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The Epitome of Poor Pass Coverage

San Francisco 49ers v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

SF 28 ARI 25—-3rd and 9 for the 49ers—-2:00 left in the game—-if the 49ers convert it, then the game is over (Cardinals are out of timeouts)—-if the Cardinals get a stop, they get the ball back with 1:52 (if incomplete) or 1:17 (if tackled in bounds).

This is a classic situational football chess match—-game on the line—-and the defensive coaches have the 2 minute warning timeout to discuss their call and decide how they are going to defend the play—-plus they have time to instruct the players.

Vance Joseph, who was burned on a 3rd and 11 mere minutes ago after calling a 3 man rush and 5 man under, 3 deep zone—-once again—-calls a 3 man rush, 5 man under, 3 deep zone.

1st big mistake—-the Cardinals’ DT rushes the QB from left of the center, gets double teamed and driven sideways, opening a double Mack truck sized hole for QB Jimmy Garoppolo to scramble through, thus taking any semblance of pressure off of him.

2nd big mistake—-the 5 men playing the “under” zone HAVE to know where the first down line is and HAVE to be positioned at it or inside it. It does them no good to sit in areas of the field beyond the sticks where an easy pitch and catch in front of them gets the 49ers the 1st down.

3rd big mistake—-one of the most critical time-tested rules of playing zone defense is that if you are standing still in an area and not covering the nearest receiver, you are not playing the zone correctly. Watch CB Patrick Peterson (#21) and CB Kevin Peterson (#27) on this play—-not only are they five yards behind the first down line—-which is “no man’s land”—-with no one in their area—-the nearest receiver to both of them is TE Ross Dwelley (#82), and yet neither one of them runs to cover him—-leaving Dwelley wide open for a super easy gift wrapped game-sealing conversion. Also, because both of them are 5 yards behind the conversion line, neither one of them is in position to help on Garoppolo’s scramble, although at least LB Jordan Hicks does his job in converging on Garoppolo.

Here’s the play: give it a good, hard look:

This is a prime example why Cardinals’ fans worry that Vance Jospeh is ill-equipped to be an effective defensive coordinator. Not only did he elect to take maximum pressure off of Jimmy Garoppolo, who was carving up the secondary all night, Joseph’s “soft” zone is so poorly taught that it basically gave the Cardinals ZERO chance to get the ball back, unless Garoppolo trips on the chalk and falls or Dwelley drops a pass that an average high school player can make in is sleep.

This kind of incompetence is completely unacceptable. From the coach’s gutless and ill-advised call, to the players’ ignorance of basic zone rules and their passive “over-analysis paralysis” (what a crock of hot steaming heifer dung that excuse was), to their egregious lack of communication (any time two zone defenders are standing side by side, covering no one—-that’s at the top of the list of zone “no-no”s).

This came in Week 9 people.

A day later, Steve Keim spoke out of both sides of his mouth about the defense—-saying that the “star players need to play at their best” but that “it takes time (for a new defensive coordinator) to develop a new system”—-again—-there are good high school coaches who could do way better than this, especially with 5-6 months to prepare.

Keim also offered a mea culpa in saying that he could have done a better job to equip Vance Jospeh with stronger personnel. “That’s on me,” Keim said.

Funny, but at the beginning of the year, even with the Patrick Peterson suspension, NFL talent evaluators thought pretty much unanimously that there was more existing talent on the defense than on the offense and that the defense would have to carry the offense until the offense got on track.

Don’t get me wrong—-I would like very much to see Steve Keim and Vance Joseph succeed, especially so that the organization can now stabilize itself with the auspices of continuity. However, if Vance Joseph’s defense doesn’t make discernible progress over the last seven games—-then Steve Keim and Vance Joseph need to be replaced.

When the Cardinals hired Kliff Kingsbury as head coach what they were doing was making sure that their rookie QB Kyler Murray and the offense would be in the same, creative hands for the next 5 years or more.

It’s pretty clear that Kingsbury is not your classic NFL head coach. He is an offensive guru who brings a special talent in terms of play designing and play calling.

Thus, if you are going to hire an offensive guru as head coach—-it is imperative that you pair him with an experienced and accomplished defensive coordinator, who in effect serves as a co-head coach, the way Wade Philips does with Sean McVay in Los Angeles.

If it continues to become clear that Vance Jospeh does not fit that bill, then he and Keim have to be replaced. Yes, Steve Keim had made some good signings, especially on offense. But, this would mean two years in a row that Keim saddled a rookie head coach with an incompetent coordinator on the other side of the ball.

The Cardinals cannot risk strike three. They have to get this right, that is, if they truly want to give Kliff Kingsbury a fighting chance to succeed.

I hope that Jospeh can make the strides he and the defense needs—-but if these pitiful pass coverages continue—-and pitiful might be a euphemism for what we’ve been watching week to week—-then it’s time to get a new GM who has a different criteria when it comes to hiring coordinators and to giving the coordinators the personnel that will help their sides of the ball succeed.

Moreover, let’s not ignore the advantages that the Cardinals’ offense has been giving Vance Jospeh and his defense—-the Cardinals’ offense rarely goes 3 and out—-it typically moves the ball for chunk minutes—-which gives the defense ample time to catch its breath—-plus the offensive isn’t turning the ball over, which is a huge advantage for the defense.

Yet series after series the defense cannot get off the field because of their poor pass coverage. They also struggle mightily in the red zone.

For example—-look at this play—-4th and goal at the end of the half—-after Kingsbury’s timeout (again where the coaches had time to get the defense prepared)—-look at where Vance Joseph has CB Patrick Peterson line up on the play—-he’s back in the middle of the end zone behind a linebacker—-where there is absolutely no way he can be in a position to cover WR Emmanuel Sanders on a 1 yard quick out. This alignment by the Cardinals was yet another gift for Garoppolo and Sanders. It was SO easy. Check it out:

To Haason Reddick’s credit, he reads the play and tries to defend it—-but—-who is better equipped to cover the speedy Sanders? Reddick or Peterson?

Because we are not seeing any improvement in coverage, even with Patrick Peterson back on the field, it does not speak well to the coaching or the GM. A strong GM would have put his foot down by now and would have demanded marked changes in defensive game planning. But, like the Cardinals’ woeful offense last year—-week after week—-nothing appears to change.

This week the defense has its hands full with covering a dynamic trio of receivers in WR Mike Evans, slot WR Chris Godwin and TE O.J. Howard. if you watched the Seahawks’ game, QB Jameis Winston tore up the Seahawks’ vaunted zone coverage—-if Vance Jospeh thinks his group can be successful playing zone when Pete Carroll’s could not, then he is obviously not paying attention.

This needs to be a man-to-man game—-the only time you go zone is when you are running a full house blitz at Winston—-otherwise it starts with how you are going to defend Mike Evans who is a 20 yard skinny post or sideline fade waiting to happen.

In my opinion, you absolutely need to bracket Evans by shading the FS to his side—-which means that you have to have your best cover CB on Chris Godwin—-so what I would do is bracket Evans with Byron Murphy and Deionte Thompson and then assign Patrick Peterson to Chris Godwin. This is what Bill Belichick likes to do—-bracket the #1 receiver with the #2 CB and FS, while putting his #1 CB on the #2 WR.

At times, though, Peterson can take Evans with Murphy on Godwin—-but—-even with Peterson on Evans you have to bracket him, especially if and when he crosses Peterson’s face—-otherwise it’s an easy 20-25 yard completion over and over.

Here’s the thing, though—-Peterson will lobby for taking Evans, especially with a built in bracket, as Peterson does not like playing the slot. But, in this game, Peterson needs to do what’s best for the team, even if it means not being given his preferred assignment. Yet, will Vance Jospeh have the nerve to stand up to Peterson to ask him to do what’s best for the team?

Plus, by playing Peterson in the slot, BA and Byron Leftwich will be less tempted to run sweeps and screens to Peterson’s accustomed side—-a weakness that most well-prepared offensive coordinators try to exploit, as the 49ers did repeatedly. Instead, Byron Murphy has shown he loves to bust up runners to his side.

Budda Baker needs to work as hard on O.J. Howard as he did against All Pro TE George Kittle. At times, Jospeh can put Jalen Thompson on Howard when he wants to blitz Budda or use him to key on shifty RB Ronald Jones, to whom they love to throw screens and flares. That would leave #3 CB Tramiane Brock or Kevin Peterson matched up with the #3 WR Breshad Perriman, who had his first good game of the season last week.

Of course, the key to all of this is getting consistent pressure on Jameis Winston. The pass rush has been pretty much awol the last two games.

If Winston and Evans are easily having their way from the get-go, then we will know how underprepared the defense under Joseph continues to be.

Jospeh’s pattern of letting the offensive drive right down the field for a score on its first possession needs to stop. They did stop the 49ers on their 1st possession, thanks to stuffing the run and then taking advantage of a false start penalty on Emmanuel Sanders which backed up the 49ers into a 3rd and 12.

Man, I hope the Cardinals come prepared to play the Bucs this week.