There is something special about man to man pass coverage. It is the first defense we play when we take the field in backyard football as children and the last defense we play as our hamstrings tighten up in late November as adults. While the league’s offenses continue to improve in passing efficiency, man coverage has only become more difficult. Receiving talent continues to increase, rules continue to tighten, and offenses have committed to putting their best players in advantageous situations. And yet, man coverage has both its feet firmly planted in the doorway of the two high systems that are continuing to spread across the NFL.
In Week 1, much ado was made about the Packers decision to stay in zone coverage for the vast majority of plays versus the Vikings. The Eagles, coming off a 38-35 win in Detroit in Week 1, rejected the Packers strategy and opted for more snaps of man coverage.
Man coverage comes in all shapes and sizes. You may see anywhere from zero to two safeties deep, there can be low hole players, and there might be outside linebackers with specific rules that put them on a running back if there is a quick release. The Eagles used at least 3 different types of man coverage to shut down the Vikings: “traditional” Cover 1 with 1 high safety, a 2 high safety look with a double team on Justin Jefferson, and a Cover 0 six man pressure that forced the ball out quick.
On the first 3rd down of the game, Justin Jefferson ends up matched up 1 on 1 with Darius Slay. Slay gets a PBU, but Jefferson wanted a call on Slay for grabbing his left arm.
First 3rd down of the game. Jefferson matched up with Slay 1 on 1, Jefferson wants the PI for Slay grabbing his arm pic.twitter.com/wNFkpbs6Hu— Shawn (@syedschemes) September 20, 2022
On another first half 3rd down, the Eagles went to man coverage again. Here the Vikings have Irv Smith 1 on 1 with a linebacker on an Under (5 and in, stay flat!) route. T.J. Edwards makes a nice play on the ball to tally another PBU for the Eagles.
Another first half 3rd down. T.J. Edwards in 1 on 1 coverage on an Under route pic.twitter.com/gRRClLtI6r— Shawn (@syedschemes) September 20, 2022
Two high, two on Jefferson
The Eagles made it clear they did not want to let Justin Jefferson singlehandedly take over the game while Jefferson was on the outside. They took advantage of their 2 high shell and doubled Jefferson by rolling one safety over the top of him while the other safety closed the middle of the field. Jefferson also had Darius Slay playing him in trail technique on both of these snaps. The next two clips are an examples of Shoot:
SHOOT from the Belichick/Saban tree is a coverage that allows you to play 2 man (or man match C2 trap variations) to a threat while also closing the middle of the field in Cover 1. Often starts to look like MOFO before getting to MOFC— Shawn (@syedschemes) December 28, 2022
-clips below pic.twitter.com/SxQLQGXff7
The Eagles played a 2 man look that had a double on Justin Jefferson (CB in trail/S over the top), and a Safety moving to close the middle of the field. Here are two clips of it:— Shawn (@syedschemes) September 20, 2022
-Looks like Cousins wanted the Rail from Reagor here but Kyzir White works through the traffic pic.twitter.com/AmjcG7zHTz
Later in the game, Jefferson seems like he wins on his route when the defense is in a similar look, but the pass rush gets home for a strip sack.
Jefferson is in a high low bracket but still wins inside. Rush gets home pic.twitter.com/ntPmAQMz3W— Shawn (@syedschemes) September 20, 2022
Bring the heat
To achieve the man to man coverage trifecta, the Eagles brought max pressure. Sending six rushers at an offense’s five linemen forces the Quarterback to speed up processing and can force errant throws. Below is the Eagles running back to back six man pressures against the Vikings Empty formations in the red zone.
Eagles bring a six man 0 blitz against 5 man empty protection on back to back plays in the low red zone and get hands on both passes. Second one is an INT pic.twitter.com/60sUwWUwTL— Shawn (@syedschemes) September 20, 2022
The Eagles deserve praise for their win in Week 2. Their use of a different strategy than the Packers deployed in Week 1 helped propel them to a convincing victory. The Vikings did place Jefferson in the slot on numerous looks and have him open, but they will look to the tape to clean up their offensive execution before another big game versus the resurgent Detroit Lions.