Scheme Session: the Sharper factor

In today’s edition of Scheme Session, I want to take a look at New Orleans safety Darren Sharper and how he can have an effect on the ball game with his playmaking ability using the Coaching Players 3D Software.

One of the matchups you will hear about this week is Colts QB Peyton Manning vs. Sharper, in terms of Manning’s ability to look off the safety in the middle of the field to create an open throwing opportunity.

Let’s use a clip from earlier in the season when Sharper picked off Jets QB Mark Sanchez and took the ball back 99 yards for a TD. Turnovers will be big for Gregg Williams’ defense, and having a playmaker like Sharper — a safety that can jump routes and run with the football — is huge to the Saints game plan.

Obviously, the Jets run a different scheme than the Colts in terms of how they align, but the route we will look at is a red zone route in every offensive playbook in the NFL: the Double Post.

The Jets run their version of the Double Post out of their Pro personnel (2 WR, 1 TE, 2 RB), where the Colts will run it from their Zebra personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1RB), but the concept is the same — put the free safety in an awkward position.

Let’s check out the diagram below…

Out on the field, the Double Post is the toughest route for any free safety due to the fact that he has to split both routes. Now, he has to drive down on the underneath post route, or flip his hips and run underneath the deep post route. It requires almost perfect technique.

But, in the red zone, the field shrinks, and Sharper (who I highlighted in blue) now has a chance to sit on the underneath post route and jump the deep post route.

In this scenario, Williams’ defense is using a form of man-pressure with free safety help in the middle of the field. They rush five, with Mike linebacker Jonathan Vilma “adding” to the blitz when his man in coverage — the running back — stays in to block. What transpires because of this is a 6-man pressure scheme with Cover 1 principles in the back end.

The Jets motion to a stack alignment (which creates a bunch look due to the off-set fullback). The closed side (or strong side) TE runs a 7 (or flag route) to take the strong safety out of the play and to entice Sharper to get off of his landmark in the middle of the field. The Saints are playing their Cover 1 technique in the secondary, with each player using outside leverage due to the safety help from Sharper in the middle of the field.

As we will see from the video replay, Jets QB Mark Sanchez never takes his eyes off of the deep post route — which is too easy for a playmaker like Sharper. He can sit between both routes and drive down hill on the throw.

Let’s check it out on the video replay….

Sharper comes out of his break before Sanchez even let’s go of the football. He never has to leave the middle of the field and what should be a tough play for Sharper turns into a pre-practice DB drill—plant and drive on the football.

Sunday, however, will be as different challenge, as Manning is great at moving safeties with his eyes and not committing to one read in his route progression.

I expect the Saints to use multiple forms of man-pressure along with their coverage schemes that will allow Sharper to jump routes and make a play on the football. But, doing it against a rookie early in the season compared to Manning creates two completely opposite discussions. Sharper will have to play disciplined and take only calculated chances that will result in big plays.

Because, if he does freelance — especially in the red zone — it will be an easy six points for Manning and the Colts.

Check back at the NFP for more Scheme Session leading up to Super Bowl Sunday.

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