receivers, and illustrates his growth in his ability to throw off of defensive movements. There are some mechanical issues, but for the most part, the mental side of the game seems to be really slowing down for him.

Here, the Ravens are running a deep Dagger concept with a clear out post from the slot and a 15 yard dig from Hollywood Brown outside. The running back releases into the flats to try and hold the linebackers from getting depth underneath the dig. The post here is designed to hold the safety and pull defenders to open a window for the dig. The clear out is able to pull the safety and there is a window but it’s not a very big one and it’s 15 yards downfield. Lamar begins his throwing motion just as Brown is getting out of his break but he’s still about 10 yards from where he’ll catch the ball. Lamar see’s the two linebackers dropping to their seam responsibilities in cover 3 and knows he has to drive it in the deep hole behind them with anticipation because if he’s late, the window to the dig will close fast.

These anticipation throws are the biggest step Lamar has begun to take in his game and more than that, is an indicator that he’s starting to trust his eyes and his arm to make these plays. These aren’t throws where he’s seeing someone open first and then throwing. It takes high level processing to make these kinds of throws. Here, Lamar is starting his throwing motion just as the receiver is planting to break to the corner. Lamar trusts his guy to be at the right spot and trusts his arm to get it there. It’s an impressive tight window throw with pressure bearing down on him.

Anticipation like this is a really good indicator for Lamar. On this play, he’s hoping to throw the seam to his tight end the whole way but he sees the safety shaded directly over the top bail to the middle of the field at the snap. He looks off the safety to ensure that he has created enough room and then throws an absolutely perfect ball to the seam right over the defenders’ head and before the safety has a chance to make a play on the ball.

However, like I said, as a passer, there are still some big mechanical issues that Lamar has and they’re issues that he also had last year, which is concerning since they don’t seem to have been cleaned up much. This play encapsulates basically all parts of Lamar. His biggest issue throwing the ball is a huge dip at the top of his drop, subsequent heel-click which causes even more issues with vertical accuracy, and then an occasional tendency to drop his eyes and look to escape from the pocket. On the flip side, despite all that, he turns this play into a 10 yard gain and first down.

At the top of his drop, you can see how low Lamar gets and how much his hips sink towards the ground. As a quarterback, you want to stay as even and stable as possible and you don’t want that vertical bounce because if you throw off of this last step in your drop, your body is now rising simultaneously as you throw, it’s harder to get good power and drive, and you get a lot of vertical accuracy issues. Because of this elongated last step of his drop, he also tends to heel click and bring his feet together on his hitch steps. This again creates vertical bounce which you want to eliminate. He then drops his eyes and looks to scramble but if he kept his eyes up, he would see the safety is flat footed and his receiver is running open on a seam for a potential touchdown. Lamar has a pocket, but instead escapes out. I say all this knowing that he gains a first down on this play and that’s great, but it’s important to know that he is leaving plays on the field in the passing game as well.

As a pure passer, these mechanics are going to make you less consistent. You can see here that same huge vertical dip at the top of his drop and how that gets him onto his toes and bouncing in the pocket. If all your cleats aren’t in the ground, you’re going to have difficulty generating power and accuracy from your legs up. As a result, Lamar is unable to open his hips to the throw with his toe pointed towards the sideline and can’t generate enough power and leaves the ball behind his receiver which results in an interception.

The longer the throw, the more impactful this heel click and vertical bounce can be on his vertical accuracy. You can see how pronounced it is here against the Bengals on this deep shot which causes him to overshoot the throw by about 5 yards.

These mechanical issues and misfires pop up in almost every game. Big dip at the top of the drop, lots of heel click, and vertical inaccuracy. While Lamar does tend to sidearm which leads to most of his horizontal inaccuracy, issues with touch and vertical misses are all because of his footwork and this is now year three of these same issues.

A passer isn’t all that Lamar is, though. It’s foolish to think of him as just a quarterback because he just flat out isn’t just a quarterback. He might not be what most people think of as a conventional player, but to use that as a knock just flat out makes no sense to me. We are seeing that he is capable as a passer and to add that to what he does on the ground is what separates him from every other player in the league.

Lamar adds a ton to the Ravens run game as you might expect but he does it whether he keeps the ball or not. The Ravens use a ton of read option which leaves one defender free to be read by Lamar. This allows them to gain an extra blocker and forces defensive flow and gap fits to become compromised. The Ravens really like to run a center and tackle counter read and it can be incredibly powerful. A lot of the time, teams have issues sealing off backside pursuit on counter and preventing penetration from the defensive end but since the Ravens read that guy, it eliminates that issue. Since the Ravens have two ball carriers in the backfield at all times by default with Lamar, they now can force teams to be gap sound on every play. If that end comes down to chase the counter and pulling tackle, Lamar will give the ball to the running back running to the outside. If that end stays up-field, Lamar will pull it and run the counter himself. What this also does is give false read keys to the linebackers who are often taught to read and follow pulling linemen. They can’t really do that anymore because if they do, there’s no way they’ll be in position to chase the running back. You can see that here as the linebackers are frozen during the mesh and are late to get outside which enables to running back to get around the edge of the defense.

The Ravens will also switch it up and have Lamar be the outside keep and the running back run counter. The same principles apply. Read off of the defensive end. If he chases, pull the ball and run around him. The Ravens are also crunch to arc blocking with their fullback. He’s coming around to go up and block the linebacker to seal the outside for Lamar if he keeps the ball. So now there’s a ton of backfield motion for defenses to look at and Lamar is special in the open field. If you crash down like the defense does here, he’s capable of ripping off huge gains when he keeps the ball.

Now since Lamar has kept it once, it opens up the counter action for the running back. Just watch this at full speed and try to figure out what’s going on in the backfield and know that Lamar is capable of burning you if you don’t protect against him keeping it to the outside. The defensive end comes up the field so Lamar gives the ball to the running back since he has taking away his path to the outside. Two of the linebackers are also now sitting and staying home in case of the keep by Lamar which gets them out of position on the counter. The Ravens now have +1 blockers to the play-side as Lamar has influenced three separate players on defense and taken them out of position to make a play.

This is the full power that Lamar has. He influences the running game like no other quarterback does and then he can also play action and boot out of those same looks and has developed into a solid passer of the ball. If for a second, you aren’t sound on defense, the Ravens will make you pay on the ground. That’s never really been up for debate. But as Lamar has grown in the passing game, they’ve also started to make teams pay through the air. Lamar is not by any means an elite passer at this point, but he is still growing and is showing signs of the game slowing down for him. With all that he brings to the field, there’s no deadlier weapon in the NFL right now and if Lamar can continue to evolve, the Ravens may just run – and throw – their way to the Super Bowl.

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NFL Film Breakdown: A look at Tua’s First Start, His Mechanics, and Decision Making

While Tua had a relatively pedestrian first start against the Rams with only 93 yards and one touchdown, the fact is, he just didn’t have to do much and the Dolphins didn’t ask him to do that much. With outstanding performances from the defense and special teams that gave the Dolphins the lead, Tua just needed to run the offense and run it against a very good Rams defense that can get after the quarterback and also has the guys to cover in the secondary. While Tua did struggle at times, especially early before he settled down, there were also some moments where he looked like he could be the guy of the future. It’s way too early to know what he’s going to turn into but let’s take a look at a couple of his plays from his first start.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

Sep 20, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) warms up prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Tua didn’t push the ball down the field a whole lot, but notably, the Dolphins are really set up to make him feel at home in the shot gun with a lot of spread concepts and plays. The Dolphins here are running Dagger with a clear out from the slot at the bottom and a deep dig behind it from the outside receiver. To the top of the screen they have a seven yard out. Something that you love to see from a young QB in their first start is reading calmly and throwing with anticipation. Here Tua looks to the Dagger concept and sees a defender dropping into the area where the dig will enter. This forces him to come off of that read and he comes all the way across the field to his seven yard out. What’s incredibly encouraging here is that he is throwing with anticipation. He starts his throwing motion to get the ball out to Gesicki before Gesicki has planted for his cut. He read the defense, comes off his first read, and then throws the ball with anticipation to his check-down.

This ability to be calm and use his eyes really jumped out. He was able to look off defenders, make decisive throws underneath, and move through his progressions. Here, he takes one of his few deep shots but first looks to the top of the screen to help hold the safety. He knows that the Rams like to use jump calls on crossers on 3rd downs, so he’s expecting the safety #24 to come down on his shallow drag which leaves a true one-on-one outside with Mike Gesicki. He throws a beautiful ball in rhythm in a great place for his receiver to make a play. This is again a good indicator that he’s processing and understands what’s going on around him.

Overall, Tua handled pressure pretty well. Even when faced with free runners or blitzers, he was able to move out of the pocket and throw off platform to keep the offense on schedule and create plays. A lot of the time, being able to create and make things happen on broken plays or when teams blitz you can be the difference in what makes a good quarterback.

While there were some really encouraging things, there were also some rookie issues where he was expecting a receiver to be in a different spot, lost his consistency in his mechanics, made some rushed throws, or missed some reads downfield. Here he’s just expecting the quick screen to his receiver to be closer to the line of scrimmage and misses what should be an easy completion.

Especially early in the game, he was very frenetic in the pocket. There was a lot of bouncing which can cause some huge vertical inaccuracy. You want to stay as level as possible as a quarterback and calm your feet otherwise when you start your throwing motion as you’re moving up and down, you can get balls that sail on you. Here, Tua does just that and in combination, misreads the leverage of the defender covering the fade to DeVante Parker. The DB is stacked on top, eliminating vertical space. If you’re going to throw that, you have to throw this back-shoulder. You can’t put it in a position where your receiver has to play defense and break up the play. So Tua’s mechanics here were off with the bouncing, he over shot his throw, and he didn’t indicate that he understood the leverage of the defender and where that meant he needed to throw it.

All things considered, Tua did a good job for his first start. There were some flashes of his potential even in the 93 passing yards he had. There were also some rookie mistakes which are to be expected. It’ll be exciting to watch him progress because the Dolphins are rolling with the number one scoring defense right now and are right in the thick of the playoff race. If the team around him keeps playing at a high level and lets him learn while not having to do too much, the Dolphins are going to make some noise in the second half of the season and even compete for the AFC East crown.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

NFL Film Breakdown: A Look at Drew Lock, His Potential, and Some Concerning Trends

If you aren’t strapped in already, it’s time to buckle up for Drew Lock’s wild ride. The Broncos are 6-3 in games that Lock has played in their entirety as the starter but he has just as many games this year with multiple interceptions as he does games where he’s thrown a touchdown. It’s important to remember through this all, that Lock is still incredibly raw and has only played nine full games in his career but it’s worth looking at his upside and potential areas of concern because Lock has the talent to elevate the Broncos to wins but he also has some mechanical and decision-making issues that can lead to game-changing mistakes.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

DENVER, COLORADO – NOVEMBER 01: Quarterback Drew Lock #3 of the Denver Broncos looks to throw for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers in the fourth quarter of the game at Empower Field At Mile High on November 01, 2020 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Drew Lock does not like pressure. Against blitzes, Lock has just a 47.7% completion percentage and has thrown three of his five interceptions on the year. When teams don’t bring extra men, Lock has completed 62.6% of his throws and has thrown four touchdowns to two interceptions. This disparity can also be seen with his time spent in the pocket. On throws that happen within 2.5 seconds, his completion percentage goes up by 23%, his QB rating is 28 points higher, and he’s attempting throws further downfield. All this is to say that Lock is at his best as a rhythm thrower. He has an unreal arm that allows him to hit receivers in stride and if he’s throwing on time as receivers get out of their break, he’s almost impossible to stop and the film and numbers both back it up.

When Lock can key off of one defender, he plays much more decisively. The Broncos are running a drive concept here against the Patriots which creates a high-low read for Lock. You have a shallow drag from the #1 receiver, and a dig behind it from the #3. The Patriots play a lot of man coverage and you can see at the snap of the ball that Lock locates the blitz from the linebacker and then immediately goes to check if anyone is under the dig being run by his #3 receiver. With man coverage, there’s nobody to get into the passing lane, and Lock is able to hit the top of his drop, drive off his back foot and deliver the ball in stride to his tight end.

Lock is still young and can have some trouble diagnosing things so if you simplify his reads and let him play fast, he’s going to play much more efficiently. The Broncos will use some motions or release the running back to help him read off of linebackers and throw off their movements. The Broncos here run a man in motion and pull the running back across the formation in pass protection which let’s Lock read the flowing linebackers and attack the vacated space in the middle. Again, he gets to the top of his drop and is able to hit his receiver in stride.

The Broncos are starting to figure this out too. After a rough first quarter against the Chargers, the Broncos started to dial up some simple reads for Lock and while they didn’t manifest into points on those drives, Lock slowly become more decisive and accurate as his confidence built into the 3rd quarter. What’s most encouraging is that Lock is growing and learning on the job.

In the first half, Denver called another high low concept with a quick hook at 6 yards and a dig wrapping in behind it. The read on this is to watch the linebacker with inside leverage. If he stays up on the hook at six yards, the quarterback should throw behind him as the dig is wrapping around him. If he drops underneath the dig, you throw the quick hook. Here, Lock misses the dig and instead checks it down late to the running back. If he throws with anticipation and waits a beat, the dig is open. Instead, he gets bouncy in the pocket, his base starts to deteriorate, and he throws an inaccurate check-down.

Fast forward to the 4th quarter now and the Broncos call the same concept to the top of the screen. This time, Lock is dialed in and has learned from his first rep earlier in the game. The linebacker steps up to the hook and Lock hits his back foot on rhythm and fires the ball to hit his receiver in stride for the score to pull the game to 27-24.

When he isn’t on rhythm though, he has a huge issue with pocket movement. He will drift in the pocket and into pressure, bail from clean pockets and get into trouble, and his drop will often take him too deep which allows pass rushers to take easier angles to impact his throws. To top that all off, his mechanics when he moves tend to get sloppier and he has trouble getting consistent footwork and hip rotation. As we talked about before, when Lock throws after 2.5 seconds he is way less accurate and is more prone to mistakes.

On a four-man pressure here, Lock drops his eyes and misses four separate receivers that are breaking open because of a stunt to his blindside. Lock is initially looking at the deep curl to the bottom of the screen and wants to take a deep shot over the top to the post which is coming across the field with the curl holding the corner from getting underneath it. The play works perfectly and if Lock stands strong in the pocket it’s an easy big gain to the post and he can even throw the curl if he wants. But the movement on the line scares him out of the pocket and he immediately comes off those reads to check it down. To take the next step he’s just got to be able to stand in and make throws and not be so skittish in the pocket. He’s leaving tons of plays on the field because he’s feeling pressure that isn’t there.

What makes it worse is Lock will often create some of this pressure himself by dropping too far back. Unless you’re working a play-action bootleg, normal shot gun drop backs should be at about 8 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Lock’s skip drop he takes after his initial punch step will often take him to 10-11 yards behind the line of scrimmage though. This makes the offensive tackles lives incredibly difficult because they can’t wash edge rushers behind the pocket anymore since Lock is so deep. It also creates pressure in Lock’s face and gets him out of rhythm on his throws which causes inconsistent footwork. He just flat out cannot handle pressure. On this play he misses a touchdown down the sideline because his drop is so deep he feels pressure and tries to check it down. If he climbs or drops to 8 yards, he can hitch and deliver a strike down the sideline for a touchdown. Instead he’s falling away from his throw with pressure in his face which causes the ball to go high for an incompletion on a check-down.

Lock takes a little longer to process things than you’d like and that’s why you get some of his wild variability. When he takes longer to process, his feet get sloppy, he throws late, and gets himself and the team into trouble. He can lock onto receivers which pulls deep defenders that way and causes turnover worthy plays as he waits for things to open up instead of throwing with anticipation or getting to his next read.

Things are slowing down for Lock though. He’s starting to build comfortability with offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, understand concepts and defender keys, and has made progress in the underneath game. To really unleash his potential though, he has to translate that to seeing the entire field and to being able to stand strong in the pocket. Even with those things, he still makes some amazing throws and the talent is clearly there. Drew Lock has the potential to carry a team on his back but he also makes a few decisions a game that put them in a disadvantageous position. One thing’s for sure though, he makes the Broncos exciting and as he gets more and more experience, the Lock rollercoaster may have a lot more ups than downs and if things start to really click, we’ll all be along for the ride.

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NFL Film Breakdown: How the Chicago Bears Defense Confuses QBs into Making Mistakes and Taking Sacks

The Bears defense is alive and well. Akiem Hicks is back and disrupting plays with 13 QB hits and 5 tackles for loss, Khalil Mack has 5.5 sacks on the season, Eddie Jackson is one of the best safeties in the league, and Kyle Fuller is allowing just a 51.5% completion percent. To have a truly elite defense, you need to have a secondary and front that work together. The Bears like to move their secondary players around at the snap to force quarterbacks to diagnose things on the fly and adjust in real time. It can cause them to make poor decisions or hold the ball for a half second longer to allow the Bears pass rush to get home. It sounds simple but being static can often be a death sentence for defenses. If you don’t give teams something to think about at the snap, you’re conceding that it’s going to be your guys versus theirs. Moving your pieces around gives the advantage back to the defenses and is part of the reason why Chicago has allowed just 58.7% of passes to be completed this season.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

The Bears are predominantly a one high safety team and play a lot of Cover 3 and Cover 1. They’ll often show two high safeties though because they want to force quarterbacks to process and figure out what’s going on post-snap. At the snap of the ball or leading up to the snap, they’ll rotate their safeties to change their pre-snap look. Often, this leads them to running Cover 1 Robber. Cover 1 just means that there is one high safety and man coverage everywhere else on the field. Robber is describing the action of the other safety because he is going to drop down at the snap and “rob” the middle of the field. This Robber player is free to jump any routes that flash in front of him. Cover 1 Robber can be used to prevent slants, quick hitting hooks underneath, or crossing routes. Here, the Giants are running a common play which is a chains concept where the receivers get to the first down marker and turn around for the ball. The Bears are running their Cover 1 Robber to the trips side so that they can help Roquan Smith in coverage. Smith knows that there’s a robber behind him so he can now bracket to the inside of the tight end. The corner to the top of the screen also knows he can play with outside leverage and funnel inside because the Robber will be there to pick up any crossers. The Robber frees up other players to play with more conservative leverage and funnel things inside to both the free safety over the top and the robber over the middle. Daniel Jones here is reading that Roquan smith is way inside on his tight end, so he’s determining pre-snap that’s the route that he wants. The tight end is going to turn around right at the sticks and with two safeties over the top and with leverage on the linebacker, it should be an easy completion. What Jones doesn’t see though, is Eddie Jackson dropping down to rob the route. Jackson knows the routes are coming based on down and distance and keys off of Jones’ eyes. He breaks on the route and causes the ball to pop up into the air.

You can see in this play how Cover 1 Robber looks when coming down on a crossing route. The Bears show two high before the late rotate back to centerfield by Tashaun Gipson and the Robber, Eddie Jackson, sits right in the middle of the field waiting for a an in-breaking route to rob. The Lions are running a dig route across the middle of the field and Eddie Jackson is sitting in the deep hole ready to break on it. Stafford doesn’t see it, and Jackson is able to break on it and pop the ball into the air again for an interception.

Really this robber look is just designed to cause hesitation on routes in the middle of the field, set the safety up with angles to make a play on the ball, or force the offense to make throws outside where the Bears are getting great play out of their corners Kyle Fuller and their rookie Jaylon Johnson.

For example, here the Falcons use pre-snap motion to try and diagnose what the Bears are doing. When the receiver shifts over and the corner comes with him, that’s a man coverage indicator. You pair that with two high safeties, and you expect to see 2 Man Under which gives the defense two deep players in each half of the field and man coverage underneath. So, if you’re Matt Ryan, what’s a route that you love here? The Falcons are running two crossers behind each other across the field. Based on leverage and having a shallow drag route to the top of the screen, he’s going to want to hit the first crosser because that receiver has inside leverage on the slot defender. The shallow by the tight end at the top will pull the defender to that side, and he sees the boundary side safety getting depth on the snap. What he doesn’t expect is for Eddie Jackson to again be in that Robber look coming down from the four-receiver side. Jackson comes down right in front of that crosser which is where Ryan is looking first. Ryan sees that the crosser is bracketed but by that time is feeling pressure. He has to come off the read, and throws short for an incompletion.  

Similar to Cover 1 Robber, the Bears also use jump calls against teams that like to run a lot of crossers like the Rams in Week 7. The Rams run a ton of tight formations and drag their receivers across on deep over routes in their play-action game. The Bears’ method of combatting that was to use Jump calls. A Jump call is very similar to using a Robber, but it takes a little more communication and understanding from the defense. With a Jump call, the safety is coming down on the crossing route and the corner that was initially over that route replaces them in the middle of the field instead of chasing them across. The Bears use this coverage on the single receiver side of the formation so that that corner isn’t going to be immediately threatened in their half of the field when they vacate it. For the purposes of this play, the slice behind the formation by the receiver in the slot turns this into a single receiver side to the bottom of the screen after the snap of the ball. This Jump call allows the Bears to keep the integrity of their defense and bypass traffic in the middle of the field while picking up crossers from the safety position with an angle to make the tackle or a play on the ball.

So, the Bears run a lot of the Cover 1 Robber, typically with the Robber coming from the trips side and they’ll also use those Jump calls. They’ll also invert that and show a one-high safety look and then bail out of it into Cover 2 Trap, also called Palms. Palms is popular against spread formations and two receiver sets which is what we have here against the Panthers. It’s essentially Cover 2 with match coverage principles tied into it. The corners on the outside are keying the #2 receivers on the inside. If they have an outbreaking route, they’re going to carry the #1 until they see it and then drop to jump the out route by #2. If that’s the case, the safety over the top would then pick up #1 as they go vertical. The linebackers then help to bracket any in breaking crossers like a dig or slant.

That’s what the Bears are running here. The problem that Teddy Bridgewater and the Panthers have is that Chicago is showing single high which either means Cover 1 or Cover 3. In either case, Teddy likes the matchups and leverage of his routes to the top of the screen. The #1 goes vertical, the #2 runs a wheel right behind it, and the running back runs an arrow out into the flats. In the Bears Palms coverage, the corner is going to pass off that vertical to the safety coming over the top and jump the outbreaking route from the #2. He then carries that wheel up the sideline since he is now in man coverage on that route. The slot defender is bracketing but has no in breakers, so he runs with the running back to the flats. Everything is covered. Normally, though, in a Cover 3 or in man, that initial vertical would pull the corner deep. The #2 running the wheel route would be carried by the slot defender who would normally have the flats in cover 3 and now there would be no flat defender to pick up that running back since that defender carried the wheel. In Cover 1, you’d be one-on-one with your running back on a linebacker in man. All matchups you’d probably like. So, Teddy looks that way off the snap but then sees the Bears are rotating into that Cover 2 look with two high safeties and the safety getting over the top of the vertical from #1. He knows that that side of the field is going to be covered and tries to get back over to the bottom of the screen.  By then, though, the corner has broken on the slant from Robby Anderson, Teddy has to move out of the pocket, and the Bears close in for a sack. It’s the perfect marriage of coverage and pressure and is what makes these rotates and post-snap movements so effective for defenses. One second of pause from the QB and all the sudden your pass rush can get home for a big play to put the Panthers on their own one yard line.

Here’s another example of Cover 2 at the bottom of the screen with the Bears again giving a late rotate into the two high safety look. The corner is again keying the #2 receiver for an out-breaking route and leaving any crosser or vertical route for the safety or the linebacker. The corner takes the quick out and the linebacker now brackets and gets inside of the post from the #1. Bridgewater knows the Bears like to have their robber to the trips side and the Bears had run a single high look with man coverage earlier in this game against the Panthers’ empty formations so that’s exactly what Bridgewater is looking for here.

The Bears instead rotate the middle field safety over and drop Eddie Jackson into the deep seem to the trips side. Normally, offenses will have reads versus defenses when they’re showing middle of the field open with two high safeties versus middle of the field closed versus one high safety. In this case, DJ Moore has an option route of running a dig versus 1 high or a post versus a 2-high look. You want to attack the weakness of the defense. Because of the strong rush and the late rotate, Teddy still thinks it’s a 1 high look and either man or Cover 3 so he’s expecting a dig from DJ Moore. Meanwhile, Moore is seeing the rotate by the safety and breaks for a post to exploit that vacated middle of the field – which really is wide open if Teddy throws the ball down the field. There’s absolutely nobody there. But because he doesn’t see the rotate and the rush is getting home, he throws the dig right into the linebacker who has bracketed the in-breaking route. It’s an interception that ultimately seals the game and prevents the Panthers from continuing their potential game tying drive.

The Bears are sitting at 5-2 and are right in the mix of the NFC playoff picture. Their defense is getting to the quarterback, locking down receivers, and confusing quarterbacks into holding the ball and making mistakes. With the marriage of an elite secondary and a defensive line that can cause pressure, the Bears have all the pieces to the puzzle on defense. The offense might have its ups and downs but as the old saying goes and as Bears fans are hoping is true – defense win championships.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

NFL Film Breakdown: How the Saints use Pass Game Concepts Dagger and Y-Cross to Create Chunk Plays

A lot has been made of Drew Brees’ arm strength and the New Orleans Saints, but they’re sitting at 3-2 and are right in the thick of things in the NFC South. They’re scoring 30.6 points per game, and while there is a lot of short game and possession passing in the Saints offense, they also attack the intermediate middle of the field with deep digs and crossers in the Dagger and Y-Cross concepts. These those two schemes are very similar to each other and also work to open up space underneath for Kamara on check downs. Nothing is really new under the sun for NFL teams and passing schemes. Almost every team uses some variation of the big concepts like Drive, Shallow Cross, Stick, Mesh, or Dagger, but the inventive coaches find ways to tweak them, make them look different, disguise them so defenses can’t key on them, and even combine multiple concepts into one play; and that’s what Sean Payton does a good job of.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

First, let’s understand the Dagger concept. Dagger uses a clear out with a deep dig behind it and typically a shallow drag or someone in the flats underneath it to give a high-low read on the defense. Dagger can be incredibly effective against any coverage. Its one downfall though, is that the primary read and goal of the play – the deep dig – takes a long time to develop so it puts a big burden on the offensive line. With the deep dig to attack the middle of the field, you’ll often see it called in 2nd or 3rd and long situations where you’re more likely to see two high safeties and softer coverage. That’s exactly what we have here with a 3rd and 15 for the Saints. Here, the Packers are in match cover 4. What that means is that for all intents and purposes, the deep routes are covered in man. Match coverage uses a lot of man on demand or MOD coverage. If the receiver lined up on the corner goes vertical, the coverage turns into man. If that receiver goes inside within five yards, the corner would pass that route off to the linebacker. This also applies to the nickel corners here lined up over the #2 receivers. If their receiver goes vertical, they carry. If they go inside under five yards, they pass it off. You can see just that at the top of the screen as the tight end Jared Cook immediately goes inside and the corner passes him off the linebacker while pointing and communicating an “in” call.

The safeties meanwhile, are giving support over the top and helping to bracket routes inside and out. You can see that the safety to the bottom of the screen quickly bails to the outside to bracket the receiver to the outside while the nickel carries him from the inside. Kevin King on the other side of the field is running a lock call so no matter what, he’s man on that receiver. This frees up Adrian Amos to peak and lean to the field side and help down the middle. This is exactly what the Dagger concept can exploit. Remember, we have a clear out with a seam or a skinny post from the play-side slot receiver. This receiver needs to get inside of the safety to his side so that he pulls him in coverage. The more people he can take with him on this route, the better. On the outside, we know that in match cover 4, the corner is going to be MOD on the dig because it’s deeper than five yards. So, we’re clearing the nickel corner and play-side safety and now have a one-on-one with the corner on the outside. Meanwhile, from the backside of the play, we have that shallow drag coming across the field. We talked about that being passed off to the linebacker and that’s exactly what happens. It keeps the linebacker underneath to open the window for the deep dig behind. It all works perfectly – except for protection starts to break down and Brees can’t hang in the pocket long enough to hit the dig as it’s breaking open. What the route concept has done though, is left Kamara one-on-one in the open field against that dime corner that passed off the shallow drag. A matchup that the Saints love every day of the week. It might be a dump off and check down off of a deep play concept, but it picks up the 15 yards on 3rd and long and moves the chains because it has stressed the defense vertically and opened space underneath.

Dagger is still really effective against a single high safety look as well. The purpose of the clear out is exactly the same. His job is to hold that safety with his seam route and pull the corner with him to clear space underneath for the deep dig. The Raiders are bringing extra pressure here so the middle of the field is really open but that means the running back has to stay in to help with the blitz so there is no outlet for Brees now. He’s going to have to stand in the pocket until the dig develops or until the shallow drag pops open. What’s great about these tight splits when running Dagger is that the deep dig gets inside leverage on that cover 3 corner which makes life a lot easier on both the quarterback and the receiver. The slot corner carries the seam up to the safety, the dig has leverage on the corner outside, and Brees can throw with anticipation here because there’s no linebacker to get in the passing lane and he can see the corners back turned in the middle of the field. The safety tries to rotate down on it, but it’s too late and a nice chunk gain for the Saints.

The Saints will run Dagger a couple times a game to attack the middle of the field. The concept stays the same and is effective against whatever coverage they might see. Even if it doesn’t go to the deep dig, it still gets their playmakers in space underneath.

So that’s Dagger. What Sean Payton has started to combine it with though is the Y-Cross concept. Let’s dig into that a little bit and then we’ll see how he meshes the Dagger and Y-Cross into one to add wrinkles to the playbook and give Brees a lot of options on the play. The Y-Cross is run by a lot of teams off play-action and with tight ends but you can run it out of any personnel grouping and off pure drop back as well. Against the Lions, the Saints run it out of 11 personnel with a rocket motion to the field. The tight end, or the Y, has the Crossing route. He is working for an inside release and then across the field and an angle at which he would run out of bounds at 18-22 yards downfield. Against zone, he would settle in the first hole after the Mike linebacker and in man he would continue to run across the field. Behind the Y-Cross, you have a deep dig route similar to what we saw on Dagger. There really are a ton of areas that are possible to settle in for both the Y-Cross and that deep dig route so it can be hard to recognize since it can be run five times and have the receivers all stopping in five different spots on the field. The concept on Y-Cross it is very similar, the Y-Cross pulls defenders and vacates space for the dig coming in behind it. The main difference here is that the outside receiver is running a vertical route and there’s no shallow drag coming underneath it. The first read is always checking for that vertical from the X receiver away from the Y-Cross. The quarterback then works to the Y-Cross, and then the deep dig behind it.

Now on a pure drop back you have the same concept, with the Y-Cross which can sometimes be checked into a hard dig if the receiver is feeling man coverage. You still have the dig behind it and the vertical from the X receiver. Brees could have again had the dig but checks it down to Kamara in the flats and ends up getting good yardage. With all that flow to one side, the Saints like to leak Kamara into the flats into the backside. Again, they’re just getting their best player in space on a linebacker or corner and letting him go to work.

Now that we understand what both Dagger and Y-Cross look like we can look at what the Saints do out of trips to combine the two concepts into one play and stress the defense in multiple ways. It’s an easy install into already established plays in the offense and allows versatility for attacking coverages and creating a big play. The Chargers are in a unique defense here where they’re playing man coverage underneath with one true free safety and then two deep seem defenders that are going to sit at the sticks and help bracket players from the outside on this 3rd and 14 from the Saints. The Saints call up their Y-Cross Dagger combination concept out of trips. The #3 receiver runs the Y-Cross, the #2 receiver runs that seam clear out that we saw in Dagger, and the #1 receiver runs the deep dig behind it. On the single receiver side you have the shallow drag that you normally see in Dagger as well. So really it’s just like running a Y-Cross with the additional receiver on the Dagger side when they’re in trips. You have Dagger from the outside guys and the dig plays into the Y-Cross so you’ve managed to combine both concepts. What this does is attack that deep safety with two verticals. If he runs to the Y-Cross, he’s leaving his corner out to dry down the seam, and if he stays with the seam like he does, it puts the linebacker in trail position in an impossible position. That seam defender to the boundary at the top of the screen is supposed to sit and guard the sticks, but if there’s nobody threatening, he has to get deep and underneath the Y- Cross. That player is #44 Kyzir White who plays linebacker. Clearly not a guy that’s used to protecting a deep zone of the field. Brees knows that, and attacks that matchup. If the Y-Cross wasn’t there though, the dig portion of the concept is about to break open in the middle of the field and the shallow drag has pulled out any underneath defenders. The Seam from Dagger concept held the safety to allow the Y-Cross to get open.

The Saints have run this combo concept a couple times this year. This time, against the Lions, the Seam is the one that’s open. Brees ends up checking it down to the shallow drag to Taysom Hill but let’s take a look at the bind it puts defenses in. The Y-Cross gets the safety’s his hips turned inside and the dig helps bring down the corner. The corner to the top of the screen jumps on the dig and with the safeties hips turned the wrong way, the Seam is open and there’s a ton of space for Brees to throw to. The Y-Cross has taken 3 defenders, the Dig has taken two, and that leaves 1-on-1 matchups for the rest of the routes – the seam, shallow drag, and leak from Kamara. Brees comes down to the shallow drag who settles in the middle of the field but the shot to the seam was there and available for a big play.

The Saints are right in the thick of things and have managed to survive a stretch without their best weapon in Michael Thomas while still being right at the top of the NFC South. Things are only going to improve for that offense upon his return. Sean Payton does a good job of combining concepts and attacking defenses in multiple ways. It creates easy outlets for Drew Brees and even when they don’t work, they end up getting Kamara into the flats. So, let’s not say Drew Brees is washed and the Saints are done. They’re just fine. With the wrinkles that Sean Payton assuredly has in store, the sky is still the limit for the Saints and they can absolutely still compete for a Super Bowl.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

NFL Film Breakdown: How Stefanski is Using Zone and Counter to Power the Cleveland Browns Run Game

The Cleveland Browns might finally have things headed in the right direction and in large part that’s due to the run game that Stefanski has installed. The Browns rank 1st in the NFL with 942 yards rushing with an average of 188 per game. While Stefanski uses plenty of stretch zone and wide zone, his use of the counter scheme has really powered the Browns run game. With strong and athletic linemen and some very talented backs, Stefanski has helped establish a power, tough nosed, identity in the run game for the Browns. He’ll dress counter up in an infinite number of ways which helps create creases for Chubb and Hunt to attack and allows his linemen to drive block and wall off defenders on the inside. Counter is somewhat of a rarity in the NFL – at least as a bread and butter run play. Defenders are so fast and good at penetrating, they can often disrupt the play if the timing isn’t there. That’s why Stefanski is using his fullbacks, H-backs, and any other personnel he can find to make counter hit faster and more cleanly open up space.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

We’ll start off with their pure counter look before we dive into how Stefanski likes to add wrinkles and make his counter look slightly different from play to play. When they’re running their generic guard and tackle counter, they like to run counter strong so that they know that they’re going to typically be running at the 3-technique that is lined up on the outside shoulder of the guard which in turn, makes the down-block for the center easier because he’s now facing a 1-technique that is shaded on his backside shoulder.

In counter, the guard kicks out and the tackle is the one that wraps through and up-field. Usually if there’s an end, that’s the guy that’s left for the kickout but since the Browns here are in 12 personnel with two tight ends and the end is in a 6 technique head up with the first tight end, the guard has to be able to sift through and kick out the first outside man that appears that is trying to pinch down on the hole. That ends up being #58 at the Mike linebacker position. The guard wants to kick him up and out and then the tackle coming behind him, is meant to wrap up and through that kickout block and block the first enemy color. It can depend on the scheme and leverage of the end man on the line of scrimmage, but the tackle will usually look inside out as they wrap through.

Everyone else is down-blocking. The rest of the line trying to create a wall that prevents penetration and pursuit to the play-side. So, the two tight ends are down-blocking on a combo to the Will linebacker – meaning they’re leaving the Mike for the guard or tackle to pick up. The play-side guard and tackle are also double teaming and trying to climb but the defensive tackle here does a good job anchoring and preventing that. The center walls off, and the receiver in the tight split just tries to get in front of any backside pursuit and slow it down. Chubb does a good job of being patient here and riding his blocks up-field.

So, that’s counter at its core. A guard kick, with a blocker wrapping behind with down-blocks and double teams from the play-side. Let’s now take a look at the variations that Stefanski runs with the Browns – because there are quite a few. The simplest next variation is a guard and H-back pull. The Browns block it slightly differently on this snap than your conventional counter though. The kickout is now designed to be on the linebacker because the play-side tackle is hinging and blocking the defensive end. With no end man on the line of scrimmage to kick out, the pulling guard is now responsible for kicking out the play side linebacker. The H, who is replacing the role of the tackle, is looking inside to block the flowing backside linebacker. As a result, the counter hits a lot more vertically and tighter to the center of the field.

You can see comparatively how this is a harder block now for the center because they’re running counter weak, away from the H back. They’re doing this though because they want that open B gap on the play side. So, the play side block for the guard is much easier on their down-block on a 1 technique which helps prevent penetration. If that player was in a 3-technique, as we’ll see soon, the play would be run like a normal counter because they wouldn’t be able to down-block a potential 3 tech there and still be able to block the end. Because the guard isn’t kicking out the end, he has to know he has to be really tight to the line of scrimmage here because he can’t over run that linebacker that’s going to fill the B gap. It’s not perfect because he gets the up-field shoulder of the linebacker, but it’s effective enough to create movement and space. The H wraps around looking inside for the flowing linebacker, and Chubb again does a good job running tight to the wrap block and bursting up-field off of it.

As a comparison, you can now see that same concept run against the Bengals when they have a 3 tech to the play side. The left tackle now down blocks on the 3 technique, and the guard wraps around him. The Browns in both these cases used a jet motion – which, to be honest, they could stand to do a lot more of.

A lot of data is indicating that plays run with pre-snap motion have a higher expected point value on them than plays that don’t. Stefanski was notoriously bad with that with the Vikings last year and ran motion on only 5% of plays and it’s not much better this year. You can see though how impactful that motion is, because it forces the end man on the line of scrimmage out of the play. The guard is now able to wrap up to the linebacker, the H follows behind looking inside first, and while that player that the motion originally moved ends up making the play, it’s not until they’re already 10 yards downfield.

The Browns will also really change it up and mess with linebacker reads by pulling the play side guard instead of the backside guard and run counter with a fullback. It’s almost like a wide trap that can hit very fast with the kickout from the guard and then a more athletic pulling fullback coming across the formation to wrap through. All the staples of counter are there though. You have the down-blocks and climbs to linebackers creating a wall, you have the kickout, and you have the wrap through. Because they’re running at a 3-technique, the the fullback knows that the guard is going to kick out the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOLS) and that the tight end is going to be able to easily climb to the linebacker based off of alignment. So, the fullback is now looking outside in and picks up the corner that’s walked down into the box. Everything works as schemed and Kareem Hunt is able to get a really nice gain off of it.

They’ll even occasionally have their fullback kick out the EMOLS and have the guard wrap through. Yet another small wrinkle to get to counter but make it look a little different.

Before going into the Browns last couple forms of counter, it’s important to look at their wide zone, because they work off of each other. Wide zone and stretch zone are essentially the same play and it’s largely semantics, but the Browns like to run them both. It gets linebackers flowing and creates cutback lanes for their running backs. They’ll run naked boots off of it and play action and it can be a super effective play for them.

This is an example of stretch zone. Really the defining characteristic for me, and the difference between this and wide zone, is the play side tackle and the size of horizontal steps by the rest of the line. If the tackle is trying to lead with and wrap his hips to seal the outside, I call it stretch. It’s a slight philosophical difference in how the play is run. You can see the tackle is working to seal the outside and allow the running back to turn the corner, which he does successfully. The rest of the linemen are taking hard horizontal steps and working to overtake and climb to linebackers to create hard flow and cutback lanes for the running back when linebackers over pursue.

The ball might not always go outside, but that’s the goal of stretch zone. They really want to create hard flow and stress the edges and are willing to be a little more vulnerable to some inside penetration to do so.

Compare this now to wide zone, where you have a similar alignment from the end man on the line of scrimmage, but now the tackle is just drive blocking him out of the way. He’s not as concerned with sealing the end and is okay with the play cutting up underneath him. The rest of the line takes slightly less aggressive horizontal steps but otherwise stay on the same tracks as the stretch zone.

The main reason I wanted to show some of their wide and stretch zone is to show how the flow works on the offensive line and what that causes in the defense. They’ll often throw in a fullback and have him lead block on their zone plays as well. He just takes the same track as if he was a running back, reading outside-in on the defensive linemen and then attacks the first linebacker to appear and acts as a lead blocker.

Now that we’ve seen how the Browns use their wide and stretch zone and even incorporate lead blocks with the fullback into it, we can go back to our counter. The Browns will run that same look with the outside zone lead, and now they’ll pull that fullback around on a counter action and wrap just like we were seeing before with the H. He takes steps forwards like he’s lead blocking, the down-blocks from the line look an awful lot like wide zone steps and reach steps, but now the guard and fullback are coming around on counter. The guard kicks out and the fullback wraps through.

This is the same concept but a great illustration of how this looks similar to wide zone and gets the linebackers out of position. Again, we have the fullback fake lead to counter wrap and the guard kicking out but take a look at all the linebackers taking a step the wrong way. Because they establish the wide zone and wide zone fullback lead, the linebackers react to it and are out of position. They get caught in traffic trying to scrape across, you have two lead blockers going the other way and there’s one poor corner who’s supposed to take on a kickout block from a guard. Not a recipe for success for the defense.

The Browns also have a guard center counter that they’ll run that can really force defenses to flow hard to the wide zone look and can also be read similarly from the running back perspective. It’s really the same concept we’ve been going over. Just now we have the play side guard and center working the counter action. Guard kicks out, center wraps through. It does make for some incredibly tough blocks on the backside though. It’s a big ask to  cut or wall off pursuing defenders so it’s been a little hit or miss for them but when it hits, it can hit big.

What’s cool is that when they don’t go for the cut blocks backside to prevent pursuit, the play can turn essentially into wide zone. If the defense over flows to the two pullers and the stretch and cutoff blocks, the running back can cutback to the backside just like we see in wide zone. Some really interesting little wrinkles and shows how the run scheme is all tying together for the Browns. The plays build off each other to look similar and keep similar concepts, they’re just designed with slight tweaks and differences.

To finish things off quickly, we’ll talk about that game winning end around to OBJ that the Browns called to beat Dallas because it works off these same concepts. It’s a gotcha play two rungs up the ladder. The Browns run wide zone, they run wide zone fullback lead, then they have the wide zone FB counter wrap play, and now here they are running the counter H-back look except the H-back is now wheeling back around and lead blocking for the end around to Odell Bekham Jr. They still pull the guard and give the Cowboys every indication it’s another one of their power looks and the linebackers buy it and get out of position. They ran it earlier in the game and got a good chunk out of it.

The Browns are grinding people out right now in the run game. Even though Nick Chubb is down for a few weeks, Cleveland just keeps on running it down people’s throats. They are pretty versatile in their game plan and will be heavy zone one week and heavy power and counter the next but the beautiful thing is that it all ties in together. Stefanski has found a way to mesh them into one identity. An identity of aggressive, powerful, and tough football. A team that can grind away your will on the ground and make things easy for Baker Mayfield and some absolute top tier weapons in Odell Bekham Jr, Jarvis Landry, and even Austin Hooper. If you can’t stop the run of the Browns, it’s going to be a long day. The Browns won’t stop running until you make them and if things continue like this, they may keep running all the way to the playoffs.

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NFL Film Breakdown: How Panthers OC Joe Brady’s Offense Uses Spread Concepts to Beat Defenses

Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady has said that his philosophy on offense is to force the defense to defend every blade of grass and to get his speed in space. True to his word, that’s exactly what the Panthers are doing. Carolina have some elite speed on offense with Curtis Samuel running a 4.31, Robby Anderson at 4.36, and DJ Moore running a 4.42. Pair that with a running back in Christian McCaffrey who runs a 4.49 and it’s an absolute nightmare for defensive coordinators. But how can you use that speed with a quarterback that can struggle to push the ball down the field in Teddy Bridgewater? You stretch the hell out of defenses horizontally. Joe Brady is bringing a lot of his spread concepts from LSU and New Orleans and is attacking defenses with trips and a multitude of empty formations. He has diced teams up with the Stick and Shallow Cross concepts. He’ll switch route assignments, dress things up, and force defenses into one-on-one coverage scenarios against a group of skill players that is the second fastest in the league behind only the Kansas City Chiefs. Joe Brady has said before that he’s all about putting his players in the right spot to succeed and with these concepts, he’s maximizing his teams’ speed and his quarterback’s accuracy. What’s really interesting though is his adaptations of simple concepts that are eating defenses up in these first four weeks and how his formations are adding to that defensive stress.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

Let’s start out with his use of the Shallow Cross concept which is used at almost every level of football. In Carolina, though he’s got some cool little wrinkles and ways to get into the concept. Joe Brady absolutely loves to run trips to the field and put his running back into the boundary to open up space in the middle of the field. For all intents and purposes, immediately releasing your running back is really like running an empty formation. What that does is remove linebackers from the middle of the field and space out defenses. And if you’re going to be attacking horizontally and running these spread concepts it really puts the defense in a tough spot because you’re essentially flooding each zone with a route and creating one-on-one matchups across the field with receivers on linebackers.

Shallow Cross is essentially just a high low concept in the middle of the field. You have one shallow drag coming across the field and then one deep dig or dig sit at 10-12 yards coming behind it. Normally though, if you don’t release your running back, the boundary side linebacker will pick up the drag and the field side linebacker can get underneath your dig. But with the running back releasing, that automatically pulls the boundary linebacker into the flats and clears space in the middle of the field. So now that field side linebacker is left to defend a ton of space by himself. He has to pick either the shallow or the dig. Since Joe Brady is running spread, that really targets the two linebackers in the middle of the field. What Brady does that’s a small wrinkle is that he has a switch call on the shallow and the dig. Usually they’re run either opposite each other or in sequence with the shallow from the #3 receiver and then the dig from the #2 receiver. But here, Brady flips that. And what that does is give the dig leverage on the corner that is splitting the difference between the #3 and #2 and also allows time for the running back to release and pull that boundary linebacker before the drag comes in behind him. As we see here, the linebacker stays shallow, the dig is able to get inside leverage, and there’s a huge amount of space in the middle of the field to attack.

One way that Joe Brady dresses the concept up is with a short motion from the outside receiver to get them momentum headed into the shallow drag. Again, though, it’s trips to the field with the running back flaring into the boundary. You can see the boundary side outside linebacker again fly with the running back and open up space underneath. The #3 receiver has inside leverage for his dig and does a really good job of pushing vertically at the will linebacker in the middle of the field to make him turn his hips away from the shallow drag. This clears a ton of space underneath for an easy completion to Robby Anderson who then can work upfield and use the open space.

Another way to run shallow cross is by running the dig from the opposite side of the field. The same principles still apply though. The running back takes a linebacker out of the box and if he is out leveraged or is caught on a run read, it’s an easy throw to the running back. On the shallow drag side, you’ve now cleared space underneath and you can high low the remaining middle field linebacker. If he comes under the dig, you can throw the drag, if he stays to pick up the drag, there’s a window to the dig. Joe Brady is all about getting his playmakers in space and using their speed and that speed doesn’t have to kill you vertically – you can also run away from people horizontally. Shallow Cross works vs. zone and man coverage since the zones are strapped by the clear outs from the running back and the light box because of the spread formations. The Panthers then have the speed to run away from people in man.

Here’s one last illustration of the Shallow Cross concept now because the Panthers have something built in for man and for defenses taking away those crossers in the middle of the field. Carolina runs the same short motion with the same concept, but now you see the corner run with the motion in man coverage. The linebacker is now more attentive to the dig and collisions him on his way to picking up the drag underneath. But what this now does is it flows everyone to that side which opens up space backside for a quick slant from Curtis Samuel. The flow of the defense all goes to the boundary and Samuel is able to easily win his route with a quick outside stem and there’s a ton of space for him to catch the ball and get vertical with his speed.

You can see that same coverage and concept here from the Cardinals as they’re running a match coverage to the bottom of the screen but have a lock call on Robby Anderson at the top. They cover the running back and drag well and the safety is cheating down to jump the dig here because the Panthers have run it so much in the past. Where Teddy should go is the backside slant coming in behind that shallow drag. Instead, he’s lucky that the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage because it looks like it would have been an easy interception if he managed to get the ball off to the dig route.

Joe Brady loves to use speed and horizontal spacing and a great way to attack that in true spread form is through empty formations. Spread the defense out and make them defend every blade of grass. It stresses your protection plan, but can also make any blitzes pretty vanilla unless you’re really willing to open yourself up to being beat on a big play as a defense. With quick reads like the Stick concept, that eliminates some of that issue. The Stick concept at it’s core is just someone in the flats, someone vertical, and then the stick from the #3 receiver. It widens flat defenders outside, removes vertical defenders, and leaves space in the hook flat area to be attacked. Typically you’ll see a fade on the outside, a 5 yard speed out from the #2, and the stick from #3, but Joe Brady runs it a little different. He will often use a quick hook from the #1, a slot fade from #2, and the stick from #3. He gets to the same concept, just in a different way. The Bucs here are in cover 6 – cover 4 to the field and cover 2 to the boundary. So the flat defender to the field is the outside linebacker who’s put in an impossible spot with the stick concept. Teddy reads the flat defender and as soon as he widens to the quick hitch outside, he knows he’s throwing the stick. The defense is just stretched too wide horizontally and it’s an easy completion.

While to the trips side, they usually work the stick concept a lot, to the backside they’re usually running an option route and they almost always like putting their running back out there who ends up matched up on a linebacker. All he’s doing is working up onto the linebacker and running an out or slant based on their leverage. If the defender is leveraged inside, he’ll break it off on an out. You can see here how Christian McCaffrey is working upfield while looking directly at the linebacker lined up over him. He’s reading his leverage. The linebacker walls off inside, so McCaffrey cuts flat outside and it’s an easy completion.

This time it’s a receiver, but if that defender’s hips stay square or he doesn’t wall off, the option route is going to cut inside on a slant which is just what happens here. If the DB plays patient, the receiver dictates the tempo and attacks the vacated space in the middle of the field as linebackers flow to the stick concept and are spread out due to the empty formation.

If you look back at our original stick play and check out the backside, you can see McCaffrey do the same thing as Robby Anderson and cut inside on a slant with the linebacker keeping his hips square to the line of scrimmage and not walling off the inside.

While Stick can be incredibly effective against zone, Joe Brady’s version can struggle against man since the normal out route is replaced by that quick hook from the outside receiver. So there’s nobody running away from defenders and creating space – except for that slot fade vertical from the #2. So if the Panthers see man coverage versus their stick concept, they’ll throw the slot fade. It gives the receiver more space to work with and the quick hitch outside keeps the outside corner from dropping underneath it and making a play. They don’t connect here because Bridgewater leaves the ball too far inside, but the play is there.

The Panthers have also run the Stick concept out of a Quads look. You have all the same principles, a vertical, a player in the flats, and a stick route working off the linebacker. They just get to it in a different way. With the tight Ace bunch, it pulls defenders close to the line of scrimmage and delays the defender responsible for the flats from getting out to the quick hook. In this case, the flat defender is the nickel to the outside of that tight formation. He now has three separate routes he has to digest before going to the flats and also needs to carry vertical seams to be able to help protect the safety. So, with a vertical release from the H and the two stick routes by the other receivers in the bunch, the defense has nobody to get out to the flats. That leaves maybe the Panthers’ best player Christian McCaffrey out on the perimeter with space to work with on a 3rd and short situation. It’s an easy read for the QB and a nice pickup for a first down.

The Panthers, Matt Rhule, and Joe Brady may be flying under the radar a little bit right now with the Saints and Bucs taking a lot of the headlines in the NFC South, but they’re quietly right in the thick of things in that division at 2-2 and right now they’re ranked 8th in passing yardage. Joe Brady has a diverse playbook but he loves to use spread concepts that really stress defenses and attack every blade of grass. He has meshed the use of the Panthers speed and dynamic playmakers perfectly for his style of offense. He has a quarterback that struggles to throw deep at times but is accurate underneath and he’s put some twists and variations on tried and true schemes with spread formations. Not much talk was made of the Panthers being competitors but there is no doubt in my mind that if they aren’t this season – they soon will be. Joe Brady is dissecting defenses and forcing them to cover horizontally and then chase down speedy playmakers. The Panthers are coming. They’re going to attack the whole field, use their speed on linebackers, and if defenses aren’t fast enough or athletic enough to keep up with the dynamic backs and receivers of the Panthers, they’re going to make you pay.

If you liked this post make sure to subscribe below and let us know what you think. If you feel like donating and want access to some early blog releases and exclusive breakdown content or to help us keep things running, you can visit our Patreon page here. Make sure to follow us on Instagram @weekly_spiral and twitter @weeklyspiral for updates when we post and release our podcasts. You can find the Weekly Spiral podcast on Spotify or anywhere you listen.

NFL Film Breakdown: What in the World is Going on With Carson Wentz and the Eagles?

To put it bluntly, the Philadelphia Eagles are off to a terrible start. Their offensive line is in shambles with Brandon Brooks, Isaac Seumalo, and Andre Dillard all out. Alshon Jeffery still hasn’t played this year, Goedert and Maddox are both dealing with ankle injuries, Miles Sanders and their first round pick Jalen Reagor have missed time, and the worst of it all is that injuries aren’t even the biggest concern that the Eagles have. It’s Carson Wentz. Wentz has completed under 60% of his passes, thrown 6 interceptions to just 3 touchdowns, has fumbled 3 times, and is looking like a shell of what he was in 2017 when he was in the running for league MVP before tearing his ACL. Wentz isn’t alone in the blame and the whole Eagles team has been dealt a tough hand, but he is the epicenter of everything going wrong for the Eagles.

Note: If you prefer to watch a video breakdown, scroll to the bottom of this article.

PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 20: Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz (11) walks off the field after an interception in the second half during the game between the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles on September 20, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

For quarterbacks, everything starts with the feet and the base and Wentz has some huge issues here. The biggest and most prominent mechanical problem is his tendency not to point his toe towards his intended target. This prevents full hip rotation and causes accuracy and power issues to one direction in particular. To his left.

To a degree, this has always been there – and we’ll get into that – but first let’s understand how this mechanical issue impacts his throwing motion, accuracy, and just how frequent it is for him right now. Through the three games in 2020 I charted Wentz’ accurate throws and, on each throw, whether he was aligning his feet and toe to that throw. Wentz has been accurate on just 50% of his throws to his left and is aligning his toe on just 41.3% of throws to his left. Compared to throwing to his right, where he has accurate throws 67.1% of the time with 78% toe alignment, it is a staggering difference in consistency, accuracy, and mechanics. This includes throwing routes that are going from his right to his left as well. Since he likes to align his feet more to the right, a huge percentage of his throws miss to the right because he doesn’t open up his hips and feet to throw to his left.

When you don’t point your toe at your target, you are closing off your ability to fully rotate your hips. You can try it at home and point your toe 45 degrees to the right and then attempt to make a throwing motion even just straight in front of yourself. Your foot is going to want to move on the ground to follow the momentum of your hips. If you keep your foot in the ground, you’ll feel tension in your knee and your core and be unable to get your hips all the way towards the direction you want to throw. If you can’t get your hips all the way around, there’s no way you’re going to be able to consistently generate the proper amount of power and accuracy from throw-to-throw. Biomechanically, it is detrimental to being able to throw. And that’s what we see almost 60% of the time from Wentz throwing to his left.

Both of Wentz’ interceptions in the Washington game were directly caused by being unable to point his toe to his left and as a result, being unable to generate the necessary power and accuracy to that direction. This left the ball inside — the direction his feet and hips end up pointing. This allows for the defender to make a play on the ball. The decision on this throw is totally fine. He reads the DB with their hips turned in zone to the inside which signals an opportunity to throw the ball to the sideline on a comeback or back shoulder and that’s exactly what he goes for. The issue is his foot is pointed directly down the center of the field. In addition to his toe pointing issue, he can also tend to over stride, which is why you’ll often see him falling away from throws. If you spread your base too wide, which you can again try at home, and now push off with your back leg, you’ll see what it feels like. You can generate some power but you’re now immediately falling backwards after your throw because you don’t have a solid base. Not good for generating power or accuracy. You want to be in a stable position when finishing your throw.

In the second interception of the Washington game he does almost the exact same thing. The defenders leverage is telling him to throw outside, but Wentz leaves his foot pointed downfield instead of more towards the sideline. You can see him off balance and falling away from the throw and the ball goes where his body is telling it to. He leaves the throw inside which gives the defender the opportunity to intercept it.

This happens again and again and again. The toe doesn’t open all the way to the left, it prevents him from being able to open his hips that way and generate power, and he routinely throws balls into the dirt, air mails them because he’s off balance due to the wide base, or misses to the right.

When you combine these things at the same time – the bad toe and the overstride —  you get throws that are both high and behind to the right. Even if the throws are to his right, he ends up struggling throwing routes that are going from right to left because he doesn’t point his toe to lead his receiver which closes off his hips and will often point at where the receiver is right now. Not where they will be.

While sometimes the ball will air mail because of a wide stance, it can also force the ball into the ground because you’re changing vertical levels as you’re throwing and you can’t get power on the ball with your hips since you’re too spread out to get full rotation.

Sometimes when you over stride and over shoot throws or can’t get enough power, you throw interceptions.

Whenever he tries to push the ball downfield or get some heat on the throw, he tends to over stride which only exacerbates the issue and makes his tight window throws inaccurate or lose velocity. You can see how incredibly wide his feet are when he’s beginning his throwing motion and how he routinely falls back and away from the throw after releasing. It’s just not good quarterback mechanics.

It may seem small but it makes a huge impact on the mechanics of throwing the ball. I cannot emphasize enough how impactful this is to throwing on a snap-to-snap basis. Wentz has some seriously great arm talent which allows him to get away with it at times and he can generate power even when he can’t get his hips around. But from a snap to snap basis, he’s just not consistent because of his feet

It happens predominantly to the left but it also crops up all over the field. It turns routine catches into difficult ones on the back hip or that are high and in the worst case scenarios, turns into turnovers and incompletions that can kill drives and change games.

Now that we’ve looked at what Wentz’ current mechanical issues are and how he’s struggling, let’s take a look back at 2017 and see how Wentz’ mechanics have changed since then and give context for what it looks like when Wentz is doing things right because when he’s on, he’s shown that he is absolutely one of the best quarterbacks in the league. I mentioned earlier that I charted Wentz’ accuracy and toe issues in the three games this season but I also charted every game of his from 2017. His accurate throws to the left jump from 50% to 66.7%, he points his toe that direction on 20% more of his throws, and was just flat out more accurate at every level and area of the field.

This is a great first example of Wentz’ better lower body mechanics in 2017. You can see that as he’s going through his progressions, his feet are coming with him through his reads. Something that just isn’t happening as consistently currently. It helps speed up his decision making and gets him into a position to throw as soon as he locates his open receiver instead of locating and then subsequently having to fix his feet to match where they are.

This is another good example of what it looks like to open your hips to the throw by pointing your toe. By opening up, he’s able to get a lot more mobility in his hips which helps him drive the ball and be more accurate despite the DB breaking on the ball and causing an incompletion.

When the toe matches the aiming point, Wentz is unbelievably more accurate. If we match the endzone view here with the sideline view, we can get a great vantage point of that. You can see as he opens his front leg and points his toe, it’s pointed directly at the outside leg of the running back coming up in pass protection. If we draw a line from that point now from the sideline view we can see the projected line on which the ball should travel. The line looks like it should intersect at about the 30 yard line a few yards from the sideline and that’s exactly where the ball ends up.

You can do this with a ton of his throws from 2017. The ball is going to want to go where your toe is pointing. When everything is aligned, Wentz has some insane accuracy. When he isn’t and he’s fighting to throw in spite of his toe, we see what we’re seeing right now in 2020.

While he was much much better in 2017, he did have some issues with his toe at that time too. It was just way less frequent. It’s always been there, he’s just been better at controlling and working to iron it out in the past.

Now that we have some context let’s quickly go back to his interception against Washington. His toe is aligned down the middle of the field and he has to fight against it to be able to throw outside to his left. You can see that he can’t bring his leg all the way through, his body isn’t in alignment like it often was in 2017, and the ball ends up inside and intercepted.

So, we know the mechanical issues have always been there to a degree, they’re just becoming more prominent now. Wentz has slowly been having less and less consistent mechanics through 2018 and 2019 where he also had issues with his back which can impact his ability to rotate his hips and have consistent mechanics. Mechanics aren’t the only issues going on in 2020 though.

Obviously, the line has its issues but that’s now manifesting in extremely light boxes for Philadelphia. Teams are routinely putting only five or six guys in the box against them. If you take away Wentz’ 74 rushing yards on 12 attempts, the Eagles have only 279 rushing yards and have attempted true runs just 67 times which puts them at 4th last in the NFL. The thing is, they’re running the ball just fine at about 4.1 yards per carry but teams just aren’t scared of them running the ball because Pederson gets away from it quickly and teams feel like they can hold up without extra men in the box and still be able to get home on pass rushes. So that means more guys in coverage, more difficult reads, and forcing Carson Wentz to make tighter window throws which he’s just not doing right now. Miles Sanders should help this as he becomes more healthy and impactful, but it’s making life tough for Wentz right now.

To keep with the theme of the offensive line and pass rush, Wentz is also guilty of not helping his offensive line. Jason Peters has not played particularly well but had his hands absolutely full with none other than Carl Lawson – and if you’re not a Bengals fan you probably haven’t even heard of the guy. He has 59 tackles in four years but has managed to get 17.5 sacks in that time. While Peters hasn’t looked great, the reason he was having trouble with Lawson, was because of Wentz’ snap count. Lawson was able to jump the snap quite frequently in their game against the Bengals and there’s no way to do this other than figuring out the QBs cadence. You can see in these clips that Lawson is moving even before Peters is. He’s not even out of his stance by the time that Lawson is on him. It doesn’t seem like much but you can see how far ahead of everyone Lawson is on his pass rush and this is because Wentz isn’t varying his snap count enough. The defensive linemen should not be moving at the exact same frame as when the ball is snapped. Unless they know the snap count. It didn’t just happen in the Bengals game either, it was happening with the Rams as well. With no fans or sound, defenses can hear the recordings of snap counts and key off of them for good get offs.

While Wentz is still doing a solid job of reading defenses and is choosing the right guy to throw to, he’s also becoming a little bit more indecisive as the season is going along. In week 1 here he did a really really good job of using his snap count to force Washington to show their blitz and coverage. He gets the corner to the bottom of the screen to bail, the linebacker to creep up and show blitz, and the safety to come down. He diagnoses this and determines it’s going to be a cover 3 buzz look with the other inside linebacker needing to flow to get to the tight end and hook area to cover the vacated area of the blitzer at the bottom of the screen which is going to open up a hole in the middle of the field. He quickly looks off to his left to widen the buzz safety coming down and comes back to the middle of the field to hit Ertz. His feet just betray him and the ball goes incomplete.

Compare that now to plays where he’s locating open receivers based on the coverage but being hesitant to throw the ball and allowing the windows to close. Here the Rams have blown a coverage and Goedert is wide open in the endzone as the Rams don’t match his route. Wentz looks, and doesn’t throw it.

Here a similar thing happens. The Bengals are running cover 2 man and matching the #3 receiver with their safeties. The outside route creates a rub for the deep out and the safety has to navigate over the top of it to be able to come down on the route. Wentz is reading it, sees it, almost throws it, and pulls his eyes off just as he gets contacted in the pocket and then scrambles downfield.

Carson Wentz and the Eagles are not playing good football right now and it’s a combination of things all turning into some very lackluster performances in the first three weeks of the season. Wentz’ mechanical issues are becoming more pronounced than ever, the offensive line is injured as are a lot of his weapons outside, and Wentz isn’t doing a good job of protecting those guys with changes in snap count cadence and by throwing with anticipation and trusting his arm and eyes. It’s not all doom and gloom though because while the mechanics are tough to rep and fix, it is very possible and he has shown he has the capability to do it. The game plan will need to be structured around his limitations right now though. Throws to his right and some RPOs that force his feet in the right direction due to the mesh with the running back might be the name of the game. The RPO game was incredibly effective with Foles on their Super Bowl run and it’s a good confidence-building scheme that will let Wentz attack short throws, align his feet, and make decisive reads. He still has that magic of being able to run around the pocket, make plays happen, and when he does line his feet up he throws maybe the best ball in the NFL. Some of his throws this year still look like vintage Wentz. Now he just has to do it more consistently. And if he does, don’t count out the Eagles because as they get more healthy and in rhythm, that confidence may quickly come back, the defense is a real problem for teams, and the NFC East is still wide open for the taking.

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