Film Room : Zone Principles in Saints vs. Niners

A few weeks ago we broke down film of the Colts using both man and zone coverage in their defensive plays. I’d go back and review that tape first if you haven’t already seen it, but in short, man and zone coverages are what they seem. In man coverage, players are assigned specific men to cover. In zone coverage, players are assigned specific areas of the field to cover.

In today’s film room post, we get to see San Fran LB Ahmad Brooks use zone coverage to intercept Drew Brees and score a touchdown for the Niners.

So how did he do that?

1. He looks at the receivers and the quarterback

Brooks drops back into his zone from the 4-3 defense formation. Instead of just watching the receivers to see where they are going or just watching Brees to see where he is throwing, Brooks has his head on a swivel, surveying the entire field for clues as to where the ball is going and who is entering his zone. Since no one comes into his zone, he know that Brees, who is already winding up to throw, is planning on throwing a deep pass. He focuses on intercepting that pass by reading Brees’ eyes (seeing where he is looking to know where he will throw the ball) instead of covering receivers outside of his zone (which was clearly the right decision).

2. He keeps moving and breaks on the ball

Just because he doesn’t have any receivers to cover doesn’t mean his work on this play is done. Far from it! Brooks keeps moving, and when he sees Brees get ready to release the ball and knows where he’ll throw it, he accelerates in that direction, making a break for it (or “breaking on the ball”). If he had moved a second later, he probably would have missed his chance.

3. He runs to the sideline

Not for gatorade. Not for a high five. He runs to the sideline because the players who are most likely the tackle him are all in the middle of the field. If he runs straight upfield, he’s going to run right into them. Bad news. But if he runs to the sideline, all of the offensive players in the middle of the field are going to have to change directions and run toward the sideline, too. That gives Brooks much much time and space to reach the end zone, which he does!

Never underestimate the power of a good momentum swing before halftime. Final Score: 31-21, Niners.

Film Room : Steelers vs. Ravens

These cleats were made for dancin' - touchdown dancin'. Today we break down film of DWTS contestant Jacoby Jones' punt return for a touchdown.The good news: we get to break down film of a special teams play today, and we haven’t done that yet.

The bad news: we have to watch it with the Steelers in their bumble bee throwbacks, and we really don’t want to do that.

Be that as it may, it’s still a great play: a touchdown return with the latest crossover talent from the NFL, Dancing With the Stars’ own Jacoby Jones:

So, what happened?

1. Setting the Wall

What’s a “lane” anyway? It is what is seems: an open linear space for a ball carrier to run through. Think of it in terms of traffic: If you want to pass someone on the highway, there needs to be an open lane beside you so that you can accelerate and pass (and not make any impolite comments). To free up this lane for Jones, Sean Considine works towards his outside blocker (which looks like inside from this camera angle) to push him inside and open up a lane for Jones. You can see that Jones has that lane because he can run in between two Ravens who are blocking for him.

2. Stretch and Cut

What if Jones runs right up the middle? The fastest way from one point to another is a straight line, right? In science, yes. In football, when there are 300 lb men running toward you full speed ahead…no. If Jones had run straight up the middle he would have been tackled midfield by a pile of defenders. Instead, he cuts left to spread the defenders out toward the sideline, then cuts back inside with great speed and great protection so that they can’t catch him.

3. Staying With Downfield Blocks

Let’s just review, for a moment. Initially, Brian Ayanbadejo blocks his man around the 7 yard line. He stays with that block until Jones passing him at the 35-yard line. That’s discipline right there, nearly 30 yards of staying with a block. With Ayanbadejo and the other Ravens covering their blocking responsibilities, Jones only has to beat the punter to get into the end zone. The only punter who strikes fear into the hearts of receivers is Giants punter Steve Weatherford, so Jones is free and clear to score.

I’m sure he’ll be adding some dance moves to his post-touchdown routine next season.

Film Room : Bucs vs. Saints

Before we begin, let’s talk.

You’re going to see something terrible on this week’s film.

And that something terrible is the Bucs infamous creamsicle throwback jerseys.

photo source

They’re something special – when special is used in the southern “bless your heart” kind of way. I really thought they were the worst jerseys in the NFL, but then this happened and I had to reevaluate. Current status: third worst. So watch with caution:

Ok, let’s review what happened:

1st Down (Get Off the Line)

Defensive tackle Cedric Ellis explodes off the line of scrimmage as soon as the ball is snapped. It’s this speed and power  that enables him to avoid the left guard who is trying to get “across his face” – which sounds like football lingo but it means just what it sounds like it means – the guard is trying to get to the other side of Ellis’s face to pull him outside and open up a lane for the running back. Since Ellis beat the guard off the line, he was able to split the gap in the offensive line (run through it) and block the running back.

2nd Down (Staying Home on the Backside)

“Staying home on the backside” doesn’t sound like something many people would want to do. It doesn’t sound all that appealing. But it’s actually not that bad. It just means that the defender – in this case, safety Roman Harper – is going to stay where he assigned in the alignment (staying home), which on this play turns out to be the side the ball isn’t moving toward (the backside). So staying home on the backside means staying where you were originally designed to be even if the ball carrier goes in the opposite direction. You can see how this would wreak havoc on a player’s natural instinct to run toward the ball, thus making Harper’s disciplined, veteran move all the more praiseworthy. Because he doesn’t panic, he’s able to help his teammates close the inside gaps and prevent the running back from getting into the end zone.

And that’s not even his last highlight! Well done, Roman, well done.

3rd Down (Closing Down the Line)

It sounds like something you do at the end of a shift at a grocery store, right? But all this means is that safety Malcolm Jenkins doesn’t make a beeline to the backfield just because that’s where the ball is at the moment. The Saints are great at making good decisions based on fundamentals regardless of circumstances (and can’t we all use a little bit of that in real life, too?). Instead of rushing to the quarterback or running back, Jenkins stays close to the offensive line, running in line with the heels of the offensive lineman until he can read where the running back is headed and make the tackle inside. If he had gone straight to the running back immediately, he would have gotten there too late and missed the tackle. Good fundamentals led him to make the perfect stop for a loss.

4th Down (Staying in Coverage)

Once again we see Roman Harper doing his job like a boss. He doesn’t freak out and go straight to the backfield. He stays in the end zone, covering the tight end and taking him out of the play as a potential target, just as he was assigned. He trusts him teammates to get to Freeman and put pressure on him as well, which they do.

And thus: a perfect goal line stand. Four downs, zero points.

Film Room : Texans vs. Packers

Well, this week’s film is going to be fun.

One week after their unfortunate but understandable loss to the impassioned Colts, the Packers dismantled the formerly undefeated Texans in a 42-24 Sunday Night showdown.

It was a good night.

The touchdown that started it all was a 41 yard bomb to Jordy Nelson. Let’s take a closer look at that play:

It’s so beautiful, right?!

Ok, so scoring team aside, let’s break down the fundamentals of the play:

Let’s set the stage. It’s early in the 1st quarter. The down and distance is 1st and 10. Most teams that are going to take a shot into the end zone are going to do so on 2nd or 3rd down, not 1st down, but the Texans were not fooled. They must have seen something that made them believe that the Packers were going to pass because they’re showing blitz – they’re going to bring a whole lot of pressure on the quarterback as soon as the ball is snapped. We see this in their alignment – they have 5 men up front on the defensive line and 3 of them are coming from the right side.

That was a little unclear to me on the film at first, so I took a screen shot and mapped it out:

football, advanced, film

So there are five guys on the defensive line on this play, and three of them are lined up to the right of the center. That means those three rushers are “coming from the right.” The linebackers are hanging out a few yards back to prevent any significant gains should a run be attempted, and the cornerbacks and safety are guarding against the pass.

Got it?

Ok, let’s move on.

1. 1-on-1 Pass Protection

Since there’s going to be a lot of pressure coming from the right, the Packers put a running back and a tight end on the right side of the formation. That means that the left side will have to fend for themselves with no extra help. Left tackle Marshall Newhouse and left guard T.J. Lang each have to handle their own lineman in order to give Rodgers enough time for this play to be effective. And they do so beautifully. They each kick back and block toward the outside so that Rodgers has plenty of room to work with in the pocket.

Good job, guys.

2. Nelson’s Go Route

Let’s scroll up to that screen shot and take a look at the coverage. The cornerback is right on top of Nelson, which means he’s playing man-to-man coverage. The linebackers aren’t going to get involved in defending Nelson – they’re focused on securing the middle of the field, not the outside. And there’s just one safety playing the middle of the field. Man-to-man on the outside + a single free safety in the middle = Man Free Coverage.

Next: his route. A go route (or a fly/seam/streak route) is when a receiver runs straight upfield toward the end zone. Nelson runs his route expertly in this situation by lining up close to the numbers and allowing for only a little bit of width to the outside as he runs so that he has plenty of room to adjust to the flight of the ball and still stay in-bounds.

3. Leading the Receiver 

Rodgers knows he’s got a good thing going on here. The left side of the offensive line is securing the pocket (so he has protection and time) and Nelson beat the cornerback up the field (so he has space to throw the ball safely). He makes a perfect throw – just outside enough so that it isn’t in danger of being reached by the cornerback but not too far outside that Nelson can’t reach it – and Nelson takes it to the house for a TD.

And then did that 5 more times over the course of the game. What a guy.

If you thought this week’s film break down was good, just wait until next week. We get to see the Bucs in their creamsicle uniforms.

It’s the best.

But until then, I’ll see you back here tomorrow for a little trip back in history!

Film Room : Patriots vs. Broncos

Seriously, people, this may become my all-time favorite blog feature. It’s just so helpful! For me and hopefully for you too! Thanks again to USA Football for doing such a great job of breaking down good plays in terms that real people (including normal girls!) can understand.

Here’s this week’s film, taken from Week 5’s Patriots vs. Broncos game:

So, what did we learn here? Let’s take a moment to review:

Danny Woodhead fought for the first down. But there were three essential blocks that helped him get there.

Block 1: Double Team Combo Block by Rob Gronkowski and Nate Solder

Gronk and Solder immediately double team the defensive end, Dumervil. Solder then delivers a burst of pressure to the outside so that Gronk can take over the block and he (Solder) can move onto the next level of defense and block the linebacker. (For more on where the defensive players line up, check out this post.)

Block 2: Zone Block by Logan Mankins

Before we begin, the only non-normal term in this video for me was “Okie Front.” To me, that just sounds like everything is okay up front, or that the players are residents of Oklahoma. Turns out, neither is true. An Okie Front is when, “both ends play a 5-technique head-up over the tackles while the nose tackle is head-up on the center.” (Thank you , cheesehead TV, for being the only reliable Google Search item with an actual definition.) Translation: those three defensive linemen up front are all lined up directly across from their respective offensive linemen, and each is responsible for blocking two gaps. Rewind and take another look and you’ll see it makes much more sense this time around.

Got it?

It’s such a great block by Mankins because he doesn’t freak out about who to cover. He plays his assignment – the zone block (a technique used to create lanes for running plays) – and stays patient, running with the center, to provide a solid line of offensive protection for Woodhead.

Block 3: Downfield Block by Wes Welker

Welker doesn’t slack just because the ball isn’t coming to him on this play. He jets down field and blocks the oncoming defender so that Woodhead can gain the extra yards they need for a first down.

And that’s that. A well-designed play well-executed by players. It’s a thing of beauty.

See you all next week for another rendition of my favorite feature! I can’t get enough!

In the Film Room : Falcons vs. Panthers

football, film, advancedPeople, I’m obsessed.

Obsessed with that moment when something that was so confusing suddenly becomes so clear. And since visual explanations tend to speak to my brain much more fluently than verbal explanations, these film breakdowns have led to quite a few glory glory hallelujah moments. Suddenly the concepts that I read about and watch religiously come together and make SENSE.

It’s like magic. I can’t wait to share it with you.

So I found an amazing resource: the video section of USA Football’s website. There is a wealth of helpful information to be garnered there – the videos we’ll be breaking down here are just one wonderful component of the website.

Today, we’re going to start with the Falcons vs. Panthers game from Week 4. We get to learn about how several different great plays come together to make one great catch happen. After the video, we’ll review what we’ve learned.


(Just click “hide ad” in the upper right to watch.)

If you missed a few things the first time around, don’t panic! Here’s the step by step breakdown:

Key Play 1: Garrett Reynolds’ Pull and Pass Block

When the play begins, Garrett Reynolds is lined up as the right guard. In the next split second afterward, he pulls to the other side of the formation and blocks the oncoming defensive end.

Why is this important?

Left unblocked, the defensive end would have had a pretty clean line right to the quarterback, causing either a pass rush or a sack. If rushed, the receivers wouldn’t have had a chance to get down the field and the pass might have been dumped off to a tight end or someone closer. If sacked, the game probably would have been over, since that play set up the game-winning field goal.

Key Play 2: Julio Jones Beating the Jam

On this play, Julio Jones is lined up across from the nickel back. (We know from our many defensive lessons that the nickel back is the fifth defensive back on the field.) The nickel back’s job is to make sure that Julio Jones does not beat him off the line and run down the field. Unfortunately for him…that’s just what happens. Jones jams the nickel back at the line – he throws a little fake so that the DB is confused – and then races up the field.

Jones’ first job: done.

Next, he moves onto confusing the safety. He and the other wide receiver on the left side of the formation, Roddy White, run parallel routes fairly close to each other for about 15 yards so that the safety can’t decide who to defend. Once Jones commits to running the hashes (basically straight up the center of the field) the safety has to cover him or else risk Jones breaking free for a touchdown. He doesn’t want that to happen, so he moves to cover Jones instead of White.

Jones’ second job: done! What a good day for Julio!

Why are these important?

If Jones hadn’t beaten the nickel back on the line, Roddy White probably would have been double covered and probably wouldn’t have been able to make that catch. Ditto: if Jones had run a different route after breaking free. Great decision making.

Key Play 3: Matt Ryan’s Read

Matt Ryan is looking down the field to see what the deep safety is doing. And every time he sees the safety guarding the inside, the quarterback will (or should) attack the outside. Ryan made the right read on the situation and threw the ball in a great position for White to make a play.

Why is this important?

Reading the coverage incorrectly and throwing it anywhere else probably would have been a waste of a play. The whole team worked together to create just what we saw come to life. Executing a different ending wouldn’t have done the play – or the teamwork – justice.

This is why I love film. In the five seconds it takes to watch this play on TV, it just looks like Roddy White made a great catch. But when you look a little closer, you see that so many other players did their jobs so that he could go up and make that catch.

So many moving parts. It’s an amazing machine when it’s well-oiled.