Picture Pages: Cover Two Corner Route Doom

Submitted by Brian on October 7th, 2010 at 10:53 AM

Why so the suck against Indiana? A few things leapt out on the tape. One was YAC given up by a physical inability to be close enough to the receiver to tackle on the catch. This is the James Rogers problem, and it isn't going away. Another problem might: freshman defensive backs think "zone" means "man." BWS caught an instance of this and picture-paged Courtney Avery giving up a big gainer on third and sixteen because he dragged out of his zone.

That was an excellent example of cover three. Here Michigan will run cover two and get nailed on it. However, it's not Avery's aggressive coverage that's the problem here, it's the Michigan zone's obviousness and inflexibility.

The setup: Michigan is trying to keep Indiana out of the endzone on the final drive of the first half. IU's driven it just inside the Michigan 40 and has a second and ten. They come out in their bunch shotgun set. Michigan shows two high safeties:


At the snap four guys rush and Michigan is obviously in zone. They have JT Floyd and Mouton in the middle of the field, Courtney Avery playing in the slot, Terrence Talbott and James Rogers on the outside, and Kovacs and Gordon as deep safeties. Mouton drops into a zone to cover a potential slant and Floyd is sitting in the middle of the field about ten yards deep:


A split second later we see what's going on with this bunch at the bottom of the screen: two short routes breaking inside and out with one guy headed deeper. Rogers is essentially motionless as Avery starts moving with the interior WR: corner-4

Avery follows… Rogers is motionless…


Avery follows… Rogers still not going anywhere… IU receiver still running to the sticks… Chappell throwing…


Alert: someone done failed.


Gordon comes over to clean up:


Indiana gets a first down inside the 20.

UPDATE: duh forgot the clip.

Who's at fault here? I don't know. I don't think anyone, really. Some guesses at object lessons:

  • This, like Odoms sitting way down in the hole, is a pass that takes advantage of cover two. The sideline 15-20 yards downfield is always a weak spot. Not a lot of quarterbacks can exploit that as ruthlessly as Chappell can, though in this instance it's so open a lot of QBs could make the play.
  • Michigan made this read easy by showing cover two and running it. Chappell knew it was zone because Michigan just about always plays zone and did not put another guy over the bunch, and as soon as Rogers sat down on the out he knew the corner was going to be open.
  • Advanced zone defenses that use pattern reading can adapt to these routes better. I'm not sure about this, but the key is that someone has to be responsible for #2 going vertical and go with him. That would be either Avery or Rogers. The other would come up on the out, leaving the drag to Floyd. Michigan doesn't do this here and probably doesn't ever do it because they've got a secondary with three sophomores, two freshmen, and positional vagabond James Rogers. Also some defensive coaches think pattern reading is suboptimal for reasons I'm not 100% clear on yet.
  • Avery seems like he's in great position if this was man coverage. He also broke up a slant against BG impressively. If Michigan ever ran man I bet he'd be pretty good at it. Can they do that? Eh… maybe against teams that don't spread the field. Here I think his coverage is good given the situation and the assumption Michigan is not pattern reading.
  • But it's not man and the freshman corners do this all the time. There's the BWS post with an example, and Indiana's last touchdown was Terrence Talbott in great man coverage on a slant… when he had a zone to the short side of the field that held Darius Willis and no one else once he covered the slant.
  • Can Gordon do anything more here? I don't think so, but I'm asking anyone with the knowledge. Is the safety's role here tackle and live to fight another day? What if this was Reggie Nelson?

There is some good news: Michigan did adapt to this route pattern, stoning it several times late. Indiana adjusted by sending the deep WR on a post and Floyd dropped back into it, forcing Chappell to chuck it high.



October 7th, 2010 at 12:11 PM ^

seems to me it's a RPS +1 to IU's O-Coordinator.  tough to matchup on a three-receiver bunch in a cover two.  It's a pick your poison formation particularly when Chappell can make that throw.  Gordon's got deep half btw.  Traditional set illustrated below, you can see the dilemma when they bunch up receivers...


October 7th, 2010 at 12:43 PM ^

See further the extensive article by Chris Brown of Smart Football.

The "smash concept" is extremely popular for a reason: It's a great route. And it is simple to teach. The concept is designed to defeat Cover Two in its many forms. As Cover Two has evolved (Tampa 2, "Tough Two" with the corners retreating to ten yards and jumping routes, and Cover Two-Man), the Smash has become more and more popular.

A word here about verbiage. I refer here to the "Smash concept" or the "Smash route." Both refer to a two-man combination with the outside receiver on a 6 yard hitch and the inside receiver on a 12 yard corner route...

EDIT: here Indiana has the outside and inside receivers run hitches and the central receiver in the triangle run a corner route.

Greg McMurtry

October 7th, 2010 at 12:35 PM ^

The corners just sit and watch as the receivers run by.  It's college rules, which means that you can jam the receiver anywhere on the field as long as the ball has not yet been thrown.  Watch the right (top) CB, he brushes the WR like blade of grass and the WR runs his route as if the CB isn't even there.  The left (bottom) CB doesn't even touch the WR.  They're playing cover 2 and in the cover 2 it is in your best interest to jam the WR and redirect him where YOU want him to go.  The corners have help over the top, why are they not jamming?  They just sit there and allow the WR to run their routes unabated.  If that bottom corner jams the lead receiver in that bunch then all three of their routes are disrupted.  You're in zone anwyay, the bottom corner won't get beat deep because he has help, why is there no jam?  It boggles my mind.  Jams disrupt routes.  If your zone responsibilty is middle of the field, is it not in your best interest to redirect the WR into the middle?


October 7th, 2010 at 1:12 PM ^

I've never heard my thoughts spoken out so exactly.  Whenever people hear jam they think man to man and get beat deep, but that is not the case.  If a passing offense relies on timing between the qb and wr and time to throw for the qb the jam does both in that it delays the wr in getting to the correct spot allowing for the pass rush to gain an extra beat to get there.  With our youth in the secondary and Martin at the line I don't mind the 3 man rush, but with 8 guys back we need to have 3 or 4 of these guys blasting guys off the line and in the short zones to disrupt things.


Many teams frustrate me with this, the ironic thing is that old GSimmons got me pumped up telling me that that was what  Schaefer was bringing with him telling me he liked the zone blitz while bumping guys at the line.  


October 7th, 2010 at 12:33 PM ^

I think it was JT Floyd, actually.

This was one of those plays when Floyd came up like he was going to blitz, then dropped back again (I don't recall if he ever actually blitzed or just threatened a lot -- I do remember getting tired of seeing it because the motion never scared Chappell one iota).

When he drops back again, he's almost on the hash mark, which is a good four yards inside centerfield (see the x).

This has to be wrong. There are three receivers lined up to the wide side, so why would GERG draw up the play to pack four zone defenders (Floyd, Talbott, Mouton and a deep Kovacs) to the short side?

We're playing Cover-3 zone, except Floyd here is essentially the MLB and Avery the SAM.

Say they took this formation and the fullback motioned out behind the two receivers on the strongside. The MACK linebacker (i.e. Floyd) should then cheat out the strongside as well. This means his drop should take him pretty much to the opposite hash.

Go with me here. If Floyd gets near the opposite hash (like I have him photoshopped below), Mouton and Talbott still have the weakside taken care of. Meanwhile Avery has moved to the inside of his zone to cover 81, leaving the receiver splitting out to James Rogers's zone.

A perfect throw to the sideline is still open, but if Floyd covers the actual middle of the field instead of shading five yards to the weakside, he is in position to make a play on that pass. If he's a +2-earning kinda guy, he even notices the receiver entering the far edge of his zone and shades that way, putting him at the strongside hash when the ball is thrown, and giving him the time of the pass to make up the difference. A guy with Chappell's arm still maybe beats Floyd, but at least the pass is contested.

Instead, however, J.T. Floyd found himself standing right next to Mouton. In Cover-2, being close enough to your teammate for a butt-tap is not cool.

That's my theory.


October 7th, 2010 at 2:07 PM ^

i think the technical term is Tampa 2.  but this is on Cam if you ask me.  i think the bunch stuff screwed with his reads and that he's fairly slow compared to the guy he's tasked with covering.  it seemed like we had a problem with almost everything they did from bunch.  from rewatching the game, i'm pretty sure M ran this package a couple different times and you could identify it by watching the two middle safeties jet off to their respective thirds.  unless JT blitzed, in which case i think they were rotating one of the corners to a deep third.  in which case they'd be playing a Fire Zone (rush 5, drop 6).  i even saw one time they rushed 4 by dropping off one of the DEs.

what was illustrative in rewatching for me was that Robinson doesn't seem to be lacking for schemes to try to disguise vanilla Cover 3.  he is lacking in talent and, possibly, leaving them a bit confused.  Chappell on the other hand almost always seemed to know which side of the field to go to given the coverage. 

Now that I think about it, I'd guess that Rogers is the field corner and IU guessed they'd rotate coverage toward the boundary, leaving James vulnerable on hitches and stuff to the flat.  So GERG goes with this Tampa 2 package to get Cam over the top in that deep third so Rogers can step up on the short stuff for once, so Chappell moves to his corner route...and Cam doesn't get there in time.


October 7th, 2010 at 12:37 PM ^

This is on both Rogers and Gordon, mostly Rogers.

This is a smash route, designed to take advantage of a cover 2 exactly like it did.  Avery does a nice job sticking with number 3 (the number 3 receiver from the outside, not jersey number 3).  Gordon has to maintain inside leverage on this until the receiver commits to the outside.  As Rogers reads number 2 going vertical, he needs to maintain outside leverage for about 12-15 yards (depends on the exact scheme and coaching philosophy).  Rogers can then come up on the flats if it is dumped off, or he can help underneath the corner route.  He is really caught in no man's land here.  He needs to give the QB a little bit a look at least.  If he does that, the QB may hesitate or check down.  That is a win for M.

I said Gordon too, because he is still playing too far off this receiver.  Even in cover 2, once he knows he only has one vertical threat, he needs to get up on the receiver a bit more.  He does his job here, but I think that we can all agree that simply doing your job and preventing a TD is not enough... Make a play on the ball!!!!


October 7th, 2010 at 4:31 PM ^

analysis seems correct to me.  Rodgers is at fault because he's a slow moving, slow to react, useless pylon out there.  He nominally has flat/curl responsibility, but his position in the zone is terrible. 

He has to stay more on top of the short receiver, instead he's playing him outside like it was a two minute drill prevent and he didn't want the guy to get out of bounds (but it's fricken college ball and the clock stops on a 1st!!!!).

Gordon is also too soft, this is probably due to a lack of confidence,  he does make a decent break on the ball, but he's too far back when he makes his break. 

In general, this corner route should be there against a zone like this, but it shouldn't be that wide open. 


October 7th, 2010 at 12:38 PM ^

To me it seems like we been playing nothing but zone, i would like to see more man to man bump and run coverage. We give the WR the first down on every pass play just so we wont get beat deep. I'd rather take my chances in press coverage- 2deep, then a 5yrd flat zone with help 25yrds deep playing deep balls. IMO


October 7th, 2010 at 12:52 PM ^

Another way to combat this is to get another DB on the field to close down more passing windows.  Notice that on this play (and most others) the pass rush has no chance because Chapell hits his back foot knowing exactly where he wants to go with the ball.  I'm guessing the throw/read doesn't look nearly as easy if another guy is down there defending on the trips side of the formation.

We did that in the second half and were twice as likely to stop IU as we were to give up points (4 stops and 2 TD drives).  So yeah, let's please stop complaining about the one strategy (rush 3, drop 8) that actually proved successful for much of the game.


October 7th, 2010 at 3:54 PM ^

I wouldn't say that rush 3 drop 8 proved very successful if they gave up 480 yards passing. They only did give up 2 TDs in the last half, but IU still got a lot of first downs and had many drives that they drove over halfway to the endzone. I'm not saying that we should throw it out altogether, but we do need to send more people more often. Chappell had all day to make his throws.


October 7th, 2010 at 12:58 PM ^

Would we be considered as running a 4-1-6 here? 

Also, I wonder why Kovacs was used as a deep safety with Floyd up closer instead of the other way around.  I assume Floyd is faster than Kovacs, so I would think you would want your faster DB in a deeper zone here so you can cover any guys going vertical.  Maybe not though.


October 7th, 2010 at 12:59 PM ^

I am not sure who stated it below, but I think it's a pretty good sign that Avery could be pushing Rogers off the field. Similalry I can no longer stand behind Obi. I think the time for Demens starting needs to be soon. To me he seems like he reacts better, more fundamentally sound, and overall better. Through 5 games Obi only has 30 tackles while Demens, in spot duty, has 11. As a middle linebacker it's atrocious to only have 30 tackles and consistently be out of positon.

Maize n Blue

October 7th, 2010 at 1:10 PM ^

This is mostly Cam Gordon's fault, and partly James Rogers. First of all the fact that Rogers doesn't move until Chappel throws the ball is ridiculous. When running a Cover 2 like this, Rogers should at least try to get some contact with the receiver running the flag-route in order to make Gordon's job easier... I understand they are playing conservatively so it's not press coverage on the outsides, but still.

Gordon is lined up on the hash presnap, which is about right for where the offense is on the field and his responsibility. The problem though, is with Floyd in the middle of the field, Gordon's one responsibility is the deep man out of the bunch formation. This flag route is definitely a challenging one to cover as a safety covering half the field IFFFF there is a seam route being run down the hash. Since this isn't the case, Gordon should be committing to the receiver as soon as he sees the underneath routes being run. For anyone else to beat him, the back or left wide reciver would have to run across the faces of the opposite corner, Floyd, and Kovacs.

Gordon's fault.


October 7th, 2010 at 5:56 PM ^

How is Rogers supposed to get some contact with the receiver running the flag route?  Change his pre-snap position?

As the crow flies he's probably lined up 10 yds away from the bunch wr's.  If Rogers attacks the bunched wr's at the snap from his position in the picture to make contact with the wr doing the flag route, the wr in the flat at the bottom of the picture would be wide open.


October 7th, 2010 at 2:21 PM ^

I think we need to look at the big picture here and put most of the blame on G. Robinson. This was simply a terribly called game. the secondary is getting a lot of heat right now because they are constanly getting beat. However, a BIG reason for this is that G. Rob isn't allowing them to play aggressive. We rushed 3 men virtually the whole game, sat back and watch Chappell pick us apart. As DB, when you know there isn't going to be a rush, you CAN'T jump routes or anticipate due to fear of getting beat on a pump. The longer this goes on in a game the more it eats away at your confidence, until your just sitting back saying "I hope someone can make a play". The play above it a perfect example of this. The Flag route is Cam's responsibility and its a completion because Cam has to hesitate before engaging the reciever. Now, this could be because Cam is just out of position or late on the read, however even if he reads it right, committing to early leaves him open for a bump or double move, because Chappell is sitting back pretty with all day to throw. G. Rob seems to want EVERYONE to know that he doesn't have any faith in his defense because thats the way he's playing them right now. Its sad because although we don't have elite talent on the defense, there are a lot of good players ( right now) and great coaches know how to utilize these players. But last Saturday everyone knew excatly what G. Rob was thinking "God I hope we get lucky, because I dont know what to do". Ill tell you one thing though, his seat is starting to heat up. 


October 7th, 2010 at 2:32 PM ^

There seems to be even distribution of perception that this is on Gordon, Rogers, or the DC. This to me suggests that the defense was basically "hacked" by IU and they found the seam. I do think that Rogers and Gordon are most exposed in this route, but it could be that the IU experience and quick reads took advantage of a pattern that worked moderately well.

I think we give IU some credit for this one. The team's passing offense really is very good. I look forward to watching them pick apart OSU this weekend.