Adrian Clayborn dominated the Dallas Cowboys

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

“I only have one move and it worked,” Atlanta Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after six sacks during the Falcons huge 27-7 victory against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

Clayborn became the first player in Falcons history to record six sacks in a single game. Nearly all of his sacks all came in similar fashion, just as he admitted after the game.

On every one of those four sacks, he did the same thing. He used a bull rush while also using his hands to counter the punch of the tackle in front of him. The offensive linemen gave him little trouble, and he might as well had not even been there on a few of these plays.

Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith missed the game with a groin injury and an offensive line that is known to be among the elite in the league were forced to start Chaz Green.

Green was entirely outmatched by the Falcons defensive end and got worked all day. He was eventually benched for Byron Bell in what Troy Aikman referred to as one of the worst performances he had ever seen from an NFL player. Even against the worst of opposition, netting six sacks is still a near impossible feat, though, especially when the quarterback is as mobile as Dak Prescott.

While his sacks did show up on the stat sheet, some of his contributions Sunday won’t show up in the box score. Clayborn easily could have had three or four more sacks if he had just been a second faster or Prescott a second slower.

He consistently got to Prescott and managed to disrupt his passes. On one of those plays Clayborn even forced Prescott into an interception (it was called back because Vic Beasley was offsides on the other side of the play).

Two of his sacks really stood out, though, and did not come as easy as the rest of them. This second quarter sack saw him come out of coverage to take down Prescott.

Clayborn is lined up as a nickel corner almost on this play. He drops back into zone coverage as the tight end in front of him runs a crossing route. He stays back as a QB spy as the play develops. Beasley (No. 44) beats the Cowboys right tackle and forces Prescott to bail out of the pocket. The quarterback steps up into the pocket and tries to scramble. Clayborn stays disciplined and does not fall for his pump fake and takes down Prescott at the line of scrimmage for a sack.

His first of his two strip sacks of the day was the only one of his sacks where he showed a move other than “counter bull rush around the edge.”

Clayborn comes from his wide position and builds up speed to crash into the tackle hard on the edge. He begins a bull rush to get through him and eventually gets inside leverage. He uses a spin move to break free of the block and get inside. Clayborn gets to the quarterback and snatches the ball away from him.

Prescott was tormented all day by the Falcons pass rush, but he was able to counter punch a few times. He is great on his feet and would occasionally take advantage of how quickly the rush would get into the backfield. Similar to how screen passes work against a team that blitzes heavily when your edge rushers are able to burst into the backfield with ease it leaves the edge without any sort of contain.

On this play, both Beasley and Clayborn quickly and easily beat the tackle they are taking on and sandwich Prescott in the pocket. The quarterback manages to escape them for a moment though. Since nobody is near the line of scrimmage anymore, and there is not QB spy Prescott has a wide-open running lane to take off.

Prescott had six rushing attempts on the day, one of the highest totals of his career. Five of the six of his rushes were not designed and were just passing plays where he bailed out of the pocket. He seemed gassed at one point, and there was one play towards the end of the first half where he practically walked the ball out of bounds.

Clayborn’ssix-sackk day was incredible, especially so when you realize that he has been a below average pass rusher at best the past few seasons. His big day was more of a failure of the Cowboys than his amazing play, though.

Dallas must figure out how to fix this issue, though. They take on the Philadelphia Eagles and their powerful front seven next week. Smith will most likely miss another game, and neither Green nor Bell looked good enough to handle the duties at left tackle last Sunday. They need to change their pass protection scheme to better protect Dak and give more help. Whether it is lining up tight ends on that side and keeping them back for protection, or just leaving your running backs in the backfield to block they need to provide more help for their left tackle.

 

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Feature: Nelson Agholor is an absolute star

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Nelson Agholor; the fall and rise of the NFL’s next star

Features, Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

It was a cloudy day in Seattle when the Philadelphia Eagles visited Century Link Field in November of 2016. The Eagles had their offensive struggles early in the game and trailed by 9 in the later stages of the first half. Quarterback Carson Wentz led his offense back onto the field with just under four minutes to play with a chance to slice into the deficit before the half.

Wentz wanted to take a shot downfield on the first play of the drive and spotted wide receiver Nelson Agholor open over the middle on a hitch route. Agholor gained separation from his corner Richard Sherman with a crisp route and was in perfect position to make a huge catch and run that would get the Eagles into field goal range in just one play. Wentz rifled the ball over the middle right into the hands of his receiver. The ball bounced right off of both of Agholor’s hands and harmlessly fell to the ground behind him.

Agholor slammed both of his heads on his head in anguish and looked down towards his own feet for a moment. Sherman picked up the ball behind him and approached him after his drop, while safety Kam Chancellor got in his face and mockingly gave him a round of applause as he jogged back to the huddle.

A familiar scene replayed itself for Eagles fans. Their first round selection from only two years before had still not amounted to much. His agility and route running left him wide open on a lot of plays, but it did not matter if he could not bring down simple catches.

The young receiver’s confidence had eroded and he was the target of much of the fans frustration as the season went on. Agholor would end the game in Seattle with 0 receptions on 3 targets as the Eagles lost an ugly game on the west coast. They fell to 5-5 on the season and while still in the thick of the NFC playoff race their season felt all but over. After a surprise 3-0 start they had lost three of their last four. This game would be the first of what would eventually become a five game losing streak.

Philadelphia had one of the worst receiving corps in the league and Agholor made an easy scapegoat for the Eagles struggles. He was yet to have sort of success at the pro level and was in the midst of what was yet again an extremely disappointing season. Drops still plagued his game and it looked like he would never reach his true potential. Fans wanted to run him out of town. Despite everything though, the Eagles coaching staff still showed confidence in Agholor hoping that one day their investment in him would finally be returned.


When the Eagles drafted Agholor in the first round of the 2015 draft they were in the middle of what was a total overhaul of their offense. Chip Kelly had taken full reigns of the franchise a few years earlier and shocked the NFL by trading away LeSean McCoy and allowing Jeremy Maclin to walk in free agency.

The moves were unsettling and disrupted the path of what was one of the rising teams in the league. Nick Foles had grown into the starting quarterback role after replacing Mike Vick and had potential to lead the franchise. He then took an enormous step back in 2014 and could barely stay on the field. They had consecutive 10 win seasons, and even won their division in 2013 before narrowly missing the postseason in 2014.

Philadelphia tried to rebuild fast. They dealt Foles to St. Louis for former top overall pick Sam Bradford. Agholor joined young, budding receiver, Jordan Matthews alongside Riley Cooper. They also added veteran Miles Austin to hopefully provide Bradford a steady, reliable, target. DeMarco Murray, the 2014 NFL rushing champion, was signed from the Cowboys to replace McCoy.

Despite having lost some of their most talented skill position players, the Eagles had built what was, on paper, a great offense.

Unfortunately, their strength on paper did not translate on to the field.

Matthews was impressive, and tight end Zach Ertz was, as always, one of the team’s top receivers. The DeMarco Murray experiment was a remarkable failure andd he did not even break 400 yards on the season. Cooper’s production had entirely fallen off and Austin had lost a step after years in the NFL. Bradford was inconsistent, and the Eagles struggled to a 7-9 record as they watched the Washington Redskins come from beneath them to win the worst division in the NFL.

And then there was Agholor. The 20th overall pick started as a wide receiver #2 in his rookie season. His production was underwhelming, though. He only caught 23 of his 44 targets and finished short of 300 yards. He only found the end zone once. Drops haunted him and many were calling for his head already only a year into his short career.

Judging a player by their rookie year is unfair, but Agholor was shockingly bad. The USC product was one of the best receivers in the history of the storied college program. He became only the sixth Trojan in school history to eclipse 1,300 receiving yards in a single season and ranked 12th all-time in career receiving yards.

The former Trojan was an exciting prospect at Southern Cal. He is an athletic freak with a high football IQ. The receiver is shifty and agile, and he is great at beating defenders on his first step. Agholor is a precise route runner but lacks speed. His skill set pigeonholes him as a slot receiver. Matthews, who the Eagles drafted a year before Agholor in the second round, already occupied the slot for Philadelphia.

Matthews had already solidified his role in the offense and was not going to move aside for Agholor. He was the team’s most productive receiver in his first two seasons. Just like Agholor, he had struggles dropping passes, but he was still the team’s number one guy.

2016 was a rebuilding year for the Eagles. Kelly was fired and replaced by Doug Pederson. They made a huge trade up to second overall in the draft to select Carson Wentz out of North Dakota and dealt Bradford over to Minnesota. Linebacker Kiko Alonso and corner Byron Maxwell were sent to Miami as well. The Eagles third trade of that Summer may have put Agholor’s job in danger. Titans receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who was drafted in the second round in 2015, was acquired by Philadelphia. Beckham had a standout rookie year but lack of effort had him in danger of being released during the Titans training camp. The Eagles were betting on a change of scenery inspiring him to build on his rookie year.

Unlike Agholor, Beckham is naturally a split receiver. Matthews was not going anywhere soon and Beckham fills the same role out wide that Agholor does. With a new man under center, Philadelphia was also looking at a few new options for Wentz to throw to. Despite only being in his second season Agholor was already a man on the hot seat.

The Eagles got off to a hot 3-0 start and Carson Wentz looked like a revelation in Philadelphia. They ended up faltering down the stretch, though, and Wentz only got worse and worse as the season went on. They finished 2017 at 7-9 yet again and fans were ready to run half of the roster out of town. Ertz was as good as ever still and Matthews, while still plagued by drops, was still far and away the most productive receiver on the roster.

Agholor was benched by the Eagles for their game against the Green Bay Packers and the writing was seemingly on the wall for him.

“Seeing the game…seeing it differently” is the reason head coach Doug Pederson gave reporters for the receivers benching. Pederson was always a vocal supporter of the receiver, but benching Agholor made many believe that the second-year player had already lost the faith of his most important believer.

Agholor disappointed again. He finished below 400 yards despite starting for the majority of the season. He only scored two touchdowns and only caught 36 of his 69 targets. Drops still haunted him and after only two years he was already being labeled a bust by many. One respite for him was that Green-Beckham was also absolutely awful.

“I just have to get out of my own head. I’m pressing so much and worried about so many things,” Agholor told reporters after the game in Seattle. “I’m thinking too much and so worried and it’s such a selfish thing that I need to stop. I need to give my energy to my teammates and this organization and not myself and feeling so pressured to make every single thing. Just have fun.”

All of the talent in the world can mean nothing for a player who has seemingly lost all confidence in himself. Pederson continued to prop up the youngster, but when the 2016 season came to a close the future seemed bleak.

“I’m just going to grind and come back better than I left. That’s my mindset. Whatever happens, happens. What I know is that I’m coming in ready to compete. Nothing is mine. Nothing in this world is yours. I’m going to come in here and compete, work for it and you have to compete for it. That’s my mindset.” Those were Agholor’s final words to reporters after leaving the Eagles locker room at the conclusion of the 2016 season. He was fully aware of the position he was in on Philadelphia’s roster.


Wide receiver was the biggest need on the Eagles roster entering the 2017 offseason. They were linked with nearly every free agent wideout as they were in dire need of reliable targets to help Wentz’s development.

They first signed Torrey Smith. Smith was a member of the 2013 Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens and had made his name as the primary deep threat for the big arm of Joe Flacco. Injuries had slowed him down a bit and he was coming off a down year in San Francisco. He was a cut by the 49ers to clear cap space for their potential rebuild but found a home in Philly. The move was just as big as it was for Smith as it was for the Eagles. It allowed the receiver a chance to get his career back on track with one of the NFL’s budding stars at quarterback. Wentz for the first time in his career would have an established veteran wide receiver to throw too.

Hours later the Eagles inked a deal with their prized signing of the 2017 offseason, bringing in Alshon Jeffery from the Chicago Bears. Jeffery would instantly step in as the team’s top receiver.

The two signings shifted the Eagles receiving corps from the bottom of the league to among the elite. Jeffery would be the WR1, Smith would serve as a deep threat. Matthews would be allowed to stay in the slot where he feels most comfortable. Fourth round pick Mack Hollins would be able to develop behind the talented group of veterans in front of him.

Agholor was seemingly the odd man out.

He knew his road to the final roster was not going to be as simple as it was in the past, and even if he made the roster his role was set to be significantly reduced. Drops were still his biggest issues and he went to work during OTA’s. The receiver began to chart his own drops in practice and caught hundreds of extra passes out of the JUG machine to work on his hands.

“It’s one thing to catch off the JUGS all the time, but then that’s not the same as coming out of an out route, or coming back on a curl or catching contested balls,” Agholor told reporters when asked about a personal JUG machine he had bought for home use. “So you catch from quarterback some, you can from the JUGS some, and you just train game-like situations, because that’s the most important thing.”

“When you’re throwing the football, I try to pluck ’em. If it happens, don’t worry about it in practice, catch the next one and keep working. When you come home, you watch the film, you remind yourself … you figure out what happened there and you get better from there.”


On an August morning in northwest New York the Buffalo Bills were putting together a few moves that could alter their franchise. General Manager Brandon Beane had just been hired a few months earlier from the Carolina Panthers. He was brought in after both the NFL draft and free agency meaning the roster he was working with was not at all his creation.

The Bills have been the league’s worst franchises for over a decade now. They have not played in the postseason since 1999 and Beane was put in charge of building the roster to get them there. Former first round receiver Sammy Watkins was heading into a contract season after the Bills did not pick up his rookie option. He clearly was not in the team’s future plans but still carried trade value. Cornerback Ronald Darby stepped back in 2016, but still had talent that another team could put to use.

Buffalo was desperate to put together a balanced offense around quarterback Tyrod Taylor. They still had McCoy from the trade with the Eagles a few years back and he was still the only reliable skill player surrounding Taylor.

Beane made two huge moves in quick succession. He first dealt Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams. In order to replace the team’s top receiver, he reached out to Eagles GM Howie Roseman. The Eagles were in desperate need of a talented defensive back and had a surplus of receivers on their hands. Roseman has never shied away from being active in the trade market and shocked the league when he chose to deal Jordan Matthews to the Bills for a package that brought Darby to Philly.

The move came out of nowhere and took the entire locker room by surprise. Matthews was a favorite among teammates and fans, and suddenly weeks before the beginning of a new season, his presence was lost.

Ertz compared the loss of Matthew to equivalent of “[losing] a brother” and Wentz seemed to take it especially hard.

“This is my first time experiencing this with someone that’s one of my best friends. Seeing him yesterday, it’s tough on him, too. It’s kind of out of the blue” said Wentz while walking off the field the at the next practice.

The trade that came seemingly out of nowhere proved the faith the Pederson and the rest of the Eagles coaching staff had in Agholor all along. With Matthews out of the way, Agholor was thrust in as the team’s new slot receiver, a position he always favored. A player struggling with confidence had just received the ultimate show of support from his organization, and the Eagles were betting on him to finally have his break out season.


“Going back to the offseason, I just saw a more confident player”

That’s what Wentz said of Agholor when asked about the receiver after the Eagles season opener against the Washington Redskins.

Agholor played his first game as Philadelphia’s full time slot receiver and it was the best game of his career to that point. He posted a career high 86 yards on six receptions. He did not drop any of his eight targets and was beaming with confidence.

Now wearing 13 after giving up number 17 to Jeffery, Agholor looked like a new man. He and Wentz hooked up for what might be the most impressive touchdown on the NFL season in the first quarter.

Agholor comes out of the slot and runs a deep route over the middle. He grabs the attention of three separate defensive backs at one point. Wentz turns into the offspring of Houdini and Michael Vick for a split moment as he deke’s and dodges potential sacks in the backfield. He rolls out of the pocket and scans the field in front of him. Agholor does an amazing job improvising on the play. The defensive backs get caught staring into the backfield, watching Wentz’s impressive feat as if they are deer caught in headlights. The receiver slips away and gets wide open near the sideline. Wentz rifles the ball his way, he makes the catch on a slightly off-target ball, breaks a tackle and waltzes into the end zone.

This was the perfect start to a new NFL season and a sign of what was to come from both Wentz and Agholor.

Wentz has put together an MVP caliber season to this point and Agholor has been a huge part of his success. Philadelphia enters their week 10 bye at an NFL best 8-1 and just hung 50 points on the Denver Broncos top ranked defense.

Through nine games so far this season Agholor has 29 receptions for 428 yards and five touchdowns. All of those are career highs.

Not on pace for career highs but literally his career high only nine games into the season.

Jeffery and Smith demanded most of the headlines heading into the season. Ertz is still just as good as ever. Adding an impressive Agholor to the fray makes the Eagles an impossible offense to shut down. There is no other team with a group as receivers as good and consistent as the Philadelphia Eagles and suddenly Wentz is the MVP frontrunner and the Eagles are Super Bowl favorites heading into the second half of the season.

Agholor has been more targeted than Smith so far and is the most efficient receiver on the roster to this point. His 2017 season has actually been the most efficient of any receiver the Eagles have had in the past three years.

Player Games Targets Receptions Yards Yards/G
Agholor (’15-’16) 28 113 59 648 23.14
Agholor (’17) 9 42 29 428 47.56
Matthews (’15-’16) 30 243 158 1801 60.33
Jeffery (’17) 9 73 34 500 55.56
Smith (’17) 9 29 15 221 24.55
Ertz (’15-’17) 37 282 196 2197 59.38
Player Tgt/G Rec/G Yds/Tgt Yds/Rec Catch %
Agholor (’15-’16) 4.04 2.11 5.73 10.98 52
Agholor (’17) 4.67 3.22 10.19 14.76 69
Matthews (’15-’16) 8.11 5.27 7.41 11.4 65
Jeffery (’17) 8.11 3.78 6.84 14.71 47
Smith (’17) 3.22 1.67 7.62 14.73 52
Ertz (’15-’17) 7.62 5.3 7.79 11.21 70

He is averaging more yards per target than any of the other receivers by far, and his catch percentage in 2017 is also among the best. He is nearly averaging the same number of targets he was receiving in the past, but he is doing much more with them. Matthews was still a larger part of the offense the past two years that Agholor is now, but Matthews was the team’s primary target and was not lining up alongside Jeffery and Smith.

His efficiency in 2017 looks even more impressive when you compare him to some of the top slot receivers around the NFL.

Player Tgt/G Rec/G Yds/Tgt Yds/Rec Catch %
Agholor 4.67 3.22 10.19 14.76 69
Cole Beasley 4.63 2.75 4.46 7.5 59
Jarvis Landry 10.88 7.38 4.94 7.68 64
Doug Baldwin 8.78 6 8.01 11.72 68
Larry Fitzgerald 9.78 6.67 7.69 11.28 68
Matthews 4 3 8.54 11.38 75

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All numbers recorded prior to week 10

While Landry, Baldwin and Fitzgerald serve as their team’s primary receiver, meaning their efficiency numbers will falter based off of pure volume. Cole Beasley, who plays second fiddle to Dez Bryant in Dallas, is the closest comparison to Agholor. They average the same amount of targets per game yet Agholor doubles him in both yards per target and yards per reception.

The reason for this disparity is because of the interesting skill set Agholor brings out of the slot. While the likes of Beasley, Landry and Fitzgerald focus more on shorter slant routes, drag routes and other routes right around the line of scrimmage, Agholor does this:

The receiver is a threat to beat you deep on every play. This forces slot corners and linebackers that may be covering him in man coverage to have to deal with a  player with a skill set they may not usually be accustomed too. His crisp route running and agility allow him to quickly get separation, and Wentz’s great field awareness and accuracy get the ball in his hands the split second he gets open.

His elegant route running and ability to seemingly always get open is why Pederson and the rest of the Eagles staff were willing to deal with his struggles the past few seasons. Everyone along the line knew that Agholor would be a star if only he could catch the ball. Now that he is actually catching the ball, he has developed into possibly the best slot receiver in the league.

One way to cover up potential deficiencies in man coverage is to play zone coverage instead. When you drop back into zone you assign your linebackers to smother Agholor in case he goes shallow while the safeties will be able to pick him up when he runs deep instead.

Agholor is an incredible zone buster, though. He knows how to read zone coverage and exploit the gaps between them. He is a high IQ player, and sometimes will even stay in place and just allow the zones to shift around him. The receiver often seems a second ahead of the rest of the field and has a knack to always be in the one place where a defender isn’t when faced with a zone scheme.

He does still have off days, though. If the receiver can not gain separation then he disappears from games. Agholor has finally nailed down how to catch passes when wide open, but still struggles at the point of attack when covered.

The Kansas City Chiefs did a great job smothering him in man coverage when they met the Eagles in week 2. Agholor only had 3 targets on the day, and his one catch (for a touchdown) came on the Eagles final offensive play when the game was already out of reach. The Chiefs did a great job holding him in check and he just could not get going.

Agholor is not the biggest or strongest receiver and probably never will be. His hands have always been the thing that held him back most over the years and he may never develop into an Odell Beckham, Dez Bryant or Marvin Jones type player that can seemingly always snag the ball out of the air.

His improvements between 2016 and 2017 are drastic though. He has gotten faster and looks more confident in himself attacking defenses. Drops that plagued him in the past are now few and far between.

“This offseason, I just worked on my conditioning and worked on my speed, which is one of my strengths. I used using that to help the rest of my game,” Agholor said when asked about reducing the amount of passes he has dropped after the Eagles game against the Arizona Cardinals. “Speed is something to put people off balance, and when you match that with technique, it gives more separation so you can frame the ball better and it is easier on you.”

Agholor will continue working hard and should only get better as the year, and the seasons down the line, pass. He knows better than anyone how quickly a fan base can turn on you after a few bad games. His meteoritic rise has made him into one of the NFL’s stars and one of the underappreciated pieces of an Eagles team with Super Bowl aspirations.

 

 

 

 

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Marshon Lattimore vs Mike Evans; the rookie has made his mark

Game Film, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

Marshon Lattimore has quietly been one of the most impactful players in the NFL this season. The rookie has been a leader of the New Orleans Saints defense that finally looks competent, if not good, half way through the season. The eleventh overall pick in last spring’s draft has quickly developed into a shut down corner, and seems to be overflowing with confidence only months into his NFL career.

The Ohio State product was matched up against Mike Evans during the Saints game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Sunday. Evans is one of the most talented receivers in the league. His 6’5, 225 lb frame make him a match up nightmare, but it was more of a pleasant dream for Lattimore.

Evans was held to 13 yards on only one reception on six targets. It was one of the worst games of his career and he spent much of it across from the rookie. Lattimore dominated his opponent and had the better of him on nearly every snap they were across from each other. The defensive back got into Evans head and the tension between them even reached a boiling point in the third quarter.

Evans was somehow not ejected for that hit after the play. It did reveal that he had allowed Lattimore into his head, though, and for good reason.

The two were involved in a physical battle all night. These advantages usually heavily favor Evans and his gigantic frame, but Lattimore managed to fight back to keep him check. On this second quarter play, Evans tried to use his arms and long wingspan to push his man off, but failed.

Lattimore is lined up in press coverage across from Evans like he did for much of the game. Evans comes off of the line and instantly jabs at the corner. Lattimore jabs back and stays in position as the two run downfield. They continue to jab back at each other as the play goes on, even after the ball is thrown.

Physicality isn’t all that Evans brings to the table, though. He is a pretty good route runner, and surprisingly agile for a man of his size. Lattimore almost always had enough to keep up with him, though, including this play later in the quarter.

On this play Evans is quarterback Jameis Winston’s first read. Lattimore lines up in press coverage and give Evans outside leverage presnap. Evans initially deke’s inside off of the snap, the breaks outside. Lattimore quickly jumps outside and path’s behind Evans well. Even though Evans has a step on his man nearly the entire route, there is never a moment when Lattimore is not standing in the throwing lane. The pass rush reaches the quarterback and Winston uses his feet to extend the play. Lattimore stays in front of his man the entire way and absolutely blankets Evans and Winston rolls in their direction. Unfortunately, the rush never reaches Winston, and he is able to get back to the other side of the field and complete an outlet pass for a decent gain.

Lattimore shows excellent discipline for a rookie. He does not bite on double moves, and he plays to the whistle. He understands how to block off a quarterback’s opportunity to throw even when his man is ahead of him. It is hard to beat him off the snap, and even when you do he has the speed and football IQ to blanket you anyways.

Evans tried to beat Lattimore’s press coverage with a double move again on this third quarter play, and it went even worse for him.

The receiver tries to use a hesitation before a double move to throw off Lattimore here. The defensive back plants his feet and just watches him, though. He reads Evans as he breaks outside, and they push off on each other as they run down field. Evans takes one last ditch effort to fling Lattimore away, but he holds on as the ball is thrown the other direction.

Lattimore did a great job making sure that the ball did not go Evans way, but even when he was targeted he managed to keep the ball out of Evans hand.

Evans runs a vertical route on this play. Off the snap he uses a double move to capitalize on the inside leverage Lattimore was already giving him, then broke towards the inside before turning upfield. The safety on that side of the field was drawn upfield by the running back on a shallower route, leaving them one on one heading towards the end zone. Lattimore does a good job holding on to Evans to keep up with him without doing enough to draw a penalty. The corner never has a chance to get his head around and Ryan Fitzpatrick lets it fly towards his receiver. The ball is slightly underthrown and a little off target, but it is still one that Evans had a really good chance at. Lattimore does a good job reading the eyes of his man, though, and gets a hand up to break it up at the last second.

Evans did get the better of Lattimore once, though. His only reception of the day came on a play where the rookie was absolutely beaten.

Evans slowly treads upfield and hesitates on his double move. Lattimore gets his feet lost for a second and has his hips turned the wrong way. Evans breaks back towards the inside wide open for a 13 yard catch.

This was literally the only bad play I could find from Lattimore while watching film from this game, which is extremely impressive for a rookie against one of the NFL’s best.

The Saints have raced out to surprise 6-2 record halfway through the season and are in pole position to win a tough NFC South. Their offense has always been great, and the defense that has held them back for years has finally gotten its act together. Lattimore may be the most important piece to this new formed New Orleans defense, and he could be a huge part of a Saints playoff run this winter.

 

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Kevin Byard essentially won the Titans the game on Sunday

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

Kevin Byard had the game of his life last Sunday when the Tennessee Titans met the Cleveland Browns. The AFC defensive player of the week was the deciding factor for the Titans as they won a 12-9 snooze fest against possibly the NFL’s worst team. The second year safety out of Middle Tennessee State intercepted three passes and was the most important player in the Titans defense that did not allow a touchdown last week.

Byard had only had one career interception before this game. He became the eighth player in franchise history to intercept three passes in a single game, and the first to accomplish this feat since Keith Bulluck in 2007.

The safety ended back to back drives for the Browns by intercepting quarterback Deshone Kizer. Kizer would eventually be benched for Cody Kessler, and Byard intercepted him too.

His first interception of the day came while the Titans were playing cover-2 man on first down as the Browns drove downfield.

Cleveland lines up with two receivers lined up to the right of Kizer and one towards his left. The two split wide receivers both run vertical routes against one on one man coverage. The linebackers stay underneath covering more shallower zones, and the entire Titans defense stays disciplined as Cleveland runs a play action. The Browns designed this play for the two peripheral receivers to draw the attention of the two deep safeties, allowing Rashard Higgins single coverage over the middle of the field with no safety help over the top. Higgins does a great job gaining separation from his defender and should have gotten open for a deep completion. Kizer overthrows his man though, and Byard jumps into action. The quarterback lets the ball sail on him and Byard in is perfect position to intercept the pass

This was also a failure of the Browns offense. Both of the Browns receivers on that side of the field ran routes into the exact same spot, allowing Byard to put himself in a position to make a play on both in case the ball was thrown in either of their direction.

His second interception of the day came on the Browns next possession in much different fashion.

Byard was lined up as a slot corner up close to the line of scrimmage. He picks up a winged tight end out of the backfield. The Titans show man coverage pre-snap with only one deep safety. Da’Norris Searcy (No. 21) is lined up as a deep safety, while Logan Ryan (No. 26) lines up across from receiver Bryce Treggs (No. 11). Ryan drops deep back to play as a deep safety while Searcy switches with him and comes forward to pick up Treggs on a deep crossing route.

Searcy is a little late getting to Treggs though, as his first few steps are backward. As Kizer rolls out of the pocket he spots Treggs running free between the layers of the defense. Byard reads the quarterback, though, and jumps off his shallower man to Treggs as the ball is thrown. He makes an athletic catch jumping backward and snags his second interception of the day.

Byard’s third interception came in the fourth quarter and helped the Titans protect a slim three-point lead.

Kessler has now entered the game for Kizer at this point as the Browns yet again made a change at quarterback. Cleveland lines up three wide, with tight end David Njoku running a route as well. They run a four verts play, and the speedy Njoku is able to get a step on the linebacker that picked him up in man coverage. The Titans are in cover 2 man, with Byard as one of the safeties in a deep zone. Kessler tries to fit a pass over the top to Njoku, but it’s terrible. It’s a slow pass, telegraphed by the quarterback before he threw it. Both of the Titans deep safeties read Kessler like a book and spring into action. The overthrown ball is intercepted in what was essentially a punt by the Browns offense. Even if the pass was on target, Njoku most likely would not have come down with it as there were three different defenders in position to land a hit on him.

Cleveland’s quarterbacks made it easy for him, but Byard essentially won the Titans the game. Tennessee’s offense was ineffective and practically useless all game, and had Byard not come down with these three turnovers, the Browns may have walked off the field with their first win Sunday.

 

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How Amari Cooper torched the Chiefs

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

Amari Cooper has emerged as one of the NFL’s most talented receivers over the past few years. The Alabama product was a huge part of the Oakland Raiders team last year that took the franchise to the post season for the first time since 2002. He eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in both of his first two NFL seasons and Oakland believed they had the perfect target for quarterback Derek Carr for possibly the next decade.

This made his awful start to the 2017 season surprising and extremely worrying for Raiders fans. Through the first six games of the season Cooper only caught 18 passes on 39 targets for 146 yards and a touchdown. His usually great hands went missing and he seemed entirely lost when running routes at times. He just could not get going, and the Raiders offense as a unit struggled as they dropped four straight games as started the season 2-4.

Kansas City has always been a tough match up for Cooper and the Raiders. Oakland had lost five straight against the Chiefs entering Thursday’s match up and Carr had a few of the worst games of his career against his division rival twice last season. The Raiders were ice cold entering a game against arguably the NFL’s best team, and one they have always had trouble with.

The deck was stacked against them but Oakland, and specifically Cooper, delivered.

Cooper caught 11 passes on 19 targets for 210 yards and two touchdowns. He was more productive Thursday then the rest of this season combined. He set career highs in receiving yards and targets, and reached his second highest reception total of his career. Cooper became only the second receiver in franchise history to eclipse 200 yards in a single game – Art Powell did it twice in the 1960’s – and set the second highest receiving total in Raiders history.

Oakland got off to a fast start against the Chiefs and much of it was due to Cooper. He already had two touchdowns and nearly 100 yards by the end of the first quarter. 45 yards came on this long touchdown catch and run.

Kansas City drops back into a cover three zone look. Cooper runs a deep crossing route across the zone coverage. His route is a little to deep for the linebackers, and the safeties get caught following a deeper hitch. The Chiefs free safety is way out of position and neither linebacker realizes that Cooper has gotten behind them until it’s too late. One of the Chiefs linebackers attempts to undercut the pass by Carr, but his failure to do so removes him from the play. Cooper turns on the jets and turns the corner on the sideline. He gets a good block downfield and takes it in for his second touchdown of the game.

Cooper’s great route running and field awareness make him a great zone buster. He has the ability to read the formation that the defense is giving him and react accordingly. He knows how to find the soft spots in an opponent’s zone and exploit them for huge gains.

Along with his crisp route running, Cooper has a 6’1 frame with a great catch radius. He usually has great hands and is agile enough to beat defensive backs on double moves. This also makes him a threat in man coverage.

On this play Cooper is split out wide in one on one coverage against Terrance Mitchell (No. 39). He goes for a quick stutter step off of the snap to get a step on his man and throw him off balance. He gets outside leverage with ease, and after a slight push off runs a quick comeback route back towards the sideline. Cooper makes a great catch and shoves off a tackle. He runs back through the middle of the field and dekes tacklers until Mitchell finally recovers to bring him down. This play would jump start the Raiders game winning drive, which we will return to later.

The receiver’s ability to beat a man in press coverage off of the line of scrimmage combined with his open field route running make him a huge problem for the Chiefs defense. Kansas City runs a lot of cover 2-man defense with two deep safeties. There linebackers were usually sent as pass rushers or covered shallower receivers running routes around the sideline. This left Cooper way too much room to operate, and he burned them.

On this play the Chiefs are running a cover-1 robber play with man coverage underneath. Cooper is lines up against press single coverage with corner Phillip Gaines (No. 23) across from him. The receiver takes his first few steps towards the outside then breaks inside. This leaves Gaines off balance and allows Cooper to get inside of him. The linebackers are both occupied as well. The Chiefs strongside linebacker is sitting underneath as a QB spy while the weakside linebacker is looking to pick up the running back out of the backfield. The Raiders running back stays back to block, and the defender is too late to adjust. Kansas City’s strong safety spots Cooper but the receiver has already found a sweet spot between zones. Carr fires a laser towards his receiver for a decent pick up and a first down.

The Chiefs left the middle of the field wide open for Cooper way to often and it ended up costing them the game. With only minutes to play and the Raiders trailing by six, Oakland had the ball and a chance to drive down the game and win it. Carr and Cooper linked up twice for huge against to set up the game winning touchdown. The first time was the catch above, they almost linked up for a second huge gain immediately after.

Cooper is lined up against Mitchell in single coverage. Kansas City is in prevent defense and yet again run cover 2-man. The safeties are both way to deep downfield and there is not a single defender patrolling the middle. They have way to much faith in Mitchell to cover Cooper and it backfires. Cooper yet again burns his opponent with a great move at the line of scrimmage. He heads inside, but as Mitchell recovers he uses his momentum against him and breaks back outside. This leaves Mitchell way behind his man. Cooper finds a spot between the two safeties and is wide open. Carr throws a pass that is a little low and Cooper drops it. It hit’s the receiver in the hands and definitely was a catchable pass, though.

It ended in an incompletion, but the play worked just as it was designed. Oakland decided to go right back to it on the next snap.

Backed up by a penalty, Oakland needed something big to get moving downfield. Yet again Cooper is in single coverage against a cover 2-man look and yet again he torches his defender. He gets spotted by one of the deep safeties who comes up to cover him, but a good hesitation and change of direction sends the defensive backs momentum the wrong way. He makes a cut on a dime, and Carr gets him the ball before the other safety can come up and cover him. Cooper makes a 39 yard catch and gets the Raiders into Chiefs territory.

The entire point of playing prevent defense is to give up short underneath routes over the middle while avoiding chunk yardage by the opponents. Giving them short passes over the middle forces an opponent to waste time or use time outs whenever they complete a pass despite not gaining many yards. Continuously letting Cooper get behind you so easily, though, kills the entire point. Letting the Raiders get these huge chunk plays gave the Raiders more leeway for mistakes and incomplete pass later on in the drive. As we learned at the end of the game, Oakland needed every second and then some to eventually score.

Cooper would end the day with a historic performance, but it could have been an even bigger day had he not made a mistake in the 2nd quarter.

On this play Cooper runs a deep crossing route. The Chiefs drop into cover-4. Cooper is picked up by a deep safety. One of the dangers of deep crossing routes against zone coverage is that communication becomes key for the opposing defensive backs. They have to properly transfer a player that is moving between zones, while also being aware of what the other receivers are up to. The Chiefs safeties get lost staring at each other for a moment as they both expect the other to pick up Cooper deep. The receiver torches them both and breaks free down the sideline towards the end zone.  It looks like Cooper loses track of the ball for a second though and pulls up at the sideline. He ends up a little short of what would have been a touchdown pass, and almost allows it to be intercepted.

The Raiders star receiver seems to have finally found his groove in 2017 and that unlocks more of their struggling offense. His big game can partly be attributed to bad coverage scheming by Kansas City, but this game should at least reinstall confidence in Cooper. Oakland hopes to be in the thick of the playoff hunt this season but they are already a step behind much of their competition. Finally getting Cooper going, though, will help them close the gap.

 

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Mitch Trubisky shows his potential in first NFL victory

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

The Chicago Bears made an interesting choice last spring when they traded multiple draft picks to move up one spot in the NFL draft and select quarterback Mitch Trubisky out of North Carolina second overall. The rookie sat behind Mike Glennon to open the season in Chicago, but was finally given the nod to start in week 5 against the Minnesota Vikings. Chicago lost in what was a sloppy game on Monday Night Football, but Trubisky actually looked in control of the offense. In his second game in week six against the Baltimore Ravens, he won his first career NFL game as the Bears pulled off an upset in overtime.

John Fox and the Bears coaching staff have put a leash on Trubisky. They are limiting his pass attempts for the most part and putting the load on the stellar, young, running back duo of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. He threw the ball 16 times on Sunday, completing 8 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown.

Bears fans would obviously love to see their rookie unleashed more often in the Bears offense, but he is being limited for a reason.

Only two games into his career he still makes many of the errors that you would expect from a rookie quarterback. His decision making is questionable sometimes and he sometimes shows a lack of confidence in himself to make throws. His accuracy also fails him at times.

His lack of awareness led to a costly strip sack on this play in the fourth quarter against the Ravens.

Trubisky takes the snap and drops back to pass. He should see the blitz coming as a free Ravens rusher comes in from the secondary. He does not seem to react though. The Bears guard could have done a much better job picking up the blitz but Trubisky cannot be rooted in place if he see’s someone coming towards him. He had a receiver in space on each side of the field, and he was staring at his running back who ran an out route on the play as the hit came in.

The rookie should have maneuvered in the pocket to avoid the rush. If he did not feel like he had space then he should have thrown the ball to his man, open in space, who is breaking off on his route. At worst, he should at least have thrown the ball at his receivers feet to live to fight another down. He held onto the ball for too long and it almost let the Ravens take the lead on the other end.

On this play in overtime, he did throw away the pass, but he made the play more dangerous then he should have.

He rolled out of the pocket to set up a dump off pass to his tight end but it did not develop fast enough and the rushers began to chase him down. Trubisky throws the pass over his receivers head just to get rid of it. When throwing away a pass you want it to either get out of bounds or hit the ground as fast as possible. He lobs it over the top where a Ravens defender can potentially get to it, and return it for a game ending score. It is a minor error, but one that could have cost the Bears everything.

Trubisky had the tendency to hit the panic button under pressure on Sunday. He would usually just run to an open spot and then toss the ball out of bounds even if he had an open receiver. The rookie showed a lack of confidence in his arm to make throws to open receivers throughout the game and preferred to either dump it off short or just throw it away.

He did manage to make some impressive plays in his limited opportunities, though. Including a few ridiculous off balance throws downfield.

This third quarter play was his lone touchdown of the game and it was one to remember. Trubisky rolls out of the pocket immediately after the snap and his offensive line breaks down in front of him. As the pass rush reaches him he lobs a pass off of on foot towards an open receiver in the end zone. He gets smacked after throwing the ball but still gets it away.

Another impressive pass in overtime ended up winning the game for the Bears.

Trubisky grabs the snap and drops into the pocket. Baltimore’s edge rushers come flying around the pocket and close in on the quarterback. He does a good job stepping into the pocket to dodge them, but the interior rush is on its way as well. He quickly cuts outside but he is out of time as the rush has reached him. Instead of just taking the sack, he delivers a beautiful off balance pass over the middle. It was a risky pass the sailed near two receivers. The ball was overthrown but still in range of his man.

His feet can use some work but these are the highlight plays that get Bears fans excited for their new man under center. They will make his quarterback coach cringe for a moment and it will definitely be something the Bears will work on in film study this week but these are the types of ridiculous passes franchise quarterbacks have to make at times.

Eli Manning won a few Super Bowls throwing these ridiculous passes.

While a majority of his struggles come while under pressure, Trubisky looks great when he has a clean pocket.

The Bears run a vertical/deep cross combo to help break the Ravens zone coverage. This is a play that is known to work extremely well against cover 3. Receiver Kendall Wright slips between zones and through the Ravens defense and is wide open. Trubisky turns around, points him out and delivers an absolute strike to his man. The pass is a little low and if he had led him forward with it Wright would have earned a decent amount of yards after the catch as well.

While Trubisky’s arm talent is what earned him that high draft slot, his ability to make plays with his feet is always an appreciated skill.

On this third down play the Ravens rush is yet again coming around the pocket towards Trubisky. Baltimore has overloaded the right side of the line, and Trubisky darts towards his left into open space. The Ravens man coverage has left the quarterback unaccounted for and free to run on third down. He takes off downfield and gains 19 yards to get the first down and a little more to move the chains for Chicago.

Trubisky has only played two games so many of his issues are expected. His confidence is still lacking a bit but he should only gain more as he gets more comfortable in an NFL offense. As he gets more familiar reading NFL defenses, his decision making will only get better as well. His accuracy struggles a bit while under pressure, but the great passes he manages to throw while clean in the pocket show that he has the ability needed to grow as a passer.

Chicago won’t win many games this year and they have holes all over their roster which will take a few years to fill. Quarterback is the biggest role on every NFL team, though, and the Bears may have found their franchise guy with Mitch Trubisky.

 

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Leonard Fournette is the perfect player for the Jaguars offense

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

Leonard Fournette was one of the most feared running backs in college football for years at LSU. His combination of raw power and athleticism is unmatched and made him a top prospect in last springs draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars selected him fourth overall in order to fix their awful run game, and have to put together a more balanced offense that will put less on the shoulders of the often maligned Blake Bortles.

Fournette had a breakout game Sunday in his fifth NFL appearance as the Jaguars upset the Pittsburgh Steelers. The running back carried the ball 28 times for 181 yards and two touchdowns. He averaged 6.46 yards per carry.

Those numbers are unusual for a power back, but Fournette did manage them in the Jaguars power run game. Half of his 28 carries were right up the middle, and he averaged 3.36 yards on each of those runs.

Direction L End L Tackle L Guard Middle R Guard R Tackle R End
Attempts 0 3 5 14 1 3 1
Yards 0 93 19 47 1 7 12
YPC 0 31 3.8 3.36 1 2.33 12
Adjusted 1.5

The Adjusted left tackle YPC removes his 90 yard run at the end of the fourth quarter as it heavily skews his numbers

 

His runs up the middle came from more than just pounding it up the gut, though. He still manages to use his surprising agility when surrounded by defenders and can break upfield for extra yards.

Pittsburgh runs a stunt on this play. Their linebackers cross each other while an edge rusher comes across to plug up the gap in the middle. The Jaguars fullback takes care of the first man, but the second man coming on the stunt has a free run at Fournette as he comes out of the backfield. Fournette somehow manages to swerve his large frame around and entirely dodge the defender. He quickly cuts to the open room on his left and scampers for a few extra yards. He did not gain much on the play, but his ability to escape what should have been a play that didn’t gain anything and turn it into a few yards helps keep the offense on schedule.

Fournette’s work up the middle did not only include impressive plays in the trenches. His first touchdown of the day was a show of true athleticism.

The Jaguars, the Steelers, the fans in the stadium and everyone at home knew the Jaguars were going to go right up the middle with their rookie running back from the two yard line. Pittsburgh collapsed inside and probably would have done a great job shutting off Fournette. It was all for naught though as Fournette just chose to jump over everyone.

As the game went on the Jaguars continuously pounded the Steelers defense inside. Fournette just kept on punching them in the gut over and over and it took its toll over time. The third quarter was disastrous for the Steelers offense and it allowed the Jaguars to slow the game to a halt.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw back to back interceptions for touchdowns in what was a close two point game early on. Jacksonville got way ahead at put the game on ice. Their opening drive of the fourth quarter took eight minutes off the clock. They ran the ball 13 times, eight times with Fournette, and did not pass the ball once. They drove from within their own 10 yard line into field goal range on the other end and put the game out of reach.

Bortles was a mere bystander for much of the Jaguars second half. He did not throw a single pass in the fourth quarter, and only dropped back to pass twice in the third (one incompletion, one sack). He only threw 14 passes all game.

The Jaguars continuous rushing up the middle affected the Steelers defensive play calling. They began to crash nearly everyone inside leaving them vulnerable to counters or just any runs to the outside.

On this rush towards the beginning of that earlier mentioned marathon of a drive, he gets to the second level with ease on a counter.

Jacksonville pulls their tight end across the formation to seal the left side for their running back. The Pittsburgh defense was caught entirely off guard. They all head towards the center, and end up biting on the counter towards the right. Fournette waltzes into the second level after a quick cut in the backfield. At the second level, he makes an impressive hesitation move to force a defender to overrun his tackle then heads upfield for a few more yards.

Fournette is a smart runner. He knows his limits and has the vision and patience necessary to find holes even when they may not quite exist yet. The rookie can beat you in the trenches with his overwhelming strength and in the open field with his deceptive speed and agility.

On this late rush, he bounces a run to the outside after nothing opens up in front of him.

This run looks like it was initially supposed to be off of the right guard. Pittsburgh quickly collapses, and Fournette’s cut back lane is plugged by a defender. He bolts towards the outside but there is still one unblocked man he has to beat off of the edge. His speed allows him to get a step on the Steelers linebacker, and an impressive stiff arm puts him on the ground. Fournette is now on the second level and in the open field. In one of the wildest decisions I have ever seen a player make during a live NFL play he waves on an incoming tackler. He leans into the oncoming defensive back as they collide into each other. The players hop up and exchange words, but Fournette definitely won this exchange.

The Steelers defense could have done better against Fournette all game, but they actually did a decent job Sunday especially without any help from their offense. They finally broke late in the fourth though, and Fournette ran for what will probably be the longest run of his career.

With only two minutes to play and having dealt with Fournette all day everyone knew this ball was being handed off to the rookie. The Steelers loaded all 11 of their defenders in the box and felt fully prepared for the obvious play call. After seeing so many runs up the middle all day the defenders all were way to quick to go with their first instinct. They crashed inside hard. Fournette takes his run outside, beats a man at the line and takes off for a 90 yard rumble and a game ending touchdown. The Steelers defense was beaten and broken and Fournette had his breakout moment.

Jacksonville has an amazing defense. Jalen Ramsey is already one of the best defensive backs in the NFL and they have the ability to entirely shut down some offenses. An ideal game for the Jaguars will be a low scoring slugfest, where the Jags defense can hold the opposing offense in check while playing time of possession on the other side. Fournette can tire out any defense, and the less Bortles has to throw the ball the better.

Not every game will play into their hand as much as Sunday’s, but Fournette may be the perfect centerpiece of this Jaguars roster.

 

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The Bills defense makes them a legitimate playoff threat

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

The Buffalo Bills pulled off a shocking upset last Sunday, knocking off the undefeated Atlanta Falcons and improving to 3-1 on the season. As good as quarterback Tyrod Taylor and running back LeSean McCoy are the team’s strength lies within their defense.

Buffalo has forced seven turnovers in four games this season, all seven coming during their three wins. They have not allowed a single team to score more than 17 points yet. In their week two loss to the Panthers they only allowed nine points to the Cam Newton led offense, keeping them out of the end zone all game.

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan had one of worst games in years against this defense. He posted a 61.8 passer rating, his worst rating since the Falcons week 5 matchup against the Washington Redskins way back in 2015 where he posted a 57.14 rating, and his worst in a loss since the 47.2 rating he put up against the Arizona Cardinals in 2013. The reigning NFL MVP was responsible for all three of Atlanta’s turnovers on the day and shutting him down was key to the Bills victory.

Both the Bills pass rush and pass defense were huge all game. Ryan had trouble all day finding open receivers downfield and the fierce Bills pass rush forced him to make many ill-advised throws.

On this play, Atlanta attempted to use a rub play to free a receiver out of the slot on the right side. Buffalo’s defenders do a great job taking angles to avoid each other and get to their receiver in man coverage. Ryan’s first read is the Falcons tight end and slot receiver on that side who both have defenders on them. The quarterback makes his next read on the other side of the field, but he has already run out of time as the four-man rush is already rounding his protection. There is only one receiver on the other side of the field who his being smothered by a defensive back. Ryan has to get the ball away, though, and just throws it over his head out of bounds and into safety.

Buffalo only rushed four on this play but their defensive line was still able to easily beat the Falcons protection. When they did send more rushers, though, they overwhelmed Ryan’s protection and even forced his most costly turnover of the day.

https://gfycat.com/ThoroughBrownFly

The Bills rush six and sent both linebackers through the strong side B-gap. Matt Milano (No. 58) almost gets through but his burst through the Falcons offensive line clears out room for linebacker Preston Brown (No. 52) who is coming up behind him. Meanwhile, both Lorenzo Alexander (No. 57) and Jerry Hughes (No. 55) have both beaten the tackle on the edges and close on Ryan. Alexander, Hughes and Brown all reach Ryan almost simultaneously and force the ball to be popped upfield for a fumble. TreDavious White (No. 27) picks up the ball and takes it the other way for a touchdown.

Upon further review, whether it was actually a forward pass on a fumble by the quarterback is not clear. The end result is all that matters though, and the Bills amazing pass rush earned them a crucial touchdown in a competitive game.

The Bills secondary made plays on their own even without the help of the pass rush at times. They forced errors out of Ryan with their discipline and not allowing any Falcons receivers to get beyond them.

On this play, the Falcons are backed up within their own five-yard line. They try to catch the Bills off guard and run a play action into a deep pass to Julio Jones. This is a dangerous play, as a sack or holding call in the end zone leads to a safety, but it can also quickly change the entire game in the Falcons favor. The Bills initially bite but are quick to get back into coverage. Jones runs a vertical route and gets trapped in a double team. Ryan has a clean pocket, but his primary receiver is removed from the play. He has another receiver wide open in the flat but is forced to rid of the ball fast not wanting to risk dealing with the oncoming rush and overthrows for an incompletion.

The Falcons quarterback’s first interception of the day came on a play where there was no pass rush.

On this play, Atlanta rushed 4 and dropped 7 into zone coverage. Their linebackers show amazing discipline not biting on the play action and quickly getting back into their zones when they realize it is a pass play. Buffalo’s linebackers cover up all of the shallower options for Ryan, but he does see a man in single coverage deep. He lets it fly deep towards Taylor Gabriel, but Micah Hyde makes a great play to undercut him for an interception.

Ryan should have thrown a better pass, but you cannot fault him for going deep here. None of his receivers could gain any separation and he had been harassed by the Bills pass rush all game by this point. The clock in his head was running out of time so he threw the safest pass possible to the receiver with a best chance to make a play on the ball. Hyde makes an athletic play to snag it away, though, and the Bills managed to extend their lead from 4 to 7 on the ensuing possesion.

Late in the game, the Falcons offense went into a panic mode despite having enough time to tie a one possession game. His second interception of the day came on a pass affected by the rush.

The Bills were in cover-2 man against a five receiver set from Atlanta. They rushed four and yet again got to Ryan’s blindside with ease. Hughes gets to Ryan as he throws and forces him to throw to far in front of his receiver. Nick Williams has a step on his man over the middle and this should have been a huge completion for the Falcons to get a potential game tying drive on the move. He has to dive to get it though and ends up tipping it into the air to Hyde for his second interception of the game.

Buffalo’s secondary held the Falcons pass attack in check all game. Obviously, both Julio Jones and Muhammad Sanu leaving the game with injuries helped them out a lot but they got the job done. Ryan was forced to through to shorter underneath routes throughout the game and rarely connected on deep passes. Last years MVP only completed 24 of his 42 attempts of the day, for an underwhelming 242 yards in a losing effort.

The Bills were not supposed to be a very good team entering 2017. They made a few huge moves right before the season started to bring in the likes of Jordan Matthews and a few future draft picks. This was supposed to be a rebuilding year after a bad 2016 campaign.

They are in first place right now though. The Miami Dolphins look lost with Jay Cutler at quarterback, the New England Patriots defense is one of the worst in the league and the New York Jets are going nowhere this year. New England will most likely get it together and it is hard to bet against Tom Brady, but the Bills may give their longtime rivals a real fight this year and maybe even compete for a wild-card spot. They will be led by their elite defense that looks like they can take on anyone, but their offense needs to start doing their part is they hope to have continued success this season.

 

I receive so many breakdown requests and I only wish I had the time to fulfill all of them. The best way to get your request done, and to support all of the content on Bird Breakdowns is to support the site on Patreon!

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The Ravens defense is a turnover machine

Jared Goff is a different man in 2017

 

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Chris Thompson is a super star in the making

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

Chris Thompson might be the most underappreciated player in football. The Washington Redskins running back core has overall been disappointing this year. Rob Kelley hasn’t lived up to expectations, and while Samaje Perine is ok, the Redskins will need better from him to make a legitimate playoff push. Thompson’s name gets lost among the others, but unlike his counterparts, he might be the most important player on the Redskins offense.

Thompson is a quintessential third down back. He has great acceleration and the agility to help him beat defenders with ease. He is a good route runner out of the backfield and has the vision necessary to find holes in the defense. The Redskins know this as well, using him on every single third down during their Sunday night matchup against the Oakland Raiders, save the final third down of the game when it was all but over.

His vision and anticipation make him an excellent target out of the backfield, as he displayed Sunday night.

The running back runs an out route out of the backfield. His route is delayed and he initially fakes as if he was going to block on the play. Thompson chooses the perfect moment to deke out of the backfield, just as the rusher he was pretending to block gets to him. He slips by into the open flat where Kirk Cousins finds him for a quick dump off pass. Washington pulls both of their guards into the flat to lead for their back. Terrelle Pryor throws a good block upfield as well. Thompson does an excellent job navigating through the blocks. He changes his speed and stays light on his feet in order to get find an opening and get far upfield for a huge gain and a first down.

Thompson caught six passes on seven targets for 150 yards and touchdown. He was the Redskins most important weapon and was huge in their dominating victory.

He creates a match up nightmare, especially against zone coverage. It is harder to account for a man coming out of the backfield compared to a wide out, and linebackers sometimes lose him until it is too late.

He runs a late curl route over the middle of the field, as he again stalled as if he was going to block at the beginning of the play. Oakland is playing cover 4, and all of their linebackers disperse in zone coverage. They entirely lose track of the man in the backfield and they pay for it. Thompson quickly heads upfield and runs a perfectly timed curl. He catches a wide open pass then turns upfield for a decent gain.

Versatility is key in today’s NFL. Thompson has the ability to split out wide like a receiver and can make plays and create mismatches out there as well.

The running back is split out wide this play and Cousins gets him the ball instantly. Washington sends out their offensive line to block, but they are far away from the sideline where the ball was caught. The Redskins trusted Thompson to make move and stay on his feet before the cavalry arrived and he proved himself worthy. He finds a crease in the wave of Raiders defenders attacking him, and am impressive jump cut allows him to slip through the cracks and turn upfield. He gets a few blocks and torches the defense for a 74 yard gain.

His skill set makes him a huge threat in the run game just as it does in the air attack. Thompson added 38 yards on eight carries Sunday night, averaging 4.7 yards per carry.

His most impressive run of the night came in the latter stages of the first half.

The same vision, agility and anticipation that make him such a great route runner help him find space to make plays in the backfield as well. Thompson takes a delayed handoff out of the backfield. Washington pulled their center across the line to cover the A gap and create room for him. He finds space on the left side. Initially, he starts making way towards the sideline, but when he see’s the cornerback angling himself there he makes a quick cut upfield. He maintains his balance while making a precision turn around his blocker and then breaking towards the sideline again to avoid the rest of the defenders coming from the center of the field.

His vision and burst even allow him to make something out of a broken play.

The Redskins pull their left guard across the formation, as their right guard heads into the second level to seal the gap for the running back. Both guards get lost on the play, though. A Raiders linebacker now has a free run at Thompson. The running back manages to slip by him and between a small crease in the Raiders defense. It was a minimal gain, but with the atrocious blocking up front, the Redskins are lucky he didn’t get tackled in the backfield.

Chris Thompson will never be the starting running back for the Redskins and he will never be every down back. He is a niche player who has perfectly carved out an important role in this offense. He is a hard player to defend, though, and will be key to any sort of success they have this season.

He expects to see regular play this year and his role should be even larger than last year. The Florida State product did not play much in his first two NFL seasons, but over the past two years has become a major part of the Redskins offense. His career high rushing total (356 yards) and receiving total (231 yards) will probably both be shattered this season, and if Thompson continues his path he may become a superstar in the NFL.

 

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David Johnson beat the Redskins last year in a similar way

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Jared Goff is a brand new player in 2017

Game Film, Gif Breakdowns, NFL

Mansur Shaheen

Last winter I chose to do a film breakdown on a lot of the crucial players on a few bad teams. I chose many rookies, including Jordan Howard on the Bears and DeForest Buckner of the 49ers to highlight how good they were and how much they could bring to their team down the line. I decided to go a different direction with the Los Angeles Rams, though.

I chose Jared Goff.

Goff was arguably the worst quarterback in the league in 2016. He had an awful team around him but his decision making and mechanics were bad. I did not want to give up on him yet, but it seemed like it would be years before he at least became an average quarterback.

He has proved me wrong so far. Goff has completed 70% of his passes and has thrown five touchdowns through three games. His lone interception of the year came late in desperation against the Washington Redskins week two.

The Rams joined the San Francisco 49ers to put on a show on Thursday night football last week. They combined for 80 points in a game that went down to the wire. Goff put on a show for the national audience throwing for 292 yards and three touchdowns in what was his best game of his short career so far.

His best throw of the game was unfortunately dropped in the first quarter.

The Rams run a corner/vert combo on each side of the field with their running back running a shallow curl over the middle. The 49ers are in cover 2 man. Both of the 49ers linebackers drop in shallow coverage with the safeties behind them in zones of their own. Goff wants tight end Tyler Higbee running a vertical route into the end zone but the linebackers are blocking his throwing lane. He looks towards the shallow running back, which pulls one of the linebackers out of the way. He then throws a perfect bullet pass that should have been a touchdown had Higbee not dropped it.

The end result was not ideal but this is exactly what the Rams coaches want from their quarterback. His decision making and accuracy were questionable last year, but this play demonstrates a huge step forward for him. Last season he would have tried his best to sneak the ball over the linebacker. He clearly has increased his football IQ and has a better understanding. The pass itself was perfect, and one you would expect from the elite class of quarterbacks.

His deep ball was great all night for the second year quarterback. The Rams gave him the green light to let the ball fly downfield and his decision making and accuracy punished the 49ers defense.

The Rams run play action on this play against the 49ers blitz. Goff drops back to pass and his eyes instantly scan deep down the field. He sees Watkins has room ahead of his man. He delivers a great pass as he takes a hit from a defender and Watkins makes the catch for a huge gain.

Not only did Goff had the peace of mind to get that pass off despite the blitz, he placed it perfectly. The 49ers safety was coming over to help and should have gotten there in time to break up the play. He placed the ball towards the sideline instead of Watkins inside shoulder. Only the receiver could make a play on the ball and it gave him the ability to use his body as a shield to make sure he came down with it.

Goff would hook up with Watkins again late on a crucial touchdown, but it was a much shorter throw.

Goff again uses his eyes to clear room for his receiver here. Watkins and another receiver both run shallow curls, and there is a linebacker between them. The defender is in range to potentially break up a pass to either of them. Goff manages to look him off, causing him to clear the area. He darts the ball to Watkins who quickly turns upfield for a touchdown.

The second-year quarterback was not perfect, though. He sometimes would panic under pressure and get stuck on certain receivers. He had a tendency to always drop way back out of the pocket at the slightest signs of pressure and seemed scared to escape out of the pocket to the left. He also rarely steps up and into the pocket allowing the rush to close behind him.

On this play, he entirely misses an open man as he was too focused on his running back in the flat.

Goff drops back and has a clean pocket for the most part. The 49ers rush begins to come around the edge and the clock in his brain seems to go off. He stares down Todd Gurley the entire way and completes a pass to him that ends up losing a yard. Another receiver was wide open over the middle of the field, but Goff just never saw him. It did not cost the Rams much but being able to scan the entire field and not just panicking when the pressure still has not reached you are things that the young quarterback will have to work on over the next year.

It is clear that the improvements that Los Angeles made to the offensive line have done wonders for Goff. He is not spending the majority of his time just trying to escape the pocket with his life like he was last season, and has time to scan the field and deliver a good pass. When that protection does break down, though, he seems to struggle and make a few of the panicky mistakes you expect from a young quarterback.

Goff looks like an entirely different player this year, and the Rams look like a decent team that can steal a few games. With Seattle and Arizona struggling, a hot year from Goff could have the Rams competing for the NFC West title come winter.

 

 

I receive so many breakdown requests and I only wish I had the time to fulfill all of them. The best way to get your request done, and to support all of the content on Bird Breakdowns is to support the site on Patreon!

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More from Bird Breakdowns:

2016 Jared Goff

Stefon Diggs is a beast everywhere you put him

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