Simple Approach Helps Dalton

Andy Dalton was atrocious two weeks ago against the Browns. He was 10-33, for 86 yards and 3 interceptions. That’s about as bad as you can play as a quarterback. Quite frankly, Dalton has been inconsistent all season. However, last week against the Saints, he was suddenly an efficient and effective quarterback, going 16-22, for 220 yards, 3 TD’s, 0 INT’s and a 143.9 passer rating. So what did Dalton do differently?

The answer lies in what offensive coordinator Hue Jackson did. Against Cleveland, Dalton was struggling to see the field and make good decisions. So Jackson simplified the offense.

The Bengals ran the ball and then stuck with the run. They played with lots of 2 wide receiver sets. This kept the Saints in their base personnel where they bring fewer blitzes. Cincy kept the action in the middle of the field. The run sucked in 7 or 8 defenders. Off of these runs, the Bengals used play-action, and they did so with great execution.

On the play below, the Bengals ran a lead inside, gaining 5 yards.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

On the very next play, the Bengals used the exact same run action. Can you tell the difference?

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Only this time, it was a play-action pass. You can see that the Saints defense was sucked into the middle of the field.

From the sideline angle, you can see Andy Dalton at the beginning of his motion. He’s throwing the ball to A.J. Green, isolated on the outside 1-on-1.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

The shaded area shows that there are no underneath defenders between Dalton and Green. No one who can undercut the route. This was the effect of the run and the play-action. The result here was a 13-yard pass and a first down.

The Bengals used this type of sequence often against the Saints; a run play followed by almost identical run action. All of this served to simplify the game for Dalton. Instead of reading and scanning the entire field before making a throw, something he hasn’t been able to do consistently with accuracy and good decision-making, Dalton turned his back to the defense on the play fakes. When he turned back around, he had 8-man protection, time to throw, and a simple 1-on-1 matchup to read on the outside. Make the throw to beat the coverage for a completion, or sail the ball out of bounds and live to play another day.

Using this simplified style of play, the difficult decisions were taken out of Dalton’s hands. The reads were defined for him. This allowed him to deliver the ball decisively and with confidence, which increased his accuracy tremendously. Dalton was a more effective quarterback as a result.

Three and a half years into his career, it has become clear what type of quarterback Andy Dalton is. He cannot consistently lead his offense if he is asked to make complex reads and throw on down after down. He needs a simple approach, and he needs the offense around him to work.

Posted in AFC North, Cincinnati Bengals | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Week 11 Recap: How the Chiefs Ran Past Seattle

Andy Reid did a tremendous job of keeping Seattle’s defense off balance all afternoon on Sunday. The Chiefs ran the ball on play after play with success. This wasn’t a line-up-and-knock-the-defense’s-block-off type of running game. This was a deception and misdirection-based running game, executed to near perfection.

The Chiefs used lots of jet-motion with rookie De’Anthony Thomas on Sunday. Jet-motion involves the motion man running across the formation in order to build up speed (shown below). The quarterback times the snap with the motion.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

The Chiefs used jet-sweeps where the ball was given to the motion man. As you can see below, by the time the defensive end on the play side realized what was happening, De’Anthony Thomas was past him after having built up so much speed.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

The Chiefs ran this play twice for 15 yards. The play shown above was the Chiefs’ 4th offensive snap of the day, and it set the tone for the rest of the game.

The Chiefs used jet-motion on several other plays throughout the afternoon where they did not give the ball to the motion man. However, having used the jet-sweep effectively earlier, when Seattle saw the motion, defenders flowed to it, leaving plenty of running room inside for Jamaal Charles. On the play below, you can see the motion man, De’Anthony Thomas again, approaching the formation with jet motion.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Immediately after the snap, four defenders flowed towards him.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

But this ended up being a trap run to the left with Jamaal Charles.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

The below screen shot shows the end zone view right after Jamaal Charles got the ball. Because so many defenders had reacted to Thomas’s jet-motion, Charles had a huge running lane right in front of him.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

The result was a 28-yard gain.

This was just one way the Chiefs used deception and misdirection in their running game on Sunday. The effect was that Seattle defenders couldn’t trust what they were seeing. This either delayed their reactions or made them take false steps, which allowed Kansas City linemen to block them from favorable angles.

The Chiefs were able to beat a very good defense with their running schemes on Sunday, but can they use this same approach successfully on a weekly basis down the home stretch of the season? Additionally, the Chiefs barely used Alex Smith against Seattle, only attempting 16 passes. How far will they be able to go before they have to call on their quarterback to make a big time throw in a critical situation?

Posted in AFC West, Kansas City Chiefs, NFC West, Seattle Seahawks | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Is Denver’s Offense in Trouble?

The Broncos are an execution offense. They seldom try to trick the defense. They rarely use motion. They have a select set of formations and route concepts they usually rely on. You would think this would make them a predictable offense. It does, and this makes what they’ve been able to accomplish over the last 3 years so impressive. They get to the line, the defense knows what’s coming, Peyton Manning knows what the defense will do, gets his team in the best possible play versus that defensive look, and then he uses his unmatched anticipation and accuracy to pick the opponent apart. Unfortunately for Denver, when the Broncos aren’t executing or when Manning is having an off day, there is nowhere to turn. There is no other aspect of this team that can lead the way to victory. When Manning isn’t at his best, which isn’t very often, the Broncos’ chances of winning are not very good. This is what happened against the Patriots two weeks ago. It’s also what happened against the Rams on Sunday.

The Rams brought pressure on Manning all day long, blitzing on 25 of 56 drop backs, a significant amount. The Broncos weren’t terrible at picking it up, but there were enough leaks to make Manning uncomfortable. For the 2nd straight week, the Broncos weren’t playing with their normal line. Will Montgomery was the center. Manny Ramirez, normally the center, moved to right guard. Louis Vasquez, normally the right guard, moved to right tackle. New positions mean new assignments as well as communication from unfamiliar perspectives.

Did this play a role with their handling of the Rams’ stunts and blitzes? Perhaps. St. Louis was around Manning all day. Even when they didn’t get to him, they seemed close, either collapsing the pocket around him or hitting him just after he threw the ball. The pressure was tangible, and this left Manning playing fast. He wasn’t going to wait around to give his shuffled line a chance to figure things out.

What was rare about Peyton’s performance in this one was his unwillingness to let plays develop downfield. This was the result of the cumulative effects of the Rams’ pressure. Manning was getting the ball out to his initial reads, and he missed some routes that could have been big plays downfield.

Manning’s decision-making was also not up to his normal extremely high standards. Both his interceptions were forced passes. When the Rams played man coverage, he chose some peculiar matchups. He kept trying to go to Jacob Tamme against a linebacker (which he did on his first interception) or a safety. This isn’t exactly a mismatch in Denver’s favor. He also chose to attempt a back shoulder wheel route to his 3rd-string running back, C.J. Anderson, versus a linebacker. That’s expecting receiver-like ball skills out of a player who does not have them. Making Manning’s decisions more peculiar was the fact that Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker were also getting some 1-on-1 matchups.

This all begs the question of why Wes Welker wasn’t more involved, especially after Julius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders left the game due to injuries. Welker hasn’t been a big factor in this offense, and there’s a good reason for it. The Broncos don’t use him based on his skill set. In New England, Welker ran option routes from the slot. He was uncoverable between the numbers in 1-on-1 matchups, and he kept the chains moving regularly. In Denver, and especially on Sunday, Welker seems to run one vertical route after another. This is not the type of receiver he is. He doesn’t have the straight-line speed to knock the top off the defense. He doesn’t separate on these types of routes like he does on quick lateral routes. So why are the Broncos using him this way?

Even with all of these issues, Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ passing game will be just fine. The bigger concern has to do with their rushing attack (or lack thereof). The Broncos called just 9 running plays against the Rams versus 56 passes. This game wasn’t a blowout. It was in reach for most of the day. Even when it was a two-possession game, there was still time to mix in the occasional run to at least keep the defense honest. For some reason, Peyton Manning/Adam Gase did not. This has been an alarming trend of late.

Over the last 3 weeks, Denver has had terrible balance on offense. This might help explain their sudden inconsistency. Last week against Oakland, the Broncos called 32 passes to just 11 runs in the first half. They were out of sync, turned the ball over twice, and only scored 6 points through the first 27 minutes. Then, the Raiders became the Raiders again, and Denver exploded for 5 touchdowns. The week before against New England, the Broncos scored just 7 first half points on a 28-10 pass-run ratio. That game was out of hand by halftime. By contrast, in their three prior games, the Broncos had first half pass-run ratios of 19-12, 18-10, and 22-15. They scored 14, 21, and 17 points respectively in those first halves.

Comparing their last three performances with their previous three shows that Denver might need to tinker with their offensive approach. The Broncos are never going to be 50-50 run-pass, nor should they be. However, it’s tough to win with the severe lack of balance they’ve had in recent weeks no matter who the quarterback is. It enables the defense to dictate the game. Defenders can pin their ears back and attack the quarterback without worrying about the run. Defensive coordinators can be aggressive and use disguise more easily. Combine this with the fact that the Broncos’ passing game doesn’t use any motion and relies solely on execution, and the result is a very predictable offense.

With the way the Patriots are playing, the Broncos’ loss on Sunday almost ensures that they’ll have to go through New England to get to the Super Bowl. They won’t have a chance in Foxborough in January if they don’t get more balance on offense. They won’t win a Super Bowl if they can’t win in multiple ways. This has been the case for every single Super Bowl champion in history. It won’t change this year.

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

How the Lions Forced a Tannehill INT

This was one of the coolest schematic plays we saw this weekend. The Dolphins faced a 3rd and 7 from the Lions 19-yard line with just under 6 minutes left in the first half. Miami was down 10-0 and desperately needed to get some points on the board.

The Dolphins went with an empty formation (no players in the backfield). Pre-snap, the Lions appeared to be bringing “0 blitz”. This meant the 6 defenders near the ball were going to blitz, and the five defenders remaining would be playing man coverage against the Dolphins’ 5 receivers.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

The slot receiver to Tannehill’s right would be running an out route. Because Tannehill figured it was man-blitz and a quick throw was needed, he felt most comfortable with an out route against the softest defender – that’s safety James Ihedigbo – and as you can see, he’s playing about 10 yards off his receiver.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

From the end zone angle, you can see that the Lions have two linebackers aligned to either side of the center in the A-gaps. They are showing what is called “double A-gap pressure.” The center is pointing at LB #59 Tahir Whitehead before the snap. This meant he was identifying Whitehead as the “Mike” linebacker.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

There were 6 possible rushers. The Dolphins only had 5 blockers. Because LB #59 Tahir Whitehead was identified as the Mike, the Dolphins slid to his side (their left). The Dolphins had to protect the middle at all costs. They were willing to allow a free rusher off the edge because it would take more time for him to get to Tannehill than it would for any inside penetration. As a result, the Dolphins’ 5 blockers would match up to these 5 potential rushers (noted in the box below):

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

This meant the defensive end on the left side of the screen would be left unblocked. This is what double A-gap pressure can do to an offense’s protection schemes.

However, at the snap, both linebackers dropped out. It wasn’t man coverage – it was zone. The Lions ended up only rushing four, yet they still got a free rusher to the quarterback.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Going back to the sideline view, you can see that the free rusher forced Tannehill to get rid of the ball quickly, before he could realize it was zone coverage. The pressure also didn’t allow him to step into his throw. The ball hung a bit as a result.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Ihedigbo, who did not move and was sitting on the route because that’s where he was supposed to be in his zone coverage responsibility, stepped in front of the receiver for an easy interception.

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

This is one example of how teams can use disguise to confuse the quarterback, disrupt protection schemes, and manufacture pressure on the quarterback without sacrificing defenders in coverage.

Posted in AFC East, Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, NFC North | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Breaking Down Mark Sanchez

Mark Sanchez finished 20-37 with 332 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT, and a 102.5 passer rating on Monday Night against the Panthers. Not a bad way to make your first start in two years. In fact, it was the first game of his career where he threw for over 300 yards with at least 2 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. That’s 63 starts – nearly four full seasons. So what led to Sanchez having such an uncharacteristic performance?

One problem that plagued Sanchez in New York was his accuracy. Actually, it was his completion percentage. He never eclipsed the 57% mark with the Jets, but that wasn’t necessarily because he was an inaccurate passer. Instead, it was more a function of his inability to consistently make the correct read and win late in the down when necessary. There were tons of incompletions as a result. On Monday night, Sanchez only completed 54% of his passes. However, he made the correct reads most of the time, and this led to several big plays through the air.

A significant reason for Sanchez getting the ball to the right place is that Chip Kelly’s system is so quarterback friendly. The tempo of the offense and the design of the passing game often beat the defense. Sanchez hit quite a few wide-open receivers very early in the play against the Panthers as a result.

Sanchez has never been good under pressure. He was often frenetic in the pocket as a Jet, and if the first read wasn’t there, he would panic, subsequently not see the field, and either take a sack, turn the ball over, or throw an incompletion. On Monday, the Panthers barely got any pressure on Sanchez, which certainly helped his performance. The few times they did, Sanchez did a great job of moving to avoid the pressure, resetting his feet, calmly locating his receivers and then firing an accurate pass.

The competition has to be noted. Carolina has struggled on defense all season because their pass rush is nothing like what it was a year ago. Last season they didn’t have a great secondary, but the constant pressure on the quarterback was able to mask their deficiencies. This year, the secondary is worse, and their issues are magnified by the lack of a decent pass rush. Still, Sanchez looked like a more mature quarterback on Monday, and that has more to do with him than the competition. Sanchez was poised in the pocket, and even used several great pump-fakes to manipulate defenders on plays that resulted in big completions.

Let’s be clear about one thing: Sanchez is not the savior in Philadelphia. One game against a terrible defense doesn’t entirely change who he is as a quarterback. There are still several questions his play needs to answer. How will he perform against a more relentless pass rush? How will he be against a team with better blitz schemes that hit home more often? Will his just-above-average arm strength hurt him? When a receiver isn’t wide open early in the play so regularly, will he be able to win late in the down? We won’t know these answers until we see him in these situations. The Eagles don’t have a quarterback controversy quite yet. What they do have is a good backup at a key position who showed himself to be very capable of effectively running a quarterback-friendly offense.

Posted in NFC East, Philadelphia Eagles | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Week 10 Recap: Blown Opportunity For Bills Offense

This was a gut-wrenching loss for the Bills. They had this game in the palm of their hands and completely Munson’d it. The loss dropped them to 5-4 in an ultra-competitive AFC that currently features eleven teams over .500.

Kyle Orton:
Kyle Orton is not a superstar quarterback. However, he’s a tremendous upgrade over EJ Manuel because he keeps the offense on schedule. For the most part, he gets the ball to where it is supposed to go based on the design of the play. His physical skills are limited, but he’ll keep the offense moving more consistently than Manuel will.

Orton’s limitations become more visible later in the play. He doesn’t have much ability to win late in the down or adjust on the fly. His arm is just average, and this passing game is based on him making quick, smart decisions. The objective is to get the ball out of his hands. If the first two reads of the design of the play don’t beat the defense, the chances for success on that particular play drop close to zero with Orton.

Missed Opportunities:
Trailing 17-13 with 2:31 remaining in the game, the Bills decided to go for it with the ball on Kansas City’s 15-yard line. Buffalo aligned in a 3×1 set with Sammy Watkins isolated backside. This was where the play was designed to go. Watkins’ route was a fade. Cornerback Ron Parker gave him a free release off the line and immediately let Watkins get on top of him. This is called a tailgating technique, and it is used when a corner is playing to his safety help over the top. On this play, though, the safety to Watkins’ side was late getting over. This was either a blown coverage, or the safety just didn’t get over Watkins in time. This actually might have thrown Orton off.

At the snap, Orton did what he was supposed to. He looked down the middle of the field at the safeties. He saw that the safety to Watkins’ side was between the hash marks and the numbers, which indicated that he would not be able to help overtop of Watkins. To Orton, this meant Watkins was in 1-on-1 coverage. However, it also meant that the corner would most likely be playing on top of Watkins, not allowing him to get by him into the end zone precisely because he had no help. Orton anticipated a back shoulder throw as a result. Unfortunately, Watkins was on top of the corner. There was a ton of room for an easy throw in the end zone, but Orton failed to read Watkins against the corner because it was a quick throw (remember what we said about him adjusting on the fly?). It was either that, or he severely underthrew a wide-open touchdown, which is highly unlikely. The result was an incompletion. This was really the only chance Buffalo had left in the game to take the lead.

You might remember running back Bryce Brown from two years ago when he replaced an injured LeSean McCoy in Philadelphia and had consecutive games of 160+ rushing yards and 2 touchdowns. You might also remember the fumbling problems he had. Clearly, not much has changed with Brown. He had several nice runs and receptions out of the backfield on Sunday, displaying that same playmaker-type quickness we saw two years ago. Unfortunately for Buffalo, he also fumbled the ball a yard before reaching the end zone on what would have given the Bills a 17-3 lead with 10 minutes left in the 3rd quarter. With the way their defense was playing, that might have sealed the win. Instead, the ball trickled out of the back of the end zone for a touchback. Another missed opportunity for Buffalo.

The offense wasn’t the only culprit for the Bills in this game. Leodis McKelvin fumbled a punt deep in his own territory in the 4th quarter. The Chiefs recovered at the Bills’ 26-yard line. Two plays later, Alex Smith was in the end zone for what would eventually be the game-winning touchdown.

Final Thoughts:
Whether or not the Bills are a playoff team remains to be seen. There are still seven games left. What’s clear is that they aren’t good enough to make the types of mistakes they did on Sunday and still come away with a victory. Their defense has been very good this season. If they can eliminate turnovers and capitalize when the plays are there, Buffalo has a legitimate shot of reaching the postseason. More sloppy play, on the other hand, will keep them out of the playoffs for the 15th straight season.

Posted in AFC East, Buffalo Bills | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stafford Does it Again

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is so talented, yet he hasn’t been able to refine his skills to where they should be 70 starts into his career. This might make him frustrating to watch at times, but boy does he have the ability to pull a rabbit out of a hat and steal victories at the end of games.

On Sunday against Miami, Stafford led the Lions to their third straight 4th quarter come-from-behind victory. He’s had a knack for doing this all throughout his career, including some memorable comeback wins over the Cowboys and a last second win versus the Browns when he threw the game winning touchdown one play after dislocating his shoulder.

The attributes that make Stafford unable to get to the next level as a passer (inconsistent arm angle, throwing from off-balanced positions, attempting risky throws) make him great in the final moments of a game. Stafford is able to throw from any arm angle whether on the run or under duress in the pocket. He can make throws when the play breaks down because of his arm strength. All areas of the field are available to him, and he can fit passes into extremely tiny windows, which is something you need to be able to do when teams are doing everything they can to stop the pass at the end of a game. These are all skills that are unreliable for an offense for a full 60 minutes, but the unpredictability of this style of play makes the quarterbacks who possess these skills a nightmare for defenses to stop on any one play or drive.

The luxury quarterbacking attributes are there for Stafford. He’s still searching for the necessity skills – accuracy, footwork in the pocket, managing situations. If Stafford can get closer to refining this part of his game, he has a chance to become a great quarterback.

Posted in Detroit Lions, NFC North | Tagged | Leave a comment

Dolphins vs Lions Preview

In what could be considered the surprise game of the week, the 5-3 Dolphins travel to Detroit to take on the 6-2 Lions. Both teams have been playing good football of late, and a win would put either club in great position to make a postseason run.

Lions Offense vs Dolphins Defense:
The last time the Lions played, they did not have Calvin Johnson, Reggie Bush, or their top 3 tight ends. They also didn’t have their starting right tackle LaAdrian Waddle. While the three tight ends are listed as questionable, Johnson, Bush, and Waddle will return to the lineup Sunday, which is important for an offense that has been somewhat inconsistent this season.

The inconsistency starts with quarterback Matthew Stafford. When he is seeing the field and not forcing balls, he’s as good as any quarterback in the league. When he force passes or misses throws physically, like he did all throughout the first half against Atlanta in Week 8, he can be as bad as any quarterback in the NFL. As he goes, this offense goes.

The good news for Stafford is that he’ll be getting his top target and star wide receiver Calvin Johnson back. Besides being a physical freak, Johnson draws double teams regularly, which creates 1-on-1 matchups elsewhere, and takes defenders away from helping out in the running game.

The running game will get some help with Reggie Bush back in the lineup, but the struggles in Detroit’s rushing attack have more to do with their offensive line. The O-line is not very physical or athletic. They don’t move the line of scrimmage or get to the second level. Against the Dolphins defensive line, which is one of the best in the NFL, their task of getting things going on the ground will be extremely difficult.

The Lions have had protection issues on the edge all season. Because of injuries, the right tackle position has been somewhat of a revolving door. Normal starter LaAdrian Waddle returns this week, but his task will be to stop the Dolphins’ dominant defensive end Cameron Wake. This is something that few tackles in the NFL have been able to handle this year, so Waddle will need help from his backs and tight ends chipping or staying in to double-team.

If Wake was the only defender Detroit had to worry about, they might be fine in protection. But defensive end #50 Olivier Vernon on the other side is a handful himself. He’s athletic and explosive. Left tackle Riley Reiff struggled in Week 8 against Osi Umenyiora (who has very little explosion left), so he’ll also need help in pass protection on his side. This is easier said than done because leaving blockers in or having them chip sends fewer receivers out into routes, which makes it easier to defend the passing game. Not to mention, the Dolphins interior defensive line creates plenty of issues in protection with the 1-on-1 matchups they get.

Dolphins Offense vs Lions Defense:
The Dolphins offense has significantly improved since their 1-2 start. Much of that has come from Ryan Tannehill. The 3rd-year signal caller has steadily gotten better, with the most dramatic difference being his footwork. Now, when Tannehill scans the field with his eyes, his feet go with him, and this means he’s ready to throw at all times. Tannehill has succeeded later in play on passes from the pocket more frequently as a result.

Tannehill looks right initially and his feet are pointed that way - Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Tannehill looks right initially and his feet are pointed that way – Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Tannehill then looks left and his feet follow - Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Tannehill then looks left and his feet go with him – Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Finally, Tannehill looks back to the right and his feet follow before he fires the ball for a big gain - Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Finally, Tannehill looks back to the right and his feet follow once again before he fires the ball for a big gain – Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com

Miami’s running game is built around the read-option. That’s right, the read-option; the play that quarterbacks like Cam Newton, Russell Wilson, and Colin Kaepernick seemingly used to run on every down. Most of the time, Tannehill gives the ball to his running back Lamar Miller, and Miller has found plenty of room to run based on how well his offensive line has been blocking. Several times, Tannehill has kept the ball for big chunks of yards. In case you were wondering, he has rushed for only 12 yards less than Cam Newton this season on 26 fewer carries. This has helped keep backside defenders from pursuing Miller on read-options, which creates more room for cutbacks.

The Dolphins offensive line certainly has a tall order in front of it against the Lions D-line on Sunday. Their greatest weakness is at the left guard position in backup Dallas Thomas. When Ndamukong Suh aligns over him, Thomas will need help to double-team. Detroit has a lot of speed at the linebacker position as well, which enables them to attack the line of scrimmage quickly against the run. This doesn’t give offensive linemen much time to get to the second level. Tannehill keeping the ball more often could help prevent Detroit linebackers from pursuing Lamar Miller as quickly.

Miami’s biggest mismatch piece in the passing game is tight end Charles Clay. Clay has a lot of speed and quickness for a tight end, and the Dolphins have done a great job of isolating him 1-on-1 with linebackers. However, with the speed Detroit has at the linebacker position, they might be able to match up well with Clay. They Lions also play lots of 2-man coverage. This means man coverage underneath with 2 safeties over the top. In 2-man, the underneath defenders play between the receivers and the quarterback, in effect trailing their respective receivers knowing that they have safety help over the top. Receivers then have to work across the field with horizontal routes to get open. Yet, horizontal routes are exactly what these trailing underneath defenders are ready to try and take away. The Lions’ use of 2-man might help neutralize Clay’s effect. Expect this look in 3rd down situations on Sunday.

Ultimately, this is an interesting matchup between two teams playing really good football right now. Two of the league’s top defenses should help keep this game close.

Posted in AFC East, Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins, NFC North | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment