In this eighth installment of approximately a 12 play analysis, we're going to look at a touchdown pass to Robert Jordan against a cover 2 defense. In case you missed the previous installments, here is Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, and Part VII.
Here's the situation. Cal is in the redzone with a first and 10. Cal is using base personnel (2 WRs, 1 TE, 2 backs). The formation is a strong-I formation with twin WRs to the opposite side of the strength (the strength is right because the TE is right). Air Force is defending with their 3-4 defense again. Note the AF SS (strong safety) appears to be playing man coverage on the Jordan the slot WR.
Here's the playcall. The play is a pass with the Cal flanker (the WR at the top of the screen) running a fade. Jordan, the SE and slot WR, is running a post. TE Craig Stevens is running a corner. Air Force will blitz their 3 DL men and their WLB (weakside linebacker).
Air Force is showing a cover 1 formation with one deep defender (seen above). But just before the snap of the ball, we see the FS (free safety) move over towards the twinned WRs, and the LCB drop back to play the left deep half of the field. Air Force had masked their coverage in hopes of tricking Riley into thinking the defense was a cover 1.
But Riley isn't confused. Below is the post-snap picture of the defense. They have shown their unmasked cover 2 defense. They are defending with 5 underneath zones and two deep zones. The Air Force LCB is playing deep coverage along with the AF FS (free safety).
Riley looks right down the middle at Jordan running the post (represented by the green vision cone). One of the holes in the cover 2 defense is the deep middle between the safeties (and over the underneath coverage). Riley knows that the AF LCB will be preoccupied playing deep coverage over TE Stevens to his side of the field and the AF FS will be shading his coverage towards the twins. This will create a deep hole between the deep halves that where Jordan will be open.
Although it's pretty much impossible to see from these screenshots because they do not represent how fast the play happens and do not show what happens between the screenshots, the AF FS was nowhere near as close to stopping the pass as he looks in the picture below (the AF FS is the defender on the "F" of "CALIFORNIA"). Because the FS was unmasking his coverage just prior to the snap, he turned his back to the middle of the field to run towards the deep half of the field to the defense's right to cover the twin Cal WRs. Riley saw the FS turn his back to the middle of the field and knew that he would be unable to stop his momentum, turn around, and close the gap on Jordan in time to stop the pass. In fact, the AF defender with the best chance to stop the play was the deep LB in that middle zone. Fortunately for us, he couldn't get his mitts on the ball and/or alternatively, Riley put the ball where he couldn't get it.
The picture below shows Jordan about to catch the ball in the hole of the cover 2 defense. As you can see below, the was plenty of open space for Riley to make the pass. Riley could have even passed the ball further out to the "R" of "CALIFORNIA" because the AF LCB was so far off the screen covering TE Stevens.
Jordan catches the ball in the endzone for a touchdown! "O" marks the spot.
Again, I want to draw your attention to the 3rd and 4th pictures (above). Notice the great pass protection. In earlier parts of the series, we were seeing the Cal OL losing the battle in the trenches on runs and passes. But now, the OL started providing flawless protection. I think the reasons were because they felt energized by the team's offensive outburst and/or because of Riley's presence, and because the AF DL was becoming more worried about a QB who could scramble.
So far we've seen AF playing a lot of zone coverage. So far we've been seeing them get beat by the Cal offense when they were in zone coverage. Are we going to see them switch to man coverage?
Check back in a few days for Part IX.