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Let's Talk About: Reading Keys (Deion Jones)


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The linebacker position -- specifically, the middle linebacker position is incredibly close to my heart.  To me, and I will admit to being totally biased, it is THE position to play on defense.  It's everything, because it encompassed every aspect of football from instincts, toughness, fundamentals, and intelligence.  You gotta have it all to play middle linebacker.  Part pass rusher, part defensive back, and all man.  Everything flows through him.  In short, your defense will look like your middle linebacker.

Now has anyone ever watched a linebacker during the play and wondered how or why he's doing what he's doing?  How he knows if it's run or pass, or which gap to hit?  If you haven't, I'd like to apologize for "click-baiting" you.  The rest of this probably won't be that interesting.  If you have, stick around.  

The answer is "keys".  

KEYS: Every front seven defender has a specific offensive key on every play of the game, and it's going to tell him run or pass.  It's going to tell him which way the run is going, and what type of run.  Is it a power, a trap, a zone, a dive, sweep, draw, option?  The keys give away everything.  He's got to be able to read his key, then in a split second, decipher all of that information, and react.  He's got to keep his shoulders square to the line while he stays low and scrapes to his gap.  Somewhere along the line he's gonna have to take on and shed a block with the proper technique, then find the ball again...

Now I want to look at this specifically through the eyes of young Deion Jones.  As a Middle Linebacker, your key can get a bit convoluted, so stay with me.  As a middle linebacker you are reading the triangle.  This right here is the triangle...

brock01.jpg

You're reading both offensive guards, THROUGH to the backfield.  Now different coaches teach different keys; sometimes your keys change based on front.  For example, in an Under your key may be the nearest back.  It could be a single guard THROUGH to the backfield, but for the purposes of this I'm going to try to keep it elementary.

You get the idea, though from this.  The linebacker has to eliminate every other bit of information outside of that triangle (even the QB).  He can't worry about anything outside of the triangle because that's how you get tricked.  The quarterback could reverse pivot and get you to false step in the wrong direction (happened in the Eagle game).  He could play-action to get you to step up like a run.  The fullback could go one way while the run is going the other.  Offensive coaches spend their lives trying to muddy keys.  This is why eye discipline is as important an aspect to playing linebacker as anything.  And this is why I like the triangle read, because it's tough to get fooled when you've got it down.

Quarterbacks can lie to you.  Backs can lie to you... those guards can't.  Those guards will give away the play 90% of the time.

2nd and 5 - 3rd Quarter

Falcons are in nickel vs. Cardinals 11 personnel.  Over front.  Deion Jones circled reading the two guards through to the backfield.

IMG_1437_zpsjkhxtjls.jpg

 

Zone steps by the guards signal a run.  This is what linebackers look for.  If the guards pop up and start retreating, it's a pass set.  If they come out low and fire out, it's a run.  From there you have to determine the type of block to determine the type of run.  If the guard pulls, it's a power, or counter.  If he goes sprinting to the perimeter, it's a sweep.  Here the guards and center fire out an angle (usually 45 degrees) -- this signals a zone run.  Deion reads it immediately and knows instantly where the run is trying to hit.

 IMG_1439_zpsna759enr.jpg

 

Beautiful, explosive movement downhill to the gap... and a nice angle.  Does a good job keeping his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage.  They are turned a little bit, but for this type of run and the scrape that's needed you'll allow for that. 

IMG_1440_zpsiqt8nwnk.jpg

 

Good job of breaking down in the hole and getting low... getting ready to fire his hips and explode on contact.

IMG_1441_zpszpyuclqt.jpg

 

And a gorgeous form tackle finishes Johnson off.  He's out a little more over his toes that I'd like, but he's exploding into the back with everything he's got, and he's done a beautiful job of getting low.  Low man wins in this sport and he's right underneath the runner's chest.  Not an easy thing to do.  I know.  My knees don't quite bend like that anymore.

IMG_1442_zpsztr3avua.jpg

Also, a shout-out to Grady who came off his block and got him a nice piece, too.

IMG_1443_zps3vmzgda7.jpg

 

Here's what it looks like in full speed.

K2TMb-.gif

 

You hear defensive coaches all the time talk about "playing with your eyes"... this is exactly what they are talking about.  This is why I wasn't worried that Arizona would run all over the Falcons despite how ugly it got in Philly.  I could see the mistakes they made in that game with their eyes, which led to bad fits and poor angles.  All of it, fixable.

The young linebackers are starting to play with more confidence.  They're trusting what they're seeing and they're letting it fly.  Slowly, but surely they are turning the corner.  To steal a phrase from an old Falcon coach, "the arrow is pointing up".

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Awesome post PMF... Do you have any insight (or if it exists in one of the older posts) about LBs passing off Zones? And how/what our LBs need to do to get better at passing them off? I don't understand football enough to know, I vaguely remember in one of the Seahawks Defense posts this being discussed vaguely, but I seek a deeper understanding.

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2 hours ago, Krosis said:

What is Campbells responsibility on this play?  And how you do you think he has been performing this year?

That one can be a bit tricky.  He hit that thing so fast, it looked like a blitz, but that's not always the case when you see a LB do that.  Sometimes a guy just reads his key so fast and reacts it can look like a run blitz, when in actuality it's a normal fit.

In this case, just looking at the coverage and the alignment, it looks like Campbell was on a called blitz (out of man coverage), and it messed up the zone blocking because the linemen had to come off their double-team so fast to take care of Campbell, and it left Jones clean.

He's had his up and downs.  About 5 or 6 games ago he looked really behind Jones.  Looks like he's playing a lot more consistently lately.  He's getting better and better in coverage.  He had a great bat down in man on the goall ine late in the game vs. a back.  

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2 hours ago, ATLFalcon36 said:

Awesome post PMF... Do you have any insight (or if it exists in one of the older posts) about LBs passing off Zones? And how/what our LBs need to do to get better at passing them off? I don't understand football enough to know, I vaguely remember in one of the Seahawks Defense posts this being discussed vaguely, but I seek a deeper understanding.

 

1 hour ago, papachaz said:

another great post sir, kudos! I too, am in the crowd that would like an in depth look at the LB's passing off the receivers 

I'll keep looking to see if I can find a good example, but yeah, this Seattle thread gives you the nuts and bolts of how it works.  There are different rules based off of route combinations, but in essence, it's all communication and trusting the guy next to you to do his job.

What Cover-3 Looks Like When It's Done Right

 

Also, here's one from even further back that you may be interested in.  The Buzz Mable thread, where there's man played to one side of the defense and zone to the other.

Dan Quinn and Buzz Mable

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2 hours ago, DoYouSeeWhatHappensLarry said:

I have pinned this thread because it is terrific. 

If PMF would rather have the thread float, I can do that as well. 

 

1 hour ago, Jpowers said:

The only problem is people skip right over the pinned threads

Aw, man, what a compliment.  

I don't have a preference necessarily.  I will defer to the judgement of you two fine gentlemen.

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I'd say the fact that this thread only has 136 views while Atljbo's Jake Matthews and Brooks Reed thread created an hour ago already has 141 views kind of points to people skipping right over it.

 

@DoYouSeeWhatHappensLarry you should have a "feature" option. It puts a little star besides the thread. Kind of lame but I always figured it drew a little more attention to the threads. That's what I always did with these kinds of threads.

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4 hours ago, DoYouSeeWhatHappensLarry said:

I have pinned this thread because it is terrific. 

If PMF would rather have the thread float, I can do that as well. 

 

3 hours ago, Jpowers said:

The only problem is people skip right over the pinned threads

Yeah, no sh.uh..kidding, saw this on my phone earlier but didn't have time to look at it, went through page 2 came back and saw it. Agree it's pin worthy.

Also, that play gives me a great deal of hope for the future. This D is going to be so good so soon. 

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@PeytonMannings Forehead

So when you refer to the triangle as the "lense" the mlb is looking through,  how does that differ from what the other positions are seeing and reading at the snap?  It seems as though the mlb's keys are as complex and as critical as it gets from what I'm gathering.  So how do the reads of the other defenders around him compare?  

I'm also kinda curious about how critical 2 or more defender's key reads can be in unison.  It just feels like this is getting to that foundational core of why breakdowns take place.  But I'm just trying to digest it.  Never really thought about it like that. 

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Thank you SO much for this wonderful post. I actually was a huge critic of Campbell's early, and hated him as a draft pick, because it seemed he couldn't read plays well at all - it was all ad libbing. No reading keys, from what I could tell. Bit on every fake and misdirection, even with the guards giving it away. I want to say he's getting better, but it's hard to tell if he's just catching up to the speed of the game and hasn't been tested enough...

Either way, fantastic breakdown. 

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1 hour ago, Atlfanstckndenver said:

@PeytonMannings Forehead

So when you refer to the triangle as the "lense" the mlb is looking through,  how does that differ from what the other positions are seeing and reading at the snap?  It seems as though the mlb's keys are as complex and as critical as it gets from what I'm gathering.  So how do the reads of the other defenders around him compare?  

I'm also kinda curious about how critical 2 or more defender's key reads can be in unison.  It just feels like this is getting to that foundational core of why breakdowns take place.  But I'm just trying to digest it.  Never really thought about it like that. 

Okay, so this is all dependent on the front, defensive scheme, coverage call, etc.  It all can change based on that.  What you try to do is make is as simple as possible.  Atlanta runs a 1-gap defense.  But even in a 1-gap defense, the linebacker is going to be responsible for two gaps.  He's going to have a playside gap if the play goes strong, and he is going to have a backside gap if the play goes weak.

I think what you're asking me, though, is how might the keys overlap if every linebacker is reading the same triangle?

If I'm right, and that's what you're asking, well, they don't necessarily overlap.  Depending on what LB position you're playing, your triangle could be cut down severely.  

Just take the WILL in the Under front.   He's going to have the gap directly in front of him.  If the play goes away, then he can just chase to the ball.   Depending on the coaching point, his key could just be the guard in front of him to the nearest back.  So his triangle could be a straight line.  

SAM in the Under.  He might have the easiest read in the Under front.  He's simply reading the Tight End in front of him.  If he blocks, set the edge.  If he releases, it's pass, get to your landmark.

4-3_Under_large.png

So, yeah, generally speaking, the Mike is going to consistently be working with the toughest keys.  

And you are exactly right.  This is where things break down.  This is where you get a lot of those nasty looking runs.  It's not always a function of the defensive line getting blown off the ball.  A lot of times... not all the time, but a lot of times when you see a big run, somebody wasn't doing their job.  They were getting a little greedy and trying to do someone else's job.  Maybe the SAM got caught peeking in the backfield and instead of reading the tight end, he's looking a the back trying to be a hero and make a tackle in the backfield... maybe that caused him to step down and get sealed inside instead of setting that edge.  Now the run is getting outside him and up the sideline.  That type of thing.

Let me know if that doesn't answer it.  I can get a little chatty in my responses sometimes.  Might get convoluted.  

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