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Mobile QB K Raid Strategy Versus Cover 2 Man and Zone

Arizona Cardinals Introduce Kyler Murray Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

K Raid Playmaker Letters:

“F” Running back
“H” Inside receiver/H-back
“Y” Inside receiver/Tight end
“X” Wide receiver
“Z” Wide receiver

Versus Cover 2 (2 Deep)---4 RUSH---5 MAN COVER---2 DEEP

Man to Man---when you look at the diagram you can see the potential mismatches. KK can line up bigger Y and H receivers versus the outside linebackers. Or---he can line up faster receivers versus outside linebackers. Typically, DCs will counter by subbing DBs in for the OLBs. But, when defenses go small, it favors the running game.

Notice that in this alignment, it puts the MLB as a disadvantage in man coverage, because his man, the RB (F), is lined up to the right of the QB, automatically giving the RB an easy wide open flat pass. If the MLB counters by lining up in a direct line with the RB (F), then the MLB has vacated the middle and leaves the opposite side vulnerable to the run, as the offense has more numbers (T,G,C vs. E, DT).

Pass rush in Cover 2 Man versus Mobile QB: Typically the DTs will line head up on the Gs. They do not want to overcommit to a gap for fear that they can be quickly out-leveraged by the G and driven wide of their rush lane---the Gs, if they can get leverage on the DTs would love to ride their DT wide and thus “open the gate” for the QB to have clear passing and running lanes.

This is why DCs insist to their DTs that they must bull rush straight up the field to stay in their lanes---the shorter the distance between lanes, the better to crown the passing lanes and to keep the pocket tight.

What you tell your Gs is that the second his bull rushing DT picks a side, leverage him and ride him as far wide as you can take him. Again---this is opening the gate.

The DEs are instructed to line up on the outside eye of the OTs---and they want to generate a “controlled rush” up the edge (and keep their outside shoulder free) because their utmost priority is to “contain” the QB ( don’t let him escape wide) and thus keep the QB in the pocket. If the DEs over-commits to the edge rush, the mobile QB is apt to escape underneath the pressure.

The OTs are taught to ride the DEs wide of the top arc of the pocket, thus opening the outside escape gate, which is why against running threat QB the DEs will often stop their rush at the top of the pocket.

What the 4 man defensive line ultimately wants is to maintain a tight pocket and collapse it from the inside.

This is the main reason why we saw Kyler Murray often look comfortable in the pocket, because the 4 man rush was keeping their lanes and doing everything they could to try to keep Murray from bolting the pocket.

In a 4 man rush, that usually leaves the center free---and they are taught (1) check for inside blitz and blow it up; (2) if no blitz, double on one of the DTs and knock him wide of his lane to open the gate; (3) if one of the tackles has a tough matchup, drop step and go help on the DE.

Blitz pickups---while the C first checks for inside blitzer, the RB (F) is taught to block the “first flash of color”---in other words, take out the first possible threat to the QB, which often could be a blitzing LB or CB one of the 2 safeties if he inches up on the snap.

When a LB blitzes, that means the safety to his side picks up his man, and now the defense only has 1 deep safety. Same with CB, if he blitzes, the safety to his side picks up the man coverage. A smart WR will see this and just turn for the ball--”hot route.”

The Rule of Thumb for the QB, is to throw in the direction of the blitz because of the initial vacated coverage---that’s called a “hot read.” The “hot” receiver has to change his route the second he sees his man is blitzing and quickly turn to the QB for a quick catch and RAC (run after catch).

What Pass Plays Work Well Against Cover 2 Deep 5 Man Under?

* The classic “Mesh” play where X and Z run go routes to try to beat the safeties deep and the H and Y receivers run a criss-cross over the middle...which usually frees one of the receivers and sometimes both.

* Rub routes with the twin receivers on each side (crosses)---like a wheel route (out and up) run underneath a quick, hard slant.

* Fade and back shoulder throws to X and Z.

* Intermediate and deep passes to the middle that split the 2 deep safeties.

* Bubble screens

* Tunnel screens

* Flat passes, screens, circle passes, flare passes, wheel routes to RB who is one on one with the MLB.

What’s the Biggest risk for the Cover 2 5 MAN UNDER defense?

Well, if the receivers vacate whole sides of the field or the middle, a mobile QB could be off to the races with nothing but green grass and white lines.

But what about using a QB spy out of a Cover 2?

That would mean the defense goes with a 3 man rush (which many teams did against Murray at Oklahoma), or you drop down one of the safeties into man coverage and thus leave only 1 deep safety.

Nick Saban of Alabama said, “Yeah, you have to keep a spy on Murray, but it’s of no use, because Murray runs right by him, as he did versus us on several occasions.”

So what does the mobile QB running threat force most DCs to do?

Play Cover 2---5 MAN UNDER---ZONE.

This is the defense the Cardinals are apt to see more than any other, because opponents won’t want to risk giving Kyler Murray huge portions of open grass to run through.

Here is an excellent 2 minute video:

What the 5 underneath zone players are taught to do is cover the man in your zone until he leaves it and pass him on to the teammate in the adjacent zone or deep zone (safety) and then pick up the next WR/TE/RB entering your zone.

Versus a dual-threat QB, each underneath man knows to keep an eye on the QB to be in position to tackle him if he takes off. This puts a good deal of pressure on the underneath men, to stick their receiver, but also keep an eye on the QB.

But---instead of having 1 spy---in a way, this is like having 5 spies who can swarm on the QB when the QB takes off.

The problem is, well trained offenses like the K Raid, know how to stretch the zones and thus create wide “gray areas”---which are the pockets of grass between 2 zone areas, under, beneath, to the side and deep.

For the Cardinals, Larry Fitzgerald feasts off zones, because he is adept at finding the gray areas and sitting down in them as an easy to find target.

What Pass Plays Work Well Versus Cover 2 Zones?

* Pretty much all of the plays that KK runs versus man to man only with adjustment twists, like in the Mesh play, if the Y and H see that the coverage is zone, they can break off their crossing routes before the criss-cross and run straight up the middle where the gray area is between the two safeties.

* The main pockets (gray areas) versus the 2 DEEP 5 UNDER Zones are: (1) intermediate and deep sidelines; (2) intermediate and deep middle under and between the two safeties; (3) the pockets between the sideline and the hash marks.

* Overloads---where you run three receivers in an areas where there are 2 defenders.

What zone teams concede is that they are going to give up a fair share of passes in the gray area from time to time, but they hope the defenders will put good, ball-jarring hits on the receivers the moment they catch the ball. What you teach zone players is to break like mad toward the ball when it is released.

The problem is that offenses with an accurate passer and a good set of well-trained receivers can exploit the zones left, middle and right. It takes some of the pressure off of the QB and the receivers, because getting open is easier and making open throws is often easier.

How is it easy to determine whether the defense is in MAN or ZONE?

Motion one of the slot receivers and, if his man chases him across the defensive formation, it’s usually man. If no one chases him, the odds are pretty good that it’s zone. Plus, you can motion him half way and motion him back if you want to keep “twins” (2 receivers to one side) on both sides. otherwise you are motioning into “trips” (3 receivers to one side), which can make it easier to overload a zone.

The auspicious aspect of attacking Cover 2 Zone defenses is that KK is adept at teaching his receivers and the QB how to adapt to the coverage on the fly. These are the “freedoms” KK often talks about. That if the defense is trying to choke off a route, then reverse the route and go opposite. Tom Brady and Julian Edelman put on a clinic of this “go opposite the leverage” strategy in the Super Bowl.