How do you beat Cover 2 with trips? Let me count the ways

Brian Cook of mgoblog put up some photos from last week’s game between Michigan and Indiana, where Michigan pulled out the victory but Indiana’s Ben Chappell threw for 480 yards and three TDs, by completing over 70% of his passes. Most of these yards came from underneath throws, but Chappell hit a few big plays, including a big gainer on third and 16. Brian put up the photo below, followed by much hand-wringing:

Indiana uses the snag route concept to break a man wide open (shown below), and the question arises as to who to blame and if players were out of position. The above photo, however, shows most of what you need to see: you’re probably in trouble. It’s a wide trips bunch (trips but detached from the formation), the corner isn’t in position to get a jam, and you’re outnumbered. Being third and 16 it’s not a given that Indiana could convert, but this defense is not well equipped for the formation. To illustrate, let me flip the question around: If you were IU’s quarterback or offensive coordinator (or if you were Michigan and IU lined up like this against you), what would you call? The answer, most coaches would agree, is most anything you like, especially with the techniques Michigan used.

Counting game. As anyone who reads this site knows, all football begins as arithmetic. Were it not third and 16, the automatic adjustment you’d see against this defensive look is the bubble screen.

This works because of numbers: there are three receivers against two short defenders; the deep safety is not in position to tackle the bubble for a short gain. (And if he is, you use the fake-bubble and go play.) But it was third and 16 so you need to find a way to get the ball down field, or at least give yourself a chance to do so. Indiana called the “snag” concept. The purpose here is to form a triangle read, which is formed by combining a two-man “vertical stretch, i.e. one guy high and one guy low, and a two-man “horizontal stretch,” i.e. one guy outside and one guy inside. As shown in the image, the corner route and the flat route form the high/low portion of the read, while the flat also forms part of the horizontal or out/in stretch, with the slant-sit or snag route forming the other part.

On the actual play, the corner sat on the flat route and the corner route — one on one with the safety who had no help to either the inside or outside, and thus had little chance to make a play — was wide open.

corner

This worked for the same reason the bubble screen worked: the cornerback (one guy) can’t guard two guys (the corner route and the flat route). But let’s say IU wanted to be more aggressive and wanted to attack more than just the corner; let’s say they wanted to put pressure — and get a numbers advantage — against both the cornerback and the safeties. How would they do that? With the trusty smash concept with the divide route.

We all know why Cover Two is called Cover Two: It’s because there are two deep safeties. Thus if you want to break someone downfield, you need to send three guys deep. The great thing about the smash is that you can outnumber the secondary both horizontally across the field (three guys running deep and stretching two deep safeties) but also vertically (high/low of the cornerback).

From bunch, the outside receiver widens on his hitch route to get the corner to widen and then simply breaks down. The backside safety is occupied by the backside split end going deep, and, as a result, the trips side safety has to make a very unfortunate choice between one receiver breaking for the post and another breaking for the corner. (Tampa Two refers to a variation of Cover Two where the middle linebacker drops back to cover the middle of the field; if they use this your speedy receiver might still beat him down the middle, but if not you have the runningback on a checkdown over the middle.) I’d say that if you play Cover Two against trips (which can definitely be done — more on that later), the first thing an opposing coach will try you with is the smash with a divide or seam/post right down the middle.

Now let’s say you are confident that you won’t get much pressure on your passer, and you want to hit a downfield pass, high/low reads be damned. In that case you pick the most aggressive horizontal stretch of them all, four verticals.

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Wisdom on how to (try to) defend four verticals with Cover 3

Question: How would you defend the four verticals pass play with Cover 3? Answer from mgoblog contributor (and defensive coach) Steve Sharik:

Four verticals against Cover 3 [is] really a 2-on-1 against the free safety.

The QB is coached to look off the Free Safety and throw to the #2 receiver away from him. Well-coached safeties are instructed to not come out of the exact middle of the field until the ball is in the air. Four verticals against Cover 3 is not designed for the home run. The QB should deliver the ball on a relative line (a la Denard [Robinson] to [Roy] Roundtree in the spring game) at 15-20 yards downfield; i.e., behind the LBs and in front of the Free Safety.

Right where you want them

A properly coached Cover 3 defense will use its LBs to re-route and not give up easy seam throws. For a 3-3-5 defense, the alignment of the #2 reciever changes who is responsible for this. If #2 is a TE or Wing, then one of the Stack Backers (Sam, Will, whatever) is responsible for seam elimination (as we like to call it). If #2 is a wide slot, then either the Spur or Bandit is responsible.

The objectives are threefold:

1. Take away the quick seam throw by jamming and running with #2.
2. Widen the seam route to the Corner’s zone, or outside 1/3. Do not let #2 cross your face.
3. Get your eyes to #1.

Once the jam and re-route is accomplished, the LB will key #1. If #1 continues vertically up the field, the LB will continue to run with #2. If #1 throttles down, the LB will come off #2 and get to his zone. The Stack Backer will hunt a crossing route by #1 while the Spur/Bandit will hunt inside-out; i.e., curl to deep out to quick out. This is an easy read but hard to get to quickly. The Spur/Bandit must be a superior athlete. (This is one of my reservations about Kovacs. I don’t believe he can take away a seam and be able to get to a curl against quality QB/WR combos.) (more…)

Smart Football Super Bowl Preview: Manning vs. Brees

Give the media two weeks before the Super Bowl and they will find every weird angle to take to fill the void: Who has the best food (uh, not Indianapolis); what U.S. Presidents are like what Super Bowl (In a matchup between Super Bowl III, with Broadway Joe, against Thomas Jefferson, the third President, Jefferson won because he “wanted it more.”); and opinion from every blustery ex-player and coach that can be found. But now that the game is here, there’s one aspect that absolutely is at the top of my list: The game features arguably the two best quarterbacks in the league who run undoubtedly the best — and most interesting offenses.

Colts

The show Peyton runs is amazing not only because of its effectiveness, but also because of its simplicity. Indeed, in all but specialty situations they have basically two personnel groups — two wide receivers, two tight-ends, and one running back and three wide receivers, one tight-end and one running back — and they have run the same few plays for the last decade. They rarely shift and instead rely on Peyton to get them to the line and find the appropriate play.

The theory for all this is simple. Although a defense has some options and disguise some things, there are only so many things a defense can do: they might be able to disguise press or loose coverage, or rotate the secondary or send an unexpected blitzer, but they can’t move a cornerback from one side of the field to the other after the snap, and there might be blitzers but there are only so many candidates. As a result Peyton gets his team to the line and surveys the defense. Offensive coordinator Tom Moore typically sends in three plays: two passes and a run or two runs and a pass, and Peyton makes his choice among those three options. Typically, Manning gets the ball snapped with under six seconds left on the play clock; he both wants to take his time surveying the defense and limit late shifts before the snap.

And Manning’s menu of plays are both simple and have been constant for a decade. For runs, he basically has three choices: outside zone (the most common), inside zone, and draw (there are a few others mixed in as well). Believe it or not, the run game comes basically verbatim from what the University of Colorado did in the early 1990s (except for the option runs, of course) — football is not as complicated as people think.

For the passing game, on early downs they run a lot of play-action, where the goal is either to beat the defense deep (through post routes and go routes) or to hit a deep void with a deep crossing route or corner. (The deep crossing route concept is described here.) Another go-to concept is three-verticals, though Manning likes to look for the inside slight off play-action as a quick throw right behind the linebackers. (Video below courtesy of Brophy.)

Play-action from under center:

Play-action from shotgun:

On passing downs and when Peyton is in the shotgun, you’ll see most of the traditional routes that other teams run, but far and away his favorite is the “levels” play. It’s almost idiotically simple — the inside receiver runs a ten-yard in route (often Dallas Clark) while the outside receiver (Reggie Wayne, most typically) runs a five yard in-route. Typically the linebacker runs with the slot and the quick five yarder is open, but once he’s hit that a few times Manning will hit the inside square-in for an easy first down.

levels

I’ve described the “levels” concept (with video) previously here. Below is another diagram showing what typically happens with the coverage:

ds
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Montana Magic

Stumbled across these great videos of Joe Montana, grand executor of Bill Walsh’s precision offense. There are many great things to notice from these clips, but in particularly focus on Montana’s footwork. This is one area where quarterbacks as a whole have regressed.


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Houston and the “stick” passing concept

“Stick” or “y-stick” is one of the most recent passing concepts to have gone totally viral such that basically every passing team uses it — it’s only about twenty to twenty-five years old. Everyone has their spin on the play, but basically it is a quick, three-step route play, where the offense puts the flat defender in a bind by sending one receiver to the flat while another hooks up or “sticks it” at five to six yards. Below is a good video showing the concept and showing an example of the Houston Cougars running it.

Note that it looks like Tulane is in man coverage, though it is the defensive end who drops off to cover the running back. In any event, stick also serves as a very good zone beater, as well being a great, quick zone play.

Coaching matchups: Charlie Weis vs. Michigan’s Greg Robinson

Over at Dr Saturday, check it out in full here. I discuss Michigan’s new-look D versus Charlie Weis’s big-play (at least he hopes it is) pass game. Also of note if mgoblog’s great anatomy of a zone-read. It’s a must read.

And, after the jump, a couple of diagrams/vids that got left off the floor for the Dr Saturday bit.

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Breaking down the New England Patriots’ pro-spread pass game

You can find it over at the NY Times Fifth Down blog. I discuss three concepts — levels, the drive/shallow, and pivot concepts (y-stick type routes, or a pivot route with a square-in behind it) — and how the Pats use Wes Welker to make it all go and open things up for the other receivers, especially Randy Moss. Read the full thing here.

Quarterback’s checklist on pass plays

QB Thought process for analyzing a pass play

The QB must understand both the offense and defense

The QB must understand both the offense and defense

I. What is the defensive personnel in the game?

– A. What are the protection capabilities?

– B. What does it take to “go hot” — i.e. a sight adjust or automatic route (if applicable to the protection call); in other words, who must blitz to trigger this?

– C. What does it take for a route adjustment from the receivers?

II. What is my pre-snap read?

– A. Is the theory of the play acceptable when compared to the anticipated defense? (Is the defense still shifting?)

  1. If not acceptable, what is the best available audible?
  2. If acceptable (pre-snap, at least), are there route adjustments based on the pre-snap alignment of the secondary? Does the drop need to change?

III. Post-snap

– A. What is my read (be alert for secondary rotation)?

– B. What is my progression?

  1. If man?
  2. If zone?
  3. Who do I “see” (if zone)?

– C. What is my drop?

IV. Game situation in decision making process

– A. Down and distance (time)

– B. Match-ups by personnel (where are our studs?)

– C. Best route runner for specific situations

Hat tip to Bill Mountjoy for the above.

Update: A few extra notes on the above.

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