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Summer School: The importance of discipline on defense

Scheming is important, but schemes need to be executed well to succeed

Tennessee Titans v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The last time we looked at a play from the New York Giants’ defense, it was an exotic blitz.

Based on both James Bettcher’s history and the Giants’ moves over the off-season, it seems like a solid bet that the Giants will rely heavily on using various blitz packages to generate their pass rush in 2019. But while we can always appreciate the scheming involved in creating that pressure, we must also always remember that blitzing is, by definition, a risk.

Defensive coordinators always try to mitigate that risk through coverage schemes that try to cover up or compensate for the weakness created by sending a player normally in coverage as a pass rusher. Man coverage blitzes are effective if you have the players to hold up in man coverage on the offense’s receiving options. But considering the athletic requirements for man coverage and the advantages offenses enjoy, those players are hard to come by.

Generally speaking, the other option is the zone blitz. And while Giants’ fans might have a sour taste in their collective mouth for the concept of the zone blitz, it can be undeniably effective — legendary coaches Dick LeBeau and Jim Johnson created great defensive schemes based on the zone blitz.

The zone blitz is built on the idea of zone coverage — that is, defenders covering an area of the field instead of a particular defender. While the athletic requirements of a zone defender aren’t as rigorous as a defender who specializes in man coverage, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is an easier brand of coverage. Defenders still need to have a good recognition of offensive concepts, the ability to read a quarterback’s eyes, and above all else, good discipline.

Zone defenses can be weakened by defenders who are both too eager to chase offensive players who go through their zones and too hesitant. There is a balance to be struck between covering and passing off offensive players, between awareness and discipline.

The play

Before we put the play under the microscope, let’s just let it unfold.

Here we see the Giants against the Indianapolis Colts. The Giants jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, but have turned the ball back over to the Colts early in the second quarter following a three-and-out.

This is the first play of the Colt’s ensuing drive, and it sees the Giants run a five man pressure package underneath what appears to be a hybrid coverage scheme.

The Colts, meanwhile, appear to be running a layered pair of crossing routes. Without seeing the Colt’s playbook, we can’t know for sure what they would call this play, but it bears similarities to both the “dagger” concept and the “sucker” concept.

Conventionally speaking, a dagger concept is a three-man route concept that uses a vertical route crossed by a 10-15 yard dig route, with a drag route underneath.

The “sucker” concept is similar, but typically run from a 3x1 set (three receivers to one side), and adds a curl route over the middle. The Colt’s play has elements of both, with the added twist of turning the dig (or square-in) route into an “out and up” route, while using the drag route from Eric Ebron and the curl route to essentially create a second dagger.

But whatever the exact nomenclature, the object of this play is pretty clear. In a conventional dagger concept, the primary read is the dig route, with the vertical and drag routes serving to clear out the middle of the field. In this case, the Colts want to use the vertical and out routes to pull defenders away from the middle of the field. Keeping an eye on QB Andrew Luck, while he quickly checks the vertical routes, he concentrates on the shorter routes in the middle.

On the outside, CB Janoris Jenkins is in man coverage at the top of the screen and does a good job of staying patient and not flipping his hips too early and giving up easy separation down the field. Likewise, there is solid coverage in the slot, but the play is made by B.J. Goodson. With fellow linebacker Tae Davis rushing the passer, Goodson is responsible for the entire middle of the field.

With the Giants sending a linebacker on a blitz, Goodson is charged with covering the shallow middle of the field — right where the Colts are looking. Goodson first checks the curl route coming from the slot, but recognizes that it will likely carry through his zone and passes it off to the safeties. Instead he picks up Ebron on the drag route as he works across the formation. Goodson is quick to pick Ebron up as he enters his zone, doing a good job of putting himself in position to make a nice open field tackle and make sure the play only goes for three yards.

Concepts in use

  • Zone blitz.
  • Layered offensive concepts.
  • Route combinations used to expand passing windows.
  • Defensive patience and discipline.

Why I like this play

This is not a particularly intricate or “special” play, instead it is almost entirely routine. But the fact that it was routine is why I decided to feature it. While exotic blitzes and highlight reel plays get the most attention, discipline and sound play tends to get overlooked.

The Colts brought an inventive passing concept that sought to manipulate the Giants’ aggressive defensive tendencies while attacking one of their weaknesses. To do that they used one of their most effective weapons in Eric Ebron, who finally unleashed his athletic abilities and emerged as a playmaker once joining the Colts. Had Goodson bit on the curl route instead of passing it off, been late in picking up the drag route, taken a poor angle, or simply used sloppy tackling technique, this play could have been much worse for the Giants. The Colts’ play design was effective in clearing out defenders from where the ball ultimately went, and had Ebron not been tackled (or been able to shed the tackle), there as a lot of open field in front of him.

I have to admit that I also liked highlighting a good play from an often over-looked member of the Giants’ defense. Goodson lost his job as the every-down MIKE linebacker when the team acquired Alec Ogletree, but he remained quietly effective. He could well be in for a fight for his roster spot, but continued play like this will help him keep it. As much as big plays are appreciated, plays like this one, that make sure routine plays don’t become big plays, that make a defense good.