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 : 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.

Film Room : Defensive Gaps

Yesterday we learned all about gaps and holes. It wasn’t too bad, right? But sometimes an extra visual is nice, so we’re going to take a second look at gaps today, since gap protection is something you’re likely to hear in everyday football conversation.

Here’s a quick overview of what we learned:

  • Defenses identify spaces in the offensive line with letters.
  • Offenses identify spaces in the offensive line with numbers.
  • The A Gap is the gap between the center and the guards
  • The B Gap is the gap between the guards and the tackles
  • The C Gap is the gap between the tackle and the tight end
  • The D Gap is the gap between the tight end and the edge of the field
  • It’s crucial that every defensive player has an assignment. Otherwise, gaps go unchecked and open up big holes for running plays to go through. Each defensive player should know which gap he is assigned to cover at the snap of the ball.
  • The types of defenses mentioned – 3-3, 5-4, 5-3 – are different from the main two that we’ve discussed, the 4-3 and the 3-4 (which are the predominant NFL-style defenses). But that doesn’t mean we’re in the dark! As per the 4-3 and the 3-4, the first number refers to the number of players up front on the defensive line, and the second number refers to the number of linebackers, with the rest of the 11 players being defensive backs. So a 3-3 system is one in which there are 3 defensive linemen, 3 linebackers, and 5 defensive backs (3+3+5 = 11).
  • Let’s take a look at this screen shot, which shows a 4-4 defense. How could we tell it’s a 4-4 even if it wasn’t labeled? There are 4 defensive linemen and 4 linebackers (and 3 defensive backs in the secondary). Thus, it’s a 4-4. (Easy, right?)
  • Bonus points if you know what formation the offense is in!

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 For even more information on gaps, check out this video and this video from USA Football.

Film Room : Defensive Line

On Monday we gave the defensive line a little love and talked about defensive techniques. Today, we’re going to learn more about the players on the defensive line and what their jobs are…and…we’re going beyond the film to take a look at screen shots and figure out the techniques used on the field.

Oh, that’s right. We’re going for the gold today.

But let’s put the horse back in front of the cart to get us started. Here’s an essential lesson on defensive line play:

So, what did we learn?

Defensive Tackles play on the inside of the defensive line and are usually big guys who take up lots of space and block the gaps in the middle of the field.

Defensive Ends play on the outside of the defensive line and are often speed rushers, penetrating into the backfield to tackle the quarterback or running backs.

Got it? Let’s move on and see if we can determine techniques just by using our post from Monday and a few screen shots from this video.

We’re going to use the less complicated version of technique numbering (apologies, Coach Bryant) in these examples. Here’s another look at it:

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image source

Spoiler Alert: don’t scroll down all the way. Give yourself a test and see if you can answer the following questions about each picture before scrolling down to the picture with the answers.

1. Which players are on the defensive line? (Positions, not actual player names.)

2. Using that information, what defensive formation is the team probably using?

3. Using approximate values based on the picture, how are the players aligned? Which defensive techniques are in place?

Disclaimer Alert: this is completely an eye test based on limited information, so we’re all taking our best guesses here – myself included! Go ahead and take a swing, even if it’s at a weird curve ball.

Here’s Example 1 of a defensive line in the video:

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And here’s Example 2:

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Ready for the big reveal?

Here’s Example 1 with the answers:

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1. We see that this formation is using two defensive tackles and two defensive ends.

2. Therefore, we can infer that this is probably either a 4-3 defense of a 4-2-5 defense (which we haven’t talked about yet).

3. By looking at each player’s alignment, we can take an educated guess as to his technique. I did this – in my own backwoods fashion, not in any official football strategy – by starting with the offensive line and identifying center and the tight end – the two keys I usually use to see how the offensive line is lined up. From there, I worked from offensive left to right across the formation: the defensive end looks like he’s either right across from the left tackle (5-technique) or right outside of him (6-technique). The more I look at this picture, the more I think I was probably wrong the first time – he looks like he’s outside playing 6-technique. Both defensive tackles are aligned to the outside of the offensive guards, so they are likely playing 3-technique. And the end across from the tight end is lined up outside of him, so he’s playing 9-technique.

Not too bad, right?

Here’s our second example:

football, advanced, defensive line

1. The defensive ends are outside of only one defensive tackle, so it’s a 3 man line and he’s the nose tackle.

2. We can then infer that the team is playing a 3-man front, likely a 3-4 formation.

3. This time around I started with the defensive tackle and worked my way out. The nose tackle almost always lines up directly across from the center, so he’s playing 0-technique. The defensive end on the offensive right looks like he’s aligned over the right tackle, so he’s probably playing 5-technique. The defensive end on the offensive left looks like he’s just outside of the left tackle, so I’d say he’s playing 6-technique, although it is definitely open for discussion.

It’s not in any way an exact science – at least not when you are looking at it from this point of view – but it’s still helpful to think critically and learn more in the process, even if it’s not 100% accurate.

How about you guys? How did you do? Any agreements or disagreements with my educated guess technique for techniques?

Film Room : Wide Receiver Route Tree

On Monday we learned about play calling for passing plays. While the basics aren’t too challenging, the sheer breadth of terminology and nuances between systems can lead to a bit of information overload. To circumvent that, I thought we’d take a look at a different sort of film for today’s film room post. This is an educational video for wide receivers that features Larry Fitzgerald, one of the greatest to ever play the game, as the instructor.

I think we’ll be just fine after we spend a few minutes with him:

*Note for all of the routes below: Larry frequently mentions that he’s trying to get a defender to open his hips. That means a defender has started to commit to one direction or the other – the right or the left – by moving his hips in that direction. Once the defender opens his hips, it’s much harder to flip his hips and come back around in another direction.

*Note for the rest of draft season: You’ll hear a lot of scouts and draftniks speaking highly of defenders who can “flip their hips” – that’s what they’re talking about.

The Routes Larry refers to are a little different than some that we learned on Monday, but they’re still all standard NFL Routes. Here’s the Cardinals Route Tree that Larry breaks down in the video, with any new terminology italicized:

1 Route: 5 yard Hitch Route

Plus Four Outside the Numbers – that means he’s aligned 4 yards outside of the numbers on his side of the field. He explodes off the line as if he were running a Go route (straight up the field to the end zone), but then cuts back in after running 5 yards to complete the Hitch.

2 Route: a Slant or a Drag Route

A Slant Route for X’s – remember, the X receiver is the split end, the receiver on the opposite side from the tight end.

Or a Drag Route if you’re on the backside of a naked – Whoa there, Larry. This is family programming! While it sounds vile, what it actually means is that the 2 Route can be a Drag if a receiver is on the backside – the side of the play where the ball is not going – of a naked bootleg – a play in which the quarterback runs with the ball in the opposite direction from the rest of the offense.

In either circumstance, the receiver is going to have to beat the defender off the line and run upfield at an angle to achieve the Slant or Drag.

3 Route: 4 to 6 Step Quick Out (Semi Route)

In order to sync up with the QB’s timing, the receiver running this route has to stay right on the numbers and leave as much space between him and the sidelines as possible so that when he reaches the edge of his route the ball is there waiting for him.

(Larry’s making up for his language in the previous segment by getting friendly – which means he’s going to close in on the trajectory of the ball so that he’s in the right position to receive it.)

4 Route (Big In) and 5 Route (Comeback)

In these routes, the receiver is running full speed ahead for the majority of his route before breaking either inside (4 Route) or outside (5 Route). The key is to not let the defender guess which way you’re going to cut. For the Big In, the receiver rolls in flat and friendly – meaning he’s staying nice and tight to the path of the ball – and catches the ball about 2 yards inside of the numbers. It’s the same process for the Comeback, but instead of cutting in, he’s doing to cut out at a 45 degree angle back toward the trajectory of the ball.

6 Route: Curl

The Curl starts with the receiver lined up 2 yards outside of the numbers, and continues with him running at full speed for about 10 yards. Then he cuts back down, much like a Comeback but at less of an angle, and gets open to receive the ball.

7 Route: Bench Route

This route is a bit of a combination of skills. When there is a safety in the middle of the field – or midfield closed – it starts with a slant inside, continues vertical, and then breaks out to the edge. When the defense is playing Cover 2 (when the safeties are deep and defending against the long bomb) or Cover 4 (when 4 defensive backs are deep), the running back runs a Flat and the receiver runs the same route at a higher angle so that they can hi/lo the safety – which means the offense positions different players at different levels vertically to make the safety decide who he’s going to cover.

8 Route: Bang (Flag, Corner) Route

1st Variation: Bang 8, a seven-step timing route in which the receiver angles to the pylon at the corner of the end zone.

2nd Variation: Big 8, a route in which the receiver chases down the safety, waits until he’s right on top of him, and then cuts to the corner of the end zone. Larry mentions that this route is ideal against teams playing quarters (not a drinking game) – a defensive scheme that employs four defensive backs in the backfield.

9 Route: Go (Fly, Fade) Route

More than just running straight ahead! The important part here is that when the receiver reaches the defensive back, he stacks – or keeps the defender right next to him on the inside – so that the quarterback can throw the ball to the receiver’s outside, right where only he can catch it.

That clears things up, right? Thanks, Larry!

Film Room : Steelers vs. Ravens

These cleats were made for dancin' - touchdown dancin'. Today we break down film of DWTS contestant Jacoby Jones' punt return for a touchdown.The good news: we get to break down film of a special teams play today, and we haven’t done that yet.

The bad news: we have to watch it with the Steelers in their bumble bee throwbacks, and we really don’t want to do that.

Be that as it may, it’s still a great play: a touchdown return with the latest crossover talent from the NFL, Dancing With the Stars’ own Jacoby Jones:

So, what happened?

1. Setting the Wall

What’s a “lane” anyway? It is what is seems: an open linear space for a ball carrier to run through. Think of it in terms of traffic: If you want to pass someone on the highway, there needs to be an open lane beside you so that you can accelerate and pass (and not make any impolite comments). To free up this lane for Jones, Sean Considine works towards his outside blocker (which looks like inside from this camera angle) to push him inside and open up a lane for Jones. You can see that Jones has that lane because he can run in between two Ravens who are blocking for him.

2. Stretch and Cut

What if Jones runs right up the middle? The fastest way from one point to another is a straight line, right? In science, yes. In football, when there are 300 lb men running toward you full speed ahead…no. If Jones had run straight up the middle he would have been tackled midfield by a pile of defenders. Instead, he cuts left to spread the defenders out toward the sideline, then cuts back inside with great speed and great protection so that they can’t catch him.

3. Staying With Downfield Blocks

Let’s just review, for a moment. Initially, Brian Ayanbadejo blocks his man around the 7 yard line. He stays with that block until Jones passing him at the 35-yard line. That’s discipline right there, nearly 30 yards of staying with a block. With Ayanbadejo and the other Ravens covering their blocking responsibilities, Jones only has to beat the punter to get into the end zone. The only punter who strikes fear into the hearts of receivers is Giants punter Steve Weatherford, so Jones is free and clear to score.

I’m sure he’ll be adding some dance moves to his post-touchdown routine next season.