Here is a breakdown of Patrick Peterson’s interception and the Cardinal’s sole pick six in the preseason.
The Cowboys come out in a singleback ace u off formation. Tavon Austin (#10) the receiver lined up at the top of the screen is inside the numbers, a slight variation on the typical ace formation.
Dallas runs a stick concept on this second-and-9. This play has the two tight ends, lined up with the offensive line, run curl routes in the middle of the field, while the two wide receivers run quick out routes.
The main goal of the Cowboys here is to get some quick yards for a more manageable third down.
The Cardinals are in their base 4-3 defense running a cover 4 quarters. In cover 4 quarters, the two safeties and two cornerbacks are playing deep vertical zones. The corners also play with outside leverage. You can see both cornerbacks are lined up further outside than their respective receivers before the snap. This is essentially done to bracket the X receiver and pass him off to the safety or linebackers if he were to move inside.
The middle linebacker covers the middle of the field with help from the other linebackers who work together to pass off any crossing routes. The outside linebackers are responsible for creating contact and rerouting the tight ends in order to give their safeties a head start if the tight ends were to run vertical routes up the seams. After creating contact with the tight ends, the outside linebackers drift backwards, towards the sideline. Here’s an image illustrating cover 4 courtesy of Code and Football.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Cooper Rush’s first read is to his tight end Geoff Swaim (#87) running a curl route on the right side of the field. During his drop, he sees Budda Baker all over Swaim who is not ready for the ball. This forces Rush to go to his second read, Austin.
As soon as Rush winds up his arm for the release, Peterson plants his back foot and lunges forward, anticipating the ball coming to Austin.
Rush essentially made the right call in this situation. If he had gone to the other side of the field, receiver Deonte Thompson (#15) is open on his out route. Cardinal cornerback Jamar Taylor (#28) is in more off coverage which is the standard on a cover 4 play.
Following the snap, you can see how much further Taylor backpedals than Peterson, indicating his conservatism and allowing underneath routes, again, typical for cover 4 coverage.
Peterson however, in his aggressive mindset has his eyes locked on Rush and jumps at his chance to make the play, resulting in the pick six.
This interception put Arizona up 14-0 and was one of three total interceptions for the Cardinals defense.
Under new defensive coordinator Al Holcomb and new head coach Steve Wilks, the Cardinals are moving from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 and our glimpse into preseason has allowed us to see how the team is adjusting.
With the 4-3 comes a lot more zone coverage and unique blitz packages. The Cardinals defense put on a show forcing eight turnovers and created optimism in what to expect during the regular season.