Bye Week Film Study: A New Coverage Wrinkle by Dom Capers

Robert Olson examines how the Packers are defending Trips formations in Cover 4.

With all of the offensive innovations and advantages (rule changes) for offenses, defensive coaches and defenses always seem to be one step behind. As a defensive coach, especially in the NFL, you have to constantly evolve and install new looks every season. After the bye week last season, for example, Dom Capers began to use the Nickel “Bear” front, which presented a new look to offenses.

This season, on multiple occasions, Capers has used an adjustment/check in Cover 4 known as “Solo” when the offense uses a 3x1 (Trips) formation. “Solo” is used by college football defenses (like TCU) and has been used by some NFL defenses. Capers may have used this check at some point in the past, but this is the first season in which I have personally noticed it. As you will see below, the main purpose of the Solo check in Cover 4 is to account for the #3 WR if/when he runs a vertical route out of a 3x1 formation.

Before breaking down two examples of the Solo check from this season, it is important to show a play from the 2014 week 17 matchup against the Lions where the Packers played traditional Cover 4 versus a 3x1 formation by the Lions. In other words, the Packers did not use the Solo check in Cover 4 even though the Lions came out in a 3x1 formation with Calvin Johnson at the #3 WR spot (below). By not using the Solo check in this situation, Johnson (the #3 WR) was able to run down the seam uncovered and catch a touchdown pass.

If the Packers would have utilized the Solo check on that play, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (the free safety/weak side safety) would have shaded over to cover the #3 WR (Johnson) since that WR ran a vertical (seam) route. In addition, using Solo would have made strong safety Morgan Burnett’s job easier. When playing traditional Cover 4 (not using Solo) versus Trips, the strong safety has to read the #2 AND #3 WRs, which can put him in a bind. Calvin Johnson would not have been open like that if the Packers had utilized the Solo check.

Now that you have seen what traditional Cover 4 looks like versus a 3x1 formation, let’s provide two visual representations of how Cover 4 with the Solo check successfully defends 3x1 formations.

The first play is from the week 3 matchup against the Chiefs. Let’s explain each Packer player’s responsibility in the back seven in Solo. On the weak side at the bottom, CB Damarious Randall is man-to-man on the #1 WR with no help over the top, and Micah Hyde plays man on the RB (#2 WR) once the RB releases and runs a route to the flat. To the Trips side, ILB Joe Thomas has a hook zone (yellow arrow) and Casey Hayward has curl to flat responsibility (green arrow) underneath. In addition, Sam Shields is responsible for the deep outside 1/4 and takes the #1 WR if he runs a vertical route, Clinton-Dix is responsible for the deep middle 1/4 and takes the #2 WR if he runs a vertical route, and Chris Banjo (the free safety) shades over to cover the #3 WR if he runs a vertical route (red arrow).

On the Trips side, all three receivers ran vertical. Shields, Clinton-Dix, and Banjo covered them perfectly. That is why the Solo check in Cover 4 versus Trips is great. You can account for the seam route by the #3 WR by shading the free safety over, which allows the strong safety to solely focus on the #2 WR. Alex Smith had no place to go with the ball down the field, so he threw an incomplete pass underneath intended for the other #1 WR, who was covered tightly in man by Randall.

The second play is from the week 5 matchup against the Rams. As you can see in the diagram below, the Packers’ assignments in Solo are the same as in the example above. Also, the Rams’ receivers ran almost the exact same routes as the Chiefs’ receivers did in the first play. Here, there was quick pressure in Nick Foles’ face, and his receivers were covered well. This forced him to throw underneath to the #1 WR running a Drive route from the weak side. Hayward played man on that #1 WR, and Quinten Rollins, the curl to flat defender (green arrow), was in position to intercept Foles’ hurried throw.

It is good to see Dom Capers implement the Solo check in Cover 4. It is important to be able to cover four verticals and account for the seam route by the #3 WR when the offense is in a 3x1 formation. It will be interesting to see if Capers installs another new look coming out of the bye week.

Thanks for reading, Packers fans. Follow me on Twitter at @RobertOlson92 for daily analysis on the Packers.

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Comments (8)

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D Ernesto's picture

October 29, 2015 at 01:19 pm

Excuse me is this the defense that tries to rush everyone leaving the dbacks exposed for large gains like too place the last coulple gains.
This is the only team I've seen that constantly rushes at minimum five and usually six.

I felt three of their wins would have been loses had those teams passed earlier. This team has no pass defense.

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LeagueObsrvr's picture

October 30, 2015 at 12:30 pm

"leaving d-backs exposed"??? Did you read the above article, or watch the .gif which makes it self-evident that the d-backs were clearly not "exposed"??? If anything, the weakness of the qb was exposed. The pass rush, when successful takes the qb out of his comfort zone and forces him to make risky throws with the football, and unless you have an elite qb, your success rate drops considerably on those kinds of throws and makes you prone to turnovers.

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Handsback's picture

October 29, 2015 at 02:01 pm

The Rams win that game if the defense doesn'y show up and the Chargers only put up 20 points. Not sure the facts support that statement.

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4thand10's picture

October 29, 2015 at 03:22 pm

Thanks for the insightful article. I had one question....who accounts for a tight end in that same package?

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 29, 2015 at 08:56 pm

Wonderful article, Robert. I pretty much only watch GB games. I note that Cover 4 Solo leaves the outside CBs out on islands. I do not know what other teams do, but it seems that GB leaves those outside CBs alone with no help a lot more than other teams.

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Dan Stodola's picture

October 29, 2015 at 10:09 pm

No disrespect TGR. but the cover 4 is a zone coverage w/ 4 deep zones. The CB aren't on an island in zone, they are responsible only to the zones they are playing. There is no "island" in zone coverage. That's a man coverage term where the CB has sole responsibility for one player everywhere on the field.

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Thegreatreynoldo's picture

October 30, 2015 at 08:44 am

Fair enough, and no offense taken at all. Don't understand why you would get dislikes. I just meant that it is not difficult to get a one on one match up with no help over the top or the middle if the other team so desires.

Is my general understanding that GB's outside CBs are out on islands more often than the average team's CBs correct?

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Dan Stodola's picture

October 30, 2015 at 05:59 pm

In General, I think its fair to say the Packers play mostly man coverages. However, they almost always have safeties deep, so technically still not on an island.

I didn't mention that as the other aspect of an "island". Man coverage w/ no safety help.

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