Film Room : Coverage, Billick Style

I’m bringing in reinforcements.

The real big guns.

Coach Billick, Super Bowl winning coach and FOX NFL analyst, is here to explain Cover 2, Tampa 2, and Cover 3 in the perfect way only he can. From the looks of the video I’m a little concerned that he was held hostage in a basement by rabid Ravens fans when this was taped, but he seems to be in good spirits so we’ll move right along. (As for the guy who asked the first question – he looks/sounds like he could be Billick’s long lost brother in another life, doesn’t he?)

Don’t worry, there’s a second video! But first, let’s go over some notes from Round 1:

  • Plain and simple, just like we like it: Cover 2 = 2 guys deep.
  • Coach explained that most defenses fall into two basic categories: man or zone. Within the zone category, you can either play 2-deep or 3-deep.
  • This example is out of a 40 front. You might have heard that and been like, “Coach, hold the phone.” But you’ve already got this! A 40 front is just a defense with 4-down linemen, or a 4-man rush. So what do we already know about a 4-man front? That’s the same as the 4-3 front! That little hyphen between the 4-3 can and often is taken out so that it’s called a “43” front – same thing. So when Coach Billick says the play is out of a 40 front, it just means that there are 4 defensive linemen up front. (Psssh. You’re so ahead of the game and you didn’t even know it!)
  • We’ve seen this! The deep part of the field is split into two sections, covered by the 2 deep safeties. The mid-portion of the field is split into five sections, covered by the 5-under players (linebackers and corners, in this case).
  • Coach Billick points out that 2-deep zone is effective against teams that like to throw lots of short passes for consistent gain. Why? There’s a bevy of people in that midsection of the field, and it’s going to be pretty tough to complete a pass in the middle of the mayhem.
  • I love this: he wants to beat you with numbers, angles, or names. Coaches either want more people than you’ve got in the anticipated area of action, better angles on the action, or better players than the ones on your team. Not a bad mission statement.
  • The Cover 2 isn’t just for passing plays! Corners can come up and protect against the edges should a running play be called.
  • The weakness in the Cover 2? The “2” part. If the offense sends “3 verts” of “4 verts” – meaning 3 or 4 receivers running vertically up the field – there are only 2 guys back there to cover all of them.

So how do defenses fix that? Enter: the Tampa 2.

  • To “cheat” a safety is less scandalous than it sounds, and it doesn’t just happen to safeties. “Cheating” a player just means moving him to another location. In Tampa 2, the safeties move out to the far ends of the field to cover corner routes.
  • As we know, the middle linebacker is then brought up the seam to take away the middle passing lane.
  • You’re not crazy – Tampa 2 really is the same as having 3-deep. It’s just football: things are never what they seem.
  • We’ve seen this, too! In Cover 3, there are 3-deep – but it’s not 2 safeties and a linebacker. It’s two corners and the free safety. The strong safety moves under and hangs with the linebackers (so it’s 4-under).
  • “If a team is 30% man on a 60 snap game, so 20 snaps in man, the remaining coverages will be some form of 2, Tampa 2, or Cover 3.” Just revel in that sentence for a minute because that’s coach speak, and you know exactly what it means.
  • You rock.

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.