Scheme Session: Manning in the red zone

In today’s edition of Scheme Session, let’s check out Peyton Manning and the Colts in the red zone vs. the Jets from Sunday’s AFC championship game using the Coaching Players 3D Chalkboard and the video replay.

With the Colts leading 20-17, Manning has the ball at the 15-yard line of the Jets. Indy comes out in its staple personnel package: Zebra (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB). As I have written before here at the NFP, the Colts run almost their entire offense out of Zebra and Ace (2 WR, 2 TE, 1 RB) personnel.

Some football background on the Colts. Manning will come to the line with two passing plays and one running play — which he can flop to either side — to use as his pre-snap checks, based off of what he sees from the defense.

The Colts show a balanced 2x2 set, with WR Austin Collie in the slot, while the Jets have their Nickel Sub Package personnel on the field — with the Nickel Corner playing lined up on Collie. The Colts run a basic red zone route that is a classic Cover 2 beater inside of the 20-yard line: Four Verticals.

Let’s check out the diagram below…

As we can see, the Jets show pressure and the key for Manning’s read is the safeties. FS Jim Leonhard is showing high over the top of the Nickel Corner, which tells Manning two things: one, that the Nickel Corner is coming and Leonhard will drop into zero-man coverage on Collie, or two, Leonhard will drop to the deep half and play Cover 2.

To the closed (or TE side) SS Kerry Rhodes is showing outside pressure just as the Colts come to the line of scrimmage — which is too soon against Manning. The key to catching Manning or forcing him into throwing the ball into coverage is the ability to hold your look on defense. But, as we will see from the video replay, Rhodes has to get out of his disguise early as the Jets are playing their “Red 2” coverage.

And that is a giveaway to Manning that the Jets are playing coverage — instead of brining pressure. Too easy.

Cover 2 is your basic 5-under, 2-deep coverage. As we have talked about in the past, “Tampa 2” is essentially a 4-under, 3-deep coverage due to the Mike, or Middle Linebacker, dropping into the deep middle third — creating a three-across look that forces the ball to go underneath.

However, in “Red 2” the corners will sink underneath any vertical route by No.1 to create a 2-under, 5-deep look. This is done to protect the safeties — who have a ton of ground to cover when they play Cover 2 in the red zone.

But, just like any form of Cover 2, the weakness of the defense is the middle of the field — between the safeties and over the top of the linebacker. This is key in the red zone, because the field shrinks, and therefore the throws are tighter and come quicker. Any false step or poor run/pass read will result in a touchdown.

And, this exact play is a perfect example.

Let’s check out the video replay below…

As we can see, the Mike linebacker — along with the Will, or Weak Side linebacker — takes the bait on the play action fake to Joseph Addai. The result: a wide open space down the middle of the field. Perfect for the Colts Four Verticals.

TE Dallas Clark — and Collie — will bend their routes to the middle of the field. Clark is heading for the near hash marks, and Collie will stem his route to a landmark between the numbers and the hash marks to the open side.

Rhodes is in a tough spot, as he has an outside vertical by No.1 to the open side and an inside vertical by Clark. He can come over late, but he needs the Mike Backer to protect him — but the play fake has taken him out of the play.

It is a simple route, against a simple coverage, but when the defense doesn’t play its responsibilities and doesn’t read the run/pass keys against a QB like Manning, it is an easy six points.

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