This season defensive coordinator Joe Barry has successively built of the defense’s success each week and thrown new wrinkles in his personnel and schematic decisions. Knowing the Vikings would be without starting quarterback Kirk Cousins and receiver Adam Thielen, Barry elected to throw some new wrinkles at Vikings backup quarterback Sean Mannion. One way he did this was through the use of a coverage known as “Tampa 2 Invert” or cover-2 invert or cover-2 robber.
Football Outsiders has the Packers ranked as the 12th ranked pass defense in their DVOA efficiency metric, which measures efficiency on a per play basis. Broadly, it just means that they’re twelfth best at preventing an opposing offense from gaining at least 60% of the yards needed to convert a down series. For a pass defense that’s missing Jaire Alexander and pass rusher Za’Darius Smith, that is impressive and admirable.
In regular yards given up, the pass defense is ranked 9th in the NFL. One of the ways they have stayed a top passing defense unit is through finding the right personnel. Rasul Douglas has been a welcome addition to a previously depleted secondary. Rookie Eric Stokes has also filled quite nicely.
The other way they have remained a top unit through their schematic deployment of certain coverages at the right times. Barry plays a variety of 2-high coverages and single-high coverages, electing for a more two-high based approach on obvious passing downs.
One way on Sunday night they deployed Cover-2 invert on several occasions to rob the middle of the field of the kinds of throws that the Gary Kubiak coaching tree loves to run in their system. Cover-2 invert or Tampa-2 invert switches the responsibilities of usually a nickel defender and one of the deep safeties.
This can be run from a three safety deep defense that’s more common in the Baylor or Iowa State defensive schemes or they can invert the responsibilities of the corners and safeties as well.
On Sunday night, Barry elected to rob the middle of the field from a 2-deep safety look instead of the ways described above.
First play, second quarter, 3rd-and-5 at MIN 36, 14:14
The Vikings come out in a trey 3x1 (trey is trips with an inline tight end) in 11 personnel shotgun. Their play call is west coast offense staple, the “drive” concept. “Drive” is a two-man route combination where one receiver runs a shallow cross and the other receiver runs an intermediate dig route (basic route). The concept is designed to high-low the middle hook zone dropper.
The Packers show cover-2 with two deep safeties. They have a third safety in the slot, Vernon Scott (No. 36), who bumps out in coverage with receiver K.J. Osborn’s motion. Osborn is running the shallow crosser and tight end Tyler Conklin (No. 83) is running the dig route over the top. The Packers are mugging the A-gaps with linebackers De’Vondre Campbell and Krys Barnes.
At the snap, Barnes and Campbell bail into shallow zones and safety Vernon Scott rotates to the deep half of the field on his side. Safety Darnell Savage rotates down into the robber zone and walls off the dig route from Conklin. In this pattern match zone, Barnes picks up the shallow crosser and Campbell flies out to the flat as Osborn releases underneath. Mannion wants Conklin on the dig but sees Savage wall it off so he’s forced to check it down for a 1-yard gain on 3rd down.
Second play, second quarter, 1st-and-10 at GB-44, :22
Here the Packers are running it in the Vikings’ two-minute drill before the end of the half. The Vikings are running four verticals but were unable to complete the throw and instead Mannion escaped for an 11-yard gain. Certainly more ideal than giving up yards to get them in position to score a touchdown off of a long pass play.
The Packers are again playing 2-robber but this time cornerback Chandon Sullivan is the deep half zone dropper.
Against 2-deep safeties, Mannion is looking for the inside verticals to angle more underneath the safeties and not carry their route up the seam. This prevents the safety from easily capping the route.
However, as receiver Dede Westbrook angles toward the middle of the field, the seam defender is there to rob underneath the route before passing him off the robber safety on the hash. As Mannion sees this, he takes off to scramble and the defense gives up an 11-yard run. The Vikings would eventually kick a field goal before the end of the half.
Third play, fourth quarter, 3rd-and-5 at MIN-24, 7:30
At this point in the game, the Vikings benched Mannion in favor of their rookie quarterback Kellen Mond. The play call is “dragon lion” which is slant/flat to one side and double slants to the opposite side.
The Packers are showing the mugged A-gap look again, certainly not making the rookie’s job any easier. Now he has to think about where his hot read is if they do blitz plus identify post-snap rotation if they do not, all the while deciding where to throw the ball on this quick game concept.
Barnes and Campbell drop out into zones again post snap as Mond looks to throw. Mond throws the ball right at Barnes and he’s unable to intercept it. Mond likely saw Savage rotate down to the middle of the field to rob the inside slant and decided not throw but Savage wouldn’t have broke up the pass. Mond had time to throw the slant behind Barnes to his slot receiver.
This isn’t a coverage the Packers to live in and play exclusively as it has its vulnerabilities like any coverage.
Here the Vikings hit a corner route in front of the safety rotation as the corner was occupied with the underneath crosser and couldn’t sink in time to affect the pass. However, It is a nice compliment to a team that likes to play 2-high coverages predominantly, especially as they look to hold onto leads later this season in the playoffs. I would expect to see this change-up every now and then to prevent offenses from effectively moving the ball.