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2014 Super Bowl: Tactical Warfare - Zone Coverage vs. Bunch Formations

Good morning Broncos Country! I was watching some Seahawks games when I stumbled upon this little nugget. I'll break down coverages more when I get to the secondary later on this week, but this was too good to pass up!

It seemed as if the narrative this season became "how do you beat press man coverage?" The Broncos receiving corps struggled a bit early on with physicality, but have pretty much answered every challenge thrown at them throughout the season. Four receivers with at least 10 receiving touchdowns speaks to being such a versatile offense that you can approach and attack defenses a variety of different ways.

Just last week against a Cover 2 Man Under gameplan utilized by New England, the Broncos used a variety of different tactics to get receivers open. Double crossing routes, pick plays, bunch formations, five-wide sets with an empty backfield to spread the defense.

One of these tactics--bunch formations eat man coverage alive because they are so easily designed with different route combinations that should get someone open.

I have found a foil that the Seahawks will utilize on Sunday and it is the use of a very unique zone coverage. Basically what it looks like to me is Cover 2 Zone. There are two interesting wrinkles here 1) OLB K.J. Wright (Blue Box) is matched up against the Colts TE one on one with NO HELP. Back to that later. 2) Richard Sherman is dropped to safety depth which creates a geometric square.

Against a bunch formation (three WR's in this case), it essentially gives you a coverage advantage of 4 on 3. It provides the opportunity for brackets and double covered receivers.


The inside receiver runs a short out to the flat and is taken by the playside corner closest to the numbers (20). The outside receiver runs a hitch and is taken by Sherman. The inside receiver (Wayne, orange) is bracketed under and to the inside and over the top.

Luck gets pressured and elects to throw the hitch to DHB which is deflected by Sherman incomplete. Had Luck been given a bit more time by his line, Wayne has position on Thomas to the corner, could have been a huge play. The boundary side safety curiously turns his hips toward the play which confirms my presnap suspicion that the OLB is on an island by himself against Fleener.



More and more instead of Cover 2 it's looking like a variation on 3-deep with the coverage rolled to the dominant side of the formation. That 2x2 grouping effectively brackets or doubles both the outside and inside receiver.



The ball is already out and Sherman breaks on the hitch. You can see the step or so Wayne has on Thomas heading to the sideline. I love the design and execution. Each player knows their responsibility and there are no break downs in coverage. Instead of getting beat by a bunch playing press man, they keep things in front of them and allow the play to develop to their design.

Now back to that coverage on the TE


His presnap stance is so funky. I don't think I've ever seen that. But since he will be all by his lonesome against the TE, it gives him proper position and angling if the TE cuts underneath or to the inside, and it gives him a shot of the TE decides to try and blow by him on a go route. For the route Fleener runs, a short hitch, he is already facing the route.

If the Seahawks give Manning and the Broncos this look and are hell bent on leaving Julius Thomas one on one against a linebacker, you better believe this play goes for 6. I am willing to bet right now that if the Seahawks do use this play they will have tweaked the coverage for the boundary side safety to give help to the LB.

In the chess match that will play out on Sunday, look for the Seahawks to combat bunch formations with similar tactics. And in the game of "I know that you know that I know" look for Manning and co. to add a wrinkle of their own to help make a situation like this play out in their favor.