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Rico Allen has been something of polarizing topic around these parts for quite some time. I'll admit there were even times when I felt we could take him or leave him, but when you are running a single high defense, you NEED to have a free safety out there who can cover up the defense's shortcomings and the problem with evaluating a free safety is most of the time, what they do doesn't show up on the stat sheet, and there can be entire games where he'll do his job perfectly, but it'll look to the casual view like he didn't do anything because no action came his way. That has long been the quandary of Rico Allen. He's never been the ballhawk of say Earl Thomas, who is the gold standard, but he's a cerebral player. @TheFatboi was one of the early ones I can remember who harped on the importance of Rico. Well we got a chance to see what it looked like last year when he went down. The secondary was a mess -- even with Kazee back there ballhawking, and it was the little things that were missing. Last night he was a warrior god. Play#1 - second quarter. Philly has us backed up, and decides to attack our Cover-3 with an old staple, Seams. Philly has two underneath routes, and a flat route just in case, but it's the dual seams they are trying to get to. They're creating a 2 on 1 and the safety can't get to both of them. Cover-3 - Trufant and Oliver playing deep thirds, Rico back single high closing the middle of the field. Hook drops for our two linebacker Campbell and Jones. And the two curl-flat defenders to either side underneath. Key thing here on 1st and 10 is we aren't just spot-dropping to landmarks, we're pattern reading the release of the receivers. At the snap, and this is beautiful quarterback play by Wentz. He's staring to his left trying to move Rico. Underneath our coverage is doing its thing. Campbell is reading #2 to #1. The curl/flat defender to the bottom of the screen is matching that route. We don't worry about the back leaking to the flat until the ball is thrown. Carson snaps his head around, just as his receiver clears into the seam as Devondre passes his off to Tru and looks to pic up that hook route. Not a great pic, but Tru pics the route up beautifully and Rico comes screaming over. Carson can't lead him up the field because Rico is coming to close that window, so he has to put it on the receiver's back shoulder. Beautiful football. Another half a step, and Rico has a pick, but it's a huge play nonetheless. He's processing information and playing so fast there is no window there.
Here's something from Thursday night that I did like. I thought the zone coverages looked good for the most part. Yes, it is preseason. Yes, it's against backups, but there are small details going on here that look improved over what I saw early last season. This is one I should probably be doing as a video because it's going to get confusing, but whatever. As most of you know, the base coverage we play in Atlanta is Cover-3. The thing I think that may escape some is that Cover-3 as it's played at higher levels is not a static coverage. It morphs based on the formation and deployment of the receivers. This is the part where young guys can struggle because they have to read and change assignments on the fly. You stay with your guy too long, someone else comes wide open. You pick a guy up too early and you're toast over the top. That's a lot of what was going on early last season. Let me throw up this example from the second Miami drive: 3rd and 8. Miami is on Atlanta's 18. Here is the offensive concept. This is a solid call against a Cover-3. Two routes attacking the seams with an out route at the sticks and a flat route to the same side. And it's out of a trips formation. Trips formations eat up Cover-3. Now in order to answer a Trips formation, you have to "PUSH" the coverage to the three receiver side by "matching" the routes. Matching routes essentially will turn zone coverage into man. So, this standard Cover-3 is going to look a lot different in a minute. In order to totally illustrate what I am talking about I'm going to teach you to look at a formation from a defender's POV. When an offense lines up in front of you, after the strength of the formation is called every defender in the back 7 counts the number of receivers to his side. There are generally going to always be 2 eligible receivers on each side. They may wind up being a TE, or a running back, or even an extra linemen, but they are counted as receivers. The #1 receiver is the receiver lined up to the outermost part of the formation. So, take a look at this picture... to the top of the picture, the receiver at the top of the screen is #1, next is #2, then #3... To the bottom we start all over again. We've got a tight end aligned snug. He's going to be counted as #1 to that side. The running back is #2. Got all that so far? Each defender, by alignment is responsible for a particular number... BUT that responsibility will change based on the routes. Okay, now this is where things get complex, and this is where guys struggle with picking things up and why you see wide open receivers when it's not working. Each defender is responsible for reading the deployment of a particular receiver. I've tagged them with numbers to keep up. To the top of the screen, the corner playing deep has the easiest job. He just reads the #1 receiver to his side and drops deep. #33 running to the flat -- he has to read on the fly. He is aligned on the #2 receiver. But his assignment is the flat. He instantly passed off his man and has to pick up the #3 receiver running the flat. #41 to that side is playing the hook assignment at 10 yards. His first read is the #3 receiver. But #3 is running to the flat -- THAT IS NO LONGER HIS MAN -- so his eyes instantly go to #2 who is running right at him vertical. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ To the bottom of this screen we have Duke Riley #42. He's the other flat defender. But because we are in match coverage, he does not go to the flat at the snap. That would be considered a spot drop. Spot drops can wind up with defenders covering grass. We are in a match coverage. So he has to read both receivers on that side. #1 to his side releases vertical and #2 the running back is coming right behind him. These are the routes that usually kill zones. So Duke has to be patient enough to not over-react to #1 and leave #2 wide open. The cornerback to that side #30 is reading #1 the whole way. I am almost totally certain that if you have read this far that you are just about totally confused. Well good. Just imagine being one of these guys down there trying to execute this stuff. Luckily, the picture becomes a little more clear as the routes unfold. Because everything has now essentially turned into man coverage. At the top, the corner is matching #1 on a vertical. #33 the flat defender has #2 running to the flat. By the way, before the play started, #2 was #3. Remember? That's what I mean about assignments changing on the fly. #88 for the Dolphins was aligned as the #3 receiver before the snap, but because he ran the flat route, he is now considered #2 and matched by the flat defender. #41 has (his new) #3 running vertial into the seam. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ To the bottom of the picture: #42 Duke Riley is yelling the ALERT passing off #1 to the cornerback and he is preparing to pick up the back out of the backfield, #2. Everyone is plastered. The play is dead. That's why the quarterback is escaping even though he's still got time. Now to the bottom, it looked like Duke slightly over-ran a step and the back got inside him. It's not a blown coverage but that's something he's gonna have to clean up. He can get away with that on 3rd and 8, but not 3rd and 5. ^^^^^^^^^^^ Also, the other hook defender was never threatened so he's free to help out the corner and bracket the #1 receiver to that side. This picture is just about ideal. This is just about how you want 3rd and 8 to look if you're running zone. By now the T/E stunt the Falcons ran is working and the line is coming through. Quarterback looks to the sideline to try to get his receiver coming back to him. This is what zone coverage looks like when you've got athleticism on defense. There really isn't a throw there that'll convert. #41 shows good awareness guarding the sticks. He'll let the receiver run back to the ball all he wants. And all the quarterback can do it make a desperation throw.
The Rams are a truly horrible offense, but believe it or not, I thought that came in with a solid gameplan on how to attack the Falcons this past Sunday. However, that plan was neutralized not just because they are a bad offense playing with a rookie quarterback -- as many here have often pointed out, Atlanta has made rookie quarterbacks and bad offenses look like world-beaters -- so, no, it wasn't just their ineptitude that left them on the coliseum floor leaking, but the continued maturity of Atlanta's young defense, bolstered by players that are now starting to feel the game and play with anticipation. There was no greater example of this than 9:05 left in the 2nd Qtr. Los Angeles is 1st and 15. Atlanta is in their standard 3 deep look with one variation. Instead of the Buzz coverage, which is most favored on passing downs, they are in Sky. May not seem like a big thing, but it changes who the force defender is on the play and can muddy up the quarterback's read on one side of the field because the flat defender and the hook defender isn't going to be who it normally is in Buzz. Now this is where Los Angeles got it right from a gameplan perspective. They have a slant/flat combo to the top of the screen, and a flat/hook combo to the bottom. This is the type of West Coast staple that gives 3 deep coverages troubles and has been a bug-a-boo to this defense for a chunk of the season. At the snap you see the releases of the defenders. Now I'm not 100% sure the type of progression system they have Goff playing in, so I'm not going to speculate, but this is a quick hitter. Three steps, ball is supposed to come out. In that case you can only read one side of the field and he's reading to the slant/flat combo, which is supposed to be easy money. Here's a bit of a tighter look at what they are trying to do to that side of the field. Poole is the flat defender, he has to go with Austin. Alf is in deep 1/3 so he has to give Kenny Britt that space. What they are trying to do is to throw that slant right into that void as soon as Poole clears with Austin to the flat. At this point, everything is unfolding exactly the way it's supposed to with the exception of one little problem... #45. Take a look at his helmet. Eyes on the quarterback. He saw it the whole way. Anyone remember a few months back I made that thread after the MNF game vs. the Saints where Jones had the pick six? You remember the rule for playing as a zone defender? As soon as you see the quarterback's front hand come off the ball, you break. That's exactly what Deion Jones is doing here. Goff's front hand is off the ball to wind up... Jones is on his horse. Let me throw this in there, though... vs. most linebackers this is still a completion. That play is open and there's no hesitation by the quarterback. These are about as wide open as windows get in the NFL. Linebackers are not supposed to be able to close that much ground in split seconds like that vs. the quick passing game. Atlanta doesn't have a normal linebacker playing in the middle, though. Note the height of the ball as it come in. If some mess like this happens to be in Madden, I'm throwing my controller, turning off my system and going outside. Anyone who wants to wonder where the playmakers are on this defense, or the gamechangers, you have you answer.
First off, if there is anyone out there that has a reflexive hate of the Seattle Seahawks, I'd like to apologize, and suggest you stop reading here. I totally understand, but for the purposes of this thread I had to use one of their snaps from Monday night's game vs. Buffalo. For those interested in continuing to read, I will try my best not to turn this into a total lovefest... but man I love to watch that Seattle defense play ball. For everyone else, here we go. Now as all of you know, the Falcons have struggled mightily in pass defense this season, especially in the middle of the field and the question arose, was it scheme or the youth? So, I just wanted to give a brief illustration of what this scheme looks like when it is fully formed. The biggest problem in this (Falcon) defense is the receivers are not being passes off properly in zone. The young linebackers are seeing a lot of this stuff for the first time and they have been a step late in reacting. Although, I did see a lot better underneath play vs. the Bucs. But here is how it is supposed to be done and what makes Seattle so tough to throw the ball against, even though, theoretically, Cover-3 is supposed to be vulnerable short underneath. First, a look at the defensive call. Seattle is in a Bear front to answer Buffalo who has 7... YES 7 offensive linemen on the field. Two tight ends. One receiver. One back. Some people may look at this and see a 3-4. It's not. It's Bear; right out of Buddy Ryan's playbook. Seattle actually uses this as their go-to front against run-heavy teams that like to use a lot of tight ends. The call is a 5 man rush with Cliff Avril in contain. That leaves 6 in coverage vs. the usual 7. It's still a Cover-3 shell, only now you lose a flat defender. Here is the offensive call and it's actually a really good one against a team that runs single high coverage. To the top of the screen the two tight ends run verticals which swab out the underneath coverage to that side of the field. The linebackers should be matching and giving a lot of ground to those routes. To the bottom of the screen is where the beauty of the design is because there is a simple drag route that should come wide open. Then there's Shady McCoy on a swing route. Nothing special there. In essense... if the linebackers come up on the playaction, there's an easy throw into the seam to the tight end. If the linebackers don't bite and match the verticals, the crosser will be wide open. Here it is in action. At the snap, Taylor play-actions to McCoy. Now this is what makes Seattle so good. The linebackers don't bite. They didn't even take a read step. They were like "Whatever". And this is another thing I love about Seattle that I want to see more of here; Sherman showing press on the receiver, even though it's zone. Even though he doesn't jam, this alignment helps take away the short hitch, and quick slants. Sherman mirrored the route of #19 for about 5 yards then fell off into his deep zone. At this point the Strong Safety #33 (filling in for Chancellor) picks up the receiver, matching his route. Wagner has vision on the quarterback and the two verticals to the top of the screen -- well there's nothing there. Now this is the part that separates Seattle's defense. This is what makes them great. This is what the Falcons have to get to... communication. #33 makes the "Under" call alerting Bobby Wagner he's got a crosser coming his way. Wagner immediately picks up the #1 receiver in his zone, and he runs with him. This completely screws up the play for Buffalo because this is probably where Taylor wanted to go with the ball, after he saw the linebackers didn't bite on the play-action... and that crosser should have been wide open. Against most teams in this coverage it would have been wide open because the middle linebacker wouldn't be in such ideal position. He'd probably be another 3-4 yards downfield. Taylor is in a lot of trouble here and his eyes have come down to the rush so he doesn't see Shady. Wagner and Wright have the receiver bracketed perfectly. Wagner still has his eyes on the QB so he can break for Shady the split second he sees Tyrod look that way. QB's eyes are elsewhere here so Wright holds ground. Taylor looks go get something going with his legs, but by now it's too late. And look at Bobby Wagner at the top of the screen. He is still matching the receiver. The original design of the play, Wagner was supposed to have the hook zone at 10-12 yards, but because of the "match" concept, he has run with a wide receiver all the way across the field and is now turning up the sideline to stay with him. No explanation needed here... This was an incredible sequence of football here, especially from the linebackers, and it gives you a little glimpse of where this thing is going. On display was athleticism, communication, and experience. The Falcons cannot do this yet, but it's not because the scheme doesn't work. It's because while they have an abundance of athleticism, they are lacking in communication and experience. Right now the zone defenders are not quite trusting what they are seeing. They are giving too much ground and are a little late reacting underneath. You can't get to the level of defensive play the Seahawks are at without playing together for a long time. Wagner trusts his eyes. He doesn't give too much ground to the vertical routes because he trusts Earl Thomas over the top. McCray trusts that Wagner will react to the "under" call and pick up the receiver, so he can do his job and drop off into the hook. Soon enough this is what we will start to see from the Atlanta Falcon defense. Seattle takes away the quick seams from the tight end running the vertical route by perfect positioning by the linebackers not biting on the play-action... then they take away the underneath route by matching. Perfect defense.