The Green Bay Packers defense surrendered 28 points versus the Mike McCarthy-led Cowboys on Sunday, yet it was not enough for McCarthy’s squad to steal a road win versus his former team and many of his former players. The Packers defense, while surrendering 28 points, made a statement with their pass coverages on a few key third downs including one interception and a pass break-up on the Cowboys’ only third down in overtime.
Defensive coordinator Joe Barry plays a variety of 2-high coverages and single-high coverages, electing for a more two-high based approach on obvious passing downs. On third downs versus the Cowboys, Barry employed the use of cover-2 invert cover-2/Tampa-2 “robber” coverage on a few occasions to rob the middle of the field and muddy the picture for Dak Prescott.
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 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, Barry employed a three safety defense on occasion that allowed them to get faster defenders on interior receivers and allowed them to rob the middle of the field from a 2-deep safety coverage shell pre-snap.
On the first third down of the game, the Cowboys are running a smash-drive concept, a flood concept designed to overwhelm one side of the field.
The Packers are in a split safety hybrid coverage that is considered a 2-deep, 5-under coverage where the underneath coverage is playing man coverage across the board with the nickel aligned to the passing strength, the two receiver stack formation to the offense’s left. The safeties are play cover-2 to the nickel side and quarters technique to the tight end side away from the pass strength.
Prescott drops back to pass, but the quarters side defenders are giving no ground and keeping everything in front of them. He initially looks to the corner route but it is covered top down and the timing is as the receiver and defender collision each other.
Dak threw a pass so errant that I think there was a miscommunication somewhere between him and his receivers (something that happened a lot in this game for Dallas) plus the combination of that and the defenders being physical and throwing off the timing of the routes caused the pass to fall incomplete to no one.
Late in the fourth quarter, as the Cowboys again tried to rally to score in the final two minutes, the Packers defense deployed this coverage on third down again and got another stop when Prescott overthrew a receiver deep who was in locked in tight man coverage 1-on-1 as the safety over the top bit on a middle dig route by Ceedee Lamb.
Later in the first quarter, the Cowboys called a dagger concept on 3rd-and-6, a good two high safety coverage beater.
The defense, however, showed quarters coverage across the board pre-snap and rotated to a 3-deep/3-under fire zone with the weak safety rotating down to the middle of the field.
Prescott is working the dagger concept and wants to throw the seam route down the hash but sees the corner fall off the dig route and the safety help double team the seam route so comes back and throws an incomplete pass to the checkdown. He would have likely worked the dig route but Savage, as the third safety underneath, got into the throwing window and forced Prescott to checkdown incomplete.
The Packers have also employed some cover-2/tampa-2 robber coverages this season and some last season and it almost always comes on third down in high leverage situations for the defense. This particular coverage is “Nickel Brooklyn,” the Fangio tree’s own version of Tampa-2 coverage.
The wrinkle Barry employs is instead of the middle linebacker dropping to the deep middle hole to carry a vertical route (middle run), the middle safety in the three safety shell to the deep part of the field takes the middle run responsibility and plays the vertical route over the middle from the top down. The corners are play a “smash flat” technique to jam and deny the outside receivers a free release and reroute them before playing the flat.
The Cowboys are running “989” double go which is a pass concept with two vertical go routes outside (the 9 route in the route tree) and a post/middle read route by the slot receiver inside (the “8” route). The middle read route is dependent on the coverage. Against two deep safeties, the read becomes a bender/post where the receiver splits the two defenders more upfield in “middle of the field open.”
Against single high coverage (cover-1 or cover-3) “middle of the field closed” the receiver breaks across the safety’s face straight across the field like on a dig route.
At the snap, all three Packers safeties rotate to cover-2 robber. Ford, the deep middle hole safety, backpedals as Lamb thinks he can get up field between the safeties and breaks on the pass as Prescott throws it.
Lamb should have either adjusted his route or Dak should have thrown it over Ford’s head. Either way, there seemed to be some confusion rather than miscommunication because the Packers generally do not run this version of cover-2 robber so the Cowboys likely have never seen it.
Acme Packing Company’s own Tyler Brooke has a more extensive breakdown of this play and Rudy Ford’s day in general.
The Packers did this again late in the game denying the Cowboys another third down conversion and getting the ball back for the offense to tie the game.
Overall the defense played well enough to get stops when they needed to and it looks like Rudy Ford will get a bit more run as the season goes on. The Packers are not totally out of the playoff picture with 15% odds to make it heading into week 11. They will have their hands full with Titans and the number one most efficient run game and offense in the league on Thursday night. A win here might renew their confidence enough for a late season push.