Trap Coverage and Pick Sixes

The following excerpt is taking from a comprehensive post breaking down Browns’ cornerback Justin Gilbert’s 2014 pick-six off Andrew Luck. The entire article can be read at The Orange and Brown Report

Base pass shells like Cover 1, Cover 2, Cover 3, and Cover 4 are too limited to stop the college and NFL passing game in this age of explosive offense. Creative offensive minds have identified and ruthlessly exploited the weaknesses in the various coverage groups using triangle (and rub concepts against man defense) that vertically and horizontally stretch defenders, creating defined progression and reads for the quarterback. Any offensive coach worth his (or her) salt has several ‘coverage beaters’ in the playbook that take advantage of schematic weaknesses within all of the aforementioned coverage families (think the ‘smash’ concept against Cover 2 or the curl-flat against Cover 3). Most defensive coordinators have integrated ‘pattern matching’ rules into their defenses that require the pass defenders to read the receiver’s release at the line of scrimmage to determine who guards who (like a matchup zone in basketball) to counter ultra-efficient offensive play calling, but even modern-day pattern matching rules can be defeated with creative route design. How do defensive coaches counter these concepts while maintaining tried-and-true base coverages? The answer lies in trap coverages.

Trap coverage has been used up and down the college ranks for a number of years, but only within the last half-decade have we seen widespread matriculation into the NFL coaching ranks. College coaches like TCU Gary Patterson (whose Blue Special and Two Read are likely the most popular versions of trap coverage at the movement) have led the charge in modifying coverage rules within base concepts like Cover 4, both preserving the basic integrity and rules of the defense while changing individual rules and responsibilities. Trap coverages rely on three principles:

  • Disguise the coverage pre-snap
  • “Show” the quarterback a specific coverage before rotating to something different after the snap 
  • Change the ‘usual’ read rules that determine individual responsibility after the receivers release at the snap

Gilbert’s pick-six of Andrew Luck provides a great example of all three principles in action. Without further ado, let’s go to the tape.

Nursing a seven-point lead with ten minutes to go in the 3rd-quarter, the Browns’ defense has Luck facing a second-and-ten from his own 12-yard line. The down and distance make this a likely pass, creating a great opportunity to set a trap. Pettine takes it one step further by running the trap behind a slot blitz from the field defensive back (most teams will slot blitz from the boundary side as the defender has less distance to cover). This is likely by design in order to force Luck’s eyes to the trap side as it is now has one less pass defender and any built-in hot routes will be to that side.

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RGIII’s Rookie of the Year Campaign: Running Shallows

The following post is an excerpt from a comprehensive breakdown of RGIII’s 2012 Rookie of the Year campaign posted at The Orange and Brown Report.

In our final example, we will watch RGIII make a progression-based read running another West Coast classic, the Drive concept, or 2 Jet Flanker Drive (the Steelers often run this play to get the ball to Antonio Brown in space).

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Creating Explosive Plays off Play Action Part Deux: Using Triangles

The following post is an excerpt taking from a comprehensive breakdown of Robert Griffin III’s 2012 ROY campaign posted at The Orange and Brown Report.

In addition to red zone and short down-and-distance play action concepts, Washington took several vertical shots downfield in positive down/distance situations. The offense hit two long touchdowns off play action in a 38-31 victory over divisional opponent Dallas in week 12.

In 20 personnel with twin receivers to the field (wide side), the offense hit their first big gain of the game through the air using a variant of variation of the Air Raid’s famous Y-Cross concept. The route combination features a deep crossing route (run more like a Dig here) from the X receiver, a seam route designed to clear out the middle of the field by the Y receiver, and a flat route by the H-back. The Z receiver (at the bottom of the screen) runs a quick hitch to act as a hot route will also keeping the cornerback from coming inside to squeeze the throw to the crossing route. Notice the triangle created by the routes

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Creating Explosive Plays with the Pin Concept off Play Action…

The following post in an excerpt taking from a comprehensive look at RGIII’s 2012 ROY Campaign posted at The Orange and Brown Report.

Washington’s second long touchdown came off play action, using a two-man Pin concept that integrates a post with an in-breaking Dig route. The H-back will cut block at the line of scrimmage to sell the play action before heading to the flat as a check down. In this example we can clearly see how the offense’s backfield flow causes defenders to use poor eye discipline, resulting in another explosive play.

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Hue Jackson Preview: Attacking Match Ups With Backside Iso Routes and Beating Press Coverage

The following is an excerpt from a comprehensive article breaking down Josh Gordon’s fit in the Hue Jackson pass-game posted at the Orange and Brown Report.

The ‘X’ receiver is in often in a unique position to run vertical routes due to the strength of the coverage generally being pushed to the opposite side, leaving the cornerback in one-on-one coverage with no deep help. Big, strong, fast wide receivers like A.J. Green and Josh Gordon feast in this spot.

Green caught a 73-yard touchdown in a week-five victory over the Seattle Seahawks running a ‘Go’ route against man coverage–although the play was called back for holding on the offensive line–on the backside of a ‘Trey’ formation (two wide receivers and one tight end to a single-side of the field).

The Seahawk’s are bringing five-man pressure, playing a 3-deep, 3-under coverage behind the blitz. Because the Bengals’ have three receivers to one side of the field, the defense ‘rolls’ (brings more defenders over) the coverage to the strength of the formation, appearing to force Green’s defender to play MEG (Man Everywhere He Goes) technique. This is a perfect spot for a nine route as Green should consistently beat the defensive back off the line of scrimmage , with the safety’s alignment just inside the left hash making it highly unlikely he can affect the play.

Green creates separation due to his outstanding release at the line of scrimmage. Let’s slow down the film to look at how he gets open and get into some route-running basics.

It all starts with the stance:

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Hue Jackson Offensive Preview: Isolating and Attacking with Backside Vertical Routes

Smart offensive coordinators will identify and exploit plus-personnel match ups wherever they find them. A simple way to force man coverage on an elite wide receiver is to align him to the backside (away from the strength of the offensive formation) and run isolation routes (specific routes like a slant or fade in which the ball will be thrown to the targeted receiver). Notice in the image below how much space Green has to work in by aligning outside the numbers away from the formation’s strength. The cornerback must play press coverage to disrupt the route’s timing, as the single-hi safety is located one-yard inside the left hash, making over-the-top help against a vertical route very difficult. In addition, if Green were to catch a quick-game route like a slant or hitch and break a tackle, there is nothing but green grass between the ball and the end zone.

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RGIII’s Offensive ROY Campaign: Running RPOs

The following post is an excerpt from a comprehensive breakdown of RGIII’s Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign. Click here to read the entire article at the Orange and Brown Report.

A second concept that shows up repeatedly on RGIII’s 2012 game tape is the popular RPO, or run/pass option. Shanahan wisely integrated run/pass options in the Redskins’ offense because like Inside Zone with aN EMLOS read, Griffen experienced great success running the concept at Baylor.

The idea is surprisingly simple; merge a pass play and run play into a single concept. The offensive line will run block while the receivers and tight ends run pass routes. The quarterback will decide whether to hand off to the running back or throw a pass to the receivers based on the action of a single ‘read’ defender. The goal is to put the read defender in a pass-run conflict by forcing him to choose between run/pass responsibility, making him wrong no matter what he does.

RPOs work particularly well in a no-huddle, hurry-up offense as they allow the quarterback to make quick, simple decisions without the need to make complicated line calls and pre-snap coverage reads. The passing aspect of the play allows the offense to get the ball to playmakers in space, as the pass routes consist of quick-game slants, hitches, and seams that are a broken-tackle away from going for six. Most packaged plays do not utilize intermediate or vertical routes as the offensive line may not block further than five yards downfield (a controversial issue within the coaching community as this rule is rarely enforced).

In RGIII’s first game as a pro former Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan dialed up several RPOs to take advantage of his rookie signal-callers comfort with the concept.

Our first example combines split zone, a variation of inside zone in which an H-back Arc blocks across the formation, with a wide receiver Bubble Screen. The read man is free safety Kenny Vaccaro, who has crept up to linebacker-level to run blitz.

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Running the Triple Option with RGIII

The following post is an excerpt from a comprehensive breakdown of RGIII’s Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign. Click here to read the entire article at the Orange and Brown Report.

Later in the season, the Redskins took the Inside Zone concept one step further, using three skill players in the backfield to run triple option out of a ‘Full House’ formation. While triple option has many moving parts, the play is very simple when broken down into components. Think of it as Inside Zone AND Speed Option in the same play. The quarterback has two reads to make:

  1.  The initial inside zone give/pull read on the EMLOS
  2. A keep/pitch read on the alley defender if the quarterback pulls the ball

Griffin starts the play by reading the right defensive end (#72). When the defender pinches inside to play the run RGIII, will pull the ball and move on to the next phase of the play, the speed option. Generally, the read man on the speed option will be the WILL (#59) in this spot, however because the H-Back (#35) is executing an arc block the read should be the right cornerback (#20). By reading two defenders the offense has again created a numbers advantage at the point of attack.

If the speed option read man attacks Griffen he will pitch the ball to the tailback running fly motion on his outside shoulder. If the read man widens with the fly motion, Griffin will turn upfield through the alley with only a safety to beat.

The left defensive end pinches inside, likely playing the backside scrape exchange game we saw in the previous example.

RGIII correctly pulls the ball and enters the option phase of the play, moving his eyes upfield to the cornerback. Because the second read man has widened with the tailback’s fly motion, Griffin turns the ball upfield for a first down.

RGIII’ ROY Campaign: Running Inside Zone

The the following post is an excerpt taking from a comprehensive piece breaking down RGIII’s 2012 Rookie of the Year. Click here to read the entire piece at The Orange and Browns Report.

A major component of RGIII’s initial success (and downfall) can be attributed to his use in the run game. In addition to his tried-and-true Zone Stretch, Shanahan integrated a variety of interior zone-based concepts including Inside Zone and the Triple Option to take advantage of Griffin’s’ exceptional ability to make the correct decision when ‘reading off’ a defender.

The 2012 Redskins’ bread and butter between-the-tackles run concept was basic Inside Zone with a backside read of an unblocked defensive player (usually a defensive end or stand-up outside linebacker). The idea behind the concept is simple; leave a box player unblocked to rebalance numbers at the line of scrimmage in the offense’s favor. Anytime an offense can put a blocker on every defender at the point of attack, the play will likely lead to positive yardage. Due to Griffin’s natural speed and athleticism, as well as his familiarity with the play concept from his college days, Inside Zone proved to be exceptionally successful.

Inside zone is likely the simplest zone concept to block and run. Each offensive lineman is assigned a certain ‘area’ to block. If there is a defender in that area (known as ‘covered’) block him using zone technique (short lateral/45 degree step towards the play, aiming for the defender’s outside number). If there is no defender in that area (known as ‘uncovered’), start with a lateral step and read the next near defender. If the defender moves outside (Figure 1) climb to the second level looking for a linebacker. If the defender moves inside (Figure 2), double team him by engaging the near shoulder, getting hip-to-hip with the other blocker, and moving the eyes to the second level in case a linebacker shows (note there are MANY ways to read and teach Inside Zone blocking technique; each coach has his/hers own preference).

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Playing Team Defense: When Run Fits Go Wrong

This post is an excerpt taking from a much-longer breakdown of the Cleveland Browns’ poor run defense posted at The Orange and Browns Report

In addition to poor technical fundamentals we often saw errors in role and responsibility due to communication and misunderstandingduring the 2015 season.

An early-season 28-14 victory over the Tennessee Titans provided a great example of errors in responsibility when strong safety Donte Whitner and OLB Armonty Bryant both attacked the same gap, leading to a 44-yard run by Titans’ running back Dexter McCluster.

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