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Armed Forces Bowl Review: Part IX: Air Force Goes to Man

In this ninth installment of approximately a 12 play analysis, we're going to look at a deep pass to Robert Jordan against man coverage.  In case you missed the previous installments, here is Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII and Part VIII.

Let's begin.

In previous posts, we've seen AF playing a lot of zone coverage schemes to defend against the Cal air attack.  We've also seen a lot of Cal completions against AF's zone defenses.  This begs the question: is Air Force ever going to go to man?  Well, it appears as if the AF defensive coordinator finally started giving in to the idea of playing man.  On this play, he did.  And after we see the result of this play, I think we might have an answer as to why the AF defensive coordinator didn't want to play man if he had to.

Below is the post-snap image.  Because ESPN was showing some ad or something just prior, I couldn't get a clean grab of a pre-snap image.  So we'll just have to use the post-snap image. 

The situation is a 1st and 10 in Cal's own territory.  Cal is using base personnel (2 WRs, 1 TE, 2 backs) in a strong-I formation.  The formation is strong because the fullback is behind the tackle to the side of the TE.  Air Force is defending with their 3-4 defense and appears to be showing man coverage - note how the AF CBs (cornerbacks) are playing press coverage on the Cal WRs.



Here's the defensive coverage.  I've shown AF defenders with red dots.  AF zone coverages with red areas, and man coverage with yellow lines.  The blue dots represent the Cal receivers (2 WRs and 1 TE).  AF's WLB (weakside linebacker) blitzes along with the pass-rushing 3 down linemen.  The AF SLB (strong side linebacker) is in man coverage against the TE (Stevens).  The AF SS is playing man coverage on the fullback (Tau'ufo'ou), and AF's SILB is playing a hug technique on the Cal RB (Forsett).  With the hug technique, if the RB releases on a route, the linebacker will cover the RB.  If the RB stays in to protect, the linebacker will pass rush.  Also note that the AF WILB (weak inside linebacker) is playing the short middle hook zone and that the AF FS (free safety) is playing deep coverage all by himself.


Below I've shown the receiver routes.  Note that the Cal SE (split end - the WR to the offense's left) is running an out, the TE is running a post, and the Cal flanker (Jordan - the WR to the offense's right and at the bottom of the screen) is running a skinny post.  Again, I've shown man coverage with yellow lines connecting the AF defenders (red dots) with the Cal receivers (blue dots).  Furthermore, note that Forsett is staying in to pass block, so the AF SILB begins to pass rush on his hug technique, while Tau'ufo'ou releases.

Note the position of the AF CBs who are covering the Cal WRs.  They are to the outside of the WRs.  They are playing outside leverage in an attempt to push the Cal WRs towards the middle of the field towards the FS so the FS can help with deep coverage.  AF knows that Cal likes to take shots deep against man coverage with inside leverage, thus they play outside leverage in hopes of thwarting any deep passes.

So Riley sees the AF FS along the hash to the offense's left.  Riley knows that Jordan (the FL WR at the bottom of the screen) is going to run that skinny post pushing deep.  And Riley knows that the AF FS is on the wrong side of the field to adequately defend the deep pass.  All that needs to happen is for the OL to give Riley a few more moments so he can pass the ball and for Jordan to out-run his defender.


And the OL gives Riley great pass protection.  Look at the huge void around Riley (represented by the green area).  Riley passes the ball...


... and Jordan has beat his defender (AF defender #8 - the AF defender on the right) as well as the AF FS (#11 - the AF defender on the left).  


Actually, the pass is a little underthrown and Jordan has to slow down to catch the ball.  Jordan does an excellent job using his body to shield the ball from the defender.  The pass was 53 yards straight down the field, but Riley threw the ball from the left hash to the right hash.  If you want to break out a calculator and use the Pythagorean theorem to figure out how far the pass actually was, you can.  I'm just going to guess and say it was about 63 yards which is getting pretty far for most QBs.  


So another great completion against Air Force's pass defense.  What caused this play to work?  A great route by Jordan who took the inside release against the outside leverage, and got behind the safety.  Great pass protection by the OL.  And a good read by Riley and a good pass despite nearing the outer limits of a QB's arm strength. 

And as for the Air Force defensive coordinator.  I think his thought processes was something like this:

I don't want to play man coverage because we don't have the defenders to effectively match up against Cal's receivers.  Thus we're going to play mostly zones for as long as we can. 

I think AF played zones for as long as they could.  But with the way that Cal's passing attack was beginning to shred the Air Force pass defense, the AF defensive coordinator decided to give man coverage defenses a shot.  And on this play, he payed for it. 

Will Air Force continue to play man coverages?  Will we see validation of what I thought the Air Force defensive coordinator's thought processes were? 

Check back in a few days for Part X.