Wheel route could exploit holes in Lions defense

Defenders' discipline tested in Cover-3 scheme

Pro Slot Strong I formation

Pro Slot Strong I formation (September 26, 2013)

The Bears and quarterback Jay Cutler can look to create explosive plays down the field versus the Lions defense Sunday using the wheel concept to expose the curl-flat defender in Cover-3.

Using the All-22 coaches film from the Lions-Cardinals matchup in Week 2, let's break down how Carson Palmer targeted running back Andre Ellington for a touchdown on the switch route.

The Cardinals have their regular personnel (two wide receivers, one tight end, two backs) in a Pro Slot Strong I formation with a Pony backfield alignment (two tailbacks). The Lions counter with their base 4-3 personnel playing Cover-3 (three-deep, four-under).

To the open side of the formation, the Cardinals run the Hi-Lo concept with wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd on the inside breaking cuts. To the closed side, the tight end will release on a vertical stem to target the post/seam with Ellington on the wheel route.

In Cover-3, the curl-flat defenders (strong safety and Sam linebacker) have to match/carry the wheel concept. However, because of the release from the tight end, linebacker DeAndre Levy has to fight through the traffic to get outside. That allows Ellington to create separation up the field and puts the linebacker in a trail position.

With rookie cornerback Darius Slay occupied by the seam route and free safety Louis Delmas playing the deep middle third, Palmer can target the running back in a one-on-one matchup down the sideline.

Slay reacts late, Levy is stuck underneath and Delmas can't get over the top of the wheel route to affect the play. This is an easy six points for Palmer and the Cardinals.

The Bears will have opportunities Sunday to challenge the Lions' Cover-3 defense with three-level routes or by using the switch concept out of multiple personnel groupings to test the technique and discipline of the curl-flat defenders.

Twitter @MattBowen41

Special contributor Matt Bowen spent seven seasons in the NFL as a strong safety. He covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.

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