Scheme Session: Favre lights up the Cowboys

In today’s edition of Scheme Session, I want to focus on the Vikings’ Brett Favre and Sidney Rice using the Coaching Player's 3D Chalkboard. They hooked up three times for TDs yesterday as Minnesota rolled over Dallas to advance to the NFC Championship game.

But, it was Favre’s first TD pass to Rice that still sticks out in my mind. It was a game-setter for the Vikings and it is a perfect way to look at how bad technique and fundamentals of the defense can get you beat—and giving up big plays in January will send you home every time.

Before we get to the chalkboard and the video replay, let’s set up the formations on both sides of the ball.

The Vikings are in their Ace Personnel (2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB) with both TEs to the closed side (strong side). The one key to remember here is where the ball is on the field. Whenever NFL teams cross the 50-yard line, you have to think of play action and the vertical passing game as a defender. Offenses love to take a shot in these situations.

Key, because this is how the Vikes set up the Cowboys, who are in their basic 3-4 set. But, what we need to notice here is that Dallas is showing a man-pressure from their pre-snap disguise. The corners are playing off at a depth of 7-yards and they are showing a single high safety—along with SS Gerald Sensabaugh (who is highlighted in red) creeping down into the box over the TE.

Let’s take a look at the chalkboard diagram below…

As we can see, the Vikings use a simple play action to RB Adrian Peterson on the dive to the strong side, and in reality, are running a basic NFL route—which is the “Middle Read.” If the TE reads zone coverage he will take his route up the seam. If he reads man-coverage, he will break his route away from the defenders leverage. The wide receivers? They are on pre-determined 9-routes down the sidelines.

The Cowboys rush five and drop six into coverage, with the strong side Mike Backer playing man-to-man on the TE. The weak side Mike backer drops into the hole and plays as a "rover." The corners—because of the pre-snap off-man look—cannot jam. Instead, they will squat, play underneath any 7 or flag route, and rally to any ball thrown to the flat. A "trap" coverage by the Cowboys.

This is a pressure defense with Cover 2 principles as the safeties will come out of their pre-snap alignment and drop to the deep half of the field. Plenty of defenses use this scheme, because it allows you to pressure and have the security of two deep safeties playing over the top of the defense to protect the deep ball.

But, as we know from watching the game, this wasn’t the case because of Sensabaugh's pre-snap alignments and his technique getting back to the deep half.

Let’s check out the replay…

As you can see, instead of turning his hips and getting back to the deep half, Sensabaugh gets into his back-pedal—a major mistake in this situation. With Rice (who is highlighted in yellow) running down the sideline with a free release (no jam at the line of scrimmage), he will be at top speed before Sensenbaugh finally turns his hips.

Favre, being a veteran QB, reads the release by Rice, sees the safety with his back now turned to the football and takes a shot down the field.

Sensabaugh never saw the ball thrown to Rice because of what he did to put himself in that situation. If he had played the technique of the defense and didn’t have to scramble to get back to the deep half, he would have had a better angle to the football and a chance to find the ball once it was in the air.

A simple route on 2nd and 6 that caught the Cowboys showing blitz with their safeties, and if you are going to do that against Favre, you are taking a risk. He is one QB who is not afraid to challenge defenders—especially when he finds a hole in the defense.

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