Single coverage on Megatron highlights bad NFL ideas - NBC Sports

Single coverage on Megatron highlights bad NFL ideas
Lions WR unstoppable with one defender on him; Bush and Eagles' new defense also dumb
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Trying to cover Calvin Johnson one-on-one is a bad idea. Just ask the Bucs, Chiefs and Vikings.
September 29, 2011, 7:09 pm

How can you tell if you had a bad idea?

If the crowd is cheering your decision, and you are on the road, you may have had a bad idea.

If someone on the local news is making fun of your decision, and it isn't the sportscaster but the human interest lady who covers puppy adoption drives and birthday parties in nursing homes, you may have had a bad idea.

If you are Todd Haley, and you had an idea, you may have had a bad idea.

The opening weeks of the NFL season have seen some baffling decisions that even the guys in the cheap seats could tell just weren't going to work. Here's a breakdown of three of September's worst ideas.

Single coverage on Calvin Johnson: Bad Idea
In the old days, Megatron drew double coverage on almost every Lions snap. After all, opponents weren't scared of No. 2 receivers like Shaun McDonald or Dennis Northcutt. Times have changed, and the Lions have dangerous rookie Titus Young, steady veteran Nate Burleson, and huge, fast tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Occasionally, safeties are needed elsewhere, so Megatron gets a chance to exploit some mega-mismatches.

But what has happened in the past few games does not qualify as poor coverage choices. It was more like criminal neglect.

The Chiefs tried to cover Johnson one-on-one all afternoon two weeks ago, and unlike most of the Chiefs' gameplan, it was not a complete disaster. Brandon Flowers and others held Megatron to three catches. Unfortunately, the Chiefs also chose to single-cover Megatron in the end zone, resulting in two easy touchdowns. The Chiefs have become a reliable source for such lunacy, so no one thought much of it.

The Vikings are another matter. They asked cornerback Chris Cook to blanket Megatron in coverage. Like Flowers, Cook held his own for a while, breaking up two passes that would have netted big gains. Later, though, Megatron out-jumped Cook easily for a touchdown, and when the game was on the line in overtime, the Vikings made an inexcusable mistake.

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At the snap, the Vikings blitz a linebacker and cornerback, forcing their sack specialist Jared Allen (69) to drop into coverage. Allen cannot be expected to handle a tight end in coverage (though the tape shows him doing fairly well), so Abdullah must sprint down from his deep safety position. As soon as Matthew Stafford sees this, he tosses the ball deep, knowing that Johnson can out-jump any defender in the league. The result? A 40-yard catch that set up the game-winning field goal.

As bad ideas go, this was a whopper: the Vikings' best defender (Allen) is asked to do something he is not good at, while the offense's top player is given a chance to do what he is best at, all with the game on the line.

Reggie Bush as a featured running back: Bad Idea
Reggie Bush left the Saints because he wanted a regular role in an offense, and also because the Saints didn't have much use for him anymore. The Dolphins' offense needed a dose of explosiveness, so they signed Bush to be a typical I-formation style halfback in their old-fashioned offense.

Bush has more detractors than the typical presidential candidate, but he can still be useful in a certain role. Conventional running back is not that role. Bush is averaging 2.6 yards per carry on 27 attempts. Thanks to the Football Outsiders database, we can see exactly how those 2.6 yards break down:

  • One run of 13 yards, his first play from scrimmage of the year.
  • One 10-yard run.
  • Six runs of four-to-eight yards.
  • Nine runs of one-to-three yards, all of them on 1st-and-10 or 2nd-and-long.
  • Eight rushes for no gain or a loss.
  • Two fumbles, one on a routine hit, one in which the handoff just bounced out of his hands.

Are we having fun yet? What's worse is that Bush is averaging just 6.5 yards per reception. And he is not regularly returning punts. Bush is providing no big play capability, and since big play capability is the only thing he ever provided, he has been totally worthless.

Most of this is Bush's fault. He still goes down too easily upon contact and takes to many stutter-steps in the backfield instead of attacking holes. The Dolphins should have realized this. If Bush failed as a change-up back in some Saints-like wide open offense, it would at least be somewhat surprising. His failure in a conventional power offense can only be a shock to someone who has not watched him play or read his scouting reports. Whoever that "someone" is, he must work in the Dolphins organization.

Radically changing the defenses during a lockout: Bad Idea
The Eagles promoted longtime offensive line coach Luis Castillo across the ball to defensive coordinator after the 2010 season. They then hired defensive line coach Jim Washburn from the Titans and adopted a new Wide-9 philosophy on the line, with both ends spread far outside where the offensive tight end normally lines up (in the "9-technique," hence the name), creating huge gaps along the line of scrimmage.

These were all risky moves, but then the Eagles acquired Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, and ninety other guys, so everyone figured that the Wide-9 would work out, even though the linebackers are very inexperienced and there was no offseason to get players comfortable in the scheme.

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Figure 2 shows a first quarter run by Ahmad Bradshaw (44) of the Giants. Defensive end Babin (93) is in Wide-9. There is a huge gap to his right, but Castillo hopes to close that gap by calling a run stunt: Babin crashes hard inside at the snap, while outside linebacker Moise Fokou (53) loops around him to prevent Bradshaw from bouncing outside.

Babin does a great job penetrating on the play, though the Giants fullback stops him from making a tackle in the backfield. Fokou, however, races too far into the backfield and is sealed off by the Giants' right tackle. The Eagles defense could still make a stop if middle linebacker Jamar Cheney reads the play quickly and fills the hole. Unfortunately, he takes too long to make a decision, then gets wired to the Giants right guard, who is free to block linebackers because, thanks to the Wide-9, there are no lineman in front of him.

The Wide-9 can be an effective base defense when everyone is comfortable with his role and the linebackers possess the instincts and strength to plug gaps along the line. Right now, it is a liability in Philadelphia, and all of the team's defensive woes stem directly from the fact that every simple run off tackle is a potential disaster.

In other words, it's a bad, bad, bad idea.

Mike Tanier writes for NBCSports.com and Rotoworld.com and is a senior writer for Football Outsiders.



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