With the addition of former Rams' DC Gregg Robinson, expect to see big changes this upcoming season to a passive Browns' secondary that relied on landmark drops and placed little emphasis on pre-snap checks to counter what the offense showed at the line of scrimmage.
Today's article looks at Tampa 2-varient the Super Bowl-champion defensive coordinator dialed up during the Rams' 37-32 victory over the Buccaneers, ultimately resulting in an interception on Tampa Bay's' side of the field.
Before going further, read the OBR's first breakdown of the 2-deep, zone-under coverage shell, more commonly known as the 'Tampa 2'
Although the action occurs after the snap, the defense's pre-snap check is likely the most important part of the play.
Focus on quarterback Jamis Winston as he approaches the line of scrimmage. He appears to have pre-snap responsibility to identify the MIKE linebacker, which allows his offensive line to set the protection and identify blocking assignments. Notice that as soon as Winston retreats back to his shotgun alignment, the offensive linemen and tailback point and communicate their responsibilities in order to ensure that all blockers are on the same page.
Move back to the defense just after the Florida State product identifies the MIKE. The linebackers and defensive backs immediately check to a different coverage using hand signals and a simple verbal call (likely something as simple as "Tom, Tom, Tom" if Tom equals Tampa/Trap in their defense's terminology).
It's impossible to say what exactly triggered the call, but it likely came out of diligent, detailed film study leading up to the game. The author's best guess is the offense showed a tendency towards a specific protection when throwing out of this formation. The defensive staff picked up on the check during game prep and built their own check in order to counter a likely pass. Keep in mind that this is a first down play; the chances of a defensive coordinator checking to a 3-man surface is minimal with the threat of a run on the table.
The offense is aligned in 'Gun Weak Trips Right' with 10 (one tailback and zero tight ends) personnel. The strength of the formation is set to the wide side, or 'field'.
Defenses in a Tampa 2 generally align the cornerbacks on the line of scrimmage to press the outside receivers. They do this because if the receivers gain a free release upfield, the deep safeties must widen from their hashes prematurely. This enlarges a danger zone in Cover 2, the deep middle hole.
In this case, Williams appears to want to "show" a pseudo-Cover 5 (2-deep, man-under) in order to encourage a quick throw to the flats, as linebackers would have the #3 receiver and tailback in coverage, a clear personnel mismatch in favor of the offense. The cornerbacks' alignment allows both to play man or zone coverage, although the linebacker just above the left hash would have a difficult time playing the #3 receiver (receivers are counted outside-to-in) in man.
With that said, the cornerbacks' alignment clearly does not put them in position to press the outside receivers. As is often the case when scanning an NFL defense pre-snap, the quarterback is receiving mix signals.
So why does Williams want to force the ball to the flats?
If the cornerbacks are not jamming and sinking underneath the outside receivers as they would in a traditional Tampa 2, they can flat-foot read the tailback and #2/#3 receivers in order to jump any routes to the flat, a concept often referred to as 'trap flat coverage'.
So the goal is to show the quarterback some type of man coverage, encourage a quick throw to the flat to take advantage of personnel mismatches created by linebackers covering skill players in space, and blow up the play for a TFL, pass breakup, or interception.
The offense is running a slant/flat combo (known as 'Dragon' in Bill Walsh's West Coast offense). The concept is a great man coverage beater and will play out well against many zone coverages as well.
Let's move on to the play....
Winston clearly reads man coverage here as he has the ball out to the tailback before he hits the top of his drop. If the defense were in man coverage, this is the match-up to target as the tailback would be covered by a linebacker.
Here's where the trap flat technique comes in.
Focus on the right cornerback at the snap.
He approaches the line of scrimmage at the snap but clearly has no intentions of jamming his receiver, a cardinal sin in a traditional Tampa 2. His eyes are in the backfield to scan for any threat to the flat, looking to spring the trap for a big hit or possible interception.
As soon as the tailback releases, the defender immediately breaks on the route, leaving the #1 to be handled by the WILL and 'topped" by the weak safety.
After the defensive back clears the receiver, he delivers a bone crunching hit and knocks the ball into the air, allowing the WILL to pluck the ball out of the air for the interception.
The install of yet another defensive scheme will come with its share of growing pains, but Gregg Williams' brand of aggressive coverage should eliminate the passiveness that became the 2016 Cleveland Browns' calling card. Stay tuned this offseason as The Orange and Brown Report digs deeper into all facets of the Gregg Williams defense.