An exciting Week 2 match-up between the offensive juggernauts of Philadelphia and...Tampa Bay.
Listen, all it took was their recent, high-caliber draft selection at quarterback to
become accustomed the NFL get suspended, opening the door for 35 year old Ryan Fitzpatrick to take the reins.
NFL is weird man.
Straining a defense and taking a shot
If you listen to the Kist and Solak Show (you are my friend), you know I’ve begun a torrid love affair with Bucs OC Todd Monken’s offense. Any offense that can hang 48 on a pretty good New Orleans secondary with Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm has me intrigued.
Monken comes from an Air Raid background from his time working with Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State. As such, Monken excels at flooding deep zones and manipulating deep safeties to create space for explosive throws.
Coaches usually define explosive passes as gains of 16+ yards. NFL Week 1 QBs ranked by completions of 16+ yards:— Justis Mosqueda (@JuMosq) September 14, 2018
7-Mahomes, Roethlisberger, Keenum, Stafford
6-Ryan, Smith, Goff, Manning
5-Garoppolo, Carr, Dalton, Cousins
Ain’t hard to find the outlier there, is it?
DeSean Jackson — a deep weapon familiar to Eagles fans — was underused before Monken started calling the plays. To start off 2018, Monken immediately opened a Cover 3 buster to attack New Orleans’ initial coverage shells.
How did the defense forget about a speed demon like Jackson? Well, when you can put Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, Chris Godwin, and O.J. Howard on the field at the same time, the defense is bound to lose somebody.
Here, New Orleans becomes too enamored with the threat of Mike Evans, which opens up space for the corner. Let’s break it down.
The Saints open up in a split-safety look, as they did frequently throughout the game. But the intention was always to rotate a Rat/Buzz defender down into the intermediate areas and play single-high. While Philadelphia won’t necessarily include the pre-snap disguises, they will end up in similar shells at the snap.
Because Tampa comes out in a trips set, the New Orleans defense checks to a trips adjustment out of Cover 3. Firstly, we’re in Cover 3 Buzz, because the strong side safety is the one who rotates down into the box. And we should be in a “Mable” call in the Saban terminology, wherein the three interior defenders (marked 2, 4, and 5 above) match on the interior two receivers (2 and 3).
There’s pure man coverage to the weakside of the field (top of the screen), and the outside corner (3) to the passing strength stays in man coverage against vertical stems from the outside receiver, which is what happens here.
Why does all of this matter? Because Philadelphia runs similar Cover 3 Buzz “Mable” checks under Jim Schwartz, and will have to deploy such pattern-matching ideas against Tampa. Very few secondaries in the NFL have the personnel to match up man-on-man against that aforementioned Evans/DeSean/Godwin/Howard unit. Philly can get away with it occasionally, but not all the time. By running pattern-match ideas, you can keep your defensive backs from getting immediately out-leveraged by Tampa’s stellar athletes, keep the ball in the pocket a half-second longer, and help your pass-rush get home.
But there’s a miscommunication here between the underneath and deep defender. That the thing about those match adjustments — they’re easy to blow when everyone isn’t on the same page.
At this point, DeSean is still covered by the safety that rotated down. Under Mable rules (which we’re assuming New Orleans is running here without any added wrinkles I don’t know), that box safety should follow DeSean on his vertical stem. However, if you watch the play run through, this is about the point at which he motions an arm out to the deep safety. Is he indicating that he’s passing the route off? What other routes is he worried about? The TE stayed in to block.
Regardless, the deep safety’s eyes are suckered in on Mike Evans’ eventual crosser from the opposite side. Ryan Fitzpatrick is burning that route hard as well — it makes an aggressive player in Marcus Williams salivate, thinking about jumping that route for the INT/PBU. Once he flips his hips that direction, Fitzpatrick’s already got him.
So they can go deep. Now what?
Chess match time. So you’re playing a three-deep coverage and you got beat over the top — Monken is holding your corners down with comebacks/deep outs and then working into the space behind them from the slot. So whaddya do?
The Saints entertained two options: Cover 2 and Cover 0.
The idea behind Cover 2: running split safeties makes it easier to deal with those half-field concepts that stretch you vertically. Instead of asking your corners to worry about that deep third, they can squat and then leak underneath those comebacks to the boundary, and you’re forcing Fitzpatrick to make window throws to the sideline, which stresses his arm strength.
But when you play Cover 2 against a spread team, you lose the ability to crowd the box. Most teams will find ways to gash you in the traditional running game, but Tampa doesn’t really have that between their offensive line and their running back room.
So instead, Tampa works a quick constraint play into the boundary — a WR screen with a lot of pullers. You’re giving a WR, with great YAC ability, a ton of blockers to work with. He got the ball a few yards behind the line of scrimmage. It is, in practice, a running play.
The deep safety to the play side take a bad angle by ducking inside the climbing offensive linemen, and Adam Humphries gets free for a big gain. Again, Monken is going to take what you give him defensively and turn it into an explosive opportunity for his offense.
There was no adjustment to trips here for New Orleans — nothing like the Mable adjustment in Cover 3 from the previous clip. As such, the boundary corner stays on the line of scrimmage against the in-line tight end, providing little if any value to the defense. As such, only two defenders align over three receivers.
Against Cover 0, Monken dials up man beaters for DeSean and Evans—just release against the press coverage and let Fitzpatrick throw you up a jump-ball. DeSean wins with speed; Evans with size.
Cover 0 is the move when you want to threaten the pocket immediately with pressure. It’s high-risk/high-reward — and if we see it from Philly on Sunday, things have gotten dire for the Birds. But this five-man front New Orleans runs is a familiar idea for the Eagles, and Fitzpatrick — the wily veteran — knows that the Saints are in a pressure package.
With the lack of safeties, everyone is playing in the contact window, disrupting the quick game. There will likely not be a hot route available. As such, the highest percentage play is that bomb to Jackson at the bottom of the screen. It’s not a great throw, but it’s enough for a huge chunk play.
If you can’t take away the deep ball from Monken’s offense in any of your coverages, you’re in trouble. No matter how the Saints worked their safeties — two-deep, one-deep, none-deep — they lacked the pass rush and cornerback play to keep the Tampa pass-catchers in check. This is a huge Ronald Darby/Jalen Mills game.
Expect Philadelphia to come out in their typical Cover 3, and expect Monken to respond with those flood/vertical stretch concepts to threaten Darby/Mills’ discipline and test Rodney McLeod’s range. If things get ugly, I’d imagine they go Cover 1 man and look to generate pressure.
To be frank, there isn’t much to write home about re: Tampa’s defense. This is an undermanned unit that struggles to make impact plays, especially in the passing game. Let’s at least talk about how Philadelphia will attack the weaknesses evident.
Red zone struggles
Philly is a great team in the red zone, man. Pederson draws up excellent play calls that create immediate space, one-on-one match-ups with leverage advantages, and gets the ball out of his quarterback’s hands quickly.
Defenses often respond to such play designs by playing in-and-out coverage that saves corners from those slot fades Philly likes so much, or those slant-flat ideas that force linebackers to chase down slot receivers and tight ends. In theory, the secondary defenders will enter man coverage according to which receivers release — not align — in their direction.
But first in/first out can be tough to define against peculiar route concepts. Who’s the first player to break inside on this route concept? Justin Evans, the inside man, has to make a call. He thinks it’s the outside route — the Pivot route — which stems inside before breaking hard back to the outside. Pivot is a favorite route of red zone offenses, in that the quick inside stem forces corners to close, anticipating the quick slant. You’ve seen Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman eviscerate defenses in short yardage/YAC opportunities for New England with this route.
Ryan Smith — the outside man — recognizes the pivot route and doesn’t take the cheese, knowing it’s coming back outside. But Smith and Evans haven’t played next to each other for a while — Smith is a backup, pushed into starting time due to injury. Communication and expectations become issues. The familiarity isn’t there.
If this isn’t cleaned up, Pederson’s going to feast on it. It’s simple stuff that he’s had drawn up since before he ever came to Philadelphia.
Emphasizing your playmakers in run defense.
Tampa’s DL ain’t good, folks. Let’s not forget they’re starting two Philadelphian backups from a season ago in Vinny Curry and Beau Allen. Save for Gerald McCoy, their perennially troublesome 3-technique, they lack the juice up front to penetrate and disrupt against the running game.
So what do you do? You minimize their role, and maximize that of your studs — that’s linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David. Both are aggressive, explosive, and reliable tacklers in the box.
Take, for example, this rep against New Orleans. Tampa rotates Lavonte down as a weakside stand-up pass-rusher, leaving Alexander alone off-ball to handle the entire box. It’s a tough ask for any linebacker, but Kwon likely makes the list of the few NFL linebackers you could realistically ask to do this.
The issue here is that a talented back like Alvin Kamara, lined up directly behind the center, has the full range of the field to work with. There is no easy tip-off as to which direction flow will go, and accordingly, NT Beau Allen has to line up as a true 0-technique, right over the center’s head. It allows the center to get a reach on Allen on this outside zone look.
Now Alexander’s in a tough spot. He has to maintain leverage on that climbing center, in case Kamara takes that route — but because there’s no weakside linebacker to offer backside pursuit, Kamara can easily shoot upfield for quick vertical yardage.
Of course, Kwon does come over as the backside pursuit defender, but it’s not until Kamara rips off a successful run for healthy yardage.
Philly didn’t so much open their outside zone package against Atlanta, but if they get 1 LB looks against Tampa, look for them to take pin/pull and sweep ideas to force that interior to flow hard so their backs can cut upfield and gash into the third level.