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Let's Talk About: How This Defense Has Gotten Better -- it's about a split second difference... (Keanu Neal)


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Early on in the season there was a lot of frustration -- some of it understandable -- as to why the Falcons defense was having trouble and what it would take to get better.  The answer was simple... TIME.

There was never anything structurally wrong with the scheme or the players.  It was all just a matter of these young guys getting the reps together, communicating and getting comfortable to trust what they were seeing.  The last one is a big one, because no matter how much practice you get, how much film study, how well you are coached, you have to trust what you are seeing in actual live action.  When you do that, you can start to anticipate, and all of a sudden those annoying little underneath throws that offense steal an easy 7, 8, 9 yards... suddenly those are gone.

Here is a perfect example of what I am talking about.  I want to look at two plays; one each from the first and second Panther game to illustrate my point.

October 2 , 4th Qtr. - Derrick Anderson is in the game after Cam got his head knocked off.

Now instead of looking at the entire play, I want to focus on two players here: Olsen for the Panthers, and Neal for the Falcons.  By this point, everyone knows what we run so there's no need to draw a Cover-3 for the umpteenth time.  You know where everyone is supposed to be.  Falcons are in their standard 3 deep.  The Panthers have a good call against it on 2nd and 9.  They have hooks called to the two inside receivers... one of them being Olsen.

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Alford drops to his deep 1/3, Weatherspoon drops to the flat, Neal has eyes on the quarterback as the Buzz defender.

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Anderson wastes no time.  He sees where he wants to go immediately.  As soon as the flat defender ('Spoon) clears, there's an open hole right there for Olsen to sit down in.

IMG_1666_zps0newclue.jpg

 

Not a terrible play by the Falcons, but you can see where Neal is in relation to the receiver when he makes the catch.  This game is won or lost in split seconds.  And this just wasn't going to get it.  This is where the improvement had to come.

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December 24th, 2nd Qtr., 1st and 10

Similar concept.  The Panthers are trying to attack with that hook, this time to the #2 receiver, Ginn.

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Ginn pushes up the field.

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Cam sees it immediately.

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Ball is about halfway to the target.  Do you notice any difference between October and now? 

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For anyone who isn't clear the difference, here it is again...

OCTOBER:

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DECEMBER:

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October: Neal as the Buzz drops to a depth of about 13 yards.  Ball caught in space easily.  He rallies to make the tackle.

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DECEMBER: 1st and 10.  Neal drops to a depth right around the sticks.  This time he almost arrives with the ball.  5 yard gain.

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This is what I have been talking about when I say they are starting to play the zones better.  This is what I meant when I said the improvement was there irregardless of the competition  It's not sexy, or glamarous, and probably goes unnoticed by most, but it's clear as day.  Keanu reacted, recognized that route and shot his guns before the ball was even out of Cam's hand.  In October, he dropped, saw it... WAITED for the ball, then made his move.  

The space, even underneath, is starting to be constricted by the learning curve this defense is starting to come through.  This is what the coaches are looking for.  Split seconds... this game is played in split seconds and even a tenth of a second improvement in reaction time can mean the difference between a 9 yard gain and a 5 yard gain. 

Hope you all had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.. but not too happy.  Ya'll try not to get in too much trouble.  I wanna be able to enjoy the playoff run with all by Falcon brothers.

Edited by PeytonMannings Forehead
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6 minutes ago, PeytonMannings Forehead said:

Hope you all had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.. but not too happy.  Ya'll try not to get in too much trouble.  I wanna be able to enjoy the playoff run with all by Falcon brothers.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and thanks so much for what all you contribute to this message board.

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Man can you show screenshots of Poole's interception? That was the play I knew they've started to understand and master this defense. Earlier in the season, they would drop to the flat and cover grass because that was there responsibility and it was safe. Poole instead wanted to make a play. You have to have a level of comfort to look to make plays. 

Poole saw no threat and didn't waste time dropping to an empty zone. He tightened the cover 3 down and it led to a bracket on the seam route between him and Neal. It was beautiful. The better part was nobody else was open. People think the Cover 3 is just a boring coverage but it's not a static defense. Very dynamic. That's why it's hard to beat when run correctly. The rules have every route covered if well communicated and the football awareness is present in the players. 

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25 minutes ago, vel said:

Man can you show screenshots of Poole's interception? That was the play I knew they've started to understand and master this defense. Earlier in the season, they would drop to the flat and cover grass because that was there responsibility and it was safe. Poole instead wanted to make a play. You have to have a level of comfort to look to make plays. 

Poole saw no threat and didn't waste time dropping to an empty zone. He tightened the cover 3 down and it led to a bracket on the seam route between him and Neal. It was beautiful. The better part was nobody else was open. People think the Cover 3 is just a boring coverage but it's not a static defense. Very dynamic. That's why it's hard to beat when run correctly. The rules have every route covered if well communicated and the football awareness is present in the players. 

This is a very good point. People continue to say that our defense only tightened up because we have played bad teams, but we you can honestly see them have much quicker response to covering incoming routes into their zone. What used to be wide open catches have become contested or tight window catches and a few INTs. It has become second nature and this allows them to do exactly what you say, tighten coverage by making a play and bracketing the receiver. It seems to be happening with increased frequency and that's a good thing. 

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I agree with your point, but the above is not the best example.  

On both plays, the defender is about 4 yards off the receiver when the ball is in mid flight.  The difference in the second example is that the ball is thrown out to the sideline (a much longer lateral distance) and the defender has more time to close the gap.

On the first example, Neal is also about 4 yards off of Olsen when the ball is about half way there, but because it is more of a straight throw, there is less time to close the gap.

I agree that the D's overall situational awareness has improved, but don't think the above example illustrates that improvement.

 

 

 

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Sorry to hijack your thread for a second @PeytonMannings Forehead but here are a few shots of what I'm talking about:

63ubtu.png

As you can see above, the alignment shows two TEs and one WR to the top of the formation. With the RB on the other side of the formation, Poole and Jones can essentially man the TE on any quick stop routes or up the seam based on their alignment and depending on the other routes and Poole is also helping the corner underneath on any slant routes. The only threats to Poole's zone is an out by either TE and a slant from the WR. He's positioned to stop both with little effort. 

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Everyone releases vertical, forcing the defenders to pattern match. If you understand what can threaten your zone, you understand what routes are left to be ran. Poole doesn't have to concern himself with a slant or out route now since everybody is going vertical, especially since Cam is still dropping and Poole has eyes on him. Based on the rules of the defense, at this point the outside WR is all Alford's man. A curl or comeback is a 1v1 route. 

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I know this shot looks a little pointless but it's meant to show just how cleared out those routes are up top and how pointless Poole would be if he just covered his pre-snap zone. Instead of just spot dropping, which was a major problem in Smitty's defenses, Poole is playing football and actually reacting to the routes the offense is running. Also, look at #17 on the crossing route. If you remember from the Understanding the Cover 3 thread I made, you'd know who's responsible with covering the drag...the backside LB. Which in this situation is Jones. Cam throws that pass and Funchess is picking up his teeth. 

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Look at the end result as the ball is released. I don't have a shot from this angle of the INT, but just look at where Poole would be in coverage if he spot dropped. He and Jones would be covering the crossing route, a non-threatening route. This is the level of understanding the scheme that has not been present until recently. It's also a level of trust. Poole didn't have to spot drop because he knew exactly what could hurt the defense in that alignment and what couldn't. Jones reads and reacts to the drag route perfectly, which is his primary assignment with this route concept. Even Ricardo has the delayed RB covered within five yards. Nobody is open. 

This young defense is growing up and I think the best test they could get going into the postseason is facing a focused Saints offense that knows how to stress a defense with repeated cover 3 beaters. 

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3 minutes ago, BigBhang said:

I agree with your point, but the above is not the best example.  

On both plays, the defender is about 4 yards off the receiver when the ball is in mid flight.  The difference in the second example is that the ball is thrown out to the sideline (a much longer lateral distance) and the defender has more time to close the gap.

On the first example, Neal is also about 4 yards off of Olsen when the ball is about half way there, but because it is more of a straight throw, there is less time to close the gap.

I agree that the D's overall situational awareness has improved, but don't think the above example illustrates that improvement.

 

 

 

That's a good point.  Neal is about 4 yards off of Olsen and Ginn Jr. when the ball is halfway there.  I do think Neal's reads and reaction time have improved, but he is still average at best in coverage -- though he is improving.

OP's example does not really reflect that improvement.

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12 minutes ago, FulC0 said:

That's a good point.  Neal is about 4 yards off of Olsen and Ginn Jr. when the ball is halfway there.  I do think Neal's reads and reaction time have improved, but he is still average at best in coverage -- though he is improving.

OP's example does not really reflect that improvement.

Yes it does represent the improvement. 

The first play Neal gave ground at the snap. He dropped unnecessarily to about 13-14 yards.

On the second play he pretty much sat at the sticks and was full speed coming downhill before the ball was out of Cams hand.

@vel hijack away my friend.

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43 minutes ago, PeytonMannings Forehead said:

Yes it does represent the improvement. 

The first play Neal gave ground at the snap. He dropped unnecessarily to about 13-14 yards.

On the second play he pretty much sat at the sticks and was full speed coming downhill before the ball was out of Cams hand.

@vel hijack away my friend.

As a side note, PFF has Neal ranked as the 10th best rookie so far this season. They note that he actually grades much better in coverage than vs. the run. Interesting. 

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1 hour ago, PeytonMannings Forehead said:

Yes it does represent the improvement. 

@vel

Not really.  

The Olsen route was a deeper route.  Despite this, both receivers were hit immediately after contact.  The only reason Ginn's was a 5 yard reception was because it was a very shallow 5 yard route.  But, both receivers had zero YAC.

Your post is thorough, but the analysis is off.

 

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5 minutes ago, BigBhang said:

Not really.  

The Olsen route was a deeper route.  Despite this, both receivers were hit immediately after contact.  The only reason Ginn's was a 5 yard reception was because it was a very shallow 5 yard route.  But, both receivers had zero YAC.

Your post is thorough, but the analysis is off.

 

My analysis is not off and you're totally missing the point if you don't see the difference between when contact was made on both plays.  Olsen caught the ball and turned up the field.  Neal **** near beat the ball to the receiver on the second play.

And yes, Olsen's route was deeper, but Keanu is the Buzz defender.  He's not supposed to give ground to 13 yards unless he is threatened up the seam and is supposed to match the route, which is exactly what he did in october.  He gave ground and gave up an easy throw.

If that same throw had been made Sunday from that hashmark and that yardage, at worse it's a bang-bang play resulting in a breakup, at best a pick.

If the same shallow 5 yard throw had been made to Ginn in October, Ginn would have had the space to make a move up field because they were not closing on the underneath stuff this decisively.  

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