Week 2 Recap – Did the Chargers Offense Expose Seattle?

The Chargers put up 30 on the Seahawks in San Diego, and the word of the day became “exposed.” But is this an accurate description of what happened on Sunday?

Richard Sherman:
Wouldn’t you know it, the Chargers actually threw in Richard Sherman’s direction and lived to tell about it, unlike Green Bay who decided to cut the field in half and not put the ball up anywhere near him in Week 1. Keenan Allen had success against Sherman on a few slant routes. He got Sherman going outside, forced him to turn his hips, and then cut inside underneath him. This is the route that has always given Sherman trouble. Yet despite the publicity that this and the few other completions against Richard Sherman created, they were not the reason the Chargers scored 30 points.

Three by One:
The formation that had the most success for the Chargers on Sunday was a 3 by 1 set. This meant three receivers to one side with the fourth isolated to the other side. The Chargers didn’t always put a wideout on the one-receiver side, though. Instead, as the below picture shows, they often put tight end Antonio Gates to this side. All three Chargers touchdowns came out of this formation.

The Chargers' 3-by-1 set with tight end Antonio Gates isolated to one side - Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

The Chargers’ 3-by-1 set with tight end Antonio Gates isolated to one side – Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Why did this work? It isolated Antonio Gates on either a linebacker or a safety. In the red zone and near the goal line (where the three Chargers touchdowns came from), most defenses tend to play lots of man coverage concepts. Bringing 3 wideouts to one side, as a result, forces cornerbacks to follow. This is why Richard Sherman, who generally doesn’t travel with receivers and stays on the left side of the defense, was aligned in the slot on the right as you can see above. Two of Gates’ touchdowns came from this exact alignment, while the third one came with Gates aligned to the opposite side and the three receivers aligned to Sherman’s normal side. On all three touchdowns, Gates had a favorable matchup on either slower or smaller defenders.

Philip Rivers:
He may be the ugliest thrower in the league, but man is Philip Rivers good. On Sunday, he was spectacular. Rivers was seeing the field clearly and throwing with great anticipation. He seemed to constantly be throwing the ball with defenders either in his face or draped off of him. He had pinpoint accuracy on all of his passes. Rivers was in total control of the offense and his execution was nearly flawless.

Final Thoughts:
So did the Chargers discover a blueprint? Did they find a one-size-fits-all game plan to beat the Seahawks? Don’t be silly. They played with flawless execution and Philip Rivers had one of the best games of his career. That’s a blueprint to beat every team in the NFL. The Chargers didn’t expose the Seahawks. They simply got a big win against a great team.

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Strange Approach by the Broncos Defense

The Denver Broncos might be 2-0, but the style of play Jack Del Rio chooses to use with his defense continues to make little sense. Their passive approach against the Chiefs on Sunday effectively helped to take the ball out of Peyton Manning’s hands, something the Broncos won’t always get away with.

Denver spent a lot of money this offseason signing key additions to their defense. Aqib Talib was brought in for his ability to match up against the opposing team’s best receiver, whether a tight end or a wide out. This is not how he’s been used thus far in Denver.

Instead of following around the opposing team’s best receiver, Talib has primarily stayed on the left side of the defense. He has barely even played press-man. Talib’s ability to jam receivers and physically control them at the line is what makes him the corner he is. This was how he disrupted opposing offenses regularly in Bill Belichick’s defense. This is also why it makes no sense that Jack Del Rio chooses to use him as a stationary soft-zone cover-corner.

The Chiefs took advantage of this approach in the second half on Sunday. They often aligned in formations where three receivers were to one side of the formation, and a tight end aligned to the other (Talib’s side). Instead of the Broncos dictating who they wanted Talib to cover, the Chiefs dictated that he’d be matched on their less dynamic tight ends, while on the other side of the field, the design of the play with more explosive receivers attacked a weaker part of the defense.

The overall passive approach in coverage, where the Broncos were trying to take away the big play but willing to give up easy underneath yards, ultimately hurt the pass rush. Alex Smith was able to get rid of the ball quickly on Sunday, which negated the effectiveness of DeMarcus Ware (another big offseason signing) and Von Miller.

Del Rio’s approach makes even less sense when you consider the other side of the ball. The Broncos still have arguably the most dynamic offense in the league. They have Peyton Manning at the helm. A defense with this type of offense should force opposing teams to have to beat them in a shootout. The odds are good that they won’t be able to keep up with the Broncos. A defense with a Peyton-led offense should take chances, try to force turnovers, and make the opposing team earn everything. If they take a risk and give up a big play or two, so what? That likely won’t be enough to overcome the Broncos offense. The passive defensive approach, however, just plays right into the game plan of the other team. It allows them to control the clock and keep Manning off the field, as the Chiefs did throughout the second half on Sunday.

Effectively, Jack Del Rio’s approach against Kansas City served to neutralize his own cover corner, his own premiere pass rushers, and a record-setting offense. That is the definition of not understanding your personnel. The Broncos will not get away with this style of play against better teams this season.

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Is J.J. Watt the Best Defensive Player in the NFL?

Yes. It’s as simple as that. If you didn’t think so before Week 1, just pop in the game film. It’s hard to imagine one player single-handedly disrupting an entire offense, but J.J. Watt managed to do exactly that on Sunday against the Redskins.

Watt aligned all across the defensive line against Washington, as he always does. He used everything at his disposal to win. He used a speed rush off the edge to get a sack. He used great leverage and power to drive offensive lineman back into Robert Griffin III’s lap. He blew up running plays with that same strength and brute power. He used his long arms to get his hands on offensive linemen before they could get to him. This allowed him to control them and push them back. He fought through double teams and overwhelmed in his one-on-one matchups.

On one play he drove his blocker back into RGIII’s lap and smothered the ball using his big mitts as Griffin was throwing. As you can see below, the lineman is practically stepping on RGIII’s foot. Tough to play quarterback in those conditions. That red line is the line of scrimmage by the way. That’s the point from where Watt started his stampede.

J.J. Watt Dominating - Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

J.J. Watt Dominating – Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Watt was incredible on Sunday. It’s a shame that Jadeveon Clowney got hurt because the Texans were finding ways to torment the Redskins’ offense by aligning them side-by-side and creating one-on-one matchups. If Clowney can get back on the field and stay healthy, the Texans will have a dynamic one-two punch up front that could consistently make timid little boys out of big strong offensive linemen and quarterbacks.

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Concern in New York

It wasn’t quite a banner Week 1 for the Giants offense. Eli Manning looked out of sync with the rest of his team. The G-men couldn’t get much going on the ground. Victor Cruz dropped two passes. Most noticeably, the offensive line was flat out awful.

There was not one player on the Giants O-line who didn’t struggle in pass protection. Left tackle Will Beatty and right tackle Justin Pugh were beaten often in one-on-one matchups on the outside. The interior line wasn’t much better. There was miscommunication and assignment confusion, and this led to consistent pressure in Eli Manning’s face. The Lions defensive line is a lot to handle based on talent alone. When blockers are not fulfilling their assignments, it makes holding them at bay almost impossible.

Eli Manning took the punishment for his o-line’s ineffectiveness. What’s worse is that Eli was perceiving pressure, even when it wasn’t there, as he did all preseason. He clearly does not trust his offensive line, and it’s hard to blame him. He was playing too fast on Monday night as a result. His mechanics and footwork looked like that of a raw rookie, not an 11-year veteran. He missed throws he normally makes. Even his completions had poor ball placement. His decision-making was also subpar as his 2nd interception showed. Manning needs to play better in the face of pressure, but he also needs help from the big guys up front.

Ultimately, this isn’t a new problem for the Giants. Terrible pass protection played a major role in the Giants demise a year ago. It was a huge contributor to Eli’s poor 2013 performance, and nothing significant was done to address this issue in the offseason. Manning took a lot of hits on Monday night against the Lions. He won’t last the entire season if this continues.

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Week 1 Recap: Broncos Offense Looks a Little Different

Last year the Broncos spread defenses out. They used 3-wide receiver formations with TE Julius Thomas, who can basically double as a 4th wide receiver given his athletic ability. On Sunday night against the Colts, the Broncos stayed in “12” personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) for most of the night. One possible reason for this was Wes Welker’s absence. One definite reason for this was that it was a strategy designed to keep the Colts’ base defense on the field. This left tight end Julius Thomas matched on a slower linebacker or an undersized safety on several occasions, and Peyton Manning exploited this mismatch.

New Addition:
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will fit in just fine as Eric Decker’s replacement. He is much more versatile than Decker, with the ability to align outside and in the slot effectively. He can get off press coverage, and most importantly, he offers a vertical downfield speed threat that the Broncos (the record setting Broncos) did not have at all last season.

Protecting Peyton:
The move to keep “12” personnel on the field and use tight formations was also an effort to keep Peyton Manning upright. Aligning tight ends close to the formation meant that edge rushers had further to run to get to Manning, which left him with more time to throw. Manning also had reliable left tackle Ryan Clady back after losing him for 17 games in 2013. Last year’s left tackle, Chris Clark, moved over to right tackle, and last year’s right tackle, Orlando Franklin, moved to left guard. Denver’s offensive line is now much bulkier. Ultimately, the only sack allowed on Sunday night was at the end of the game versus a well-designed blitz on 3rd and long.

Give it to Montee:
After their dismantling in the Super Bowl at the hands of the Seahawks, the Broncos talked all offseason about being a more physical overall team. This was why they signed T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib, and DeMarcus Ware. On Sunday, they looked to try and establish a physical running game on offense. They used lots of powers and counters, and put the ball in Montee Ball’s hands often. Ball showed off his quick feet and a little bit of physicality by consistently getting yards after contact.

The Broncos also used lots of play-action off of the run. Manning was under center more frequently than normal and used stretch run play-action looks (a la his days in Indy) to hold would-be pass rushers as well as defenders in coverage. We don’t know if the Broncos are looking to play more of their offense under center throughout the season or if this was just a one-week thing. It would make sense to try and establish a physical rushing attack and a more balanced offense in order to protect Peyton and to be able to compete against teams like Seattle.

Slow Finish:
The less than stellar 2nd half displayed by the Broncos was nothing more than poor execution. They failed to extend drives by hurting themselves with penalties, dropped passes, a few missed blocks and confusion in assignments. Manning also missed two throws at the end of the game. However, the issues the Broncos faced in this half were not indicative of some systemic failure that they need to worry about moving forward.

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