Film Room : An Intro to Coverage in the Colts vs. Titans Game

Funny story: we actually talked about one of the plays that proceeded this play way back in Week 8: Vic Ballard’s twisting flip into the end zone. Today we’ll get to see how that play was made possible.

So what went right here? Let’s recap:

1. Blocking the Twist

Using what we’ve learned about defensive alignments, we know that the Titans are lined up in a 4-3 defense. How do we know that? AT the snap of the ball the Titans have 4 defensive linemen aligned on the line of scrimmage, with 3 linebackers hovering a few yards behind. Those two interior linemen, the defensive tackles, are the two who are running the twist stunt: pushing to the outside corners and crossing instead of tackling straight ahead. Except they never get to the full crossing part because the Colts picked up on the twist and blocked it. Right guard Mike McGlynn is assigned to block the oncoming defensive lineman directly in front of him. When the DT starts to move inside to twist, McGlynn doesn’t try to throw him outside by himself. He makes the smart move of punching inside toward the Center, so that the center and the left guard can help to pick up both of the twisting defensive linemen.

2. Stepping Up in the Pocket

This is my favorite attribute of Andrew Luck’s. He is never rattled by pressure. His eyes are always downfield, waiting for the right window to open while he expertly avoids oncoming defenders. I love watching him play.

In this play, the defensive ends get outside and get to Luck in no time flat. But because he trusts his offensive line (even though he usually shouldn’t…they need some help on O-line in Indy) and never panics, he just steps right up into the pocket with his head up and arm ready to fire. See all that open field in front of him? Most QB’s would be tempted to just take off and run. But Luck knows that he’ll get more yardage out of a pass than a QB run, so he stays patient and waits for Reggie Wayne to get open. “Open” might be a generous classification for a receiver who is flanked by two defenders, but for Reggie Wayne, that’s open. He’s such a pro.

3. Adjusting to Coverage

“Traditional wisdom says wide receivers run away from man coverage and sit down in the hole versus zone.”

Let’s break that down a little further:

Man coverage is when each defensive player is assigned an offensive player to cover. In most situations, this means that cornerbacks will come up to the line of scrimmage to cover wide receivers and linebackers and safeties will cover running backs and tight ends. Man-to-man coverage requires strong match-ups that favor the defense; if the offensive players are winning the match-ups in man coverage, they’re going to win the game.

Zone coverage is when the linebackers and defensive backs are assigned to cover specific parts of the field, or “zones.” They aren’t covering individual players, they are protecting an area of the field and making it difficult for the offense to complete passing attempts.

Pretty easy, right? Man coverage = defending men; zone coverage = defending zones.

Next step:

“Wide receivers run away from man coverage” doesn’t mean that they run away and hide, it means that they run with the coverage and fake the defender out with cuts and breaks to gain an advantage and run “away” from the defender. When a receiver is running his route, he needs a burst of speed when he makes his final break so that he can get safely away from coverage. “Sitting down in the hole” would be an entertaining choice if taken literally, but what it actually means is that receivers read zone coverage, find the “holes” in the zones – where there are no defenders – and try to stay open (“sit down”) in the hole.

In this play, we see that Reggie Wayne both runs away from his man coverage and finds the hole in the zone. While most of the Titan defenders are playing man coverage, the inside robber (a free safety who is playing down low) is playing zone coverage (as is the deep safety, who is not pictured). Here’s what that looks like:

We're getting all fancy up in here, breaking down coverages in this week's film room feature.

The robber thinks that the tight end is getting the ball and abandons his zone. Reggie Wayne knows that he’s getting man coverage and cuts inside to break away from his man. He also sees the hole in the zone after the inside robber goes after the tight end and stays patient in the hole to give Luck a chance to get him the ball. Which he does, brilliantly.

Two plays later, the Colts went on to score the winning touchdown in overtime. All of which was made possible by this fantastic play.

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