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Summer School - How disguising coverage can help the pass rush

Looking at one way defensive coordinators can help their players make plays

NFL: Chicago Bears at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Mini-camp and OTAs may be over, but Summer School is still in session, and will be until the New York Giants’ training camp begins in July.

Last time we looked at how misdirection can help the offense, so this time we are going to look at how disguising intentions and creating confusion can help the defense.

In an ideal world the defense would be able to field four (or five, depending on down, distance, and personnel package) defensive linemen and EDGE players who can beat an offense’s five (or six) pass protectors straight up. However, we don’t live in an ideal world, offenses are sophisticated, and the counters to basic defenses are well understood around the league. Some times defensive coordinators need to give their defenders a little help in disrupting opposing offenses.

The play

First let’s watch the play unfold at game speed. Because of the length of the pre-snap phase, I had to break it up into two gifs, but I felt I needed to show the whole snap to convey what the defense was trying to accomplish.

There is a lot going on with this play, and that is by design. We’ll start with the Giants’ personnel package, with the Giants coming out in a 4-2-5 nickel personnel set. They field two down defensive tackles, and then the two EDGE players, two linebackers, and five defensive backs largely mill around field in an “Amoeba” defense. Named for the single cell life form, Amoeba defenses are generally shapeless blobs with little structure until the ball is snapped.

These defenses can put a lot of stress on the players, as they need defenders who are both who can go from seemingly aimless wandering near the line of scrimmage to assignment-sound rushes in the blink of an eye. Obviously, the defense would need players who are both athletic enough to cover ground to get to their assignments and execute them once they get there, but also smart enough to disguise their intentions and know their assignments.

That being said, the Amoeba concept has the obvious advantage of making very difficult for opposing quarterbacks to diagnose and attack. It is also very hard for offensive lines to correctly identify which defenders will be rushing the passer, through which gap they will be rushing, and who will be dropping into coverage.

But wait, that’s not all!

The Giant also go to pains to disguise their coverage in the secondary. As with the front seven players, the motion of the defensive secondary makes it difficult to tell exactly what coverage the Giants are running until after the ball is snapped. At times it appears as though the defense is playing a Cover 1, Cover 2, or Cover 3 defense as the defensive backs roam the secondary.

But once the ball is snapped, the Giants’ defense solidifies.

Ultimately, the Giants send five players on a blitz — Both down defensive linemen, EDGE Olivier Vernon, LB Alec Ogletree, and safety Landon Collins. Meanwhile, EDGE Lorenzo Carter and LB Tae Davis drop off into shallow zones to cover behind the blitz.

In the secondary, it appears as though the Giants are running a Cover 6 scheme. Cover 6 is basically a combination of Cover 4 quarters coverage and Cover 2 half field coverage that sees three deep defenders divide up the field. One half of the field is covered by a deep safety as in Cover 2 scheme while the other half of the field is divided into a two quarters and covered by a safety and a cornerback, as in a Cover 4 scheme.

Normally Cover 2 (or Cover 6) schemes see zone coverage underneath the deep safety, but in this case Janoris Jenkins is in man coverage on tight end Zach Ertz at the bottom of the screen.

Taken as a whole, the Giants’ disguises wreak havoc on the Eagles’ intended plans, sewing confusion on both the offensive line and with Carson Wentz.

From the end zone view we can see how the Giants’ blitz impacts the Eagles’ play.

By overloading the offensive right (defensive left) while having defenders drop off into zone coverage, the Giants create a one-on-one opportunity for Olivier Vernon and get Landon Collins matched up on a running back. They could have gotten the sack, had Collins not slipped while shedding the running back.

The zone drops and rotation of the coverage in the secondary freezes Wentz and the confusion as he tries to decipher the coverage is evident. He trip-clutches the ball before throwing it at the last second to avoid the sack — only to have the ball tipped at the line of scrimmage.

The Eagles very nearly get lucky and have Nelson Agholor snag the tipped ball, but it falls incomplete and the Eagles punt.


  • Nickel package
  • Zone blitz
  • Amoeba defense
  • Cover 6

Why I like this play

Plays like these can’t form the basis of a defense — you still need some kind of structure in which to scheme. However, it does show how teams can use misdirection and disguise to help out their defense on the field in the right circumstances.

In this case, the Giants were able to disrupt Wentz’s mental process, keep the ball in his hands and almost come up a pair of big plays (sack, and potentially tip-drill interception), are what make this play stand out. The Amoeba defense has been around for a while and was a major component of the Green Bay Packers’ defense in 2010. It’s been used throughout the league since, and can be risky to run. Likewise, rotating coverage puts stress on the defensive secondary to not only disguise their intentions but also get into position in time to do their job.

But both facets of the play work and the Giants get off the field.

I also like the thought process behind how the coverage shell was constructed. It allowed B.W. Webb to play zone coverage without having to cover too much ground while also putting three defenders deep — not just Curtis Riley. As well, it allowed Janoris Jenkins to play to his strengths in press man coverage. While Jenkins was poor overall last year, the Giants were the third best team in the league covering the short-left are of the field per Football Outsiders. In other words, when Jenkins was in tight man coverage at the line of scrimmage, he was effective.

It is good to see James Bettcher show that understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of his players, as well as a willingness to scheme to (or around) them.

The Giants could have to rely on more creative blitzes like these in the future, and they will rely on Bettcher’s ability to put defenders in position to succeed.