With Week 1 of the 2020 NFL season in the books, the New York Giants look ahead to the Chicago Bears, and getting rookie head coach Joe Judge his first coaching win. If they are going to accomplish that task, dig routes might be a huge part of their game plan.
Second-year quarterback Daniel Jones was solid on Monday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and if it were not for a head-scratching decision on the goal line, we might be talking about how he could be another second-year passer to take a huge step forward after his rookie season. He found the end zone along with Darius Slayton on this huge post pattern:
This is a well-designed play from Jason Garrett. Jones aligns under center and the Giants are using a three-tight end personnel package. They’re trying to get Pittsburgh sold on the run action, but this is a play-action design. The only two routes? A dig from Evan Engram, and the post from Slayton.
As we outlined last week, the Steelers are a heavy single-high coverage team. That is what Garrett is hoping to get on this play. The Steelers drop into Cover 3 on this snap, and the combination of the dig route from Engram and the post from Slayton, should the Steelers play this straight, will work to high-low free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. Jones simply has to react to what he does. If he stays deep, throw the dig route in front of him. If he comes downhill on the dig, throw the post over his head.
However, defenses adjust, too. In response to this kind of route concept, teams have begun asking the safety and the backside cornerback to execute a “cut” call. That gives the secondary - even with just the three deep defenders in a Cover 3 scheme - the ability to cover these routes without worry. The free safety is able to drive downhill on the crosser, rather than asking the cornerback to try and run with it. Instead, as the free safety drives down, the cornerback fills his spot in the middle of the field:
Garrett knows this, and he knows the Steelers are a heavy single-high team. So what does he do? Look at the alignment from Slayton. He is well below the bottom of the numbers. Look at the ground that cornerback Joe Haden would need to cover to get into position against the post route. Garrett makes two bets: One, that the Steelers are going to be in a single-high coverage. Two, that if they try to cut this, Haden cannot get there.
He cashes that bet.
Now, why is that dig route from Engram important this week? Let’s find out. Last week Matthew Stafford finished 24 of 42 for 297 yards, one touchdown and one interception against the Chicago Bears. After watching those passing attempts, here is something that stands out:
The Bears were in a zone type of coverage on 37 of those plays.
So we are going to need some zone coverage beaters on Sunday.
One such coverage the Bears used was Cover 6, or what some call “quarter quarter half.” This plays like Cover 4 to one side of the field, and Cover 2 to the other. You can use it to bracket a receiver that you are worried about.
Like the Bears do here over Marvin Jones:
Jones runs that vertical route on the right, and you can see how the two “quarters” defenders in this Cover 6 scheme bracket him to the inside and to the outside. What comes free? The backside dig route from Quintez Cephus:
The two cornerbacks have their eyes on Jones and his vertical route, which frees up the backside dig.
Here is that same concept at work later in the game. Kenny Golladay has a vertical release off the line of scrimmage which gets bracketed by the two Cover 4 defenders. From the backside? Another dig route, which is caught in front of the half-field safety:
So we have seen this route concept work for the Giants against single-high, and for the Lions against the Bears, only against Cover 6. You might expect Chicago to have Cover 6 in the playbook again, as a means of bracketing Slayton after his big opening night. But should they revert to more of a Cover 3 look, this design should still work.
After all, it worked for Detroit in that very situation. Here is the play design, with the post on the left and the dig from the right:
The Bears drop into Cover 3. What do you think Garrett jotted down when studying this clip:
If I had to venture a guess, it was something like “post/dig. Cover 3. No cut call, FS bites down on dig without replacement from CB. Throw post.”
This is gonna be in the game plan. Just need to hit it.