Inside Monte Kiffin's Playbook: Coverage vs. Route Combinations

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In this installment of the Monte Kiffin Playbook series, we take a look at specific route combinations and how Kiffin's coverage intends to stop them.

As usual, I will proceed with the assumption that you have the previous installments of this playbook series, or at least those pertaining to coverage in the secondary.

If not, the coverage playbook articles can be found here and here.

First, I will show the formation itself, which details the general assignments during that call. Following each formation, I will insert several pages of route combinations with that particular coverage's assignments.

For ease of reference and portability, I'll give you the defensive coverage reference sheet here:

Zone_areas_medium

Now, we'll go through the coverages in the order in which they're presented in the playbook. First, the Over 2:

Over2advanced_medium

This article should be a good help in understanding this sheet. Especially the table at the bottom, which is essentially a quick reference for reactions to offensive motion and formations.

Over2a_medium

Note that a 'C' (Cornerback) with no assignment (parenthetically encapsulated instruction) is in man coverage on that receiver. Also, assignments such as 'Y Cross' indicate man coverage on the tight end that crosses the formation; 'Y Seam' indicates to cover the tight end up the seam. Both of these coverages are in anticipation of a route, but, if the route doesn't happen, the player will stay in his zone. 'X Dig,' then, is in anticipation of the X receiver executing a dig route. 'Check down,' for the Mike backer, indicates that he is to find and eliminate the check down option.

The exact method by which these formations are discerned and reacted to is unknown to me. I assume it involves a ton of practice and film study.

Over2b_medium

You may have noticed that the front four are left out of these diagrams. Why is that? They're rushing the passer. Always.

'Zoom' is a Z receiver motion. The other words are formation names (which are far from universal, and are of little importance for us, as fans, to learn - better to learn the formations themselves).

Over2c_medium

Peel, Fly, and Yukon are all motion words.

Over2d_medium

And just one more...

Over2e_medium

As you can see, just one coverage call can be very complex, and is adaptable to a multitude of route combinations and formation variations. I would bet that, in the past 15 years, this system has evolved considerably to counteract the specific trends of today's offenses. It's comforting to know that Kiffin does not hold any of his play calls to be perfect for a certain situation, and emphasizes the need to adapt the call to what the offense is actually doing.

In a way, the defense has a similar philosophy to Garrett's offense, which reacts to the defense's coverage and tunes its routes. What does this mean? We'll have paradoxes in practice as both sides wait for the other to do something that can be reacted to. In truth, Kiffin's defense is more act and react than read and react, so there will be no universe-rending paradox.

Underpirate57advanced_medium

Now, the Under Pirate/Tag 57 reaction sets.

Up57a_medium

Note that we're examining the same formations. These are meant to represent nearly every iteration of a base set found in the NFL at that time. This is also useful for evaluating the coverages side-by-side (though that is best done by someone with a keener strategic mind than my own).

Up57b_medium

Note that, in this coverage, we follow motion with the corners. Additionally, note the "5 play it" and "5 check 7" notes. Previously, I explained that the first digit refers to the play in case of a receiver-on-each-side set, while the second refers to the play in the event of a twins formation. Motion necessarily impacts this by creating one situation from the other, and the instructions in the top right are whether or not to shift to the other play.

Up57c_medium

Up57d_medium

Up57e_medium

Ideally, these are now fairly easy to read.

We not move on to the Under China set (note that under and over in the coverage name corresponds to the front that should be played with it).

Underchinaadvanced_medium

Under China is interesting in that it's a single deep safety, single linebacker zone concept. It's our Cover 1, with a linebacker (or sometimes a safety) playing an additional zone underneath. The rest of the defense is in man coverage.

Underchinaa_medium

I don't believe these can get much easier to read. Note that the deep safety is most often the strong safety, not the free safety. This is a change from the conventional looks, with the free safety seeing considerable action in man coverage and, occasionally, as a the lurking underneath zone (which I should emphasize exists solely to capitalize on poor reads by quarterbacks and generate turnovers).

Underchinab_medium

Now we see some deep free safety looks, with the strong safety coming in to linebacker depth.

Underchinac_medium

Note the vast array of looks that his one defense can present, though it only embodies a single concept (1 deep zone, 1 short zone, man coverage).

Underchinad_medium

Note the Deuce Double H Fly to Trips play, specifically the strong safety and cornerback. The strong safety is to keep a depth of six yards and align over the H, then bump the H on his route. The corner is meant to replace the safety after he moves with the motion.

Underchinae_medium

And we're left with one remaining coverage, the Over Smack 6.

The Over Smack 6 is a cover 3 concept, with three deep zones and varying underneath coverages.

Oversmack6advanced_medium

Pay attention to the wide variation in underneath schemes using the four players unoccupied by the three-deep.

Oversmack6a_medium

You can see already that the three-deep concept gives a sense of confidence that opens up many possibilities underneath regarding who to cover. A safety is even brought up occasionally to give the look of a man defense.

Oversmack6b_medium

We even see some looks where only one safety is kept deep, and the other actually does take on man coverage roles.

Oversmack6c_medium

So many arrows, so much movement... This can be good in that it illegitimizes the quarterback's pre-snap read, but also a risk due to players not being in position to make plays immediately.

Oversmack6d_medium

We see a few looks here with the conerback actually playing inside the Will backer. I'm not certain if the intent is to hide him in the formation in order to disturb the quarterback's read. It's a practice I am unfamiliar with, but look forward to seeing in action this coming season.

Oversmack6e_medium

And, we've made it! Those are the reactionary schemes for all base coverages in response to all base offenses within Monte Kiffin's scheme. Next time you're doing a film session this season, match the offense and defense to these charts - you'll be able to evaluate who did their job effectively (remember, the one caveat of film study was not knowing the plays - now, you have a chance).

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