In part one of this week’s Film Room, we looked at the Green Bay Packers' use of cover-1 double jersey coverage to take away Justin Jefferson from the Minnesota Vikings offense. In part two, we’ll look at the split safety coverages used to limit Jefferson throughout the game.
Split safety coverage
The other way the Packers' defense limited Jefferson was through the use of split safety two deep coverage shells using a variety of cover-2, cover-5 (2-man), quarters/quads, and cover-8. Two deep safety coverages using the cover-2 principles of a corner squat and safety deep half read over the top provides the defense with a kind of natural bracket without really having to play a true bracket.
The corner still has squat/flat zone responsibility on passes to that area and can peel off the #1 receiver to play the flat in sort of a trap or cut coverage (cut is the Saban term for man-match coverage on all of the #1 except if #2 is out in the flat). This allows the defense and those zone defenders to vision the quarterback and the receiver together.
In cover-5 (cover-2 man), the corner will play with outside underneath leverage because he has a deep safety in his half of the field. He’ll usually jam the receiver on the release so he doesn’t get a free release into the defense and will funnel him inside because that is where the safety help is.
Alexander presses Jefferson at the line, preventing him from getting a clean release. Cousins isn’t even looking to his side and comes back to the middle to his tight end. Alexander stays low and outside with Amos over the top in case Jefferson has a deeper vertical route. Any throw there would have triggered Amos to drive top down on the pass where at worst an incompletion.
In red zone quads, the safeties are bracketing each receiver depending on the route distribution. The corners play quarters technique and “MOD #1”. MOD stands for “Man Outside and Deep.” They’ll play all of the number one receiver unless number one is under. If one is under, they’ll zone off to their deep quarter.
The safety’s in red quads play inside alignment on #2 and read 2-to-1 looking for number two vertical. The underneath flat defenders are playing outside alignment on the number two receivers.
Here, the Packers are in quads and Jefferson is split out to the right side of the offensive formation. To his side, he has Amos and Alexander again as the safety/corner duo. The Vikings are running “double swirl” from a cut alignment from Jefferson. The release of Jefferson and the tight end are along the same path upfield.
Jefferson runs the swirl route with Alexander having outside leverage. Amos is reading #1 and #2 coming up the seam and peels off #1 to break on the in cut by Hockenson and batting it away, nearly intercepting it.
Cover-8 is the Fangio tree for cover-2 and nickel to the passing strength and quarters/cover-4 coverage to the weakside (HQQ). This is the opposite of cover-6 where the quarters side is to the strong side away from the nickel.
In cover-8, the slot defender plays the vertical curl zone and has a squat/flat corner to his side and a deep safety over the top. The vertical curl defender is in a prime position to not only help play a bracket coverage, but can also peel and cut off another route in his field of vision.
Jefferson is in the slot here with the nickel in the vertical curl in coverage. Safety Innis Gaines is playing over the top with a bit of inside leverage and a safety with help over the top. The Vikings are running a dagger concept and as the outside receiver breaks in on the dig, Gaines peels off and stays in the vertical curl as Jefferson is picked up by the deep safety.
Cousins is already moving through his progressions here and sees the Packers' defense squeezing the throwing lanes and doesn’t have anywhere to go so he takes off running for a 19 yard gain.
Cover-2 robber/Inverted Tampa-2
The final way they could get a natural bracket on Jefferson was through a cover-2 robber coverage or inverted Tampa-2.
In inverted Tampa-2 or cover-2 robber, the defense usually presents some kind of single high coverage with the deep safety as the middle-of-the-field robber and two other defenders, usually the nickel and another safety, or in the Packers' case, a 3-safety personnel group, that drop down the seams/halves of the field where the deep safeties normally align on cover-2.
Cousins doesn’t even look to Jefferson here, but if he had, he might have initially seen a 1-on-1 with Alexander he could potentially challenge because there is no safety help over the top. The post-snap picture reveals the deep safety robber drop by Ford with Savage and Amos the seam/deep halves drop. This puts Alexander in a sink technique with him sinking under Jefferson’s route with Savage as the deep half dropper over the top.
The defense is playing its best football of the season for the last several weeks. Since Week 13, the Packers have the 9th best defense per Football Outsiders DVOA (5th pass, 22nd rush). In Weeks 1-12, the Packers ranked 22nd in DVOA. They’re putting together at the exact right time and are now in a position to earn a wild-card playoff spot thanks in small part to how Joe Barry’s unit is performing on the field.