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Armed Forces Bowl Review: Part X: Defeating Man Coverage (Again)

In this tenth 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, Part VII, Part VIII, and Part IX.

Let's begin.

Here's the situation.  Cal faces a 3rd and 9 in their own territory.  They are utilizing 11 personnel (3 WRs, 1 TE, and 1 back).  There are trips WRs right and the TE (Stevens) is left.  Because the TE is on the opposite side of the WRs and not covered, he is an eligible receiver.  Forsett is in the weak position since he is on the opposite side of the TE. 

Note that Air Force is defending with a 4-2 nickel defense.  Note the 4 down linemen (the AF defenders with the red dots on the LOS) and the two linebackers behind the 4 down linemen.  Also note that AF's 3 CBs (cornerbacks) are playing man coverage on the trips and showing one deep safety.   The other safety is playing down in the box to help stop a run should the play be a zone read.



Here's the post-snap picture.  The first thing to note is that the AF SS has dropped back into deep coverage just prior to the snap.  The AF SS is the defender in the bottom left corner.  While he was playing in the box prior to the snap, it appears as if he was doing so to mask his deep coverage.  Afterall, the situation is 3rd and 9.  Pass is pretty likely.  It's hard to tell from the videos since they don't show the entire secondary, but it appears as if Air Force was playing their safeties in a cover 2 (with the CBs playing man coverage).  Also, we have Forsett giving a lite playaction look and then pass blocking.  AF runs a stunt with their DTs, while bringing one of the LBs and dropping another into a short middle zone.


Riley doesn't take long to spot the open WR (Jordan) who is the middle WR of the trips and prepares to pass.  Note the excellent pass protection (below). 


Riley passes the ball.  I've shown the ball as the yellow dot (below).  Riley perfectly throws the ball between three AF defenders (the red dots) right into the seam between the safeties and over the top of the cornerback.  I've represented that seam with the green area.  

Note that the AF CB who was covering Jordan was playing underneath man coverage - which makes sense since the CB has deep coverage from the safeties over the top.  Thus, when Riley makes the throw, he knows he's going to have to put it over the underneath man coverage but not so deep as to allow the safeties to INT the ball.  In this play, Riley perfectly places the ball over the underneath man coverage and under the deep safety help.


Jordan catches the ball for a first down!


So in this play, we once again see Air Force in man coverage (as we did in the previous play).  As in the last play, we see a Cal completion. 

Even though we are looking at a small selection of plays, I think the plays that we've covered are still revealing.  In the last post I suggested that the Air Force DC (defensive coordinator) didn't want to play man coverage because he knew he didn't have the players who could effectively shut down the Cal WRs, thus he played lots of zones early on.  I think the plays which we've covered (more or less) confirm that notion. 

The AF DC was left with the tough decision of sticking with his cover 2 zone defenses and getting picked apart or switching to man coverage in hopes that it was more effective.  It seems as if neither was that effective.  Perhaps the AF DC was better off sticking with the zone defenses.  It's easy to make a switch when what you're doing right now isn't working, but is making the switch always the right decision?  Afterall, the reason why the AF DC went with zone defenses first was that he felt they had a better chance at being more effective against Cal than man coverages.  So even though the zone defenses were getting picked apart, is switching to what the coach believes to be a less effective defense just for the change better than staying with (what he thought would be) a more effective defense but is one which is not working?  It's a tough choice to make.