Over the second half of the 2011 NFL season the driving force between the Arizona Cardinals push from 1-6 to 8-8 was the defensive unit who seemingly clicked as a unit and began to put elite performance after elite performance on the field. While the calibre of Quarterbacks that they played were not elite the coverage schemes in the secondary are likely to progress through from last season to the next with the same defensive staff on board. So I have gone back over three Cardinals games from 2011 against different levels of Quarterback (@ Baltimore, Joe Flacco, @Cincinnati, Andy Dalton, vs Cleveland, Seneca Wallace) to see what I could find about the tendencies of the Cardinals in their coverage shells, and what that could mean for the Cardinals heading into 2012.
The Cardinals used two coverage shells the majority of the snaps that I watched, they usually shaped up in either a Cover 1 or a 2 Man shell with the cover 1 shells being the preferred option, especially against teams with a lesser calibre player at Quarterback.
The cover one defense is a shell used often on teams who like to play aggressive blitzing football. It bases itself on all cornerbacks playing man coverage, usually matched up against a receiver, one safety playing in man coverage usually against a back or a tight-end, and the remaining safety playing in a deep zone. The most common play call with a cover one shell is a blitz. Sending extra men at the quarterback in the knowledge that the back end of the defence is thin and that pressure is going to be the best way to mask it.
The above picture is an example of the Cover 1 in action; at the bottom of the screen we have Patrick Peterson in Press-Man coverage. Inside him we have the nickel CB in off-man coverage and on the opposite side of the field we have the #2 CB in off man coverage. At the far left of the picture we can see Adrian Wilson dropping into the deep zone coverage while the second safety is firmly in the box and will pick up the back in man coverage. *Note this defensive alignment could also lead to a number of different cover shells, a Cover 3 could be run from this shell very easily, the only way I know it is a cover one is from watching the play develop, this applies to most of the pictures that will follow*
Here we get a wide angle of Cover 1 on a 3rd and medium. Here we see all three corners in press man coverage, and what looks to be the deep safety Kerry Rhodes sitting midway between the 45 and 50 yard lines.
Nine seconds later at the snap of the football, we see all the corners still in press man, but Rhodes has dropped closer to the LOS and will pick up the running back release into a route out of the backfield. Out of shot to the left and on his own side of midfield is Adrian Wilson playing the deep coverage on this down.
One of the aspects that is key to playing cover one coverage is a cornerback that can play the role of a true #1 cornerback and ideally will be able to play the role of a “shutdown” corner. This allows the deep third safety to shade away from his side and offer over the top help to the weaker of the two corners. This has the affect of either funnelling the throws into double coverages or forces the Quarterback to take on the 1 v 1 matchup that involves your number one cornerback. As last season wore on the Cardinals began to use more and more of this concept often referred to as “Deion” coverage after the great Deion Sanders, and basically means man to man coverage, no over the top help, matched up on the opposition’s biggest receiving threat on an island. The reason they were able to utilise this concept was the development and ability of Patrick Peterson. The game where this really came to the fore was week sixteen against the Bengals, with rookie sensation AJ Green on the other side of the ball, Peterson was in man to man coverage on Green for the majority of the games snaps, and a good portion of those were “Deion” coverages.
Here you can see an example of Cover 1, it is slightly different as the Bengals go five wide with an empty backfield. 10 plays on screen, the eleventh is Kerry Rhodes the deep safety. At the bottom of the screen we see Peterson circled in press-man coverage on AJ Green. Not Peterson is aligned slightly inside to A] Force Green outside and limit the inside breaking routes such as a slant that can be very dangerous in third and medium situations such as this and B] To enable him to use the sideline as a defender.
The development of the play leads to this; Peterson playing his coverage and technique perfectly. Sitting on the inside of Green in the trail position, head turned playing the ball. Of more importance note that the deep safety has already broken towards the near side-line yet is still only on the near hash, this is because of the presnap shading that had Rhodes, as the deep safety, providing help to the other side of the field and leaving Peterson in an island.
Expect cover one to be a large part of what the Cardinals do in terms of coverage in 2012. With Patrick Peterson heading into his second season and with the coaching staff comfortable putting him into situations where he is on an island without help against an oppositions #1 receiver it gives the defense a flexibility not usually found from a cover one shell.
In part II I will be going over 2 Man and some of the lessor used shells from the Cardinals in 2011.