A closer look at Five Matt Flynn throws vs Redskins

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Play #1 : Underthrown 9 Route

When teams play a Cover-2 shell, they have 2 deep safeties that (generally) have half-field responsibilities. The CB can re-route the WR to the sideline and play inside coverage with the safety being over-the-top. Because of that, the deep sideline window against Cover-2 is very small.

But when teams play a Cover-1, the single deep safety moves to the center of the field and has responsibility for the entire deep field. This generally opens up the deep sidelines. The CB now wants to re-reroute the WR to the inside but has to have better coverage because there's not necessarily help or the safety help may be late, depending on (a) other routes that are run in combination to threaten the safety ("Route combinations") and (b) the QB's use of his eyes to manipulate the safety.

If the WR beats the CB off the line and the safety is slow to react, this is a huge play waiting to happen. If this happens, the deep sideline throw is a potential TD (or at least a big play).

Still 1 :

8 in the box (respect for the Run Game) means single high safety, generally means man-coverage. Amerson shows press-man on Denarius Moore and Moore will win off the line. Meriweather will come across to help but will be late.

Still 2 :

Amerson forces to the inside, but Moore breaks free.

On the line, Tony Pashos is blocking Ryan Kerrigan on the outside.

Still 3 :

Pashos gets just enough of Kerrigan. Look how close Kerrigan is to getting a swat on the ball. Whew.

Still 4 :

Moore gets 2 steps on Amerson and is pulling away. Meriweather is coming across but isn't close. There's a big window for Moore as he runs away from both defenders.

Still 5 :

Close up. That's "Wide Open" for NFL-level. If the ball is thrown ahead of him, Moore may run away from both defenders for a touchdown. Meriweather is closing in and may have a chance to stop the touchdown, but Moore's speed might beat the angle.

Still 6 :

The ball is well-underthrown (perhaps by as much as 5-10 yards). Moore makes a great adjustment to come back for the ball.

Play #2 : Wheel Route to Reece

As we've seen with the Pryor/McFadden read-option plays, if you can get the ball in a playermaker's hands with the defense reacting to something else, you might be able to create a very big play. In this case, the playmaker is Reece and the attempt to manipulate the defense is by using a fake Smoke Route to the WR (Jacoby Ford).

Unfortunately, the defense does not react substantially to the fake and the coverage sinks back, which puts several defenders around the intended target. Flynn makes the throw, which is nearly intercepted by Brian Orakpo. But as we will see, Flynn and the Raiders may have been lucky that Orakpo batted the ball down.

Still 1 :

Reece will motion from the backfield into the left slot. On the snap, Ford will run a very short stop showing Smoke Route/WR Screen. As that happens, Reece releases downfield on a sideline wheel route.

Orakpo is on the line, showing rush, but will sink back into coverage. The Washington coverage drops into a zone-look.

Still 2 :

Jacoby Ford executes the fake as Flynn pumps. This draws the CB Biggers and perhaps gets a LB Perry Riley to take a false step. Orakpo sinks back and Reece breaks to the sideline, beating Riley. It's not clear if Riley is affected by the fake or if he's just beaten by Reece's superior speed. But fortunately for Riley, he has over-the-top help from Meriweather.

Still 3 :

Orakpo gets into the throwing lane as Reece breaks away from Riley, but Meriweather is coming from the top, bracketing Reece.

Still 4 :

Orakpo nearly intercepts the ball.

Meriweather had already started breaking on Reece and was going to be close to the ball. This play is not really open. It is a "stick throw" that you might expect (say) Carson Palmer to make, but with Flynn, this throw had Pick-6 written on it.

If Meriweather picks it off, he has to get one block (on Ford) and is down the sideline, perhaps for 95 yards.

Still 5 :

Another view of the play as the ball is tipped. The ball will be leading Reece and you can see Meriweather at full sprint breaking on the ball.

Still 6 :

Reverse view. Maybe the ball gets there before Meriweather does, but it's a very scary throw. All in all, it's probably fortunate that Brian Orakpo knocked it down.

Play #3 : Mychal Rivera, Zone Buster

Reading a zone coverage can be a difficult task and with the way the defenses are able to disguise their intents, it can be very frustrating. But if the offense (QB AND WR) can read the defensive coverage correctly and find the weakness, then very good things can happen.

Cover-2 generally refers to having 2 deep safeties with half-field responsibilities. Within that "2 deep shell", the underneath coverage can be either man or zone. If it is man coverage, it is called "2-Man" and allows for CBs to play "trail technique" or to gamble on undercutting routes because they have over-the-top help on both sides. But "Cover 2" is often a shorthand for the 2-deep, 5-under zone coverage, which is very standard. So standard, in fact, that offense should have pretty standard attacks for it.

Cover-3 means 3 deep safeties splitting the deep coverage 3-ways (either in thirds or 1/4-1/4-1/2). 4 underneath coverage in zone would generally be in quarters.

Those are two very different approaches with very different seams and vacant areas. If an offense is tricked into using a Cover-2 exploiting play against a Cover-3 defense, bad things (for the offense) could result (pending execution, naturally). That's the chess match.

Still 1 :

Pre-snap, the Redskins show Basic Cover-2 look. 2 safeties with deep halves and 5 under zones.

Still 2 :

On the snap, the defense will rotate out of Cover-2 into Cover-3. And we see how they get to it; the outside CBs will drop deep while the safeties rotate, one rotates up into the outside 1/4 while the other rotates to the deep middle.

Still 3 :

This is the Cover-3 zone layout. Notice the different gaps compared to Cover-2. Obviously these zones layouts are general and subject to deformation as receivers enter and exit them, but this informs about the general area of responsibility and the natural seams between the zones.

Still 4 :

And here's how the routes will attack the defense. Notice which routes attack the seams of the zone and how the routes work in conjunction to force defenders to choose a receiver or to hand-off early. Also notice how the zones become more amorphous in real-time v "chalk-board"-time.

Rivera's route is the key, but would not be open against Cover-2; he would be running right into the left deep safety. But Streater's route at the bottom is also key as it occupies the CB as he drops to the deep. This will open the needed hole.

Still 5 :

Now we can see the defensive rotation into that Cover-3. That safety is vacating the deep half and Rivera will attack that space.

Still 6 :

The underneath defender passes off Rivera to the deep defenders. There's a hole there as the deep middle defender is playing his discipline and is late to cover as Rivera runs to the open area.

Still 7 :

There's a big hole in that deep zone since that outside CB was occupied by Streater as he was dropping into his deep third.


More of this, please.

Because it will lead to more of this :

As the game progressed, the Raiders had fewer and fewer of these types of plays; not just deep TD throws (ha), but successful passing plays down the field. Most of the time, Flynn was just looking down for a player to get open to no avail. This resulted in the multiple sacks and the many dumpoffs to Rashad Jennings.

It is hard to tell without reviewing the game, but it may be that the Redskins' defense was doing an increasingly better job of confusing the offense with their coverages. This was a very simple example of the Redskins shifted from one zone to another and in this case, the receiver read it well (his route had to be adjusted to find the opening against Cover-3 compared to Cover-2) and the QB saw it.

It may be that as the game progressed, the receiving corps were not able to determine the type of coverage, the open area, or where to get free. Also, the defense may have adjusted their reactions to how the receivers were playing and had found good coverages for the route combinations.

Regardless, what this play really helps illustrate is how important it is for BOTH the WR and the QB to be able to see what the Defense is doing. This was a case of it going well. We need more of that.

Play #4 : The First Rule of WR Club is Run on Man, Stop on Zone

This is another play where WR/QB need to be in sync and understanding what the defense is presenting the offense.

One of the very basic tenets of wide receiver play is "Run on Man, stop on Zone." This means that if a receiver is covered man-on-man, then he should keep running on his route to beat his defender. Against a zone defense, he wants to find the hole where the one defender releases him and the next one doesn't pick him up. He then slows down and stops in the open space.

If a receiver violates this rule, some bad things can happen. In man coverage, defenders are chasing receivers. So when a receiver catches the ball, he will be running AWAY from his defender. Good. But in Zone, since the defenders are covering zones, they are standing still and reacting to the plays. If a receiver runs thru a zone without throttling down, he will run headlong into a defender reacting to the ball. He might get himself killed. Alternately, if a receiver stops when he is man-covered, it allows the chasing defender to catch up to him and possibly undercut him. This could possibly lead to an interception and worst case, a pick 6.

Still 1 :

Redskins show Cover-2 shell and man underneath ("Two Man"). The defense will get two jams on Raiders' receivers, one on Rivera and one on Brice Butler. On the outside, Rod Streater and Denarius Moore get clean releases.

The Raiders will run double slants against this on the right side and a nice rub route on the left side.

The Redskins have CB #30 Biggers playing the right safety and Meriweather on the left side, spltting the field. On the snap, however, Biggers will drop down into the middle of the field, taking away both slants; he will eventually bracket Butler as CB #26 Josh Wilson takes a trail position. Meriweather continues to play his half field responsibility, opening up the deep right half of the field.

Note that Rub Routes are effective against man coverage. They are not so effective against zones. With Man coverage in place, the rub route should free up Denarius.

Still 2 :

The jam on Butler slows him up. The linebacker covering Jennings in the flat puts traffic in the way of Streater being open while the CB gets over to him. Meanwhile, the safeties are rotating; the low safety is getting in position to take away throws against either slant route. This is what Flynn is looking at and waiting to open up.

On the backside of the play, Rivera is getting off his press and is preparing to clear Denarius.

Still 3 :

Flynn is probably reading deep to short, meaning he started off looking for Streater and then shifted to Butler. Butler has gotten off press and has a step on his man, but the safety is now dropping down; that throw is not open. Since this is man, Flynn would have to lead Butler and that would let the safety break on the ball.

On the backside, Denarius is coming free.

Still 4 :

That pick/rub works to perfection and the defender is now trailing Denarius by a couple of steps. Flynn gives up on his first reads and is coming off Butler to Denarius. He sees that D.Moore is open.

"Run on Man, Stop on Zone." This is man coverage and Denarius has steps. He should run across the field; Flynn should deliver it on time and Denarius should be able to run with it. But Moore will stop in the middle of the field.

Note that Denarius should know that the Redskins are in Man coverage because that is why the Rub Route worked. If it were Zone, the defenders would have switched. Perhaps he glimpsed Josh Wilson trailing Butler and mistook that for a zone defender.

Still 5 :

Flynn starts his throwing motion as Moore slows down, settling as if into a zone. Now the CB is able to catch up and undercut the play.

Moreover, we can see where the play should go. Because it is man coverage, the defenders are chasing their assignments across the field. If Denarius keeps running and Flynn hits him in stride, there is a fantastic lane for him to run into. The single deep safety has shaded to the left side of the field and it's likely that Moore could outrun him to the outside. This might be a touchdown if executed correctly.

Still 6 :

Nope. Moore stops. Flynn throws to Moore. The CB undercuts. And the rest is history.

Again, notice the potential running lane for Moore. ALL Redskins' defenders are visible; there is no one else dept and the upfield defenders have their backs to the play.

So who to blame on the play? Flynn or Denarius?

While in real-time, it obviously seemed like Flynn's fault; upon review, It looks like Denarius' made an error that caused this play; he slows up inexplicably, either thinking zone or giving up on the play. Flynn sees him and throws to him.

But at the same time, Flynn is not without fault here. Don't throw that! Flynn knows the play and should recognize that it's man coverage and that the defender is coming. Even if Moore stops, Flynn should recognize that he if he throws that pass, it puts the ball in jeopardy. Rookie mistake. Or perhaps (more to the point), the mistake of a player who (coming into this game) has fewer NFL starts than Terrelle Pryor. Flynn definitely made a mistake, but we can see what instigated that mistake.

Again, this is a case where WR and QB must both work together, both need to see the defense, react to the defense, and execute in conjunction. If they do, we have a 45 yard touchdown pass and the Raider Nation goes wild.

It potentially puts the Raiders up 21-3 and ready to totally take charge of the game. Instead, it goes the other way and makes it a 14-10 game, silencing the Black Hole and invigorating the entire Redskins' team. Big play.

Play #5 : Throw the Go

Sometimes a defense will take the philosophy of taking away the deep passing plays and allow the underneath throws ("Bend but Don't Break"). When that happens, it's most prudent to be efficient and make the checkdown throws and work the way down the field. But sometimes, a big play opportunity will present itself and when that happens, the offense must capitalize.

And sometimes that opportunity will be determined not on physical skill but on reading the defense.

Still 0 :

Pre snap : Only one safety deep.

So what's your read?

One Deep safety generally means Man coverage + the Free Safety ("Man Free") and possibly a blitz. He's shading to the left side (by this I mean the offense's left side) so he may be giving over-the-top help against Denarius Moore while Rod Streater on the other side may be drawing man coverage with no help.

But as we've seen, the Redskins' defense can rotate their coverage to drop into a zone. We've already seen how they shift from Cover-2 shell to a Cover-3. Could this be a disguised Cover-2 shell (2 safeties covering deep halves)? And if it does shift to Cover-2, will it be man underneath ("Two Man") or zone ("Cover 2 zone")? Or could they drop into Cover-3? Or will it be a Combination Coverage (Part of the field is Man and another part is Zone)?

The Pre-snap gives little indication and as we've noted, it's very important for both WRs and QB to understand what the defense is doing. If the QB or WR thinks it is man coverage and it is really zone (or vice versa), then it can cause mistakes.

Still 1 :

Here are the routes and the defensive reactions. Note that DMC executes a play fake; Mastrud and Olawale stay in to block with Olawale releasing later. So the Raiders are only sending two receivers into the pattern.

Denarius will run a deep out while Streater runs a deep cross. The outside corners (#23 is DeAngelo Hall on the Offensive Right Side and #26 is Josh Wilson on the Offensive Left) will bail and cover downfield on the WRs while the underneath LBs are buzzing, trying to get into the throwing lanes. Meriweather, the deep safety, stays put.

Does it look like Man or does it look like zone?

Still 2 :

You could think it looks like man coverage. It does. At least part of it does. You definitely have DBs running with WRs which looks like man, but they are bailing hard, mostly intent on running deep.

As the play develops and we see how and where the defenders drop, it will appear more like a Zone coverage with 3 deep safeties in 1/4, 1/4, 1/2 responsibilities.

Still 3 :

The zones deform, though. Once Rod Streater runs downfield on an in-breaking route and with Olawale staying in to block, there's no need for the outside zone defender to drop very far, so he stays close. In fact, since both the outside receivers are running downfield, the underneath zones compress to the middle of the field. They end up dropping into zones that look more like this :

Still 4 :

And now let's look at how the routes attack these zones.

The rule for a safety is to stay "Deeper than deepest" in their zone. So Denarius will force his defender to bail and sprint deep. He'll give a hard outcut at about 20 yards depth. On the opposite side, the corner drops in the big open space taking up half the field. Notice how Streater's route takes him into the seam of the zones. But there are up to three defenders that are running with him as he goes upfield ("Carrying him" before "Passing him off" to the other zone defender).

When we draw it up like this, we can see that Streater's route against the zone will threaten Meriweather. Meriweather has to play Streater since the underneath defenders will have passed him off; this means that Moore is all alone against his corner, Josh Wilson.

Note that if you think this is Man coverage, your expectations of Meriweather are different. Streater would NOT be threatening Meriweather directly because his man would run with him all over the field. Meriweather would have Deep responsibilities and would have to honor Denarius OR Streater, depending on what is happening.

Still 5 :

Flynn executes the play-action to DMC. There are potentially 3 additional blockers in case of blitz or an offensive lineman getting beaten.

Outside CBs are bailing hard and have big cushions. You can see the bracketing of Streater as two defenders are running with him downfield, DeAngelo Hall over the top and S #37 Reed Doughty underneath; additionally, #59 London Fletcher is also dropping from his MLB position.

Still 6 :

Flynn gets his drop and sets up for the downfield throw. The Deep Left Half is where the action is.

Right now, Flynn has to assess coverage and responsibilities and to predict what will happen in the next 2-3 seconds.

Denarius will run an out-cut but as that CB reacts, Moore will execute a perfect double-move and head upfield ("Out-and-Up"). As that is happening, Streater is attacking Meriweather's zone.

Flynn's watching this. He sees Moore ready to attack, but he also see Meriweather. What will Meriweather do?

If Meriweather drops back to help on Moore (Man coverage), a pass attempt will be intercepted. If Meriweather doesn't (zone coverage), then Moore has one-on-one and it could be big play. Flynn has to read Meriweather correctly.

Still 7 :

The CB bites on Moore's initial move and so Moore's up cut gets him free. Meriweather is playing disciplined and has not commited one way or the other. Flynn is reading him, but Meriweather is not giving anything up.

Flynn has to throw right now or give up on the play. And to do that, he has to anticipate what Meriweather will do.

Still 8 :

Moore beats his guy badly and Meriweather takes Streater. The play was open and a good throw would have been a TD.

But Flynn has bailed on the play and is checking down to Olawale. And because it is zone, there are three underneath defenders ready to run at the ball carrier.

That's how close the Raiders were to an 80 yard TD pass.

This example is to inform us of a few things.

First, it's not easy. Zone or Man is not an always an easy question to answer and in short spans of time, against disguises, and with "live bullets", it can be very confusing. It's why experience and game prep are so important. Everything processes faster with experience and the game prep can help by showing some of these tendencies. Even when re-watching it in slow-motion several times, it can still be very confusing to determine what defenses are doing!

Second, there are several plays waiting to be had that we can miss in real time. These plays can look innocuous until you realize what was going to happen.

Third, Denarius Moore won't get any credit for this play, but he did a fantastic job selling that deep out cut and then exploding upfield. It's a very nice route and is perfectly executed against the defense. He may have made a mistake on the interception, but on this play, he should have had a great play to make-up for it.