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Let's Talk Atlanta Falcons Coverages - Quinn keeps it simple... but not too simple.


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In light of some of the exchanges I had yesterday, and Kayoh's 4-3,-3-4 thread today I felt a little inspired to give this a try and contribute by discussing one of the "specialty" coverages that Dan Quinn brought from Seattle.

Now as everyone (I assume knows), Dan Quinn and the Falcons base out of a single high safety look.  From that you get either some form of Cover-1 (Rat or Robber), and Cover-3 (Buzz or Sky).  For anyone who does not know what Cover-3 is; it is pretty much the most basic coverage in all of football.  It's the first coverage you learn to play when you put on pads at any level from pee-wee all the way up to the first day of mini-camp in the NFL because it is so easy to understand and execute.  

Basic design: Three deep defenders (both corners and a safety) playing 1/3's,  two underneath defenders playing the hook zone, and two playing the flats.

For those Madden players, this is what it looks like.

albumpicture.php?albumid=3286&pictureid=

For some of the older heads whose eyes like it drawn up; this is what it looked like the first time I saw it drawn up on a chalkboard many moons ago.

Cover-3-Buzz.png

The beauty is the ease that it can be taught and executed, but the flip-side is that it is also easy to beat, especially at the NFL level, which is why it fell out of favor for so many years.  Run your tight end and your Y receiver to the flats, taking the 2 flat defenders with them and run the Z and X vertical pushing the coverage, then stop on a curl route (easy money).  Also the seams destroy this -- especially anything from a trips formation.  Run every receiver vertical and suddenly you've got 4 receivers deep vs. three defenders.

Here is one of those that Sean Payton is notorious for.  Note the three eligible receivers to the bottom of the pic.

0ap3000000383461.jpg

The Free Safety is a dead man in this pic.  The coaching point was to split the difference between the #2 and the #3 receiver and play both routes.  Now it always sounds good in theory but in practice, In a conventional Cover-3 that's a lot to ask; especially when you were using spot drops and take into account the free safety will also be glancing over at the single receiver side.  For anyone who doesn't know what a "spot drop" is.  If you are a defensive player and you have a hook zone at 10-12 yards.  You drop to 10-12 yards at the snap and look... no matter what.  I don't care if you see Jesus offering you a cup of fruit at the line of scrimmage.  At the snap, you drop to your zone!  

This is what it looks like when it doesn't work.  It's not vs. trips but you see how easy the throws are when the patterns aren't being matched.  Receivers just run right by you.  Now being totally honest, I don' t know if Worrilow was spot dropping or pattern-matching and just got beaten.  If he was spot dropping then he was doing his job and the play design just beat the defensive call.  It happens.

det-tate-32yds-takes-hit-v-atl.gif

But this right here is why I thought I would never see a team base out of Cover-3 in the NFL again.  Al Davis in his last few years was widely mocked because he insisted the Raiders play single-high football.  I remember Warren Sapp saying how archaic his thinking was... that was until Pete Carroll made his way back into the NFL and evolved the old Cover-3.  Just for the sake or brevity, I'll get into the differences between Buzz and Sky or Rat and Robber in another post for anyone who is interested...

But this brings me to what I wanted to discuss: Cover 3 Buzz Mable -- Mable means Man.  This was Pete Carroll's answer to the NFL.  This is how the Seahawks tweaked the old cover 3 "spot dropping" so that it could answer anything.  Instead of a straight zone concept in the secondary now you have a split-field coverage: cover-3 buzz on the three receiver side.  Man-to-Man on the single receiver side.  AND we are now going to match the patterns instead of spot dropping.

CfZcuITUEAA20Ql.jpg

Now the free safety can focus on the three receiver side.

In the "old" version, the buzz, the 3 receivers to the bottom of that pic stressed the free safety, because he technically looked to help on both sides of the formation.  Here, the concept has been tweaked to a pattern-matching concept.  For anyone who does not know what pattern-matching is: it's exactly what it sounds like.  Instead of having a hook zone at 10-12, you are now reading the release of your receiver.  In this case, let's say you have the #3 who is a tight end.  If that tight end releases to your area, you take him, matching his pattern.  If he goes out or stays in to block, you now get depth and start looking for #2 to match him or bracket.  Now if you see Jesus release at 6 yards into the pattern with that cup of fruit you can take him.  

Now when Sean Payton runs those verticals, instead of the underneath defenders dropping to 10 yards no matter what while the receivers jet pass them to the safety, now they match the route and go with him.

CQl_qgeUwAEXbZk.png

Now instead of off coverage at the top of the screen, which is what you usually get in Cover 3, now it's a contested throw.  Now to that three receiver side, you've got 5 defenders looking at the quarterback ready to break on anything.  Now there isn't 3 defenders for 4 vertical routes.  The coverage has now re-balanced everything back in the defense's favor.

I remember Trufant being used as the MABLE quite a bit last year; the Houston game I remember vividly.

Nothing revolutionary.  But I thought it was interesting to see some of the small tweaks that get made that wind up making all the difference in the world.

(James Light runs a great blog on all of this stuff; seems to be down at the moment, but that's where I got the Seahawk pics.  Just wanted to give credit.)

Edited by PeytonMannings Forehead
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3 minutes ago, Atlfanstckndenver said:

One question I have is about Trufant when he started "shadowing" a little bit late in the year...  It appeared as though they kept their concepts the same and would just flip the field.  Did you notice anything else when that was taking place that was noteworthy? 

It's always a little tough watching games at home, because the secondary is the part of the field that gets cut off first, but I can't say that I did notice anything too drastic.  One thing I saw a bit more and more as the year went on was third and really long they went to their "sticks" concept.  Which is kind of like a quarters (or Cover 4) concept type of deal where every defender stands waaayyy off the line of scrimmage and protect the first down markers.

Beyond that, I can't really say for sure, but what I saw stayed appeared to stay pretty straightforward.

I might have to ahead and spring for that All-22 next season, because I suspect there was some sort of trap coverages being run out of some of that split-field stuff, also. 

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You don't need to bore people with long replies but
1) Is this played out of all defensive fronts (4/3 under & nickel?)
2) You used the drop / hook zone twice at 10-12, is this more dependent on where the first down marker is or pretty much always that middle depth pass area? Does this mean we just give up the 3-4 yard dumpers and assume we get the tackle at point of catch?
3) Is it likely once (if) Quinn gets Collins achievement up to this aptitude level, that we see him revert back to side specific corners and Tru stop shadowing the singled out receiver? I remember him making a lot of statements he doesn't like shadowing because of footwork confusion and getting crossed up.

Yes I realize #2 is on the original cover 3, not the modified one.

Edited by Leggggggo
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1 hour ago, PeytonMannings Forehead said:

In light of some of the exchanges I had yesterday, and Kayoh's 4-3,-3-4 thread today I felt a little inspired to give this a try and contribute by discussing one of the "specialty" coverages that Dan Quinn brought from Seattle.

Now as everyone (I assume knows), Dan Quinn and the Falcons base out of a single high safety look.  From that you get either some form of Cover-1 (Rat or Robber), and Cover-3 (Buzz or Sky).  For anyone who does not know what Cover-3 is; it is pretty much the most basic coverage in all of football.  It's the first coverage you learn to play when you put on pads at any level from pee-wee all the way up to the first day of mini-camp in the NFL because it is so easy to understand and execute.  

Basic design: Three deep defenders (both corners and a safety) playing 1/3's,  two underneath defenders playing the hook zone, and two playing the flats.

For those Madden players, this is what it looks like.

albumpicture.php?albumid=3286&pictureid=

For some of the older heads whose eyes like it drawn up; this is what it looked like the first time I saw it drawn up on a chalkboard many moons ago.

Cover-3-Buzz.png

The beauty is the ease that it can be taught and executed, but the flip-side is that it is also easy to beat, especially at the NFL level, which is why it fell out of favor for so many years.  Run your tight end and your Y receiver to the flats, taking the 2 flat defenders with them and run the Z and X vertical pushing the coverage, then stop on a curl route (easy money).  Also the seams destroy this -- especially anything from a trips formation.  Run every receiver vertical and suddenly you've got 4 receivers deep vs. three defenders.

Here is one of those that Sean Payton is notorious for.  Note the three eligible receivers to the bottom of the pic.

0ap3000000383461.jpg

The Free Safety is a dead man in this pic.  The coaching point was to split the difference between the #2 and the #3 receiver and play both riutes.  Now it always sounds good in theory but in practice, In a conventional Cover-3 that's a lot to ask; especially when you were using spot drops and take into account the free safety will also be glancing over at the single receiver side.  For anyone who doesn't know what a "spot drop" is.  If you are a defensive player and you have a hook zone at 10-12 yards.  You drop to 10-12 yards at the snap and look... no matter what.  I don't care if you see Jesus offering you a cup of fruit at the line of scrimmage.  At the snap, you drop to your zone!  

This is what it looks like when it doesn't work.  It's not vs. trips but you see how easy the throws are when the patterns aren't being matched.  Receivers just run right by you.  Now being totally honest, I don' t know if Worrilow was spot dropping or pattern-matching and just got beaten.  If he was spot dropping then he was doing his job and the play design just beat the defensive call.  It happens.

det-tate-32yds-takes-hit-v-atl.gif

But this right here is why I thought I would never see a team base out of Cover-3 in the NFL again.  Al Davis in his last few years was widely mocked because he insisted the Raiders play single-high football.  I remember Warren Sapp saying how archaic his thinking was... that was until Pete Carroll made his way back into the NFL and evolved the old Cover-3.  Just for the sake or brevity, I'll get into the differences between Buzz and Sky or Rat and Robber in another post for anyone who is interested...

But this brings me to what I wanted to discuss: Cover 3 Buzz Mable -- Mable means Man.  This was Pete Carroll's answer to the NFL.  This is how the Seahawks tweaked the old cover 3 "spot dropping" so that it could answer anything.  Instead of a straight zone concept in the secondary now you have a split-field coverage: cover-3 buzz on the three receiver side.  Man-to-Man on the single receiver side.  AND we are now going to match the patterns instead of spot dropping.

CfZcuITUEAA20Ql.jpg

Now the free safety can focus on the three receiver size.

In the "old" version, the buzz, the 3 receivers to the bottom of that pic stressed the free safety, because he technically looked to help on both sides of the formation.  Here, the concept has been tweaked to a pattern-matching concept.  For anyone who does not know what pattern-matching is: it's exactly what it sounds like.  Instead of having a hook zone at 10-12, you are now reading the release of your receiver.  In this case, let's say you have the #3 who is a tight end.  If that tight end releases to your area, you take him, matching his pattern.  If he goes out or stays in to block, you now get depth and start looking for #2 to match him or bracket.  Now if you see release at 6 yards into the pattern with that cut of fruit, now you can take him.  

Now when Sean Payton runs those verticals, instead of the underneath defenders dropping to 10 yards no matter what while the receivers jet pass them to the safety, now they match the route and go with him.

CQl_qgeUwAEXbZk.png

Now instead of off coverage at the top of the screen, which is what you usually get in Cover 3, now it's a contested throw.  Now to that three receiver side, you've got 5 defenders looking at the quarterback ready to break on anything.  Now there isn't 3 defenders for 4 vertical routes.  The coverage has now re-balanced everything back in the defense's favor.

I remember Trufant being used as the MABLE quite a bit last year; the Houston game I remember vividly.

Nothing revolutionary.  But I thought it was interesting to see some of the small tweaks that get made that wind up making all the difference in the world.

(James Light runs a great blog on all of this stuff; seems to be down at the moment, but that's where I got the Seahawk pics.  Just wanted to give credit.)

Thank you

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1 hour ago, PeytonMannings Forehead said:

It's always a little tough watching games at home, because the secondary is the part of the field that gets cut off first, but I can't say that I did notice anything too drastic.  One thing I saw a bit more and more as the year went on was third and really long they went to their "sticks" concept.  Which is kind of like a quarters (or Cover 4) concept type of deal where every defender stands waaayyy off the line of scrimmage and protect the first down markers.

Beyond that, I can't really say for sure, but what I saw stayed appeared to stay pretty straightforward.

I might have to ahead and spring for that All-22 next season, because I suspect there was some sort of trap coverages being run out of some of that split-field stuff, also. 

I noticed the sticks as well.  It was relatively successful except forthe occasions when we really struggled tackling the player before he has a chance to collect himself and run for the first. Whether that was a qb, receiver or rb it didn't matter they all had their moments unfortunately.  I believe Quinn has even made reference to this too. Emphasizing the importance of tackling a player before he can gain momentum. Which is very obvious as far as I'm concerned. Those plays that Winston and Newton had running for the first were totally avoidable. 

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On 5/4/2016 at 2:09 PM, Leggggggo said:

You don't need to bore people with long replies but
1) Is this played out of all defensive fronts (4/3 under & nickel?)

It can be, but this concept is usually the answer to a trips formation, and offense's usually go trips out of 11 personnel (1 back, 1 tight end, 3 receivers), so it's most commonly used in sub-packages, but there's no reason it can't be done out of base.


2) You used the drop / hook zone twice at 10-12, is this more dependent on where the first down marker is or pretty much always that middle depth pass area? Does this mean we just give up the 3-4 yard dumpers and assume we get the tackle at point of catch?

10-12 is usually the hook zone area in most defenses.  Coaches want the linebackers to focus on getting depth so the 10-12 is usually just a shorthand they harp on over and over again.  But there are checks in most coverages situationally that will alert defenders to watch out for the sticks.

And, yes.  Just about every zone coverage has a no-cover area usually in that 3-5 yard area where you just let the offense have it.   


3) Is it likely once (if) Quinn gets Collins achievement up to this aptitude level, that we see him revert back to side specific corners and Tru stop shadowing the singled out receiver? I remember him making a lot of statements he doesn't like shadowing because of footwork confusion and getting crossed up.

I think that is a safe assumption based on the second part of your statement.  The thing I like about Quinn is that he's flexible enough that he likes to try a lot of things out, but he won't force a guy into something he can't do, and if Tru is most comfortable on one side of the formation then when the rest of the corners get to the point where he doesn't have to shadow, then I would assume he won't have to anymore.

Yes I realize #2 is on the original cover 3, not the modified one.

 

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1 hour ago, falcoatlantae said:

Great stuff.

I also would like to hear about how nickel complements the base scheme/formation.  Does nickel imply more matching?

Nickel doesn't necessarily imply more matching.  You can run both concepts out of base or sub.  It's really about how good your personnel is and even moreso it's gameplan specific.

If you're against an offense one week were they run a lot of crossing routes designed to get defenders out of position  chasing receivers, then you may want to spot drop and keep it all in front of you.  If you're against a team that likes to aggressively attack the seams and run verticals then you may want to focus more on pattern-matching.  

I've seen Quinn mix both when he was coordinating.  

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55 minutes ago, kiwifalcon said:

Peyton how are match-ups dictated in this defense are they allotted a side left and right or a guys like Alford and Trufant moved around??

If so how much does this change the coverage concept?

Um... yes, is the answer to your question.  In Seattle, the corners ALWAYS played on the same side.  There were only a handful of times when Quinn was there where I saw them switch.  I thought I would see more of the same-side thing in Atlanta, but Trufant did shadow some last year.  

I don't know for sure, but I suspect that was a decision made out of necessity due to the personnel and Tru picking things up quicker than the other corners.  

Quinn brought with him from the Seahawks some different techniques in man coverage called the "step-kick" which is intricate and can be difficult to master because it requires patience in reading the receiver, which can be counter-intuitive when you know you're on an island in man coverage.  Because of the nature of the footwork and how that footwork can change if you are constantly switching sides, I suspect (because that's all they did in Seattle) that they would rather keep the outside corners on the same side ideally.

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I would also like to add this in here. In the original post I reference the #2 and the #3 receiver.  In case anyone is kind of fuzzy on what I mean, every defense numbers the receivers.  Very simple: the two outside receivers are #1's, the next inside receiver is #2.  That's #2 could be a tight end, it could be a third receiver if the offense is in a three receiver set.

Basically just start outside and count.  Ignore all the defensive writing and just look the receivers.

msuquarters.jpg?w=694 

Here's one without the numbers just for practice so you can impress your kid while you're watching a game; "aww, ****, Worrilow dropped his coverage on the #3 receiver."

 

0ap3000000383461.jpg

Start with the receiver at the bottom of the screen, that's #1, the next one inside is #2, the red arrow is #3.  

The receiver at the top of the screen all alone is #1 to that side.  The back next to Brees is #2 BUT sometimes, in fact a lot of the time the running back will be #3 and mostly because the linebacker is going to be keying him.

Edited by PeytonMannings Forehead
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10 hours ago, PeytonMannings Forehead said:

0ap3000000383461.jpg

Start with the receiver at the bottom of the screen, that's #1, the next one inside is #2, the red arrow is #3

Appreciate the information.  So in this picture you used to discuss Cover 3, where is the single high safety? There is a safety up top near the 10 outside the hashes on the single WR side, and there is presumably another safety on the bottom trips side back out of the picture.  Otherwise they just  busted with 10 men on defense.

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15 hours ago, PeytonMannings Forehead said:

It can be, but this concept is usually the answer to a trips formation, and offense's usually go trips out of 11 personnel (1 back, 2 tight ends, 3 receivers), so it's most commonly used in sub-packages, but there's no reason it can't be done out of base.

Not to pick nits, but I have 2 questions about this.  First, that would be 12 personnel, because you have 2 tight ends, correct?  Second, if you have 1 back, 2 TEs and 3 receivers, you've accounted for 6 players without taking the o-line or QB into account.  So either you have to go wildcat with no QB, or you have to have 4 o-linemen (in which case maybe you mean you're going double-tight but one of the TEs is functioning as an o-lineman?).

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On 5/4/2016 at 6:18 PM, B_Lo_Touchdowns said:

Great write up, this concept and Quinn's refusal to adjust for our lack of talent is one of the reasons I'm not feeling this current staff. FA was ok but the draft wasnt every good, hopefully things work out this season. 

Where was the refusal to adjust? What more could've been (or can be) done?

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15 hours ago, B_Lo_Touchdowns said:

Great write up, this concept and Quinn's refusal to adjust for our lack of talent is one of the reasons I'm not feeling this current staff. FA was ok but the draft wasnt every good, hopefully things work out this season. 

???

We went from dead last defense to 17th on over all defense using players that Quinn wouldnt have wanted. I have no clue what you are on about not feeling good. If anything this ship is headed in the right direction for the first time since 2012.

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1 hour ago, YoungHeezy said:

Where was the refusal to adjust? More more could've been (or can be) done?

During last season reporters asked Quinn questions about the defense his statement was along the line of "we line up in the same formation everytime and we're not gonna change anything." To me thats not something I want to hear my coach say. You have to adjust based on the talent available. To me it seems like Quinn is looking to select prototypes of the players he had in Seattle instead of selecting players based on talent and how they impact the team as a whole. IMO We shouldn't looking for players with the measurebles to play the Bennett/Avril roles, we should be looking for the best players at a position of need and coming up with a scheme to maximize their talents. Its nice having tall corners with long arms and LBs with good line to line speed, but if these guys can't compete with players on the NFL level whats the point of even picking them up. Just feels like we're shooting ourselves in the foot with most of the decisions being made on both sides of the ball and within the staff. I think Quinn has a good defensive mind but he's not HC material. 

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3 minutes ago, B_Lo_Touchdowns said:

During last season reporters asked Quinn questions about the defense his statement was along the line of "we line up in the same formation everytime and we're not gonna change anything." To me thats not something I want to hear my coach say. You have to adjust based on the talent available. To me it seems like Quinn is looking to select prototypes of the players he had in Seattle instead of selecting players based on talent and how they impact the team as a whole. IMO We shouldn't looking for players with the measurebles to play the Bennett/Avril roles, we should be looking for the best players at a position of need and coming up with a scheme to maximize their talents. Its nice having tall corners with long arms and LBs with good line to line speed, but if these guys can't compete with players on the NFL level whats the point of even picking them up. Just feels like we're shooting ourselves in the foot with most of the decisions being made on both sides of the ball and within the staff. I think Quinn has a good defensive mind but he's not HC material. 

Cause when you do that you end up with the Smith/Nolan 4-3/3-4 hybrid with no true scheme or identity.  Quinn took the worst defense in the league and made them look competent by maximizing each player's potential.  I'd say that's a pretty good job at adjusting.

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4 hours ago, JDaveG said:

Not to pick nits, but I have 2 questions about this.  First, that would be 12 personnel, because you have 2 tight ends, correct?  Second, if you have 1 back, 2 TEs and 3 receivers, you've accounted for 6 players without taking the o-line or QB into account.  So either you have to go wildcat with no QB, or you have to have 4 o-linemen (in which case maybe you mean you're going double-tight but one of the TEs is functioning as an o-lineman?).

My bad, that was a typo.  Absolutely correct.  Let me edit that.

11 personnel = 1 back, 1 tight end 

12 personnel = 1 back, 2 tight ends

21 personnel = 2 backs,1 tight end

... and so on and so on...

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