Dallas Cowboys rookie linebacker Luke Gifford made a great play in the team’s preseason opener, one that caught just about everyone’s eye. The former Nebraska Cornhusker made a great read and came away with a big interception. Here is how it went down.
Quarterback Nick Mullens and the 49ers had 1st and 10 in the second quarter of the game and came out in a 3x1 set with one receiver to the defense’s left and a receiver, tight end, and h-back to their right.
The Cowboys were in Cover 3 and Gifford was responsible for the hook/curl zone to the defense’s left, but because their were more immediate threats to the right, he opened in that direction.
As the tight end releases vertically, Gifford allows him to pass and squaring his stance; reading the quarterback. He sees the running back in front of him, but does not break. A basic rule for underneath zone coverage is that if there is someone in front of you, there is someone behind you. In this case it is wide receiver Dante Pettis who is running the dig route.
Because he is in good position and reading the quarterback, Gifford is able to pick off the pass.
The route is actually designed as a high/low read of the other hook/curl player, linebacker Justin March-Lillard. This biggest advantage of playing zone defense over man is being able to make plays in adjacent zones by reading the quarterback, and that is just what Gifford does here.
It is unfortunate that Gifford left the game early with an injury and is dealing with an ankle sprain. If he gets healthy and is able to continue making plays like this, Gifford could have a bright future in Dallas.