Packers Xs and Os Film Session: Attacking the Cover 2 from 1 x 3

Photo credit: @Packers Twitter account

On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers won a thrilling Divisional Playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys by a score of 26-21.

The Packers had a very balanced game plan of run and pass designed to attack the Cowboys defense.

Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator, is of the Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith coaching tree and primarily uses the cover 2 defense.

Against the Packers, Marinelli didn’t use the Tampa 2 as much as Dungy and Smith would, but instead used a fair amount of “regular” cover 2.

The Packers had a game plan in place to attack cover 2, which has traditionally been an Achilles heel for Aaron Rodgers and his receivers.

Aaron Rodgers threw the opening score against cover 2, and then threw the game-winning touchdown against cover 2 on a play that was set up off of the first score.

Let’s take a look at how the first touchdown pass setup the game-winning score.

First, we need to review the basics of the cover 2. I wrote about it here and here. The weak spots in the cover 2 are between the safeties and the between the cornerbacks and safeties based on the amount of field they must cover. See the image below.


The most common way to attack the cover 2 is have a receiver run a post route to split the safeties.

In the first touchdown Aaron Rodgers threw, he did just that by hitting Andrew Quarless on a post route between the safeties.

The GIF below shows the Cowboys in a cover 2 and the Packers in a 1 x 3 alignment. Quarless (81) is split solo to the top (boundary) and is flanked by three wide receivers (trips) to the bottom of the formation (field).

At the snap of the ball, Quarless runs a post route and Aaron Rodgers initially looks to the trips to hold the field (wide side) safety on top of the trips. By holding the field safety, he creates more room for Quarless to work behind the boundary (short side) safety on a post route. The play may also be a broken coverage for the boundary safety. The boundary corner was playing back hip on Quarless, trying to funnel him towards anticipated safety help in the middle of the field. A. Rodgers began to scramble, which pulled the safety in, probably looking for a big hit. In the end, he got burned for an easy pitch and catch against the soft spot, putting the Packers up 7-0.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind
Credit: NFL Game Rewind

When the Packers were behind 20-21, they scored on a play that I believe was set up by their opening score.

In the play below, the Cowboys are again in the cover 2 and the Packers came out in a similar 1 x 3 alignment with Quarless split solo in the boundary and the trips in the field.

This time, A. Rodgers immediately looks to Quarless, who the boundary safety now has to guard in fear of another post route. Because of this, the boundary safety plays tight to Quarless, trying to takeaway an inside free release to the post. Quarless squats his route, holding both the boundary cornerback and the boundary safety. As the play develops, Richard Rodgers (89), who was the tight slot from the trips, begins to work open on his own post route, extending his route behind the field safety who no longer has inside help because Quarless squatted in a soft spot between the cornerback and safety. The rookie tight end had the awareness to keep moving while A. Rodgers broke containment and fled the pocket.

A. Rodgers fires a missile to R. Rodgers in a window that closed fast to take the lead 26-21 on a play that was setup by their first red zone touchdown pass to Quarless. It was excellent scouting to tendencies, play calling sequence, and play execution.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind
Credit: NFL Game Rewind

I believe the GIFs embedded above to be fair use under the premise of being short clips of the original broadcast that are transformative for news reporting, commentary, critique, illustration, and teaching purposes


Jay Hodgson is an independent sports blogger writing for and

Follow Jay on twitter at @jys_h.


7 thoughts on “Packers Xs and Os Film Session: Attacking the Cover 2 from 1 x 3

  1. Interesting that on the Rodgers td, #12 also had Quarles open at the pylon for what looked like a pretty easy throw. Great breakdown above. GoPack!

  2. Jay, thank you very much. It was, again, very instructive. Also, I would kindly ask you to warn your colleagues from the to be very carefull in your prediction of the NFC Championship game! For the sake of the Packers!
    Thank you for that in advance! 😉

    1. I’ll free them from the jinx and say I think the packers are going to win. Now it’ll be my fault. GoPack!

  3. Always amazed at how fast those windows close. Your gifs show just how good Rodgers is. The Richard Rodgers bullet is as good as it gets. I am glad to see us get the TEs into the action. If our O-line plays strong, the improved play of the TEs will thin the Seattle defense and give us more passing firepower. Should be a great battle.

  4. That pass to R Rodgers for a TD reminded me of a ball from the Super Bowl where Rodgers threw a bullet to Jennings in or near the end zone for a TD and the window was about 1 square inch. The announcers kept saying “Did you see that throw!!!”

    Even on replays and I watched it a few times, I was stunned.

    Also, No 12 didn’t excatly set his feet properly, shift his weight etc. He threw it while running to his left. He’s amazing.

  5. Thanks, Jay. This article was excellent, as usual for your Xs and Os articles. Now, I did find an interesting article noted below, but I am not asking you to comment on it, Jay. In fact, I am going to go back and look to see if you had any articles on attacking Cover 1 and Cover 3 buzz and sky.

    I read an interesting article with some Xs and Os specific to Seattle. The article indicated that Seattle played a lot of Cover 1 and Cover 3 Buzz and Sky against us in week one. I am not familiar with the author of the article, but it was interesting. I rather liked being able to control the speed of the video, too. Link:

    1. Bucky Brooks is one of the best. If he writes it, it’s worth reading. Thanks for sharing the link. It was an excellent read.

Comments are closed.