Oakland Raiders Week 10 Primer: Purple People Eater Beaters

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Nov 8, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown (84) is defended by Oakland Raiders cornerback David Amerson (29) in a NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Understanding Coverages

There are two basic coverage concepts that are regularly seen in the NFL and they revolve around the deployment of safeties. Single high safety and two high safety are the basic concepts all coverages stem from. Single high safety concepts include cover 1 and cover 3 which are the bulk of what the Raiders started off the season playing. We all saw the issues that stemmed from those first four games and so did the coaching staff. In response to those issues, Ken Norton began to play cover 2 man under, cover 2 zone, and occasionally quarters coverage. When the Raiders beat down the Chargers, it was the addition of cover 2 concepts that made the difference.

Single high safety concepts have one distinct advantage. They naturally leave a strong safety in the box to defend the run. The Raiders have been very solid against the run, but they are able to control run games with their front five for the most part. Because of this ability to take on the run with the front five, the Raiders began to use more two high safety and still did a very solid job against the run including holding Jet’s running back Chris Ivory to 17 yards on 15 carries.

In single high safety, the primary man coverage is cover 1. This means the high safety is very deep and the cornerbacks will either push the receiver against the sideline or towards the safety. That really depends on the play call or gameplan. The problem that can arise with this coverage comes with the downfield throws. The safety is the last man and he is required to bracket any deep receiver because the cornerback is nearly always in trail technique (meaning he is behind the receiver). The cornerback prevents the underthrown balls, and the safety prevents the overthrown ball.

Cover 3 has an important difference with it’s man defense counterpart and that is, the cornerbacks will generally give the receivers the inside part of the field. This is due to how the three deep defenders are aligned. The three deep defenders split the field in thirds by the hashmarks and they are able to react and effectively double team any downfield throw. By using the boundaries, sideline defenders such as the cornerbacks, in effect have a double team against their receivers.

As successful as single high safety defenses can be, there can still be big issues. Take for instance  Bro’s first big reception.  Hayden is playing outside technique which gives him an  inside release. Brown runs a post route  which should play right into the coverage. However, Woodson  bites on a slight double move, takes a bad angle,  and has no chance to recover.  The result is a huge catch for Brown which is entirely the fault of Woodson.  The catch with Amerson in coverage  is similar.

This play is nearly identical to the play that happened during that disaster Eagle’s game two years ago. Just as on that play, Woodson bites on a double move giving him a terrible angle. From there, he simply got beat. The resulting catch is entirely the responsibility of the free safety. Against the Steelers, both of the downfield bombs to Antonio Brown were against single-high defenses with Woodson responsible for bracketing the receiver downfield.

Two high safety sets in principle, tend to give more protection for defenses against the deep ball. If it is two deep safeties in zone with man under, then the safety is responsible for bracketing any deep receiver on his half of the field. This simplifies the reads for the safeties and allows them to play faster. If the defense is cover two zone, then the cornerbacks will press in order to redirect the receivers and the safeties will use the boundaries to assist on deep balls.

The last variation on two deep safeties is quarters coverage. This is what the Packers play mostly, and they use four deep defensive backs to pinch down on the seams and hashmarks. Schematically, the Raiders are a best fit for two high safety sets because they lack a true free safety.

Next: Week 10 Primer: Charles Woodson Effect