Man vs Zone coverage, learn when to use one or both – Football 101

Anyone who has watched football has heard the terms: Man and Zone coverage. This article will try to explain what man and zone is and when/why one is used over the other.

Because Jacksonville’s base is a 4-3 defense (click here), that’s the formation below. Also, this is 101, so will keep it simple and focus more on what the DB’s do.

Zone vs Man.

Zone – The linebackers cover the intermediate zones, the safeties cover the deep zones and the Cornerbacks cover the flats. No matter the play or who comes into his zone, his job is to shut that guy(s) down.

Man is when a DB is to cover only one designated player. Jalen Ramsey mirroring Tyreek Hill could be a good example. Whether Hill lines up on the outside or slot, Ramsey is on him.

Zone takes smarts and good communication. If A.J. Bouye lets his receiver leave his zone, he has to trust that strong safety Barry Church knows to pick him up. We’ve all seen plays where the WR runs right by a CB and the safety is picking weeds. He wasn’t prepared to cover him.

When Ramsey and Bouye line up on the line of scrimmage across from the wide outs, and they stick to them white on rice, that’s man. Free safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. could be tasked with the slot (if there is one) or a third WR or a TE. Church could be assigned a running back or tight end. Sometimes two DB’s could be used on one guy (double coverage).

It’s important to know that once the ball is being carried or has been thrown, all assignments to go out the window and the DB/LB’s should go to the ball.

Teams can play both man and zone because they want the CB’s to play Man, but want the safeties in Zone. And in any play, the DB’s could show one look, but do another. But boy, they’ve got to be on the same page.

When to play man or zone

For teams with slow corners, it’s tough for them to play man against speedy WR’s, so they could be forced to play zone. Or a team doesn’t have two safeties good enough to cover a WR in their zone forcing the CB’s into man.

The play of the linebackers can also dictate. If the backers can shut down the center of the field, that can make the work of the DB’s easier and a coach has more choices.

If a team has decent DB’s and can pick, then they’ll decide on the play or the team. If a quarterback telegraphs, or doesn’t like to throw deep, or isn’t very accurate, they could choose man.

Say the team is KC who has speedy WRs and RB’s, and a QB with a great arm, it’ll have to be decided play by play. Needless to say, when a defense has to change back and forth, it can lead to mistakes and mental exhaustion. The DC and his assistants better be on full alert.

Above only addresses the secondary and not what happens with the linebackers in man and zone because this article would run 1500 words. Just know that how a team plays zone and/or man can be made easier if they have good linebackers.

Max Protection, learn about a staple in Jacksonville’s offense – Football 101

max protect

Max protection is used If a QB is reading an overload on one side of the ball, then he can kill a route to have the TE stay in and help with the extra man. He can also move a player to help with that.

This protection may have two running backs or, a FB and a RB to bracket the QB. It can use two tight ends, one to block and one to run a route, there a few combinations all based on what the defense is doing.

The drawback means only 3 players go out for a passing route, which can limit the choices the QB has to throw to. However, depending on the personnel, it can trick defenses. Blake Bortles has thrown a touchdown to a FB from this protection.

Besides using this grouping to protect the quarterback, it also can help block for a run. No matter the reason, whether a designed play or not, the QB can change an assignment (as in, change a TE from running a route to blocking, etc) or he can move the RB from one side or the other – those are just two examples.

When a defense loads up one side of the offense with pass rushers or blitzers with more defenders than offensive lineman, the OL can shift their call to the protection. Which is one reason why you may hear the Center and/or QB yelling #52 is the Mike”. That is centering up the defense from an offensive perspective so they can apply their rules/calls.

Sometimes an OL is weak because they’re not good or a back-up is used due to injury and Max Protect has to be used more than desired. If that’s the case, the offensive coordinator better be creative because defenses can use the extra DB to harass.

Cover 1 simply explained – Football 101

Cover 1 is also called, safety high. The Free Safety is left at the top alone and the Strong Safety moves up like a linebacker. This is used for projected run plays or against dink and dunk quarterbacks. The Jaguars SS is Barry ChurchTashaun Gipson Sr. is the Free Safety.

As in any formation, there are pros and cons and are dependent upon the talent on defense. To leave a safety high, the coach must trust him to cover a huge area, but also trusts the ball never gets there because the front 7 doesn’t give the quarterback time to rip off a pass deep.

*graphic is generic only to show where players could line up on certain basic plays.* Below has two TE’s and two RB’s to show what looks like a run play, but the QB can pass to his TE’s or use the backs as receivers, too.

Cover 1 in a 4-3 defense

 

Teams usually play their CB’s in man coverage, (FS in zone) but they can change from play to play. The FS has the back half to cover and watches the QB so he knows what direction the ball is going. If the QB jukes him out, bad things happen.

The SS is lower in the box to offer run support, but he can still shadow a RB or TE depending on the call. Any of the linebackers could have a specialized blitz plan as well.

In fact, this formation is great to run blitzes from because it is known as ‘crowding the box’ if the SS creeps up even closer. Not only does it make a run play tougher, but it also takes away the short pass, except for the brave or foolhardy – take your pick. This is a good way to force a QB to throw deep.

Cover 1 in a 3-4 defense

Why would a defense want a QB to toss it beyond 15 yards? Because they don’t think the quarterback has the arm to make those throws or maybe he’s uncomfortable doing them.

Cover 1 can give quarterbacks a noose to hang himself with. It also can make a team desperate. They can’t run and the short pass is gone – a powerful tool to use if you want to set up a QB, too.

An example would be If Jacksonville has been taking the short pass away all game, but now wants the QB to throw short, especially in the red zone because they know he’ll target that open guy. So, they play one receiver loose, and then jump in front and have a pick or at least a knock down.

This doesn’t work against good quarterbacks, because he’ll read what’s going on, but it works great against “less than'” quarterbacks.

In addition, the SS can act like he’s playing Cover 1, but drop back into Cover 2. The Jaguars do this often because Church is really good. Or he can do the opposite, show Cover 2 and at the last possible moment, move up to Cover 1.

The bottom line is, when a team has a secondary (and linebackers) as good as ours, it gives the Defensive Coordinator a lot choices. They can play different coverages without losing a beat. The beauty is when you’re so versatile, because you have fantastic talent, there’s little an offense can do against a secondary like Jacksonville’s.

 

Out routes, comebacks, back shoulder corner fades – Football 101

For more information on who the great Don Coryell was, click here on a good read. It’s a sacrilege he’s not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Maybe next season.

For a quick recap, Coryell was an aggressive coach who favored a pass first philosophy that helped the run game. He hated conservative dink and dunk offenses and wanted to force opposing teams to play catch-up. Since then, the Coryell system has undergone a few transformations.

There are three really tough throws to make in the NFL: the back shoulder corner fade, the deep out route and the comeback. They’re high risk, high reward passes that can win games and dictate the tempo and defense coverages. Make them and you’ve an offense with swagger.

In a high flying offense, they’re critical. They also help the run game because of the distance they’re thrown, they keep defenders from loading the box. (having a defense play close to the line of scrimmage)

Many go routes (fades) are easy for QB’s. Some only require the QB to launch up a rainbow pass in the general area of the WR and let him look back and adjust to the ball. Shake his defender, like a jump ball in basketball. It’s more about what the WR can do than the QB because he’s running while looking backward to see the ball coming.

However, the back shoulder fade means the WR is blind. If he’s running towards the corner of the end zone, the ball is coming over the top of his outside shoulder. Away from the QB and the DB. That pass needs accuracy and the right touch, plus velocity. That route requires the ball to be thrown at least 12 yards.

Unlike the post or even a straight fade route, the QB can’t just lean back and toss one up. These aren’t high arcing rainbows requiring more touch on the ball. The one good thing about these are if you’re good, no DB is getting it. It’s thrown on the other side of him and dropping down in the bucket.

It doesn’t take as much courage as the out route because usually these are thrown closer to midfield or farther. This means if intercepted, he has to turn around and run the other way allowing the offense more time to stop him.

The out route requires timing and rhythm with the WR. It’s thrown in anticipation and has to be bang on the money. It is thrown in the intermediate range, 12-15 yards. On third down want to see who has guts? See who throws these. They are a staple in a hurry up drive. It’s aggressive and stops the clock so another play can get off.

Finally, there’s the comeback, where the good and bad separate. QBs are judged on these. Why? Because once again, the QB is throwing the ball at least 12 yards, throwing in anticipation, and in a small space. On the rope throws. And usually, like the two above, the WR doesn’t have the time or space to adjust to a poor throw.

These are dangerous because if the coverage can read the play and jump in front of this pass, he’s already facing his end zone and not a lot of people between him a pick six. This is a pass the QB absolutely can’t telegraph and can’t throw poorly. Want to see a QB who tries and completes them? Your franchise guy who is kept a very long time.
option routes
The easiest are flats, slants, digs and curls. While a flat is thrown towards the sideline, it’s a short pass. The RB, TE or slot aren’t going but a yard or two before making a cut to the sideline. These are meat and potatoes plays for the big TE who can use his body to shield the pass and for speedy slots and RBs who can get open quickly. Dink and dunk heaven throws.

Slant is also a short pass, a good friend for the same as above. A curl is the opposite of a comeback, the WR is now facing the QB, same for digs, he’s in open field. This gives the receiver more opportunity to adjust to the ball.

Bottom line: the less a receiver is looking at the QB to make adjustments, the harder the pass. Those thrown beyond ten yards, but not a jump ball where the WR can see the ball coming well, are the hardest of all.

When people talk about arm talent, that’s what they’re referring to. Making those throws.

Shotgun Formation, the pros and cons explained – Football 101

NFL shotgun formation

The NFL uses three basic types of formations for the QB. Shotgun, pistol and under center. There are pros and cons to the shotgun formation, but every team uses it, including those operating mainly in a WCO system. In addition, teams will use more or less depending on who they’ll playing.

As we saw against the Patriots* at home, Blake Bortles operated frequently in the shotgun because they went away from run-first with the absence of Leonard Fournette.

The QB will line up 5-7 yards behind the Center who snaps the ball to him. Below is only a handful of formations out a very long list. In a pass happy offense, the choices of where the X, Y, Z, TEs, RB and FB line up is a long list.

  1. A generic 3WR set with a TE and RB.
  2. A 3WR set with a TE/RB and 3 receivers on the left side of the offense.
  3. A 2WR 2 RB set with a TE.
  4. A 5WR set with 4WR on the left side of the offense, which is aka an Empty set.
  5. A Shotgun Heavy with 2RB and 3TE.

Shotgun Formation,Shotgun Sets

As you can see, these are 5 simple examples; however, there are essentially endless versions that can be diagramed with teams creating new looks each and every week. Always bringing new tools to the chess match.

The shot gun formation is primarily for passing, so from the con standpoint, many running backs and fullbacks feel the QB is in the way. Plus, they’re getting the ball from a standstill instead of moving forward to get it, which gives them mojo when they hit the line. Hence, the formations are used more for a pass heavy offense. Running plays are a bit limited from the shotgun.

This leads to why is it called the shotgun? Since it’s considered a passing formation, teams regularly use more than two receivers. This means they are spread out across the field, stretching out a defense. There is an array of choices, like a shotgun can spread pellets.

A con is since the ball is traveling through the air before reaching the QB, there’s a higher risk of error. The other drawback is if the Offensive Coordinator isn’t creative, defenses will game plan and set up for a passing game. This can stunt the options.
The pros are numerous.

First, it allows the QB more time to read the defense because his eyes are down field from the snap. Second, it gives the Offensive Line more time to create a pocket. Third, if he hangs back, rushers are father away giving the QB more time to adjust.

Fourth, he isn’t holding the ball as long for receivers to get in position. This can lead to less sacks. If the QB is under C, he has to drop back before he can make a pass, so at times he’s holding the ball longer.

Fifth, while the RB may feel inhibited with the run game, he’s in a better spot for passes out of the backfield. Not to mention, having a RB and FB beside him, gives the QB “Max Protection” assuming they don’t drift out for pass routes.

Finally, good OCs/RBs/ QBs (especially if he can scramble) can use the shotgun against its opponents by using the run creatively. Also, a QB can act like he’s taking the snap under Center, but drop back at the last second or the reverse. For this to work though, the QB actually needs to run some from under C.

General terms

  • 3WR – 3 wide receivers
  • 2TE – 2 tight ends
  • 3TE – 3 tight ends
  • 4WR – 4 wide receivers
  • 5WR – 5 wide receivers
  • 4 wide- 4 eligible receivers with a RB/TE in the backfield
  • 5 wide – 5 eligible receivers
  • Twins- two WR on one side of the ball.
  • Trips – three WR on one side of the ball.
  • Quads – four WR on one side of the ball
  • Queens – A pair of stacked receivers
  • Kings – A trio of stacked receivers

Don’t you just love football?!

Option Routes and why Jacksonville may struggle with them – Football 101

option routes

Option routes

On a play, one WR/TE/RB may be given the “option” of running two or three different pre-determined routes. It’s the WR’s call based on the coverage. He can decide at the line of scrimmage, or sometime during the play.

Not only must he need to read the defense, but must be an excellent route runner with good quickness to turn on a dime when he changes his mind if the defense bites, or leaves a spot open.

As of right now, experienced depth and chemistry with Blake Bortles is a little thin. On the tight end side, things don’t look much better. All those drops week 1 aren’t inspiring.

*to note: this is football 101, things are simply explained and usually/typically can be inserted into most sentences.

I stressed experience because it matters in reading defenses, plus it also relies heavily on the quarterback, too.

While there are dozens of various routes that can be run, only three options max are decided upon because a) the quarterback has to be aware enough of which routes he could run, while watching his other receivers plus the defense and b) only so many are realistic.

FYI, not many TE’s are given the option because their route running isn’t good enough, nor is their “sell”. However, when you have the best like Rob Gronkowski (Jason Whitten was better), they can torch defenses.

When the receiver and QB are on the same page, they’re extremely dangerous to defenses unless you have DB’s who can cover really well. This teamwork builds over time, the duo reading each other’s minds almost. The best way to pull these off is to have more than two players who can effectively run them.

Also need is a QB who is experienced enough to go through his progressions. Right now, our corps is iffy and the jury is out on how well Bortles handles the option with this raw group.

In the NFL, WR’s aren’t just trying to get open, the option can also be used to trick defenses to think the ball is going one way. Call it a dummy option. The stem route is crucial.

Below are the very basic routes. On an option, they could have the choice of a comeback, curl or a fade because his coverage is blown. Or maybe, at the LOS the WR starts out thinking slant, but turns it into a go. He could fake a flat, but instead turn back and run a fade or out. There are dozens and dozens of route combos based off this tree, but it gives you an idea.

Bad things happen when the QB/WR/TE aren’t on the same page. If the WR choses a comeback, but the QB doesn’t see it or lacks the arm for the throw, if you’re lucky, it’s only an incomplete. Some veteran WR’s know what skills their QB’s are better/worse at and even though a tougher route could give bigger gains, chooses the easier one.

A five yard gain beats an interception on a deep comeback. An inexperienced receiver or even a more seasoned TE, might not have enough knowledge to know, so they choose the glory play over what their QB excels at.

This is why Jax may keep options to a minimum, at least for 1/2 the season. With questions at the WR position, there may not be enough time to get that chemistry going. While the onus is on the receiver to pick the right option because of his skill at reading the defense (and beating coverage), the QB’s savvy can’t be overlooked.

Learn about Stem Routes and why running them well helps the quarterback: Football 101

Over the last two seasons, we’ve seen inconsistent quarterbacking, but the receivers (and tight ends) weren’t consistently performing at their top-level. Plus, the depth behind them was poor. A very good QB can overcome, but weak play from receivers only compounds poor quarterbacking.

Why bring this up with Stem Routes? Because the Stem of a route begins the moment the wide receiver (or TE) pushes off. The black line below is the stem. As mentioned in the option route piece, WRs need to sell every route as looking the same. Running a Stem sounds simple: run until you turn (make break). It’s not.

*to note: this is Football 101, simple is used. Many sentences can use the words, usually or typically.

At the LOS, most plays will have a CB line up against them, either in soft press, hard press or off man (seven or so yards back from the LOS). That CB wants to mirror his guy, read his hips and respond. A good WR is able to keep his hips pointing one direction, sink them, plant his outside (or inside foot), and turn on a dime before the CB can react.

This creates separation.
It’s important to know that while the Stem starts at the line of scrimmage, mentally it begins much sooner: in the film room. Receivers need to know the CB’s who will be covering them. If he is an aggressive guy who likes to play hard press, then that first push at the LOS could be a step back. Why?

As covered in hard press, the CB wants to jam his guy, disrupt his timing so the route is shot. When the ball is snapped, the good WR takes a step back and lets his CB come at him, then pushes him aside and bam, he gone.

Remember in press, the hips don’t lie? The stem is all about the hips. If a receiver can get his hips inside, he’s open. That’s the size of an NFL window—the width of a pair of hips.

The dance between the WR and CB is all about who can get their hips to lie, read their opponents (and QB) and get the other to bite.

Rookie receivers tend to struggle with that part. They can run a route, catch the ball, but the ability to do what Diggs does in the below play, is tough to come by. Selling the stem and making the cut against the #1 CB.

Have a QB who can’t throw a rocket or on a dime, but still manages to make good plays? He has receivers who help him by creating space they can maneuver in. If the ball is a tad slow or off by a foot because there is separation, it lessens the chance of an interception. It also allows the receiver to adjust to the ball since there’s no defender draped over him.

Seasoned CB’s know which QBs struggle and they will try to jump a route, this makes selling the stem that more important. Get the CB to bite on a dig, but run a post, etc.

The below gif was against Aqib Talib in 2015 (who was tops), Stephon Diggs was a rookie in his first game against the top corner that season. Diggs keeps his head straight, his hips straight, plants his leg wide as if he’s going to go inside and instead runs an out route. Gets Talib to turn his hips out. Perfection.

Good Stem Routes should create separation.

My guess is Talib got over-confident. Didn’t expect this from some 21-year-old kid, so he got burned. That step sold it, look at all that space. The crappiest of crappy QBs can look like heroes if their WRs can give that barn door-sized window.

Jacksonville needs their young receiving corps of Marqise Lee, Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook and rookie DJ Chark to play at Diggs’ level who’s even better now. One step is all it takes to help or hurt Bortles.

Another trick WR’s can do on their Stems is a double (or triple) move. They can be used at any depth; it’s all about where the WR thinks he can shed his coverage. When he can get leverage off the hips, get the CB’s pointing away from where the route should end, he’s won. Even though he’s making more than one cut, it’s still the same stem because the route is about where the ball should be caught.

In summation, the stem is to trick the corner into going one way, while he goes another and to do that, he needs agility, speed, knowledge and a connection with his quarterback. Here’s to hoping our receiving corp can deliver.

Sacksonville lead the league because their 4-3 defense had all the pieces. Football 101

In our Football 101 series, we’ve talked often about a 3-4 and 4-3 scheme and the many formations/concepts that teams use based upon them. Jacksonville uses a 4-3 (four linemen, three linebackers).

There are equal pros and cons to both systems and each are dependent on talent and coaching preference. When a team has four defensive guys on the line, it’s much easier for players like DT Calais Campbell to get to the passer because it’s more a 4 vs 4 match-up and the T/E (tackle/defensive end) can team up or run alone and often ignore the center.

In addition, by having four, not three, guys on the line it opens up more “games”. The T/E can look as though they’re attacking a specific T/G (guard), but they switch. Or, they act as if they’re alone, but they team up to remove the T/G. Or a DT looks as if he’s going through the B gap, but he drops behind the DE and hits the C. It’s all about gaming the other players.

offensive line gaps

defensive line techniques

4-3 Defense with a Middle Line Backer coming up to help stop the run.

If you have four DL who are smart and fast, they can get to the QB before he has a chance to release the ball and splat, you have 55 sacks. The OL can win the match-ups IF they can get their hands on the guy across him, but facing 4 DL who can change the gaps they attack and hide the techniques, you’ve got to have a QB who dumps the ball quickly.

A team with a dominant OL who’s savvy, they can win the match-up, provided the QB is helping. In a 4-3, there’s often one less linebacker to come screaming around the edge, so you’ll generally see 4-3 teams have their T or E be their sack leaders and not a LB. Plus, they’ll tend to have more players get them.

In a 3-4 defense, there are only 3 guys to take on 5 which is why they don’t get as many sacks, they’re focused on plugging the gaps and stopping the run. The sacks are left to the rest of the team, predominately the edge rushers. Which leads us to…

When you have three up front, it allows two (or more depending on the play) to rush the passer from the C gap, or even the D. Almost every play, that’s what they’re doing, making a bead to the QB. This works like a charm if you have two guys who are both menaces.

If only one side is a true threat, then you can put two guys on him, and now your five OL can easily take away their front three. If you have a good blocking TE, all the better.
Jacksonville had four DL who kicked butt because they also had a good edge rusher and when you have 5 on 5, the defense has the advantage because those guys are quicker.

The downside to a 4-3 is if the DL isn’t stout, the team is left with one less linebacker to stop the run, pass, or rush the QB. QB’s who can get the ball out quickly, and can read the field well, can eat up a 4-3 defense.

However, if they can pressure the QB to dump the ball quickly, they can force him into bad decisions. He wants to avoid being sacked, so he tosses the ball too quickly to the wrong guy. Which is why Jax had 21 interceptions.

When a 3-4 team lacks two pass rushers, things can get ugly. QB’s have time to be creative and target the open guy.  However, if they do have two good rushing LB’s, offenses can’t bunch up because they need all hands on deck to block. When that happens, when the focus is on stopping the guys coming from around the tackles, the ends or sometimes the Nose Tackle has a free lane to the QB.

4-3 formation, Cover 2 and other Defensive terms: Football 101

Jacksonville uses what is called a 4-3 formation. It employs four guys on the line called, Defensive Linemen, and four Linebackers. What formation a team uses, is determined by the personnel. In order for the tougher 3-4 to work, it needs a really good Nose Tackle and four superb linebackers. Most teams don’t have both.

Below is a base 4-3 Defense (under) in a Cover 2. This is a standard formation, for a standard play, usually on downs one and two against an average team. The defensive backs are in a Cover 2 (2 cornerbacks and 2 safeties).

To avoid saying generally and usually fifty times throughout the piece, please assume almost everything is a ‘usually’. This is about covering the Basics. Football 101. Just know that defenses use many formations that are based on down, distance and offensive formations, etc.

Going to put current names for positions to give you an idea of who plays where and why.

In case you were wondering, football diagrams always have the defense on top, so while it looks like the L should be R and vice versa, the players are facing the offenses; therefore, the diagram is correct.

Defensive Linemen (4-3)

*Both Ngakoue and Campbell do switch sides dependent on different factors*

The Right Defensive End is currently Yannick Ngakoue. DE’s are big guys, but also agile because the best ones can get to the QB and hit him, but also stop running backs.

Left Defensive End That’s Calais Campbell. Great ends like Campbell, can read the offense and know it’s a pass play and bull doze his way through the line to sack or break up the pass. He is a rare breed because he’s huge, bigger than most DE’s, but has the quickness of a smaller guy.

In a 4-3, ends are tasked with stopping the pass and harassing the QB. In a 3-4, the outside linebackers are predominately who do that because the ends (or at least one of them) is focused on stopping the run.

Defensive tackles (4-3)

There are two types: Nose Tackles and Tackles. They line up side by side.

Nose Tackle – Marcell Dareus and Abry Jones. NT’s are tasked with lining up based on the center.  NT’s are usually the biggest mamajamma of the starters. NT need long arms and superhuman strength, they set the tone, keep teams from running up the middle and force running backs to the edge. The Jags want teams to abandon the run and pass the ball because they have the best secondary on the planet.

In addition, forcing the run to the edge gives more time for the defenders on that side to get there to make a tackle. They’re also easier to see. When you have eight HUGE bodies on the LOS, a small RB can be tough to spot.

Defensive Tackle. Malik Jackson He takes on a Guard along with either a offensive tackle or the center depending on the play. The NT & DT work together to stop the run. Teams can and do swap out the NT for two DT depending on the play. In another article, I talk about techniques and that determines how these guys line up.

Linebackers

In a 4-3 defense, you have 3 LB’s, a Weak (Will), Middle (Mike) and Strong (Sam). LB’s can and do line up wherever they want depending on the play. For Jax’s base defense, I set it up on the offense in a 11 formation (1 RB, 1 TE). Each have certain roles: stop whatever type of body comes their way. Clog up the middle of the field, discouraging passes. Cover any passes that are to the middle of the field. In plays to the corners, back them up. Sack the quarterback.

Inside Linebackers (Will) and Inside Linebacker (Mike)

The Will  (Telvin Smith Sr. ) is usually smaller and quicker than the Mike and has better cover skills. He’s often going to get tasked to watch the slot, if there is one, but their job is to tackle any one with the ball in their hands.

Mike (Myles Jack wasn’t down) is the usually the run stopper and power tackler. DC’s (defensive coordinators) can use different skill sets to become a match-up nightmare. It all starts with the Fearsome Foursome (DL). Those men need to stuff/slow down the rush because if the Will is the ‘cover guy’, he’s not going to be great at stopping the run by himself.

*a MLB is referred to as Mike, but it is not the same as being the MIKE (read here for more info)*

Outside Linebacker (Sam), in a 3-4 there’s also a 4th guy, I call him Elephant, he’s their premier edge rusher. Leon Jacobs If you look below, you’ll see there is a TE in my typical offense. That is the strong side because there are more players on that side of the ball. If an offense uses two wide receivers on each side of the ball, the defense decides which side is more likely to be the “play” side and puts the Sam there.

Sams have two jobs: rush the QB and stop the outside runner. They typically are the LB that is the quickest with the best agility to bend under a reaching OT/TE.

Defensive Backs

The defensive players who cover the back field are called; defensive backs. They are the secondary line of defense, hence they’re also referred to as the secondary. DB’s are broken down into two types: corners and safeties. Cornerbacks tend to cover the corners of the field, the edges. Safeties cover the back and linebackers, the middle section.

Right Cornerback. A.J. Bouye. Jacksonville is blessed to have two CB’s so gifted. Shutdown corners rarely get the accolades they deserve. Players who make interceptions get the splashy news, but what’s overlooked is in order for an interception to happen, the ball has to be thrown to the player the corner is covering. The unsung hero is the guy who’s sticky glue taking away an option for the QB.

Left Cornerback is currently Jalen Ramsey The left CB lines up across from the Z WR. The Z is the quickest and fastest receiver and since he lines up closest to the QB and easiest to see, he gets a lot of action. This means his CB must be as quick and shifty.

In man coverage, if an opponent moves its WR1 or 2 to the other side, a CB will move with them. In zone coverage, he stays put and covers whomever comes into his area. A CB’s job is to not let the WR he is ‘covering’, to catch the ball, if he does, stop him quickly.

CB’s are fast, agile and must be scholars of the game. They’re in a battle of wits against the WR, and the QB. They anticipate what the play is, where the QB is going to throw the ball, stick with the WR who’s facing forward while he’s facing backward and within very tight rules of “no’s’. If you’d like t read more about corners, read here on standard, hard and soft press.

If plays get past the LB’s and the CB’s (yikes), the Safeties are there for mop duty. There are two kinds and they line up with the Strong Safety on the left and the Free Safety on the right.

As stated above, when the guys in front of them mess up, it’s up to these safety nets to keep the play out of the End Zone. The Strong Safety is the guy made to stop the run. He’s the bouncer. He’s got his eyes on the rusher and will move up to get him. Barry Church is our thumper.

SS play closer to the line. Occasionally they know a play is a pass and they will full on rush the passer. The types of attacks on the QB will be covered on another day as there are different ways. Since he’s bigger, he’s often teamed up with a LB to take on a receiving TE.

The Free Safety (Tashaun Gipson Sr.) plays further back, he is tasked with the deeper pass, either moving quickly to stop the WR who caught the ball already or break one up. He’s also the guy who reads the play so well, he calls out to his fellow DB’s what’s what.

While each safety has an expertise, stopping the run or coverage for a pass, both must be great tacklers. While the SS may be better at it, the FS is no slump. And while the FS has better hands and cover skills, the SS still must be a ball hawk, too.
Hope this was informative. Ask any questions below.

 

Run-Pass Option-Learn about RPOs: Football 101

I was asked about the emergence of the Run-Pass Option (RPO) with 21st century QB’s. Until very recently, we rarely heard about the RPO in the pros except for when Aaron Rodgers would do it in Green Bay or Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh.

I’d say the #1 reason we haven’t seen them much until recently has a lot to do with coaches. Run-Pass OPTION gives the QB a lot of power because he’s deciding where the ball will go, not always the coach. In read-options the QB hands the ball off or keeps it, either way, it’s a run. In play action, the QB fakes a hand-off for a run, but throws because it’s a pass play. Neither has the choice to run or pass.

Typically, in RPO there will be three options: the QB gives the ball to the RB, or he keeps it himself, or he picks one of two throws to make. This means the coach has no clue what’s going to happen until he sees the play unfold. Same for the team. Power given up.

RPO’s are practiced, they’re not like a QB sneak or he runs because it’s a busted play and he’s running for his life. RPO’s are in a team’s playbook, part of their offense. Which is why when teams use them, it’s not a one time occasion.

To make this simple, they work when a defender has both run and pass responsibilities (usually a MLB or safety). The quarterback reads what that guy decides to do; cover the pass or run, and then the QB does the opposite. This is a cat and mouse: see zone, pass, see man, run.

It’s vital the QB and RB give the same look no matter what. No tells. That’s also crucial. If either give a sign before the snap or right after they’re going to run or pass, then that LB/S cuts off the play. This works best when the receivers are spread out three wide, etc. The QB receives the ball, he sees that defender’s movement and makes a split decision. Until he does, that RB has to act like he’s getting the ball.

Can’t say this enough: While you need a good offense to pull run-pass options off, this is about the defense being fooled.

For a while, GB was really the only team that had a modern twist on the WCO because they had Eddie Lacy and Jordie Nelson. One-two punch. Suck up for the run, Rodgers throws a 40 yard bomb. Stay back because you think he’s going to pass and he runs. They were built for the RPO. Able to play WCO and a spread, plus a QB who could do it all with weapons teams feared.

When Rodgers was first doing these, he often kept the ball himself because that is an option in this. However, as time went on, coaches saw that the same principle that allowed a QB to keep the ball worked for his back, too. So, why sacrifice your QB four, five times a game when you can let your back do it?

If he runs, the QB is going up the gooch. The OL blocks for a run no matter what the QB does. That’s crucial. That helps the QB if he throws because the defense is caught off guard thinking it’s a run play. However, this is the NFL, their off-guard lasts a second, so no matter what, the QB needs to dump the ball quickly.

Why are we seeing more of these? I’m no expert, but it’s young guys coming from college systems where they often ran these. They’re used to doing them and…going to say young, again because what happens after you run the ball? In college, the QB often is the one who runs after reading the defense.

Some coaches are smart and use college plays/schemes to help their new signal callers to make the jump. The thing is, often these plays work. If you’re a QB who came from a spread system where you threw a lot and do the same in the NFL, the defense is going to back up. Run-pass options are based on getting defenses to keep an even number on the line, so you can run the ball. If they don’t believe you will or can throw deep, then it makes it a lot tougher to use RPO’s.

Will we see Bortles do them this season? Yes, he did them this pre-season. Teams have to fear the run (and should fear the QB could run, too), plus that RB needs to get out the way the instant he realizes he’s not getting the ball, sounds simple but it requires him to know where he’s out of the way.

As far as the coaching side, Nate Hackett is a fairly open guy, he seems like he’d have no problem allowing Bortles to do this.

Remember, the run-pass option is about the QB deciding where the ball will go and defenses being tricked into thinking it’s one thing and he does another. If the defense doesn’t think they have to worry about your run game or passing game, RPO’s become useless because the defense will force you into your weakness.

Hard Press Coverage is an art form: Football 101

There are two forms of press coverages: hard and soft. In a second article, I’ll address soft coverage.

*To note, this is Football 101, so it’s a simple explanation and everything comes with a usually or typicallyso insert it in most things written.

The hard press starts at the line of scrimmage. The wide receiver (or tight end) and cornerback face each other with little space between. Once the ball is snapped, the CB has five yards past the LOS to push, slap, and bump the WR/TE, after that it can be called defensive pass interference in the NFL.

CB’s will watch the WR’s hips and keep his feet constantly moving, while shading towards the inside (if needed) because the goal (usually) is to keep the WR from making a break towards the center of the field. If he’s got the inside edge, he’s using his hands to prod, slap, and jam the WR while keeping his inside leverage.

The CB wants to jam his guy towards the outside so it gives his safeties more time to assess the play, makes it a harder throw for the QB, and is easier to push the WR out of bounds if the ball is caught. This is why he’ll often line up on the WR’s inside hip, this helps keep the WR from turning in.

This type of hard press is an absolute route killer, which results in one less open guy. It’s most effective on short routes and why having a good slot cover is imperative. Jax needs D.J. Hayden and Tyler Patmon to step up because they play a lot of nickel and the slot is key.

Smaller CB’s can struggle against big TE’s if their form isn’t perfect. A CB with long limbs can keep his hands on the WR while maintaining enough space to move and make plays on the ball.

The key to winning this match-up is: the hips don’t lie. CB’s should follow the hips, not the eyes or shoulders of the WR. Only the very best WR/TE can have their hips pointing in one direction and then break off in a another suddenly.

Chad Johnson was one of the best at these agile moves. Julio Jones is among the best at using his strength to break the jam and streak down the field. They are few and far between. This is why WR’s (especially the raw) struggle running routes against seasoned CB’s. Their hips don’t lie.

If this dance lasts past five yards, the CB is no longer jamming his guy anyway he can, he’s now running hip to hip (with some bumps and sneaky slaps) with the receiver. Good press guys will slap the hand as the WR is catching the ball. As long as contact is at the same time, it’s not a flag. This ritual between the two isn’t for the weak, it’s all mind games, athleticism and focus.

CB’s who can back-pedal, shove, bump, herd his guy at the same time and keep an arm free to intercept passes, are ones who often ones who make All-Pro and Pro-Bowls.
The next type of coverage is soft press, which will be covered in a separate article.

This film clip shows Jalen Ramsey as the guy who does it all.

Identifying Mike: Football 101

We’ve all seen quarterbacks gesturing wildly at the line of scrimmage, or directing guys to move around. Many fans believe the quarterback is changing the play; however, more times than not, he’s identifying MIKE. He wants a defense to tip their hand based on what he and his offense does.

What is the Mike?

He’s often an inside linebacker, but also the indicator of the scheme the offensive line should use to block. There are two types of inside (middle) linebackers (ILB). Will (weak side) and Mike (middle). It’s confusing, but it’s about the role one fills during a play. There’s also a Sam (strong side LB) who is typically an outside LB, but can line up anywhere. In a 3-4, there’s also a 4th linebacker, the Edge Rusher.

What’s to remember is just because a LB is labeled W, M, S or ER, doesn’t mean that’s where or how he always plays.

There is a double reason in identifying Mike. First, the QB wants the OL to have an even match-up. Offenses don’t want the defense sending four guys to the right of center and they only have two men to block them. If he sees this, he will call out the LB’s number further to his right. That’s who the center and line should change their gap assignments for, or at least keep their eyes on.

Identifying Mike changes the gap assignments and the protection.

offensive line gaps
Secondly, what’s the #1 rule in offense? Protect the QB. It doesn’t matter if it’s a run play because someone, like a Calais Campbell, could get to the QB in a shotgun position before he can hand it off to the RB. Not just him, the whole line could blitz and the RB is getting slammed, too.

In a typical one back set (see diagram below), the offense will want to give the same look, so defenses don’t know if it’s a run or pass play. The defense is also trying to disguise where they’re sending pressure from. They don’t want to tip their hand who has what assignment. QB’s will often try to assess this by letting the play clock run down hoping the LB or safety will move or give a “tell” so he knows what the protection should be.

Let’s say the SS (Strong Safety) is creeping up. The QB (or OL) determines that it’s actually the S who’s Mike. This lets the OL know what gap to fill, also the TE and RB because that’s where the any blitz/rush may come from. As was covered in two separate pieces on one vs two gaps and over/under, it’s all about disguises.

The Center, RG and RT will aim right and the C may line up across from the DT instead of the NT, or shade him. Of course, he could stay put and the tandem of G/T slides instead. The bottom line is the OL now knows who could be coming through and which guys they need to block.

defensive line techniques
will is mike
In the hypothetical play above, there really isn’t a weak side because the field is balanced. The defense decides to play their Will on the TE side because they think the Y is a dummy, or he’s there to help block the Edge. The QB also decides the W is Mike because pre-snap he sees the SS creeping up, plus the LCB is playing press.

While CBs don’t often sack the QB, they can’t be discounted playing at the line of scrimmage, so he determines between the safety and the CB, he needs more protection from that side. Hence, the Will is Mike.

Once he’s identified, the QB yells out his number (LBs #’s are in the 50’s), so you’ll hear, 56 is Mike, 56 Mike. The OL changes its gap coverage so the C is lined up across from the Mike, not the NT making it 5v5. Or not.

That’s the funny thing about football. The Center could stay put, but keep his eyes on the Mike as needed while the G and T move over. He then moves where he’s needed. He could also call one protection, realize after the snap, he was wrong and swap. What’s key is the OL knowing where to look and who to block.

The story doesn’t end there though because defenses could have a LB act as if he’s Mike, but once the ball is snapped, they change responsibilities.

With rookies or first time starters, teams like to confuse the QB by doing the above. He’s only seen a “look” from this year or the last on film, so they will show him one they haven’t used. If there’s an OL or RB who hasn’t been around for a while, they won’t be able to tell him.

Yes, O-linemen can and do change plays based on protection, provided the coach has given them that responsibility. The Jags have a few veterans and with a former O-linemen as a HC, he no doubt allows it.

Based on his pre-snap read, and the play that’s been called, he or the OL, could yell kill, kill and the play is changed to Plan B. Every snap has a back-up play if this occurs. Most often it goes to a run if there’s a back. However, some QBs will yell kill, but they didn’t really. This can get a defense to relax or prepare for a run and the QB passes.

Football is ALL about disguises, stunts, fake-outs

 In summary, a good QB and his trusty wingmen, will diagnose the protection correctly by identifying Mike and he lives to see another day.