From the Far Hash: the Defense We *Want* to See Played Against the Packers
It’s been awhile since I wrote a playbook article, so I got the itch to compose one today. You’ll also notice that I have gone legit and actually drew my formations and plays with an honest to goodness computer. I decided that cell phone pictures of crappy drawings on paper was clearly amateur hour.
In the last few seasons, you could easily argue that the Packers had a fantastic passing game and a mediocre, at best, running game. You also are well aware of the conundrum that we heard about ad nauseum in the past about how the Packers offense had troubles running their pass plays against the cover 2 and cover 2 man.
Why is the cover 2 man so effective against the pass? It’s because it allows the defense to play seven men in the box and drop four defenders into bracket coverage to suffocate the pass.
How do you get a team out of cover 2 man? Have a great running game, which forces them into walking an eighth defender into the box. With eight in the box, the defense can only drop three into deep coverage, which takes away the suffocating brackets of the cover 2.
Below, I put together a little flow chart for how a defense decides to match up against offensive strengths and weaknesses.
So, let’s summarize what this all means. Does the offense have a legitimate running game? If yes, then you can’t have seven in the box and play cover 2. You need that eighth defender. Does the offense have a legitimate passing game? Are their receivers better than you defensive backs? If yes, you have to play cover 3 zone. You’ll get torched in man-to-man coverage, so your only option that protects against quick passing strikes, while still honoring the run with eight in the box, is cover 3. You simply cannot play cover 2 with eight in the box. Cannot. End of story.
So that, right there, is what the Packers need to do. They need to get the defense out of the cover 2 suffocation with a strong running game. Hello, Eddie Lacy. The Packers have an excellent receiving core, so the defense cannot play man-to-man. Therefore, the best option to stop the Packers is the cover 3. That means the Packers have a legitimate running game and a scary passing game. If we see the defense facing the Packers in the cover 3, that means good things.
A successful Packers team should be facing a lot of cover 3. We want to see this (well, assuming professional coaches know how to game plan because it would be nice to see straight man-to-man all year).
And, best yet, is the cover 3 is very beatable. Let’s take a look at some very basic plays that beat the cover 3, which will be plays I expect to see in the offense this season.
Let’s first take a look at the cover 3. Basically, it divides the field into halves. There’s the underneath half and the deep half. The coverage is named after how many defenders cover the deep half. Cover 2 has two, and the cover 3 has three. See the figure below. The standard cover 3 has the free safety playing center field and both cornerbacks dropping into the outer thirds.
The way you defeat the cover 3 is look for weaknesses, or seams, in the zones. The space between the underneath and deep halves is a seam. Also, the space between the free safety and both cornerbacks are seams.
The most basic way to exploit the cover 3 using a single receiver route is the dig route. The receiver starts running vertically, but then cuts inward in the space between halves. No one guards the space, so the defenders will only drive towards the receiver once the ball is in the air. Aaron Rodgers will drill it in there with no problems at all before the defender can close.
Another easy way to win against the cover 3 is to flood the zone. Since zone coverage basically is setup for each defender to guard a space, and then defend the man who enters that space, all you have to do is send two or more men into that space. The defender can’t cover them all, so one will come open. This is flooding. Two vertical streaks (go route) is highly effective, which is easily accomplished by sending both the slot and wide receivers deep. A fast tight end could run the inside go route.
Another effective route combination is the post and dig combo. Since the free safety has to guard the middle of the field, he is responsible for the dig route, and he’s trained to look for it right away since it’s the staple of the cover 3 “beater” package. If he jumps the dig route, the deep middle has been vacated, which the cornerback is not looking first to cover. So, by slipping in a post pattern behind the dig, the offense should be able to get a nice gain. The dig can be run by either a tight end or slot receiver.
Another great combination is to slip an out route in the seam underneath the play side cornerback who is currently defending several different deep route combinations. The out route simply cannot be guarded by the cornerback, so it will have to be defended by the strong safety, nickel cornerback, or outside linebacker. They won’t have the best angle at this, so the out route will have a great chance of running open.
There are many ways to beat the cover 3, but I’ll show one more that works well when the offense has an athletic and fast tight end, which the Packers do have in Jermichael Finley. The tight end can run a sail route, which is tailor made to destroy the cover 3. The tight end meanders toward the seam between the free safety and cornerback. Then, he can sight adjust the route to be an out or a corner. This is havoc for the cornerback. Plus, it’s made worse for the cornerback if there is a wide receiver running a go route through his turf. It’s a winner, for sure. Someone will be open for a nice gain. Expect Finley to run a lot of sails this season.
There you have it. If the Packers have a legitimate running game, defenses will most likely deploy the cover 3. If we see the cover 3 during Packers games, that’s a good thing. Eddie Lacy will have struck fear in the defenders and Aaron Rodgers will be playing pitch and catch with tried and true cover 3 beaters.
If the defense drops back into cover 2 to stop the vertical gashing, Eddie Lacy will rip off chunks of yards. If the defense drops eight in the box for Eddie, Aaron will shred them. That’s a good thing. It could get very, very fun this year.
Go Pack Go!