Oakland Raiders Film Room: BAL at OAK

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Cover 2 Woes

Oakland has played a lot of Cover 2 Zone (safeties split deep field into two zones, CBs and LBs play five underneath zones) in this young 2015 season. Some of it may have to do with the youth and inexperience of the cornerbacks, some perhaps with Jack Del Rio’s personal comfort with it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a Cover 2 Zone defense, it’s a staple coverage which has served several teams well over the years.

The only problem with it is that everyone knows where the weak spots are in the coverage (deep middle, deep sidelines). The defense knows and the offense knows as soon as it’s identified. Cover 2 requires two somewhat rangy safeties – players that can identify route concepts/patterns quickly and make plays along the full 27 yards of half field for which they are responsible. With Nate Allen’s injury absence and Charles Woodson’s age, committing to a Cover 2 is going to be a tough task for the Raiders.

2nd and 18 at the beginning of the 4th quarter for the Ravens offense. Facing a long distance to a first down, Baltimore runs a textbook route to attack the weakness in Cover 2 Zone –  the corner route. Baltimore comes out in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WRs) with the widest receiver lined up in a reduced split on the two receiver side (bottom of image). This reduced split should be an early alert for the corner route either from WR Kamar Aiken (as pictured), or via crossing route between Aiken and WR Marion Brown (lined up just inside of Aiken).

Safety Larry Asante, already lined up 18 yards deep pre-snap (deep safeties are a hallmark of Jack Del Rio defenses even on shorter down/distance plays), clearly acknowledges the route, as evidenced by his fading to the outside immediately upon backpedal. However, it seems his efforts to keep from being burned overpower his awareness of the first down marker. He maintains a 12 yard cushion very deep into the play, which looks like it is a coached technique considering Woodson’s similar depth. When Neiko Thorpe passes Aiken off to the safety 12 yards into the route, the hole for Aiken to exploit is massive. Flacco throws the ball right into his hands for the first down.

Let me be clear, playing safety in the NFL is extremely difficult. Thorpe did his job correctly. Asante only did his job slightly poorly. Stationed on the two receiver side, his alignment should have started in between the two receivers and faded outside (on top of Aiken) as they split off at their different depths. He started fading outside appropriately but recognized the route concept a fraction of a second too late and allowed Aiken to get a couple steps on him outside.

The goal of having that type of depth is to be able to take a downhill angle toward the play and keep eyes on the QB whenever possible. The depth works against the safety however if he’s not on appropriately on top of the receiver. The result for being slightly late is a 26 yard gain for Baltimore and a first down.

Next: Back in Black: AC/DC Comes Alive