The Playbook Abides - Cover Zero

Tonight's game should be fascinating if speculation about Denver seeing a Cover 0 from the Jets is true.

The thinking is that in order to stop the Broncos' running attack, Rex Ryan is going to go to the Cover 0 more often than not.

If that's the case, it won't be boring.  Exciting football is dangerous football, in which the defense operates on the razor's edge of risk and reward.

The Cover Zero says, Throw at us, we dare you.

Let's take a quick peek at what it looks like:

Cover 0

I spent a few hours watching tape just to find a good example of a true, no-holds-barred example of the Cover 0.  Finally, I zeroed (pun intended) in on one of the craziest defensive coordinators in the NFL, Jim Haslett, who just happens to work for our old pal Mike Shanahan in Washington.

Here's an example of a guy who's not afraid to take some risk and, quite frankly, embarrass his defensive backs:

Obviously, the first thing you'll notice is that there isn't any safety over the top (I've conveniently numbered each player just in case you'd like to count).  That's the distinguishing characteristic of the coverage.  The other characteristic you see is that everyone is playing man coverage.  In this case, there are four receivers in on offense and they are looking right across from a defender.   That leaves the other seven, in theory at least, in as blitzers.

Haslett chooses to run this coverage on 4th and 7, which I find even more fascinating. Either Haslett isn't worried about job security, or he truly is one of the most aggressive coaches in the NFL.  There's living on the edge.  And then there's L-I-V-I-N on the edge.  If any one of these defenders gets beat, we're not just talking about a first down, we're talking downtown, which means all the way underground for the Redskins--the score will be 19-16.

On this particular play, Tony Romo tries to audible to god knows what, but eventually calls a timeout with a few seconds on the play clock.  Mission accomplished, Jim Haslett.

This brings us back to tonight's game.  If the Jets defense comes out in a package like this, you don't need an expert in Xs and Os to tell you its weaknesses:

  1. The middle of the field is exposed (crossing routes anyone?).
  2. The flat and underneath routes are prime real estate.
  3. Pick routes are ideal.
  4. The entire deep middle is wide open.

These four points are not small, and they are why you almost never see an NFL defense run Cover 0.  Against a team with a good quarterback and skilled receivers, Cover 0 is a losing proposition (shows you what Haslett thinks about Romo, doesn't it?). 

The Cover 0 does have its strengths, however, and we all know why the Jets would consider it tonight:

  1. Blitz-O-Rama.  Yeah, it's that simple.
  2. It stuffs the run.
  3. It will destroy the short routes.

I really hope the Jets run this coverage tonight, because the Broncos can beat it.  Even a guy as _____ in the passing game as Tim Tebow is can throw a deep pass to a wide-open receiver. All it takes is one breakdown on just a few plays and things can get ugly.  I don't think you can keep Eric Dekcer, Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas (watch for this matchup problem), and Eddie Royal in check all night long.   

I don't think Rex Ryan is that crazy (or stupid).  I think you'll see some Cover 1 tonight and zone hybrid zone-man coverages to confuse Tebow.  I even think you'll see a ton of run blitzes.  But I'd be surprised to see a pure Cover 0 like the one Haslett threw down--unless, of course, Ryan thinks Tebow is the next Mark Sanchez.  

I’m glad we had this talk.  Now, vaya con Dios, Brah.

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