I believe that the offenses of the Cardinals’ rivals in the NFC West are going to run a steady diet of “12 personnel” (2 TEs) versus Vance Joseph’s defense—-for 3 basic reasons:
- All three rivals are fully committed to running the football.
- In 12 personnel, all three rivals like to use RPO type play action to hit their TEs and slot WRs—-and if there is no defender head up on the TE, they opt for quick TE receptions up the seams or into the flats.
- All three rivals have strong TE tandems: LA: Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett; SF: George Kittle ands Ross Dwelley; SEA: Greg Olsen, Luke Willson and Will Dissly. All of these TEs, not just the starters, had superb success catching the football versus the Cardinals last year.
The Cardinals this off-season have diligently tried to address their inability to cover TE last season, by adding two good sized, athletic cover linebackers in De’Vondre Campbell and Isaiah Simmons.
When opposing offenses run their 12 personnel onto the field—-it would behoove the Cardinals to have both Campbell and Simmons in the lineup.
One clever adjustment they can make is shifting into 53 defense, because the Cardinals’ defensive personnel is made to order for it:
SAM: Devon Kennard, 6-3, 256
LDE: Zach Allen, 6-4, 281
NT: Corey Peters, 6-3, 335
RDE: Jordan Phillips, 6-6, 341
JACK: Chandler Jones, 6-5, 265
LOLB: Isaiah Simmons, 6-4, 238
MIKE: Jordan Hicks, 6-1, 236
ROLB: De’Vondre Campbell, 6-3, 232
LCB: Patrick Peterson, 6-1, 203
FS: Budda Baker, 5-10, 195
RCB: Robert Alford, 5-10, 186
Alignments versus 12 Personnel:
Allen and Phillips—-line up in G/T gaps (B gaps) shading the inside eye of the T. The goal is to occupy both the G and T on the snap.
Peters—-head up on the center or “shade”, “angle” or “off-set” to one of the A gaps (C/G)—-stack, shed and finish.
Note—-DE/NT/DE shift and slant calls—-pre-snap, all 3 can shift 1⁄2 a gap to a designated side—-or on the snap—-all 3 can slant 1⁄2 a gap to one side. What this tends to do is occupy at least 4 of the 5 OL in order to keep the LBs clean and to create penetration creases that can bring the DL to the football.
Kennard and Jones—-line up outside eye of the TE—-set the edge by jamming the TE, which also slows the TE on his release if there is play action or a straight pass play. 3 Rules: (1) jam TE; (2) set edge to turn running plays into the middle; (3) contain rush.
Simmons and Campbell—-head up on the TEs, 4 yards from back from the line of scrimmage on a parallel line with MIKE LB. Rules: (1) key on TE; (2) if TE blocks—-stay on outside shoulder of TE to be ready to plug hole or chase and to be ready to pick up the TE man to man if he shows block first and releases on pass route; (3) pick up TE man to man on every pass route release.
Hicks—-focused primarily on lead RB—-mirror him and take him down on running plays and pick him up on passing plays. If the RB stays in to block, drop into middle to help on crossing routes or to spy on QB—-or—-if RB stays to block, blitz hard after up the middle after the QB.
Peterson and Alford—-man to man on the WR and FL. Line up wherever their man is—-with 5-6 yard cushion or in press coverage depending on matches and situation. Chase them pre-snap if they go in motion. Chase, leverage and mirror—-see ball.
Baker—-read the QB—-if he hands the ball off, run the alley and force the run. If the QB play actions or drops straight back, stay deeper than the WRs and provide help on the deepest threat.
Loop Stunts—-made to order when SAM jams the TE and stays with him and the LOLB loops and rushes the edge. Same on the other side for the JACK and ROLB.
Twist Stunts—-when the LDE engages a T/G double team in the B gap and the OLB to his side blitzes the vacated C cap. Also, when the NT engages a C/G double team in the A gap and the MIKE blitzes the opposite caveated A gap.
Note—-if a team in 12 personnel goes with 2 TEs, 1 WR, a RB and a FB (as the 49ers like to do), sub Jalen Thompson in for Robert Alford and line Thompson up as a SS to the FB side—-and he reads and mirrors the FB. Peterson covers the 1 WR.
Wrinkle—-if the offense shows some sort of unorthodox formation—-Jordan Hicks, the MIKE, can audible into a zone coverage which would have 4 under (Simmons, Kennard, Hicks and Campbell) and 3 deep (Peterson, Baker and Alford). This is a coverage switch the defense can use whenever they want to mix it up.
Having the balance of a 53 defense, particularly against teams (like the Rams, 49ers and Seahawks) that love to use a good deal of play action, bootlegs and misdirection, can be a major asset. Best of all, it allows the OLBs to line straight up on the TEs and thus they do not have to give up immediate leverage if they are lined up to the inside or outside of the TE.
The Cardinals’ have the personnel to use the 53 to their advantage, particularly when teams play a steady diet of 12 personnel. The 53 prevents offenses from playing easy pitch and catch with the TEs, and its balance and strong numbers versus the running game make it difficult for running teams to generate long, time-consuming drives.