Category Archives: 2010 – 2011 Season

6

May

Xs and Os: The Single-High Safety Defense (Cover 1)

Safety Morgan Burnett hopefully will get some free safety help via the 2014 NFL draft.

Safety Morgan Burnett hopefully will get some free safety help via the 2014 NFL draft.

In the 2014 NFL draft, the Green Bay Packers will most likely target a free safety to help out strong safety Morgan Burnett.

Selecting a starting-caliber free safety is paramount because defensive coordinator Dom Capers relies heavily on a safety to play single-high coverage (cover 1) in many of his defensive alignments. No one will argue that safety play was suspect, at best, during the 2013-2014 season.

Many draft pundits believe that selecting a free safety will help strong safety Morgan Burnett play a more comfortable and natural role within the defense, which is closer to the line of scrimmage. The new free safety can patrol deep center field. Doing so will greatly improve the overall defense.

This article breaks down the basics of the cover 1 defense. In a nutshell, it combines aspects of zone and man-to-man coverage. You can get refresher about man-to-man coverage here and zone coverage here.

Cover 1 Defense Defined

When defending the field, the defense typically divides the field vertically into “halves.” The underneath half typically extends 7 yards from the line of scrimmage and the deep half extends 15-20 yards from the line of scrimmage.

In the single-high (cover 1), the free safety plays zone coverage, guarding the deep half all to himself. He is responsible for any receiver that enters the zone. He must make a play on the ball as it enters the zone. The GIF below demonstrates his assignment.

Cover1 Fig1

No matter where the free safety lines up at the snap of the ball, if the play is a pass, he must backpedal to the landmark, which is usually between the hashmarks about 15-17 yards deep. Typically, he lines up on the open side (away from the tight end). The whole time his eyes are looking forward at the play. He isresponsible for the deep half, which includes assisting someone else cover a receiver entering the area or guarding anyone who is potentially uncovered. See the GIF below.

Cover1 Fig2

The underneath half may be man-to-man, zone, or a combination of both.

Why Play Cover 1?

The single-high safety defense is an aggressive defense. Generally, it allows for more defenders near the line of scrimmage that can attack the offense.

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28

April

Xs and Os: Phases of Man-to-Man Coverage

Cornerback Sam Shields excels at man-to-man coverage.

Cornerback Sam Shields excels at man-to-man coverage.

Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers became famous while implementing the zone blitz defense. However, while in Green Bay, he has let his talented cornerbacks, mainly Tramon Williams and Sam Shields, play a lot of man-to-man coverage.

This article looks at some of the basics of man-to-man pass coverage. While it’s popular to simplify it as “you go wherever he goes no matter what,” there’s definitely more to it than that.

While the above tenet is true about going everywhere your man goes, there is the importance of alignment and body position. Also, the overall strategy of defending the pass differs depending on how the defender is covering the receiver.

During man-to-man coverage, the defender usually turns his back to the quarterback. Based on his position with respect to the receiver, he has two options:

1) Play the ball

2) Play the man

For simplicity’s sake, let’s only look at how a cornerback covers a wide receiver in true man-to-man coverage. Assume there is no double coverage or other creative forms of bracketing.

When aligning the cornerback to the receiver, the alignment usually has the cornerback inside of the receiver with reference to the ball.

The reason behind this is because it puts the defender in between the ball and receiver and also allows the cornerback to use the sideline as an extra defender. If the ball is caught out of bounds, it’s an incompletion.

The most basic form of man-to-man coverage is called in phase “even”. The cornerback is running even with the receiver and their shoulders are almost touching.

In phase "even"

In phase “even”

While in phase “even”, the cornerback is instructed to play the ball, essentially becoming a receiver on the play. In this position, the quarterback’s throw must go through the cornerback.

Similarly, cornerbacks often trail the receiver by playing “in their back pocket”. As long as the cornerback is not in front of the receiver, he’s still in phase. If trailing, he’s in phase “hip”. 

In phase "hip"

In phase “hip”

While in phase “hip”, the cornerback also plays the ball.

Conversely, the cornerback may, at times, play in front of the receiver. This is called out of phase.

Out of phase

Out of phase

14

April

Historical Perspective: Vince Lombardi’s Offense Was More Complex Than You Think

Vince Lombardi ran a precision offense that may be remembered incorrectly within his legend.

Vince Lombardi ran a precision offense that may be remembered somewhat incorrectly within his legend.

Former Green Bay Packers head coach Vince Lombardi is arguably the greatest coach in the history of the NFL. However, I believe that his legacy is actually underrepresented in the annals of fame.

Lombardi is often credited for having his teams seek perfection. As part of this perfection, the legend suggests that his offensive playbook was more simple than his peers. But, since his players ran the smaller offensive category to perfection, it was the winning formula en route to five NFL championships over a seven-year stretch.

The legend perpetuates the notion that the Packers Power Sweep was the main driving force for the 1960s dynasty. They swept their way into the history books.

Pundits today also continue their accounts by suggesting that the modern game has surpassed Lombardi and he wouldn’t be able to compete with the contemporary sophistication.

Granted, Lombardi’s offense wasn’t as open as Tom Landry’s multiple-shift and intricate “System” at the time, but it was much more complex than history seems be crediting him.

I have always been a great fan and student of Lombardi’s playbook. It started when I was a young child and was given a copy of his posthumous book “Vince Lombardi on Football,” edited by George L. Flynn. Throughout the book, Lombardi painstakingly teaches the reader, down to the finest detail, the mechanisms of executing his football plays.

Allow me to highlight some of Lombardi’s offensive philosophies and play calls to demonstrate that his offense was quite contemporary and multiple for the time, and to also showcase how some of his staples are still present in today’s modern NFL.

Exhibit A: The Passing Tree

Sid Gillman is often called the “father of the modern passing game.” He was among the first to standardize receiver routes and attach them to precision timing. The routes were perfectly constructed to match the quarterback’s drop back with the break of the receivers to mesh in a completion.

He was one of the reasons the AFL exploded on the scene with wide-open passing attacks. The game would never be the same after his imprint.

Before Gillman, oftentimes receivers only ran a few routes to match their skill set and simply would try to “get open” and then look for the ball.

14

March

BJ Raji Signs 1-year, $4 million contract with Packers

B.J. Raji 2012

B.J. Raji

The Packers and Ted Thompson continue to resign their own guys (much to the dismay of Frank Schaub apparently), Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting that defensive end/nose tackle BJ Raji has resigned with the team for a 1-year, $4 million contract; specifics of the deal have not been made public but this post will be updated to reflect incoming news.

 

Raji has largely been criticized for his lackluster play since teasing fans with his potential in early in his career and being dissatisfied playing in a 3-4 scheme where defensive linemen rarely get the accolades or attention of the 4-3 brethren.  The icing on the cake for fan scorn was walking away a multi-year deal that was supposed to pay him roughly $8 million yearly, naturally this is all just hearsay and the structure of the deal (i.e. the guaranteed portion) might have been poor but nevertheless, an abysmal season after betting on himself drew the ire of fans and media alike.

Free agency apparently was ice cold for Raji as no reports have surfaced of him visiting any other team and Raji has not been linked or to be of interest to any other team (there were some rumors linking Raji to Oakland and Kansas city, with obvious connections in the front offices).  Last reported news from Raji prior to his signing was that he was “mulling” over a 1-year contract offer from the Packers.  From the looks of things, Raji was forced to take a 1-year “prove it” contract with the Packers as no other suitors came calling.  Without knowing guaranteed money and incentive clauses attached to the deal, this looks like a pretty good signing for the Packers, who get an experienced defensive linemen who will be playing hard for his pay day (although why this didn’t help last season is a mystery) and when at his best can be a disruptive force in the middle.

The Packers have been reported to be looking at Raji only as a nose tackle (where he has had the most success), which likely means Ryan Pickett is now less likely to be resigned (although the Packers might still resign Pickett if the price is right), with Josh Boyd most likely as the backup nose tackle.

25

February

The Packers should choose a different flavor of tight end

At the moment there are 3 “flavors” of tight ends; everyone’s favorite at the moment is chocolate and that would be the “oversized wide receiver” tight ends like Jimmy Graham or Jordan Cameron, who are players who can take the top off of a defensive secondary while posing a size match up for cornerbacks and safeties while causing speed problems for linebackers.  These types of players are what the NFL craves right now and with the Seattle Seahawks winning the Super Bowl with bigger more physical corners, the most logical response would be for NFL offenses to counter with big and fast tight ends who can beat bigger corners at their own game.  Strawberry would be the “move” tight end, much like Aaron Hernandez or Jordan Reed, who while aren’t the biggest or fastest have the most utility of the group, being able to operate decently as a inline tight end, out in the slot or even as a fullback in some situations (the Packers in particular love this kind of tight end).  Finally, there is vanilla, the old and boring standby of inline or “complete” tight end such as Jason Witten or Todd Heap who were capable inline blockers but could also operate as a safety value for a quarterback in the short passing game.  Each flavor has its own advantages and disadvantages and that’s fluctuated over time as offenses and defenses have evolved in the NFL.

When looking at the Packers under the Mike McCarthy/Ted Thompson regime, the flavors that appeal most have definitely been chocolate (Jermichael Finley, Brandon Bostick) and strawberry (Tom Crabtree, Spencer Havner, Ryan Taylor, DJ Williams) with almost no emphasis being placed on blocking.  And it’s easy to see why, with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers at the helm, plays could be extended, wide receivers got the majority of the attention on offense and running backs, outside of a couple years of Ahman Green in his prime, took a back seat to the offensive passing game.  Add to that the aerial explosion that occurred starting around that time and it’s easy to see why the Packers, along with pretty much every other NFL team, starting looking at tight ends more as receivers than blockers.  However, we might just start to see Mike McCarthy and Ted Thompson pick a different favorite flavor this coming draft.

9

January

Is the Packers’ Glass Half Empty Or Half Full?

Beer

Packers and Beer.

Players, coaches, the media and most often the fans like to say “every season that didn’t include a Super Bowl Victory is a failure”.  I get the sentiment, as long as your team wins the Super Bowl, everything is forgiven; it doesn’t matter how many mistakes were made or how many games were lost, as long as your team takes the Lombardi trophy at home, everything else is forgiven.  However, this is really a shortsighted assessment of any team’s season; would anyone argue that the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans had equally failed seasons because neither will win the Super Bowl this year?  Of course not, the Chiefs saw a massive rebound from the worse record in 2012 to one of the best and saw jumps in all analytics to boot.  On the other hand, the Texans were predicted by many pundits to be a Super Bowl contender but lost 15 games in a row and saw their head coach fired mid-season.  Furthermore, fans of the New England Patriots can realistically expect to be in contention for a Super Bowl every year for the foreseeable future, but the same cannot be said for the Oakland Raiders, who are still in the middle of a massive rebuilding process; getting into the playoffs but not the Super Bowl might be considered a failure for the Patriots, but just getting into the playoffs should be considered a successful season for the Raiders.

All that basically points back to the 2013 Packers; should we consider this season a success or a failure?  Or more realistically, do you see the Packers season as a glass half empty or a glass half full?

The Packers were an average team (8-7-1)

Glass half empty: The Packers took a major nose dive this season after posting a 11-5 season in 2012, 15-1 season in 2011 and winning the Super Bowl in 2010.  Especially in the middle of the season it looked like the team was lost and without a goal as they were man handled by the Eagles, Giants and most notably the Lions.  The defense again fell apart and the Packers were forced to learn how to run the ball behind Eddie Lacy, which didn’t happen overnight.  Hell, they couldn’t even truly beat the Minnesota Vikings who threw Christian Ponder back in a quarterback.  Finally, the Packers again proved that they are incapable of beating the 49ers with the 3rd consecutive loss.

20

December

Packers Periscope: Week 16 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Past: I’ve mentioned notable games of the past in this series (the Ice Bowl, Aaron Rodgers dismantling of the Falcons in the 2010 divisional game), but perhaps the most important game in the last decade for the Packers was their win in Super Bowl XLV in 2010 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Not only did it cement quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ position as one of the NFL’s elite players but it also justified Ted Thompson’s 6 year “draft and develop” philosophy which brought the Packers back from a salary cap nightmare.  Fans will remember Clay Matthew’s “It is time” moment of stripping the ball away from Rashard Mendenhall which preserved a Packers 4 point lead in the 4th quarter, but perhaps the biggest defensive play came from defensive tackle Howard Green, who knocked quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s pass into the arms of safety Nick Collins, who returned the ball for a touchdown and at least historically sealed away the fate of the Steelers right then (no team has gotten a interception returned for a touchdown and lost the Super Bowl).

Moving back further, the Steelers and Packers last regular season game occurred in 2009 which quickly became a shootout; Rodgers threw for an impressive 383 yards but Roethlisberger proved even more dangerous, finishing the game with an astonishing 503 yards.  It also marked the rise of Jermichael Finley, who moved from a up and coming player to a serious receiving threat, which would continue until his injury in 2010.

The Present: The Steelers have been effectively eliminated from the playoffs; the Cincinnati Bengals have run away with the AFC North and are almost definitely going to win the division this year.  Baltimore trails behind Cincinnati, but also has a shot at a wild card berth.  Pittsburgh unfortunately only is predicted to get in as a wildcard team .8% of the time according to Football Outsiders, effectively making this game more of a statement game more than anything else.  Furthermore, the Steelers have always been a very deliberate and conservative organization and the coaching staff has not been rumored to be on the hot seat, this game probably does not have much meaning to the Steelers, aside for maybe extracting some revenge against the Packers for their Super Bowl loss.