Week 6 Recap: Bengals Defense Struggles Again

Before their game against the Patriots, the Bengals had arguably the best defense in the league. Then, they allowed 80 points in a seven day/2-game span, leaving plenty of questions about a unit that was previously the most reliable aspect of the team.

Linebacker Concerns:
Bengals linebackers have had success because of their aggressiveness in attacking the line of scrimmage versus the run. However, this is also their weakness. They are too aggressive, often over-pursuing to get to ball carriers and abandoning their gap responsibilities. They often bite too hard on play-action, and this has killed them in the passing game. Emmanuel Lamur, #59, has looked especially lost in coverage. Tom Brady and Cam Newton took advantage of this in the last two games.

Big Personnel On Offense:
In Week 5, the Patriots used an up-tempo approach as well as big personnel in unconventional alignments. This kept Cincinnati linebackers on the field and caused confusion in their assignments. The Panthers didn’t take the same up-tempo approach, but they did use lots of 2 and 3-tight end sets to keep linebackers on the field. They then took advantage of their over aggressiveness in the passing game.

More Struggles vs the Run:
The Patriots racked up 220 rushing yards in Week 5 against the Bengals with a power running game that blew Cincinnati off the ball. The Panthers didn’t quite have that same type of success. Their effectiveness in the running game came via Cam Newton. The Panthers used him on the usual zone reads, but they also ran him on quarterback powers with success. Again, Bengals linebackers didn’t maintain gap integrity, which created lots of open running lanes. Newton took advantage to the tune of 107 rushing yards.

Blitzes Not Hitting Home:
Against the Patriots, the Bengals weren’t able to blitz like they normally do because of New England’s approach. Against the Panthers, on the other hand, the Bengals were able to bring the house frequently, including their staple double-A-gap blitzes. The pressure rarely got to Newton, though. This left the Bengals’ linebackers and secondary vulnerable, and this has been one of the biggest issues with Cincinnati’s defense. Their linebackers and secondary aren’t great in coverage. They rely on their D-line and blitzes to get pressure, which forces quick, ill-advised throws. When the pressure doesn’t get there, they become exposed.

Final Thoughts:
Heading into their bye week at 3-0 the Bengals looked like they would run away with the AFC North. Now, all four teams in the division look like legitimate contenders, and there is still plenty of time left in the season. Cincinnati needs to figure out how to fix their once dominant defense if they want to have any chance of even reaching the playoffs.

Posted in AFC East, AFC North, Carolina Panthers, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots, NFC South | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Week 5 Recap: Broncos Offense Steamrolls Cardinals

The Broncos racked up 568 yards against one of the best defenses in the league on Sunday. Denver has lots of talent on offense, but their gameplan against Arizona played a significant role in their 41-point performance.

The Cardinals are known for their man coverage on defense. They have one of the NFL’s premiere corners in Patrick Peterson as well as a bevy of talent around him in their defensive backfield. They don’t shy away from any offense, choosing to play man regardless of the competition.

We know this, everyone in the NFL knows this, and the Broncos certainly knew it. Their offensive gameplan focused on beating this coverage. The Broncos used several short crossing routes where receivers rubbed (or picked) defenders, or at very least created traffic that defensive backs had to wade through in order to chase their assigned receiver across the field. Denver used several other man-beating concepts, such as bunching their receivers together and having their routes crisscross at the snap to create more traffic for defenders. Furthermore, they used formations and route concepts that enabled Manning to take advantage of particularly advantageous one-on-one matchups, such as Julius Thomas on a safety, Demaryius Thomas on Antonio Cromartie, and Wes Welker in the slot on cornerback Jerraud Powers with room to maneuver from sideline to sideline.

Accounting for Pressure:
The Cardinals defense is among the most aggressive blitzing units in the league. They use intricate schemes and aren’t afraid to bring the house to get to the quarterback. The Broncos anticipated this pressure. They almost exclusively used 3 wide receiver sets and spread the defense out. This was a departure from Denver’s offensive approach through their first 3 games.

Spreading the defense out prevents it from being able to disguise blitzes well. Defenders have to align over or near the receivers they’re responsible for. If they are actually blitzing, their alignment away from their receiver will allow the quarterback to recognize the pressure more easily. If they align over their receiver and try to blitz from far away, they won’t get to the quarterback in time. Denver’s approach allowed Peyton Manning to quickly recognize and react to Arizona’s pressure schemes. It also prevented the Cardinals from blitzing as frequently.

The staple of Arizona’s blitz schemes is double-A-gap pressure. This means the Cardinals blitz, or at least show blitz, in the two gaps on either side of the center. This type of pressure can confuse blocking assignments or provide immediate pressure up the middle on the quarterback. The Broncos addressed this in many ways, one of which was to align their running back right behind the center. Using this unconventional alignment, the Broncos were able to clearly define which blocker was responsible for which defender. Also, with the running back starting the play near the line of scrimmage, the blitz pressure was blocked several yards away from Manning instead of right next to him. Even when not aligned in this unique formation, Broncos running backs kept Manning clean all day by making sure to attack blitzers near the line of scrimmage instead of waiting for them to get near him.

Final Thoughts:
The Broncos’ scheme on Sunday was well conceived, but don’t forget about the talent they have. Demaryius Thomas is quicker and more explosive than Antonio Cromartie, who struggled to keep up with him all day. Julius Thomas is bigger than any safety covering him, and he has great athleticism. Oh yeah, Peyton Manning, despite his Chad Pennington-like arm strength, is still the most accurate passer in the league and by far the best anticipator. Ultimately, the Broncos combined their talent, gameplan, and execution to dominate a very good Cardinals defense.

Posted in AFC West, Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, NFC West | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Buccaneers Should Commit to Glennon

It makes absolutely no sense that Mike Glennon is still not the Buccaneers’ permanent starting quarterback. This isn’t just a reaction to Glennon’s performance in one game against the Steelers last Sunday. Glennon is just flat out a better quarterback than Josh McCown. He gives the Buccaneers a better chance to win now and in the future.

Head Coach Lovie Smith did acknowledge during the offseason that Glennon is the quarterback of the future. The present, however, would belong to Josh McCown, who was brought in to help a revitalized Tampa team win now by playing smart, turnover-free football. Yet through the two and a half games he played before injuring his thumb, McCown was horrible. He pressed, tried to do too much, and made terrible decisions. His interceptions were absolutely inexplicable. He played like a 2nd-year quarterback, not a veteran.

Against the Steelers on Sunday, Mike Glennon showcased exactly why he should be the quarterback of the present and the future. To start with, he’s 6’6”, so seeing the field from a physical perspective isn’t an issue. He displayed a very strong arm. You wouldn’t call it a cannon, but it’s strong enough to make every throw and then some. Maybe more importantly, Glennon has an easy and compact motion. He doesn’t have to step into his throws to get the ball out. Instead, he throws as if he’s in a phone booth. There aren’t a lot of moving parts to his motion, and he doesn’t need a lot of space in the pocket.

Take this play below, for example. Glennon had just started his delivery with a defender closing in on him.  His compact motion enabled him to get the ball out of his hands quickly before he was hit. The result was a 21-yard completion.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

The below screen shot shows the same play from the sideline angle. This lets you get a feel for Glennon’s ability to anticipate. Again, at this point in the play, Glennon had started his throwing motion. Look where his receiver was in his route.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

That’s anticipation at its finest, and it helps make both the offensive line and receivers better. This is the definition of succeeding from the pocket, and Glennon made several throws like this against Pittsburgh on Sunday. He even mixed in a little bit of last second heroics. This didn’t get much attention because it wasn’t very colorful – had he run around the field, dazzled with his athleticism, and made SportsCenter as a result, he would have been heralded as the next big time quarterback in this league. Because he did it from the pocket with timing, rhythm, and within the framework of the designs of the offense, it wasn’t considered spectacular.

Glennon wasn’t perfect on Sunday. Against the Saints this week, he won’t be perfect either, that much is a guarantee. However, through his 14 NFL starts, he has exhibited the traits that lead to consistent quarterback play. His anticipation, arm strength, and ability to throw with little room to maneuver are all attributes in which he has a distinct advantage over Josh McCown. Glennon can be a successful quarterback in this league. In our opinion, if he was on the Bengals, Andy Dalton would not be the starter. Considering how poorly Josh McCown has played, and how much better Glennon’s tools are, committing to Glennon show be a no-brainer for Lovie Smith.

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Week 4 Recap: Eagles Offense Held Scoreless by 49ers

The Eagles finished Sunday with 21 points against the 49ers. However, none of them came from the offense. So what did the 49ers do to slow them down?

It Starts Up Front:
Due to injuries and a suspension, the Eagles offensive line had just two of its regular starters playing on Sunday; left tackle Jason Peters and right tackle Todd Herremans (normally the right guard). The 49ers constantly attacked the Eagles’ interior line with stunts as a result. To defend stunts, there has to be good communication and chemistry between offensive linemen, something that comes from playing together regularly. The unit Philadelphia put on the field Sunday had not had the opportunity to play together often. Ultimately, the O-line wasn’t necessarily terrible against the 49ers, but the pressure they allowed was enough to disrupt Nick Foles and get him off his game.

LeSean Grounded:
The offensive line certainly played a role in the Eagles’ inability to run the ball against defensive tackle Justin Smith and company. 49er linebackers also did a good job of staying in running lanes, and Antoine Bethea was tremendous at coming up to fill gaps right after the snap. He was all over the field on Sunday, also adding a forced fumble and an interception.

LeSean McCoy didn’t generate anything on the ground all day. A large part of this was due to the 49ers, but McCoy also did not stick with the design of the running plays. Instead, he tried to bounce it to the outside and hit a huge play every time, which didn’t work at all. Had he stayed with the design of the runs, he wouldn’t have necessarily eaten up huge chunks of yards. The 49ers were playing the run too well. However, He would have helped keep the Eagles offense in more manageable situations.

Foles Not Sharp:
Foles has been anything but sharp to start the 2014 season. He has left tons of big plays on the field by not reading the coverage and spotting open receivers. He’s also miss-fired on far too many throws. Take this play below. Had Foles led wide receiver Jeremy Maclin across the field on his post route, Maclin could have created more separation from his defender and caught what would have been an 85-yard touchdown pass. The white arrow shows Maclin’s initial path and where the ball should have been thrown – right into the 49ers logo.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Foles threw the ball over top of Maclin, making it a more difficult catch and allowing his defender to make a play on the ball. This could have been a game-changing touchdown but was an incompletion instead.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Final Thoughts:
Ultimately, the Eagles offense didn’t play well, but they also didn’t have a lot of time on the field to get in rhythm due to their defense and special teams scoring touchdowns. They still do have a ton of room for improvement, but don’t expect them to be shut out too often moving forward.

Posted in NFC East, NFC West, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Week 3 Recap: Patriots Offense Struggles

The Patriots scored only 16 points against the Raiders on Sunday. They escaped with the W, but probably wouldn’t have against a better team. Their offensive performance through the first 3 weeks of 2014 has to be a concern.

Offensive Line:
It all starts with this group, and boy have they been bad this season. Against the Raiders, New England allowed regular pressure on Tom Brady. Left tackle Nate Solder got handled on several plays and was slow to react to edge pressure on a few others. There were miscommunications in blocking assignments inside, and Brady did not have much time to throw all game.

The Patriots clearly spotted problems on their line in week 1. They went big in week 2 to address this, using 6 offensive linemen on 26 of 60 plays against the Vikings. They maintained a similar approach against the Raiders, preferring to go big throughout the game. The idea was to try and pound the ball on the ground and protect Brady, neither of which they were able to do with much success.

Brady Off:
Considering the state of his O-line, you can’t entirely blame Brady for putting up 3 average performances in 3 games this season. However, his accuracy, which was an issue in 2013, has not been pinpoint thus far in 2014. He had a terrible incompletion to Rob Gronkowski on a play that would have gone for at least 20 yards. This wasn’t an anticipation throw. There was no miscommunication. He just flat out missed a wide open receiver. Brady’s struggles aren’t anything crazy like a sign of decline in his skillset. Instead, they’re more of a result of the cumulative effects of pressure he’s already faced this season.

No Playmakers:
The Patriots’ most explosive player is the oft-injured Rob Gronkowski. To this point in the season, the Patriots have been easing him back into the lineup, so he hasn’t had the full effect we’re accustomed to seeing. Julian Edelman has been Brady’s most trusted receiver this season, and while he’s effective in the slot, he’s more of a keep-the-chains-moving type of receiver, not an explosive playmaker. Because of their offensive line issues, the Patriots have game planned to get rid of the ball early. Edelman has benefited from this approach. The offense has not. They’ve condensed their entire attack, and focused on short throws and running the ball, both with only mild success. It will be interesting to see how they expand their approach as the season progresses.

Final Thoughts:
New England’s issues begin and end with their offensive line. This was an issue against an okay defense like the Raiders. It might be a catastrophe against better fronts, like the ones New England will see in its next 4 opponents – the Chiefs, Bengals, Bills and Jets.

Posted in AFC East, AFC West, New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment