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Why we sucked against NU and how to stop it in the future

Because lord knows we could use the help.

Newer defenses give Greg Davis trouble they way TIVO gives old people trouble. If you'd like a refresher, I have covered pattern matching before.

(Note just if anyone cares, I upgraded to Snow Leopard and brutally wiped my bloated hard drive, taking moving dot software with it. I winged it today, as I haven't replaced it yet. If you feel unsatisfied, you are entitled to a subscription refund. Please send all complaints and queries, in triplicate, to sailorripley AT

1. Mix up the release

Pattern matching is utterly dependent on defenders responsible for shaded leverage keeping that leverage. For instance, it is up to the inside defender to stay inside of any receiver that breaks inside, or else the entire structure of the coverage is broken.

You can line up a fast receiver on the inside and hope you get a good speed matchup (see: Tannehill v. Acho), but no matter how quick you are, the defender will have a step or two inside. When you have a bear like Suh coming at you, you may not want to wait that long for a crossing route to come open.

Crossed releases

If you've seen our LBs at all then you can understand the theory behind this move. The inside defender will almost always turn his hips inside and focus on the inside receiver. If the outside receiver can hang a bit on his release and then sprint underneath the slot, the defender, in this case a LB, may not see him in time to turn his hips and run with the route. What you end up with is an athletic mismatch with the faster guy already in a dead sprint.

Schemes will vary on what they do with the middle LBs. NU kept theirs close to the line, presumably to contain Colt and any RB patterns. If they go that way, you can slip that route behind them for a good shot at a first down. If they sink the LBs deep into that hold in the middle, you can try and get it under them for a catch and run:

MLB Reaction

2. Cross routes

Along the same lines as above, crossing routes can make it difficult stay with your responsibility. Not only do you have to react to a change in a short time, but you may also have to change direction entirely while the receiver is already gaining speed. Unlike man, where the defender is "locked on" to a receiver, the inside/outside dynamic of matchup zone will often dictate that the defender cover a directional release rather than a firm coverage responsibility. Get him moving one way then make him adjust to a sprinter going the opposite way.

But the crosses have other uses as well. For one, you can "split" underneath coverage in a way you can't against traditional zone:

Three WR Hook

Against zone, those players won't chase those short routes, they let them go for the most part and keep the focus on the deeper stuff. Matchup zones often end up resembling man coverage after the first couple seconds, so moving defenders around is a bit easier.

The cross, if done deliberately, can also use their leverage to your advantage, if later in the game you go against the grain and use one crosses as a horizontal clearing route of sorts:


One consequence of these new coverages is that traditional vertical thinking has been replaced. The same concepts work, but now you have to practice them sideways, since the guy you have to clear out is now next to you, rather than above you.

3. Break late

Again this falls from the previous concept. It's possible to make the defense commit itself and then break based on where they end up. The trade off is that your QB has to hold the ball for a bit longer, the upside is that big plays can present themselves because you can often dictate the matchup in a wide open space. Have a WR run into the LB's "sandbox" and linger like he's running one of our wonderful lazy hooking routes, then have him takeoff outside after all the other coverage is committed:

Break Late

If you are in long yardage or don't feel comfortable protecting, you still have options. Since the cutoff for the "cover him/let him go" rules for underneath coverage is around 12 yards, have you receivers break later, around 14-16:


The safeties are used to staying high on seams and posts, but this route is actually designed the same way a 5 yard out would be, it's just happening way downfield against a coverage guy who, theoretically, is less adept at single coverage. You could even make that outside route a skinny post to take advantage of the outside leverage the corner plays with, if he does. This is a simple two man route, leaving everybody else in to protect, if need be.

This mechanism is also responsible for our first successful shovel passes in years. It takes numbers and focus to cover receivers, and much of the time they'll completely ignore the pocket once they read pass, much like a man defense. Ndamukong Suh makes this a tricky proposition, but it is worlds better than simply running it at him.

4. Spread them out even further

There are alignment rules, generally. You can't expect to follow your assignment if you are ten yards away from him:

Spread Out

It's a big of a gimmick but can be good situationally. Our biggest problem against teams like this is that we don't find single coverage and then go at them, and this is probably the easiest way to identify who is doing what pre-snap. If both safeties and slot coverage guys walk out, you know what's going to happen and you know you've got numbers inside. If they don't, you can go from there based on whatever else they do on film, but you know that in order to get 6 in the box they have to give up something:

Single Coverage

Defenses like that rely on ganging up on your play. You cannot let them under any circumstance. Our biggest problem is that we let them under almost every circumstance. If you run a spread offense and don't force the defense to compromise, then you are an abject failure. I direct this comment at nobody in particular.