We have gone to the chalkboard here at the NFP breaking down plays and schemes in our Inside the Playbook series. A detailed look at what happens on the field.
Today, let’s go to the practice fields of the NFL. A breakdown of the key techniques required to play man-to-man coverage—at all levels of football. Darrelle Revis, Champ Bailey, Charles Woodson, Nnamdi Asomugha, etc. What makes these top tier DBs great on Sundays? Time for a coaching session on man-to-man defense.
The Jets' Darrelle Revis can play press or off-man coverage.
Routes: Outside of the 3-step game (slant, hitch, fade, smash, china, option), every route in the NFL breaks between 12-15 yards. That’s it. As a DB, you read through the 3-step and get your eyes back to the WR. Know that the comeback, the deep dig, post and 7 (or flag) route break at a depth of 12-15 yards. The WR starts to chop down his feet at eight yards? Simple, get ready for the double move—because there isn’t a route in an NFL playbook that breaks at that depth. No break between 12-15 yards? Turn and run—because that WR isn’t stopping until he gets to the goal line.
Off-man coverage: Toughest thing to play at the NFL level. Requires the DB to pace his backpedal, use his eyes and stay “in phase” with the WR. Leverage is key. If you are playing with outside leverage (with safety help in the middle of the field), you must be able to weave in your pedal and stay on that outside hip of the WR. Flat foot read through the 3-step game (allows CB to break on underneath) and get your eyes back to the WR. Stay on top with enough cushion to turn your hips and run, or to plant and drive downhill on the comeback, curl and dig. But, always know where your help is playing off-man coverage. In Cover 1, stay outside, and in Cover 0 (no safety help) stay inside and use the sideline as your extra help.
Press-man coverage: Hands. All about your hand placement at the line of scrimmage. Strike the WR in the chest plate. If he release inside, strike with your outside hand. If he released outside, strike with your inside hand. Keep your feet lateral and be strong with your hands. As coaches will tell you, don’t “open the gate.” Translation: no need to open you hips and try to punch with your hands. WRs will run right through that and you will be stuck chasing. It is all based on the release. If you can use those hands to disrupt the release of the WR, keep leverage and play to the hip of the route, you will be in a position to make a play. “Mirror” that release and be a physical football player at the line of scrimmage.
Alignments: Know where you are on the field. A “nasty” reduced split? Expect an inside breaking route. The WR aligned with a wide split outside of the numbers? Slant or the fade. Can’t run the 7 route from that alignment. Why? There isn’t enough field to work with. A WR aligned on the top of the numbers? Look for the out route. The formation of the offense will tell you a story even before the ball is snapped. Know your opponent and why he is aligned in that position.
Releases: What is the release telling me? A hard inside release with a vertical stem? Deep dig or the post. An outside release to the sideline? Comeback or fade. In the slot, tougher to prepare for. However, the release tells you where the WR wants to go. Part of the process in indentifying the route before it happens.
Denver's Champ Bailey is still a top tier corner because of his technique.
Pad level: Applies to every position on the field, but as a DB, it is crucial to success. Keep your pads low and over your feet. Can’t plant and drive when you get too tall in your pedal. Can’t open your hips. Can’t change direction. You must keep those pads low and over your feet. I have seen many DBs—including myself—get toasted playing with a high pad level. 2003 season. A corner-post by the Bucs’ Keyshawn Johnson. My technique was bad. I got too tall playing man coverage. The result? Keyshawn ran right past me for an easy six.
Don’t panic…play the pocket: If you play DB long enough, you will get beat. What we usually see from young DBs in the NFL is flat-out panic at the point of attack—and that usually draws a flag. Don’t grab, don’t hit the receiver and don’t pull the jersey. Get back “in-phase” to the hip of the WR and play the pocket (between the WRs hands at the mesh point). The WR has to bring his hands together to catch the ball. We all know that. If you are beat, stick your hands in the “pocket.” Because, when you play the ball, the ref can’t throw the flag. It sounds simple, because it is. DBs who panic can’t play.
Eyes: Have to play with technique. That is always a key, but if you don’t have the proper eye placement as a DB, none of that matters. Keep those eyes on the hips of the WRs. Can’t forget that, because a WR can’t make a cut without turning and opening his hips. It never fails. And, don’t look in the backfield. There is nothing going on back there that concerns you when you are playing man-coverage. Smart players always have their eyes in the right spot.
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