Look, let’s get straight right up front. I’m no film analyst. I know nothing of substance about NFL offensive and defensive schemes. The last time I played football, Ronald Reagan was Governor of California. Even then, I played center and guard — the important positions on the field. I didn’t know and didn’t care what receivers and DBs had to do. Bill Belichick would have loved me: I always did my job, knowing that it was the most important one on the field, and never worried about anyone else except the guy I was knocking on his ass. I loved being an offensive lineman.
How in the world did I end up writing for an NFL website if I don’t know anything more than the average fan does about football? Well, I have three great attributes. First, because I am a teacher, I have 4 months a year when I’m not working, so I have plenty of free time to write articles in the off-season when the site needs filler material. Second, I know how to use semicolons properly; semicolons are very important when writing about sports. Third, I spell most of the words correctly, which saves the editors time when articles are published.
In effect, my job is to keep the site filled with something — anything related to football — in the 8 months of the year when no football is being played. When the season is in full swing from September to December is when I focus on teaching and try to contribute something a few times a week to justify my role on Hogs Haven beside the guys who can actually explain football with some real authority.
But it turns out that I have a desire to be helpful...sometimes. For example, I pay good money every year for a Game Pass subscription, which comes with all-22 coach’s film. I often read comments from my fellow Hogs Haven members saying that they wish they could see the all-22 film. So, I thought I’d try to help out a bit. I chronicled my first failed attempt to do so earlier this week.
This article represents my second attempt. I almost typed “successful attempt”, but I think that remains to be seen.
See, there’re two parts to film analysis.
First, there’s the film. I got that figured out on my second try this week.
Then there’s the analysis, and that’s where I come unglued a bit. Let me paraphrase former vice presidential candidate, Lloyd Bensten. I know what an analyst is; I’ve met good analysts; I have friends who are analysts, and I, sir, am no analyst.
This isn’t me being modest; it’s me being honest.
In this classic Peanuts cartoon, Lucy is, say, Mark Bullock of The Athletic, who got started as a film analyst right here as a member and commenter on Hogs Haven.
Linus would be someone like Robbie Duncan of the Redskins Capital Connection, a former offensive lineman from Old Dominion University, who is one of the few guys around that does film breakdowns of offensive line play.
I’m Charley Brown. All I see is duckies and horsies.
That said, I still wanna try to share some all-22 film of the Washington Football Team to help build greater understanding of what is happening on the field. But this may be a bit of do-it-yourself analysis in the comments section.
In my earlier article this week, I asked people what they most wanted to see if I could manage to put together an all-22 article. I offered a number of choices in a poll, and the one that garnered the most votes was selected film of Haskins, but I kinda feel that if you want good analysis of Dwayne Haskins, there are plenty of people offering it — chief among them the aforementioned Mark Bullock.
Lets do a Haskins thread as I watch the All-22, shall we? Play 1. Works to his left, wants the wheel to Gibson, LB stays on top of it well, works back inside to Sim/Thomas combo. End zone angle shows nice placement on inside shoulder to Thomas, protecting from DB. Good start pic.twitter.com/nBOCY9aPy6— Mark Bullock (@MarkBullockNFL) September 21, 2020
What I sensed from the comments on that article was that a lot of people would like to use the power of the all-22 to get a look at the Washington secondary, and, in particular, Troy Apke.
The feeling that most fans got watching the Arizona game, I think, was that Troy Apke was a hot mess. Ron Rivera’s comment was that the free safety “didn’t play as bad” as people think.
There’s a huge gulf between ‘not as bad as people think’ and ‘really good football’, and I think a lot of people are curious whether Troy was or wasn’t as bad as they thought.
So, I decided to focus on Troy Apke today.
I spent a few hours yesterday and today cutting up the all-22 and pulling out defensive plays with Troy Apke in them. I quickly realized that he was in ALL of the defensive plays. Clearly, some judgement was gonna be needed to decide which plays to show.
Now, I gotta tell you — I learned something really interesting from watching every single defensive snap from the Cardinals game while focusing on Apke. In fact, I learned a few things, actually.
The first thing that I learned is that a free safety who is doing his job is often completely out of the play — frequently just guarding an empty patch of grass. That means that a lot of defensive plays just aren’t worth watching because Apke... well, he was doing what free safeties do.
But a few of the commenters indicated earlier that they wanted to look at the coverage from the secondary in general; for this reason, I decided to include a number of pass plays where Apke wasn’t a factor, so those people who are interested can look at what the other DBs were doing.
What ended up on the cutting room floor were things like between-the-tackles runs that were stuffed for no gain while Apke was 25 yards from the line of scrimmage.
I included a few incomplete passes and a couple of sacks or throw-aways if the coverage seemed to be an interesting factor.
Still, the number of times that I’ve included a play in which Troy Apke was just covering some empty grass — because that’s what free safeties do — was surprising. I realized why I enjoyed being an interior lineman so much. I can’t remember a single snap I ever played where I didn’t hit somebody.
A second thing I learned is that a huge part of being a free safety is not always reacting to the offensive flow. The free safety has responsibilities that may be away from the ball, and if he abandons them, it can lead to a blown coverage or a big play for the offense. I don’t know enough about playing safety to know if Apke was always in position, but I can say that I could see him at times holding his spot, and being the guy who stayed on the side of the field that the ball carrier was running away from because his responsibility was to take care of that side of the field just in case. I think this is part of what Rivera sees that fans might not because it doesn’t show up on the TV broadcast, and booth analysts rarely point out the guy who did the right thing by not chasing the play across the field.
A third thing I became more aware of than I had been before is how easy it is for a free safety to be out of position, and how much ground a free safety can make up while a ball is in the air. Despite how much we have heard about Apkes’s speed and athleticism, my impression from seeing every defensive snap against the Cardinals is that Apke is not particularly skilled at positioning himself, and doesn’t have the “make up” speed I always thought he had based on his measurables — at least, he didn’t seem to be getting to balls before they arrived where the Arizona receivers were on the field in my limited sample, and he got beat badly at least one time when the receiver just blew past him and ran away from him.
The fourth thing that I was painfully reminded of is that a safety is called a safety because that’s what he should represent for the team — the last line of defense... the guy who makes the play when everyone else has failed to do so. For this reason, safeties need to be sure tacklers who take good angles to ball carriers. Apke did not distinguish himself in this respect as Kyler Murray flashed by him untouched for two running touchdowns last Sunday.
Below you will find 27 defensive plays — more than I should present, but I’m not gonna provide much in the way of commentary or, God forbid, my hapless analysis. I will try to provide a brief description that will allow you to decide if you want to invest the 5 or 6 seconds it will take to watch any given all-22 clip. Most are not exciting, but all, I think, offer some insight to the trained eye to what the defensive secondary was up to against the Cardinals.
I will label each play clearly with a number from ONE to TWENTY - SEVEN. In the comments, feel free to reference specific plays and add insight about what Troy Apke (or, really, any member of the defense) was doing.
I haven’t added any circles, arrows or highlights. Apke is #30; Landon Collins is #26. Nearly all the time, Apke starts the play as the deepest guy on the field for the defense. FWIW, he blitzed one time against the Cardinals, but he was blocked easily and he didn’t seem to do anything wrong on the play, so it ended up on the cutting room floor. I’ve included a few running plays if it seemed like there was reason to watch the secondary, but unless the run broke through to at least the second level of the defense, or involved the secondary in the tackle, you probably won’t see it here.
Apke is at the top of the screen playing well off the line of scrimmage. Murray throws a quick pass behind the line to his side of the field. Not much happens; the play is stopped for about two yards and Apke isn’t really in on the tackle, though he gets a shove in right at the end.
Apke is lined up about 15 yards off the line of scrimmage. The Cardinals run what looks like a zone read. Murray fakes the handoff, keeps the ball and scampers about 13 yards. Apke, after initially dropping back a couple of yards, rushes up from his deep single-high safety spot to make the tackle. It’s not picture perfect, but it’s good enough. If Apke had missed this tackle, Kyler Murray would have knocked his head on the goal posts.
There’s not a lot happening here. This is a pass play. Apke, who is lined up deep is never really in the play, but Murray took the checkdown, despite the fact that he was looking deep initially. Apke backpedaled quickly at the start of the play, looked like he was gonna give the cornerback help in the end zone, then came off of that to pick up the tight end who appears to run through zone coverage from the linebackers.
This is a successful pass play for the Cardinals. Troy Apke is playing deep single high safety and ends up getting a piece of the tackle, which is never a good thing for the defense, but indicates that he was at least doing his job.
This was a Kyler Murray touchdown run that was called back due to a holding penalty. He runs to the left and gets inside the pylon. Apke is on the other side of the field; I only included this play for those who want to look at what the entire defense, including Landon Collins, who was on the play side of the field, did on this play.
On this play, to avoid a ‘coverage sack’ Murray scrambles to his left and throws the ball out of bounds. There were three pass catchers lined up on the right side of the offense (top of your screen). Apke started on one man, and when bodies started banging around in the end zone, he switched to cover a different receiver. What the Washington DBs did seemed to work; with the pass rush coming, Kyler Murray just had to get out of this play and call the next one.
This one is too easy for the Cardinals. Hopkins just runs right between the safety and cornerback uncovered to catch an uncontested TD pass. This one was a miscommunication that involved Landon Collins. Apke was on the other side of the field.
This is a coverage sack. Apke does the one thing I know a free safety is supposed to do; he stayed deeper than the deepest receiver.
This is an incomplete pass, but it would have been an easy 10-yard gain if the receiver hadn’t dropped the ball. This looks like a coverage breakdown by the CB who looked to be scared of getting beat deep. Apke was in position to make the tackle if Hopkins had held onto the ball.
Two deep safeties here and Murray completes a short pass to Fitzgerald in the middle of the field. I just included this for the readers who said they wanted to analyze secondary coverage by seeing the all-22.
This is a completion against man coverage to the right sideline. Apke was helping the CB covering the deep receiver, which seems to have been his primary responsibility. Again, this is mainly for those who want to assess the WFT secondary play for themselves.
This is a run play to the left side of the defense; Apke is playing the opposite side of the field and seems to be positioned primarily for run support, about 9 or 10 yards off of the line of scrimmage. I would understand if you were scratching your head and wondering why I included this play, but there was a receiver in motion across the formation to the right, and Apke stayed at home for the split second it took to insure that Murray had handed off the ball and wasn’t gonna throw a pass to the receiver. I thought this was an example of a non-play where Apke wasn’t involved, but did the right thing — the kind of play that only his coaches would notice.
This is another case of strong pass rush —> good coverage by the secondary and Kyler Murray deciding first to get out of the pocket, and then to throw the ball away. He had a receiver come pretty wide open right in the middle of the field for what should have been a completion, but the rush got to Kyler. Apke saw the open receiver and broke toward him as Murray started to scramble, taking away his only good option for a positive yardage play.
Kyler Murray throws to the running back behind the line of scrimmage on the right side. Apke runs hard for about 11 or 12 yards to come up for the tackle, but the ball carrier skips out of bound. Apke’s best decision here is to not blow up the running back as he goes out of bounds.
Short pass to the right side. The receiver spins back to the middle of the field. Apke makes the tackle, though all he really does is fall on top of the receiver who goes down before he’s touched. Again, at least Apke doesn’t pick up a stupid penalty for a late or illegal hit here.
This is a long completion that travels nearly 50 yards in the air beyond the line of scrimmage. I don’t know if Apke should have been able to break up this pass, but it’s clear he’s in a quandary and can’t figure out which receiver he needs to cover. Initially he wants to take the out-breaking route, but then starts to give help on the deep man. He re-assesses and takes a step back upfield before seeing Kyler Murray let the ball rip and trying to play catch up to the deep receiver. He never gets close.
This is an incomplete pass. It looks like pretty good coverage to me. Apke is playing deep center field and comes 2⁄3 of the way across the field, but is never really in the play. It looks like he was doing his job and this was a win for the secondary as a whole.
This is Deandre Hopkins running a good route, catching a pass beyond the line to gain, then giving up a couple of yards to lose the first down he should have had. Apke played the deep middle of the field and wasn’t part of the coverage on Hopkins, appearing to do the free safety thing.
Tight man coverage from the cornerback has the receiver blanketed and Murray appears to just throw the ball away from the pocket. For his part, Troy Apke seemed to be in position, initially backpedaling to get deep, then breaking toward the ball when it was thrown. All very anti-climactic.
Fabian Moreau gives up a big run after catch and Apke gets a piece of the tackle.
TWENTY - ONE
This isn’t a good throw by Kyler Murray unless he was simply throwing the ball away. The cornerback was closer to the ball than the receiver. Apke seems to have done his job here.
TWENTY - TWO
Washington was playing two deep safeties here and the play call attempted to split them by sending the tight end right down the middle between them. A better pass by Murray might’ve turned this into a big gain, as neither Collins nor Apke seemed to be in a position to stop the receiver from catching it.
TWENTY - THREE
This is where my lack of X’s and O’s really shows up. It looks like zone coverage to me, and the Cardinals run two receivers deep, one to the right corner of the end zone and the running back right down the middle of the field. The DBs seem to let both receivers run through the zone, putting Apke in the impossible position of having to cover both of them. Kyler Murray makes a bad throw hopping on one foot and misses the wide open RB running free in the end zone.
It appears to me that if anyone is out of position on this play, it's Landon Collins. There are two corners and the strong safety guarding the right side of the defense against two receivers while no one seems to take responsibility for the running back. It's clearly a coverage breakdown, but maybe attributable to good play design by Arizona coaches.
TWENTY - FOUR
This is another play that I’ve included just for those readers who want a chance to look at all-22 film to see how the secondary performed in coverage. In this case, though, it’s the linebackers who make the play in coverage, with Jon Bostic and Kevin Pierre-Louis combining for a nice stop.
Not too bad
If that had been the sum total of Apke’s game in Arizona, I might’ve thought, “Not too bad”. Out of position a couple of times; not the strongest tackler the NFL has ever seen, but generally speaking he seemed to do what a free safety is supposed to do.
But those weren’t all his important plays.
There were three plays that stood out so starkly on the network broadcast that, watching the game in nearly “real time” on my sofa in Bangkok, I found myself screaming Apke’s name and saying unflattering things about him and some members of his family. It was these three plays that drove the narrative of Apke’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.
I call them “The Big Three”.
The Big Three
TWENTY - FIVE
This is the first Kyler Murray touchdown run. Troy Apke is the last player to have a shot at tackling him to prevent the score. The second angle really shows how badly the safety played this one.
TWENTY - SIX
Not long after whiffing on Murray’s touchdown scramble, Apke saves a touchdown by making a tackle 50 yards downfield, but the only reason the receiver was open for the catch was because 15 yards from the line of scrimmage, the receiver blew past Troy and gained about 5 yards of separation in a millisecond. Apke spent the next couple of seconds trying to catch him from behind. He did, but only after a huge offensive play.
TWENTY - SEVEN
It’s deja vu all over again as Murray takes off running and scores a touchdown. Once again Troy Apke is the last line of defense and once again Kyler Murray blows him a kiss as he flies past him untouched.
Was Ron Rivera right? Was Troy Apke’s day at the office in Arizona not as bad as fans thought it was?
Was it unreasonable to think that he would (should?) be able to tackle the very shifty Kyler Murray in the open field in what was basically a set of one-on-one situations?
Should three bad plays overwhelm the rest of the defensive snaps where, more often than not, Troy Apke was where he was supposed to be?
Having reviewed 27 defensive snaps against the Cardinals, what do you think about Troy Apke’s play?
This poll is closed
Terrible. These kinds of mistakes are inexcusable in a starting NFL free safety.
Rivera was right. He didn’t play as badly as fans thought he did. A few miscues were blown out of proportion.
He wasn’t perfect, but no player in an NFL game ever is. Apke played well against the Cardinals. He deserves to be the starter.