Frequent Cheesehead TV commenter “Paul Ott Carruth”, a former player and coach, breaks down a different aspect of the Packers and their opponents from an X’s and O’s standpoint. Today, he looks at Dom Capers’ use of Cover 7.
“Running around like chickens with their heads cut off.” Euphemism for “these @$$lkj!! don’t have a clue as to what they’re doing!”
But is that really the case? Watch Troy Polamalu do his little spinner dance and jig around the line of scrimmage on a Sunday and you might say, “what the h2!!@.” But that’s until he makes a nice interception or game changing sack. Then it doesn’t look so bad…..if you’re a Steelers fan of course. Raise your hand if it has ever appeared that Packers defense has had more than 11 players on the field with all the movement and guys standing up and the success they had on a particular defensive stop. I’m raising mine right now. By the end of this X and O session you might start to understand why.
To begin, let’s look at a staple single high coverage in the Capers playbook. He calls it Cover 7. Why is it called that? I really don’t know. What I do know is that each team and coach run similar things but call them different things. For instance, a high school team may call their defense a 5-2 while at the professional and college level it will most likely be called a 3-4. What it’s called isn’t as important as to how the scheme is implemented and what a coach has his players do within the given scheme.
What is Cover 7? Well, to sum it up, it is this: 4 men rushing the QB with the intent of having the weakside OLB rush along with 3 other men, a safety that will always cover the middle of the field, and the corners locked up man to man on the X and Z receivers wherever they align.
Before you look at the diagrams, here is what is represented on them. First, Capers calls his inside backers the Mac and the Buck with the Buck aligned strongside and the Mac weakside. In Capers terminology he calls the OLB to the TE the closed side backer (TE present giving a 3 man surface with the TE, OT, and OG). The other side is the open side backer (no TE giving a 2 man surface with the OG and OT). I’ve called them the Sam and Will for learning purposes. The yellow circles represent eligible receivers. The “star” receiver will represent D. Jackson from the Eagles. The blue lines show receiver route concepts or blocking and the red lines show the coverage drops by the Packer defense. The orange hour glass shapes show men locked up in man to man coverage prior to the snap and receiver distribution post snap. The green lines show defensive players that will be in on the rush. For the majority of the diagrams it will show the Will rushing.
That’s about it. Before I forget, if you ever have questions just let me know. If you ever have a question about certain vernacular I’ll be happy to clarify.
Here we go.
The corners are locked on man to man with #1 to their respective sides. Based on the route combination presented by the offense, The Sam will man up on #2 to the flat while the Buck will collision the TE on the under route and pass him off to the Mac who will now carry the TE across the field. The Buck will then zone off (sluff off) and keep his eyes on the half back who has set up in protection or will be used in a screening or checkdown capacity. The Free Safety will rotate to the middle of the field (center field) and will peek at the closed side (TE side) of the formation as he drops. The Strong Safety (having no vertical threat by the TE will sluff off and read. By game plan he could read the QB or give help elsewhere (most likely reading the route of the flanker). The Will is rushing giving the Packers a 4 man rush.
This look is similar to Diagram #1 with the exception of the route by the TE. Here we have the TE running what is called a “stick-nod” route (WCO nomenclature). You can be sure the Eagles have this in their offense seeing as how Reid is running the most pure form of the WCO today. Again, the corners are locked up man to man on the 1’s. The Sam will sink a little on the TE release but jump to #2 to the flat as he crosses his face. The Buck and Mac react to the strongside run action and then sluff off looking for a check down. The Buck helps out the Strong Safety by getting under the TE’s route. The Strong Safety plays outside-in leverage on the TE. The Free Safety rotates to the middle of the field. The Will rushes giving a 4 man pressure.
The offense presents what is called a “Far” backfield set (Halfback is away from the TE). The corners are in man coverage on the 1’s. With the threat of a release by the halfback, the Free Safety plays man coverage on him. This means that the Strong Safety now rotates to the middle of the field. The Mac will pick up the fullback should he release, otherwise, he can sluff off and keep his eyes on the fullback should he release after setting up in the protection scheme. The Sam maintains outside leverage on the TE running a vertical route in to a flag, while the Buck helps out by maintaining inside leverage on the TE. The Will rushes giving a 4 man balanced rush.
The offense presents what is called a “Far” backfield set (Halfback is away from the TE) just as they did in diagram 3. However, because a back motions out to the TE we now have a 3 x1 set created that forces the Strong Safety to cover the displaced back man for man. The corners are in man coverage on the 1’s. The Free Safety will now assume the middle of the field coverage. This now forces the Mac to cover the releasing halfback out on the weakside. This is a tough proposition as the Mac is leveraged by alignment. It is possible to change the responsibilities of the Will and the Mac (Mac rushes off the edge while Will covers the halfback out) to alleviate this concern but it also can take one of your better rushers out of the rush (i.e Matthews). The Sam bangs the TE on his under route and sluffs off to help on anything that might come into the seam area. The Buck will pick up the TE on his under route and run with it. Again, the Will or Mac will rush depending on how Capers chooses to handle the threat of the halfback releasing. Either way, it becomes a 4 man rush.
Here we have what is commonly referred to as a “King” backfield set (FB off set to the TE). Again, the corners are locked man for man on the 1s. The Sam will take the fullback in the flat. The Buck will drop in relation to the TE but come off of him as soon as he sees the flanker run a drive route underneath. The Buck will help the corner as the corner has a lot of trash to get through. The Strong Safety plays outside in leverage on the TE. The Mac will take the releasing halfback to the flat on the weakside should he release. The Free Safety rotates to the middle of the field. The Will rushes giving a 4 man rush.
The offense presents what can be called a “Spread” formation. The corners have the 1s man to man. The Strong Safety has the displaced back man for man. If you notice, the route concept on the left side is the same as in diagram 5 (Dig route by the TE and a Flat route by a back). The difference between the two approaches is that the Sam will run vertical with the TE and maintain outside-in leverage. The Buck will run to cover the flat route whereas he stayed inside on the TE in diagram 5. Instead, the Mac will drop and relate to the TE and maintain inside leverage. Basically, the Mac and the Buck are exchanging responsibilities due to the formation and where the back released. The Free Safety plays the deep middle third and the Will rushes presenting a 4 man rush.
This diagram is the same formation presented in diagram 6. The route concepts are the same as diagram 5 with the absence of a flat route to the TE side of the formation. Even though the Mac is not leveraged by alignment, this formation and back release can present a problem. There is the threat of the Mac getting picked off as he tries to navigate his way through potential shallow crosses being run by the receivers on that side of the formation. A simple exchange of responsibilities by the Will and Mac can alleviate this concern, however, there is a potential to lose something by way of the rush depending on the personnel at each position. It’s kind of like “robbing Peter to pay Paul” (no pun intended) in a sense.
I suspect the Eagles will put Jackson in the slot to get a one on one matchup. Even though the Packers will align like this vs. a static formation (Jackson already set and not in motion), this is the best way for Reid to get Jackson a free release without immediate safety help over the top in the deep half of the field.
Here the Eagles put Jackson in the backfield and motion him out to get a favorable match-up on a Strong Safety rotating down to cover the displaced back who happens to be Jackson. Remember when coach Holmgren used to put Sterling Sharpe in the backfield and motion him out? Well, here you go. Walsh did that with Rice too. Makes a lot of sense to try this tactic. Don’t be surprised if you see this on Sunday. Don’t be surprised to see Capers have an answer to this.
Finally, when we break down what Capers has called Cover 7 we see 3 consistent concepts. First, there will always be a middle of the field defender. Second, the corners will be locked on man to man with #1 to their respective sides (they will always man up on the X and Z receivers and no one else). Third, the weakside (open side) outside linebacker (Will) will always be in the rush provided that an exchange in responsibilities is not taking place between the Mac and the Will.
In this diagram, I’ve put the Packers in their base package of 3 down linemen and 4 linebackers. Take a moment to again see who is rushing the passer and who is playing coverage.
In this diagram I’ve put the Packers in their sub front of 2 down lineman, 4 linebackers and 5 defensive backs. Imagine, for a moment, that the nickel back (N) is Charles Woodson and now he gets in on the rush because we’ve substituted him for a down lineman. Even better, imagine now that the Sam will rush and Woodson will play coverage. The concept of Cover 7 stays the same but the athletes executing the scheme are different.
How about we put Woodson in a deep half field safety position? Then let’s creep him down right before the snap and have him rush the weak side of the formation. But we have to slant the line to the strong side of the formation to get a balanced rush. This diagram shows how the varying possibilities to this coverage and how creative Capers can get with his personnel.
Let’s drop off a defensive Tackle to play underneath the TE in the hook/seam area and send the Buck on the rush (as long as it’s not Howard Green!)
In conclusion, I hope this gives everyone an idea just how complex a simple coverage like this can be to an opposing quarterback. When looking at a defensive structure do just that…..look at the structure. Ask yourself questions. “Do they always have a deep middle safety?” “ Are they always bringing a guy off the weakside (open side)?” “Are the corners playing man?” I have always looked at the secondary first when trying to determine what a team is doing defensively. There is a simple saying among coaches. “Your coverage determines your front.”
When you’re watching the game this weekend with your friends look at the deep middle of the field. If a guy starts there and stays there you can bet that it is some form of man-free coverage (Cover 7 or Cover 1). If a man rotates to the middle of the field you can bet it is some form of man-free coverage or quite possibly a fire zone (5 man rush with a 3 under 3 deep coverage shell (I’ll discuss fire zones in the next installment….that or the zone blocking system. We can also look at the “Psycho” package down the road).
If you’re interested, copy off the diagrams as is and then change the coverage responsibilities of those not in man to man coverage and see what different variations you can come up with. Change up who is rushing, who is covering where and whom and ask yourself, “is this even plausible?” You might find that what you have come up with is actually workable. In other cases, not so much. But that’s the fun with a flexible defense like the Packers.
I have a sneaking suspicion that Capers will run Cover 7 because, well, after all, it is one of his primary coverages. Dick LeBeau and the Steelers still run this coverage. It’s one of the primary single high safety coverages from the Capers/LeBeau defensive lineage. It is a sound coverage yet provides some creative flexibility. Practically any player on the field can assume the various responsibilities (Diagram 13) depending on their skill sets and favorable match-ups.
Don’t be surprised to see some firezones from Capers against Vick. I’m still not convinced Vick is that great of a passer and I believe he will struggle on Sunday against the exotic looks Capers will present him. I’m also not convinced that Capers will always have a spy on Vick and that when he does spy him, that it will be relegated to one player (i.e. Woodson).
The beauty of a Capers defense is the complexity that appears. When broken down though, we see the consistent concepts. Who ends up in those positions is determined by the aforementioned items and that is what gives the appearance of organized chaos (i.e. “running around like chickens with their heads cut off.”) Will Capers sit in Cover 7 all day? You can bet your sweet arse he won’t. Football is a game of chess, not checkers, and you can be assured that Capers will have his counters ready for Reid and Vick. Capers and this defense have been prepared each and every game.
As the great Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu, said, “Win the war, then fight the war.” Truer words have never been spoken.