Film Room : Zone Principles in Saints vs. Niners

A few weeks ago we broke down film of the Colts using both man and zone coverage in their defensive plays. I’d go back and review that tape first if you haven’t already seen it, but in short, man and zone coverages are what they seem. In man coverage, players are assigned specific men to cover. In zone coverage, players are assigned specific areas of the field to cover.

In today’s film room post, we get to see San Fran LB Ahmad Brooks use zone coverage to intercept Drew Brees and score a touchdown for the Niners.

So how did he do that?

1. He looks at the receivers and the quarterback

Brooks drops back into his zone from the 4-3 defense formation. Instead of just watching the receivers to see where they are going or just watching Brees to see where he is throwing, Brooks has his head on a swivel, surveying the entire field for clues as to where the ball is going and who is entering his zone. Since no one comes into his zone, he know that Brees, who is already winding up to throw, is planning on throwing a deep pass. He focuses on intercepting that pass by reading Brees’ eyes (seeing where he is looking to know where he will throw the ball) instead of covering receivers outside of his zone (which was clearly the right decision).

2. He keeps moving and breaks on the ball

Just because he doesn’t have any receivers to cover doesn’t mean his work on this play is done. Far from it! Brooks keeps moving, and when he sees Brees get ready to release the ball and knows where he’ll throw it, he accelerates in that direction, making a break for it (or “breaking on the ball”). If he had moved a second later, he probably would have missed his chance.

3. He runs to the sideline

Not for gatorade. Not for a high five. He runs to the sideline because the players who are most likely the tackle him are all in the middle of the field. If he runs straight upfield, he’s going to run right into them. Bad news. But if he runs to the sideline, all of the offensive players in the middle of the field are going to have to change directions and run toward the sideline, too. That gives Brooks much much time and space to reach the end zone, which he does!

Never underestimate the power of a good momentum swing before halftime. Final Score: 31-21, Niners.

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