Nick Saban: Middle of the Field Safety Coverage Principles (part III - Cover 1

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Cover 1

Just like it sounds, man-free coverage is man-to-man defense with a free safety in the deep hole (and a linebacker in the shallow hole). Players simply line up and play the respective man across from them. 1. Corners always take the first receiver outside (and use the MOF divider just like in C3) 2. The Strong Safety displaces to the second receiver 3. The Mike and Sam play the backs respectively (Sam has first back out strong / Mike has third back) 4. The Will takes the first back out weak or the second receiver weak.

As can be found on page 167 of the LSU playbook, where it explains Cover 1 assignments and adjustments to each formation. The position-maintenance covered in the first section of this series plays a major part in funnelling receivers into the free safety / rat-in-the-hole help and eliminates duplication of effort. With man coverage, there becomes fewer opportunities for interceptions, but it increases the chances of an incompletion. The main nuance of this coverage has to do with a challenging/conflicting assignments for the backers. Because the main thrust of the defense is to stop the run from the inside out and keeping the defenders playing fast, the premise is to keep the linebackers focused on the backs and TE. Saban uses an alert code (RAT) to prevent a potentially „coverage breaking‟ route.

“RAT” is used to alert inside backers of the strong safety passing off his responsibility (tight end) to the inside linebackers. When the second receiver (tight end) stems inside (shallow), if the strong safety ran with him, he would be immediately vacating the perimeter (where the run game would likely be attacking) as well as running into the path of the (run game) pursuing linebackers (potential rub/pick). To quickly circumvent this hazard, when the tight end stems inside, the strong safety will declare/yell “RAT!”. “Rat” means a guy is coming into the funnel (is being funneled) and the remaining defender in the hole should cut/reroute and jump this receiver as he approaches.

This call accomplishes two things. First, it alerts the next backer over (Sam) that the strong safety will take his assigned man (first back out), and he should now adjust to the second back out strong. Secondly, it tells the Mike, who is the “rat in the hole” that he is going to have company soon (crossing tight end) and can jump this route as it comes. This leaves the defense with +1 in the box, putting 3 linebackers on 2 (remaining) backs (see diagram below).

Because the 'rat' rules can be influenced by the first crosser, how does all this shake out in a real-time scenario? How is it all able to remain consistent and adjust to multi-level passing attacks? In the example below, the "shallow" or "NCAA" post/dig concept is utilized to attack the defensive coverage at 3 levels.

The corners obviously eliminate the outside receivers. Because the Y aligns inside the divider and is being funnelled into middle-of-the-field coverage, the strong safety aligns outside and his vertical positioning on him will be low-shoulder (see first post on position maintenance). This puts the strong safety in perfect position to deny the vertical-to-inside breaking dig route (with additional free safety sitting over the top in the deep hole to deny the dig and the post). Because the second receiver immediately takes an inside route (shallow), he is passed off to the rat-in-the-hole (S) who is looking to cut this receiver as he

comes across the formation. The flow-side backer (M) to the side the back (F) releases takes his man into the flat/flare. Because the back is accounted for by the absolute 'funnel' rules (2 on 1), the W, who has released his shallow to the rat, is free to ROBOT (Roll and Run to find the seam/TE). Since he is not threatened by #1, #2, or #3 weak, the W, in this concept immediately bails to find the TE and rob the intermediate hole (ROBOT). This provides a 3level-man-defense against this concept. Obviously, walking out a linebacker on a weak receiver is not ideal, so what happens if a back motions out of the backfield or you are confronted with a true 1-back set? Do you displace a linebacker and leave yourself vulnerable to inside run? This isn't a good option, therefore a second alternative is offered ("1 Alert"). 1 ALERT

Because we just want linebackers matched up with backs and tight end, when confronted with a second receiver weak, “1 Alert” is used to precipitate an adjustment by the safeties. The defense will spin the safeties to the second receiver weak.

1 Alert means the tight end and remaining backs are taken by linebackers. All breaks are taken by safeties. To accommodate or adjust to this, the safeties will spin the coverage (typically away from the TE). Rather than walking out backers, the safeties adjust and the S takes the TE, leaving the M & W on the remaining back (2 on 1, as pictured below).

This essentially slides the backers away from the spin, leaving a 2 on 1 advantage with the linebackers on the remaining back. The linebacker to the side the back releases takes the back, the remaining linebacker becomes the rat in the hole. In summary;  “Funnel” when LBs have 3 on 2 versus the backs  “Alert” when LBs have 2 on 1 versus the backs.

Brophy, Do the LB's read the backs vs the run too...or is it oline and then to the backs
JM

Well done on the 3-part series, man. Now tackle Cover 7 from the same playbook.
jgordon1

Brophy, Do the LB's read the backs vs the run too...or is it oline and then to the back
Brophy

Flow to man is the backer read in C1 Flow + line in zone
Brophy

Flow to man is the backer read in C1 Flow + line in zone
Will

Brophy, great series. I will be visiting your blog often. Question: does the RAT call leave the defense open to a double-switch? For example in the diagram above where Y stems inside on the shallow and F has the shoot, the defense calls RAT to communicate the coverage switch. But what if Y runs a whip and F runs an angle? Will the defenders try to switch back to their original men or try to run past each other? This is a quicker version of what Ted Seay might call "dueling banjos." Great question, but this isn't banjo coverage. This is straight man-to-man. This exchange simply aides a tricky stem (tight inside by #2), not serve as a rule for all defenders. Because of the position maintenance taught (see part I), the leverage the SLB would have on a whip by the TE would bring him back into the SLB (no advantage).

I'll take another look at the SC game and review the matchup against Lane Kiffin so to provide a
Will

Brophy, great series. I will be visiting your blog often. Question: does the RAT call leave the defense open to a double-switch? For example in the diagram above where Y stems inside on the shallow and F has the shoot, the defense calls RAT to communicate the coverage switch. But what if Y runs a whip and F runs an angle? Will the defenders try to switch back to their original men or try to run past each other? This is a quicker version of what Ted Seay might call "dueling banjos."
Brophy

Great question, but this isn't banjo coverage. This is straight man-to-man. This exchange simply aides a tricky stem (tight inside by #2), not serve as a rule for all defenders. Because of the position maintenance taught (see part I), the leverage the SLB would have on a whip by the TE would bring him back into the SLB (no advantage).

Anonymous

Does a good runner at QB change the cover progressions for the 3 on 2 or 2 on 1? Never motion out LB if possible, the run front must remain intact. Unless all they put to slot is a blocker like a true FB, or blocking TE, to lead a screen. -Mr.M Does a good runner at QB change the cover progressions for the 3 on 2 or 2 on 1? Never motion out LB if possible, the run front must remain intact. Unless all they put to slot is a blocker like a true FB, or blocking TE, to lead a screen. -Mr.M

Draw It Up: Super Bowl Edition
By Chris Brown on February 6, 2012 12:48 PM ET

CHRIS TROTMAN/GETTY IMAGES

This was a very odd game — with a very dramatic finish. Early in Sunday's Super Bowl, the New York Giants — aided by New England quarterback Tom Brady's safety — looked unstoppable. The Giants had a huge advantage in both momentum and yards, but despite all this, they only scored nine points. Then Tom Brady and the Patriots became, well, Tom Brady and the Patriots. Brady went 16-for-16 with two touchdown passes sandwiched around the halftime show, and New England looked like it might simply run away with the game. And then … I'm not even sure. The Giants kicked a couple field goals, Brady roughed his shoulder up on the turf, and then — with about four minutes left in the game — the Patriots had one of the most heartbreaking sequences in franchise history: Brady and Wes Welker, who know a thing about throwing and catching, failed to connect on a throw up the seam, where Welker was essentially uncovered. Then New York quarterback Eli Manning hit Mario Manningham on a nearly impossible throw down the sideline for a huge 38-yard gain. By now, you know the rest. The Giants scored the game-winning touchdown after Patriots coach Bill Belichick

smartly let them, and Brady failed to make good on his desperation drive with a late Hail Mary. Giants win, 21-17. Let's compare those two game-changing pass plays: the failed pass from Brady to Welker and the play of the game, Manning's fantastic throw to Manningham down the sideline. The pass to Welker is one of the Patriots' old favorites, and indeed is one of the first pass plays most high school teams install: The hitch/seam combination. The outside receiver (in this case, Deion Branch) runs five yards downfield and simply turns around. The inside receiver, Welker, runs up the "seam." The quarterback typically looks to throw the ball to the outside receiver, but if the defense tries to take that away, the seam should be open. Further, the Patriots ran the seam routes to both sides, so Brady could simply throw awayfrom the safety's rotation. On this play, the Giants seemed confused as they rotated their coverages toward the right side, to Rob Gronkowski, and Welker was wide open up the seam.

The Patriots actually scored on a similar concept earlier in the game, when Brady hit Aaron Hernandez crossing the middle in man coverage. And even more dramatically, thisexact play provided the meat for Brady and Welker's best moment of the season, their 99-yard connection in Week 1 against the Dolphins. On the exact same hitch/seam combination, Brady hit a streaking Welker, who scored a dramatic touchdown and set the stage for his record-setting, 122-catch season. But things were not so sweet Sunday. On a play that could have sealed the game for the Patriots, the pass was incomplete.

Brady tried to throw it away from the safety's rotation, and arguably threw it too far away from him. Welker, who typically takes the seam further up the sideline, may (or may not) have kept it more inside than he usually does, given that he was so wide open he was simply uncovered. In either case, Welker twisted awkwardly to catch the ball over his opposite shoulder, but it hit him in the hands — and then he didn't have it. (It appears that in the course of twisting around, Welker's helmet came up and his chin strap was actually covering his mouth. That's hardly an excuse, but seeing Welker not catch a ball like that is so bizarre, one looks for any reason why.) Both players would later agonize over the play.

On the other side was Manning's brilliant thread-the-needle pass to Manningham. Just previously, the two had barely missed on a similar fade throw to the opposite sideline. (Manningham caught it while stepping out of bounds.) But get used to this one: We're going to see it a lot, for a long time. The entire game, the Patriots had played a form of Cover 2, with two safeties deep to take away the big plays. Belichick did not want the Giants to burn them with deep passes to Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, or Manningham, and for most of the game they succeeded. The other elements of Belichick's game plan were to move Vince Wilfork out to line up over the guard and tackle, to take away the off-tackle run game that the Giants favored (as with two safeties deep, the Patriots were a man short against the run the entire game), and to doubleteam the electric Cruz. This opened things up for Nicks, who had more than 100 yards receiving on 10 catches, and, ultimately, for Manningham, on the biggest play of the game.

On the play, Manning and the Giants were really trying to go to the other side and to get the ball to either Nicks or Cruz. They called another classic, old standby pass play,"smash." "Smash" involves an inside receiver, Cruz, running a route to the corner off the deep safety, while the outside receiver runs an underneath hitch or pivot route to pull the intermediate defenders up. Indeed, this play is extremely close to the hitch/seam play the Patriots converted on, and teams often install them as two sides of the same coin: Hitch/seam defeats three-deep coverages, while "smash" defeats two-deep ones. But the Patriots rotated their coverage over to Cruz and Nicks' side, taking away where Manning wanted to go with the ball. But on the backside, Manningham defeated defensive back Sterling Moore off the line, and, fatefully, safety Patrick Chung came up slightly in following Manning's eyes to the right, and was therefore out of position for the big pass to the left. Of course, let's not get carried away: It was an extremely small window, and "out of position" is very much an after-the-fact statement. The credit for the play has to be given to Manning and Manningham: Manning for looking the safety off and throwing an incomparably beautiful and accurate pass into a vanishingly small spot, and Manningham for mustering every physical and mental tool he had to catch the ball and keep both feet in bounds. Just an amazing play. And in a game that seemed a triumph of incrementalism — of small, plodding steps toward the inexorable end — it was fitting that two big plays, Janus-like in execution and outcome, made the difference.

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