This is the first of many weeks The Overhang will feature five parts: The Player, The Plan, The Play, The Prospect and The Prop.
It’ll highlight players from the NFL season and the upcoming NFL Draft, some scheme talk and hopefully enough winners to keep the pitchforks down.
OK, enough exposition. Week 1 of the NFL is in the books. Let’s see what happened and what we might see for Week 2.
(All data via TruMedia unless otherwise noted.)
The Player: Broncos CB Pat Surtain II
I will use this space to highlight a player — from a superstar to a glue guy who is a star in my heart — and his performance from the previous week or weeks. Today, we’re going to look at a superstar cornerback who is constantly adding to his case as the best in the game. That’s Broncos cornerback Pat Surtain II.
Surtain made his first Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro in 2022, his second season. Those look like they’ll be perennial awards for the former Alabama player. In Week 1, he was constantly matched against Raiders star wide receiver Davante Adams in coverage on the outside and in the slot, with only a few exceptions that Jimmy Garoppolo promptly took advantage of:
Adams was targeted six times with Surtain in coverage on him, finishing with two receptions going for 8 and 3 yards (and no first downs) while drawing a pass interference call on Surtain.
The other three targets? All passes broken up by Surtain. And all three were of different flavors: a downfield throw on the outside, a quick-hitter from the slot and another underneath target in the red zone. All three showed off Surtain’s fantastic combination of size, feel, timing and movement ability.
With Adams neutralized for chunks of the game, Garoppolo’s attention turned to targeting Damarri Mathis, the other Broncos cornerback. That led to a long day for Mathis, who was targeted six times and allowed six receptions for 71 yards and two touchdowns.
Surtain is a tremendous asset for any passing defense, and he is one of the best defenders and players in the NFL. At any position. The fact that he can go toe-to-toe with a player of Adams’ caliber and nullify him for long stretches of a game is a prime example of a player dramatically changing the math for his defense. It will be interesting to see how often offenses don’t even bother testing Surtain and instead target other aspects of the Broncos’ pass coverage. They’ll be tested soon in facing the Washington Commanders’ and Miami Dolphins’ talented receiving rooms.
The Plan: The Browns’ pass rush and changing pictures like a Hogwarts painting
Looks like Cleveland Browns defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz couldn’t wait to call plays again. In Sunday’s wet conditions in Cleveland, he unleashed the Browns’ upgraded pass rush and kept Joe Burrow and the dangerous Bengals passing attack off-kilter and toothless the entire afternoon. Burrow finished 14-of-31 for 82 yards, and the Bengals finished without an explosive pass (a reception of 16 or more yards) for the first time in Burrow’s career.
The Browns blitzed on 41.2% of their defensive snaps, creating havoc up front and letting Myles Garrett and new pieces such as Za’Darius Smith, Ogbo Okoronkwo and Dalvin Tomlinson exploit one-on-ones with Bengals offensive linemen while bearing down on a less than 100 percent Burrow. That heat led to 10 quarterback hits and pressures on more than half of Burrow’s dropbacks.
The Browns blitzed often on third and fourth downs, but they also changed up their coverage looks after the snap when they chose not to bring extra pass-rushers. That frequently forced Burrow to spend an extra half-second confirming what he saw, limiting the Bengals to converting only two of their 16 third- and fourth-down attempts.
With a Browns pass rush that averaged 1.95 seconds to pressure the QB — the sixth-fastest by an NFL defense in a game since 2019 — every split second of hesitation got only more dangerous for Burrow to hold the ball and avoid getting hit. It led to more checkdowns to tight ends and running backs short of the first-down marker and fewer balls headed to star receivers Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins.
Garrett’s fourth-down sack that sealed the game for the Browns early in the fourth quarter was a perfect example of Cleveland showing one look pre-snap before changing the picture post-snap.
Let’s compare what the Browns showed here before the play started (Cover 1, marked in yellow):
Here’s where the Browns’ defenders ended up (playing Cover 2, marked in red):
Burrow hesitated and attempted to create a play out of structure. Garrett beat a block and chip help on his way to his first of what should be many sacks in the 2023 season:
The Play: Offenses leaning into new uses of motion in the run game
NFL defensive players and coaches are very good at identifying tendencies and using them to their own gain.
In the pass game, certain formations can give away the upcoming pass concept, allowing defensive coordinators to call the perfect coverage or a smart defender to jump the snap or the ball in the air. In the run game, defenses that have a good idea of what the offense is trying to accomplish will align their defensive front in ways to create disadvantageous blocking angles and matchups for offensive players.
It’s a constant game of rock, paper, scissors with NFL play-calls. And if paper and scissors are taken away, at least in the minds of defensive play-callers and players, it’s difficult to keep winning with rock.
But there are offenses that have started to expand their minds in how they use motion over the past few seasons in the run and pass games in a way to break tendencies and create breathing room and potential for explosive plays. The speedy motions (most commonly the “jet” motion with a player going from one side of the formation to the other at the snap of the ball) that have become staples for a majority of NFL offenses can drastically alter defenses and require concise communication among defenders. And while NFL defenses have become drastically better at defending these motions, it still can create flash knockouts if defenders aren’t on their game.
It’s not just the frequency of motion but also the kinds of motion and when in the pre-snap process an offense uses it. It seems that those who took the gateway drug of the jet motion have moved on to the harder stuff this season.
Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel completely leaned into the speed of wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle upon arriving in Miami in 2022. McDaniel constantly gave them free releases and/or a running start before attacking vertically — or really any direction. The Dolphins consistently put terror in the hearts of defensive backs. World-class speed is hard enough to defend, and it’s practically impossible once these speed demons are in third gear at the snap of the ball against flat-footed defenders.
McDaniel often did this by using the aforementioned jet motion. Defenses adapted at the end of last season (they always do) and showed at least some ways of limiting the Dolphins’ attack, throwing a couple buckets of water — just a couple — on Miami’s nuclear-hot offense.
In Week 1, McDaniel showed a new trick that he learned this offseason (or is it called an illusion?), having Hill motion outward to the side he’s already on. Here is a great side-by-side of the tweak the Dolphins displayed in a victory against the Los Angeles Chargers:
It’s simple and effective and another thing defenses have to prepare for. The Dolphins added lava to rock, paper, scissors.
The expanded motion menu also applies in the run game, judo-tossing defenses that have aligned in particular ways. A vogue play to keep an eye on is the use of motion at the snap of the ball to change the offense’s strength and, thus, where potential points of attack can be.
The San Francisco 49ers have pioneered putting their players on motions at the snap of the ball to not only change the point of attack but also give their players an advantage in the blocking angle and, much like the Dolphins using Hill’s speed, momentum on their blocks. It’s an actual example of Newton’s Second Law.
Here is an example of the 49ers, Los Angeles Rams and Atlanta Falcons all using motion at the snap of the ball to use a run concept called “duo.” It’s an “at you” run concept that attacks vertically and requires physicality from blockers. Duo has been described as “power without the puller,” and even if you don’t know what a “power” run concept is, the term should paint a nice enough picture.
How does the motion help there? I’ll use the Rams’ play 40 seconds in as an example. If the Rams were to run a duo play (which will always be called to the tight end’s side), it would be blocked like this:
Every defender is accounted for. But there are drawbacks with the play as initially designed. The center and left guard’s double-team would be going to a Seahawks safety. It would require a tight end and wide receiver to block a defensive end and linebacker in some way. It’s doable for the tight end but a tough ask for most WRs. Also look at the angles on the play, requiring a lot of players to work tough spaces for their blocks. Again, doable but more difficult.
Here, the Rams simply motion tight end Tyler Higbee (No. 89) over near the snap of the ball and flip the angles on the Seahawks:
The matchups are flipped back into the offense’s favor. No more wide receivers blocking linebackers or offensive linemen blocking defensive backs. The angles are better — note left tackle Alaric Jackson (No. 77) has a free release to the linebacker and Higbee being asked to block a smaller edge player with forward momentum. It all leads to a sizable gain for the Rams.
They even used the play on Kyren Williams’ first touchdown:
Be on the lookout for these moving chess pieces that offenses use throughout the season — and how defenses respond to the rooks and bishops maneuvering like queens before the snap.
Every week I will highlight a prospect (or prospects — we have fun here) leading up to the 2024 NFL Draft. It’s a talented and deep quarterback class that will have a half-dozen or more players competing to get their names called early next April. But Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke returned from the hurricane that was Miami’s offense the past two seasons like an ibis to enter his name in the quarterback race after USC’s Caleb Williams and North Carolina’s Drake Maye.
Van Dyke has displayed improved confidence and tighter footwork this season. He’s showing a willingness to push the ball, the finesse to work underneath throws and flashes of impressive ball placement to close guarded receivers. Van Dyke finished 21-of-30 for 374 yards with five touchdowns against a ranked Texas A&M team last weekend. And he looked firmly in control from the first snap.
Van Dyke’s name isn’t new among draftniks. But after a lackluster 2022 season in a morbid Hurricanes offense, new offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson has breathed life into Van Dyke’s play and draft stock. Dawson is displaying his QB’s arm talent and allowing him to be aggressive.
It’s a loaded quarterback class, and Van Dyke is a name to keep an eye on if he continues this promising play in September.
Every week, I will give a prop wager that I like for the Thursday night game and potentially more depending on how much I look like the Doom guy getting bloodied up as the season goes along.
Last week: 2-0
Odds via BetMGM
Thursday night prop: Kirk Cousins’ longest passing completion over 37.5 yards (-110)
The Eagles’ defense, at least in Week 1 under new coordinator Sean Desai, showed vulnerability defending the pass against the not-exactly-loaded Patriots attack. New England finished with six explosive receptions with a group of pass-catchers who win more on brawn than speed.
For Thursday’s game, the Eagles will be without several starters, including cornerback James Bradberry (concussion), safety Reed Blankenship (ribs) and linebacker Nakobe Dean (foot).
Kirk Cousins’ 21 completions of 30 or more yards in 2022 were tied for fifth among qualifying quarterbacks, and he has 61 such plays (ranking sixth) since Justin Jefferson joined the team in 2020. The Vikings love using play-action concepts that attack the defense’s spine, and Cousins is willing to push the ball. Plus, ya know, Justin Jefferson.
Look for Cousins to chuck a couple up to test this Eagles backend and see if there are any catch-and-run opportunities for the Vikings over the middle of the field.
Thursday Night Prop 2: Alexander Mattison under 50.5 rushing yards
The Patriots consistently fed the run game against the Eagles. They were steady (a rushing success rate of 45%) but unremarkable (only two gains of 6 or more yards). The Vikings were and will be a pass-first team that uses run-first formations and personnel. They are using a backup center and have a well-below-average starter at right guard against Jalen Carter, with run-first defender Zach Cunningham behind him at linebacker.
Plus, they averaged under 2.5 yards a pop on running back runs in Week 1. So this is more of a quantity thing as the Vikings try to keep up with the Eagles’ offense for 60 minutes by feeding Jefferson and their other weapons through the air and Mattison (and backup Ty Chandler) gets some carries sprinkled in to keep the Eagles honest.