Week 4: Decisive Moments
Sure seemed like last Sunday featured a lot of big performances in the secondary. Aqib Talib provided blanket coverage of the Falcons for New England. The Browns’ Joe Haden continued his strong season by shutting down A.J. Green in Cleveland. Darius Butler got the Colts rolling with a pick-six against the Jaguars. And that wasn't even the half of it.
We’ll get to Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee and Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon taking too much blame in a bit, but first we’ll start with two of the biggest moments of Week 4, plays that resulted in crucial interceptions that made the Bills and Seahawks winners.
Baltimore at Buffalo
Score: Bills 23, Ravens 20
Time: 1:04, fourth quarter
Situation: 3rd-and-8 at the Buffalo 48
Ravens personnel: “11” or posse (one back, one tight end, three receivers)
Bills personnel: Nickel (five defensive backs)
Result: Joe Flacco’s pass to TE Dallas Clark is intercepted by LB Kiko Alonso.
What happened: The Ravens were driving for at least a field goal with plenty of time left to send the game into overtime when Bills safety Da’Norris Searcy (25) worked together with Alonso (50) to thwart Flacco’s pass to Clark (87). Searcy said the seeds for that play were planted on the sideline. “He wanted to be more aggressive down low,” Searcy told The MMQB on Monday. “I said, 'Well, if we're on the same side, you can be more aggressive. I'll protect you on any vertical routes. Right before the play, he looked at me and I was like, 'I've got you, go for it.' ”
The television cameras didn’t show it, but the Bills were playing Cover 4, or quarters (in which the two cornerbacks and two safeties divide the deep part of the field in quarters). Alonso rerouted Clark a little to the outside, and that matter of inches gave Searcy enough room to get between Clark and Flacco, and tip the ball in the air. Alonso saved the Bills from a fourth-down play by coming up with a terrific diving interception. But Searcy’s daring dash created the interception. He was so aggressive it could have been mistaken for some sort of “Robber” coverage—in which one safety is free to jump an underneath route. It wasn’t. Searcy just read the play that well.
“With 87 being a good vertical threat, I told Kiko to play heavy down low, and I was going to stay high over the top of him so he could drive anything underneath and I could protect him over the top,” Searcy said. “He got a good sub jam on him, and the guy tried to bend it away from me. I just broke on it and tried to come around him and make the pick. I ended up batting it away from him. Luckily Kiko was still trailing behind, and he just made an incredible grab on it.
“I felt like my timing was going to be right. I didn't have to come from a long distance, where I was able to undercut him. It was just a matter of playing the ball right. Once he continued to come vertical, I got on him quicker. Sure enough Flacco tried to squeeze it into him.”
It was the last of five interceptions the reigning Super Bowl MVP threw to the Bills.
“We were just trying to make a play,” Flacco said. “I was trying to have Dallas come across the safety’s face and stick one in there and keep the chains moving. They made a nice play, nice catch.”
Seattle at Houston
Score: Texans 20, Seahawks 13
Time: 2:51, fourth quarter
Situation: 3rd-and-4 at the Seattle 40
Texans personnel: 22 or “Tank” (two backs, two tight ends, one receiver)
Seahawks personnel: Base 3-4/4-3 hybrid.
Result: Matt Schaub’s throw to TE Owen Daniels (81) is intercepted by CB Richard Sherman (25) and returned for a game-tying touchdown.
What happened: One more first down and the Texans would be near field-goal territory, close to making it a two-score game. Houston called one of its usual play-action bootleg passes, where Schaub fakes the run one way to Arian Foster, rolls back to the other side and hits a receiver in the flat. In this case the target was Daniels.
But Schaub should have been worried about this play’s success from the get-go, with safety Kam Chancellor (31) at least threatening to blitz (and given the desperate situation the Seahawks were in, he was probably coming).
This is where blame falls on both Schaub and coach/play-caller Gary Kubiak. There’s been a lot of talk the past couple of years about how much flexibility Schaub has in changing plays at the line of scrimmage. Roughly he’s able to do that about a third of the time. Kubiak said on Monday that Schaub didn’t have the ability to audible out of the play, which is amazing given his level of experience. With Chancellor blitzing exactly where Schaub would be rolling out to throw, he can’t run this play. No good quarterback would have stayed in this play on his own. The chances of success were very low, considering that Schaub admitted the Seahawks had been playing some soft zone most of the game. In any event, with three timeouts remaining, Kubiak or Schaub should have called time. Yes, Schaub could have just taken a sack or thrown it away, but why risk a possible fumble or intentional grounding call?
Sherman made a great interception, but he should never have had the chance.
“Obviously, we have to protect the ball,” Kubiak said. “But I put him in a bad situation, not running the ball there, trying to be aggressive, trying to make a play and we didn't. And it ended up killing us.”
Arizona at Tampa Bay
Score: Buccaneers 10, Cardinals 3
Time: 3:24, fourth quarter
Situation: 2nd-and-6 at the Tampa Bay 11
Buccaneers personnel: 21 or “regular” (two backs, one tight end, two receivers)
Cardinals personnel: Base 3-4.
Result: Mike Glennon’s pass intended for Vincent Jackson is picked off by CB Patrick Peterson, leading to the game-tying score.
What happened: Most of the reaction to this play has been about a rookie quarterback, Glennon, making a rookie mistake at the worst possible time. Glennon did deserve most of the blame—a slightly better throw in front of Jackson probably wouldn’t have been intercepted—but Jackson could have run a sharper pattern that would have given Glennon more room for error.
This had the potential to be a very good play for Buccaneers. Arizona was sending a zone blitz, which was picked up perfectly by the Tampa offensive line. Glennon had ample time to exploit a good size matchup—the 6-5 Jackson (83) against the 6-1 Peterson (21)—on a dig route across the field, which was vacant. The play was wide open.
Jackson stemmed his route to the inside, putting Peterson, who had great coverage, on his outside hip. So far, so good. Here’s where Jackson could have been a little better. He made his cut at the 21-yard line and ended up at the 25, where Peterson undercut the route and made the interception. If Jackson was a sharper with his cut, it would be nearly impossible for Peterson to make a play on the ball—good throw or not—because Jackson would have cut off Peterson’s angle. Because Jackson rounded his route and was giving ground from Glennon, Peterson had the room he needed to undercut the ball.
So instead of a completion and perhaps a Bucs victory, less-than-stellar execution by two players opened the gate for another Tampa Bay loss. This is getting repetitive.
Dallas at San Diego
Score: Chargers 23, Cowboys 21
Time: 7:01, fourth quarter
Situation: 1st-and-10 at the San Diego 44
Chargers personnel: 11 or “Posse” (one back, one tight end, three receivers)
Cowboys personnel: Nickel (five defensive backs)
Result: Philip Rivers hits TE Antonio Gates for a 56-yard touchdown.
What happened: Cowboys middle linebacker Sean Lee (50) is one of the top young players in the league, and he returned an interception for a touchdown earlier in the game. But there’s no way he should be matched up one-on-one with Gates (85) down the middle of the field with not one safety remotely close and the Cowboys not blitzing. That’s what happened here.
There wasn’t a very good television angle, but the Cowboys appeared to be in some sort of defense with two deep safeties: third-round pick J.J. Wilcox (27) to the field side (opposite of the ball), and Barry Church (42) on the other. Gates got a free release off the line and just ran a skinny post down the middle of the field. Lee had very good coverage underneath. The problem was, there was no help over the top. When Rivers released the pass, the Cowboys had four defensive backs on the top side of the field, including both Wilcox and Church. Cornerback Brandon Carr, who was in man coverage, was the only defensive back on the other.
It sure looked like Church made a mistake on the play leaving the middle of the field. If he didn’t, it was one bad defensive call by coordinator Monte Kiffin. We’ll bet heavily on the former.