We've mentioned Jason Verrett and Brandon Flowers, and the whole Eric Weddle contract situation, but we haven't talked about the "other guys" that will be in the secondary as well. That's what I want to focus on this week, the "other guys." Defensive coordinator John Pagano favors sub-packages that could have up to seven defensive backs on the field at one time. It took me six plays into last season to find an example.
The players who are circled are no longer with the team. Let's pretend Jahleel Addae takes the 1,000+ snaps from Marcus Gilchrist. That leaves 1,579 snaps between Addae's role last year, Shareece Wright, and Dick Marshall. Hell, in the Rams game, something named an Adrian Phillips played 19 meaningful snaps on obvious passing downs. We'll get into who will be replacing those snaps this week, for now, let's acknowledge how Pagano likes to blitz with his defensive backs. Pagano only blitzed a defensive back about 10% of the time over the course of the season, which was likely due to personnel issues, but when he did, he had some success. The one time Brandon Flowers blitzed he hit Geno Smith in the mouth and forced an errant pass out of bounds. This post is to show you that there are a couple of ounces of creativity flowing through Pagano's bones.
So if there's one player on the team that I'm the least objective to, it's Darrell Stuckey. I will continue to fight this fight all by myself. Unlike the three players circled above, Stuckey can run with you whether it's north and south or east and west. He must either be the worst practice player of all-time or falls asleep in meetings. The next two designs both involve Stuckey. The 1st play is about as creative as you can get. To the wide side of the field, the corner and safety at the top of the screen are playing a Cover 2 zone. The three circled defenders are each in man coverage. Weddle has to come across the formation to guard the TE.
As far as the games up front, up the middle Corey Liuget and Jerry Attaochu do a twist, Liuget is very good at getting a piece of two linemen when twisting. The right guard has his eyes on Weddle, and as soon as he drops back, his eyes go to the twisting Attaochu. The running back comes across the formation to block Manti Te'o, leaving Stuckey free to close on QB Derek Carr.
There is so much going on here. Enough to where neither Carr, the right guard nor the running back can pick things up. Here's a look at the play full speed. First, where you can see the coverages. Notice how there are three players chasing and two sitting and reading. Finally, the look up front that creates confusion.
This doesn't have much to do with Stuckey's talents, other than him showing off good closing speed even after a slight hesitation. The 3rd play of the game against the Rams Stuckey blitzed, got enough of the RB that knocked him back so the QB couldn't step into his throw, and boom, interception Brandon Flowers. This next play has everything to do with using Stuckey's athleticism. Rewind to week 5 against the Jets. Another play with 7 DB's on the field. For this play to be successful Donald Butler needs to attack the inside shoulder of the guard, allowing Stuckey a free run at the QB.
With an empty backfield, there's no chance the right guard has stuck with Stuckey across the formation. Even though Butler gets thrown to the ground like a child, he does his job, and Stuckey chases Geno from the pocket, forcing a punt. Here's a look at the play full speed.
A little disappointed Stuckey doesn't get the sack here. Against the Ravens, the team ran this exact play but used Weddle, who was able to pick up a QB hit on Joe Flacco.
Overloading On Cue
Probably one of the more frustrating things is watching Pagano dial up a blitz that is executed so well, and not see that blitz for a couple more games. Earlier I mentioned how the one time Flowers blitzed all year he hit the QB in the mouth. It came on an overload blitz. Coincidentally, the play you're about to see is the same blitz, this time featuring Addae. An overload blitz is exactly how it sounds, basically, a numbers game. You want to bring four where they have 3, for example. When the numbers are even, you need 1 of your defensive lineman to either win or get a piece of 2 blockers, that way your blitzing DB has a free run at the quarterback. Ricardo Mathews does both in this example below.
Addae, who's not even pictured, is the yellow line. The fact that he is not on the screen makes it difficult for offensive lineman to account for him. Notice how much depth Mathews has gotten. Blake Bortles hasn't even finished his 3 step drop.
That forces the RB to account for Mathews, thus giving Addae a free run at Bortles for the sack. Here's a look at the play full speed.
A good design to keep Addae hidden until the last minute, with great execution on Mathews part. There is a theme here, these pressures or sacks are coming when San Diego has 6 or more DBs. I wish I had data to make this up, and some of you might, but in my opinion the defense was at its best when it fielded a 4-1-6 look. Injuries obviously limited the team's options a year ago, but we should be able to see more creative 4-1-6 looks this year.
There are other examples that failed, like when certain players slow up instead of getting a sack. Other times, the play might not have been successful, but the thought of pressure forced the QB to drop his eye level. Let's go back to week 2 versus the Seahawks.
The personnel on this play is heaven, for me. You not only get your four best rushers on the field in Ingram, Attaochu, Liuget, and Freeney, you don't even bother putting linebackers on the field. The other 7 are DBs.
This is another overload look, but not to the side the offense is expecting. Weddle stunts across the formation. A white jersey flashing in front of him is enough to force Russell Wilson to drop his eyes, leave the pocket, and eventually throw the pass out of bounds that led to a punt. Here's a look at the play full speed.
Pressure makes a monkey eat a hot pepper.
This isn't so much a slight against the linebackers as it is a praise to how much faster the defense can play when there are more DBs on the field. They can get more creative because they can afford to be in more 1-on-1 match ups on the backend. It's not going out on a limb to say you can get to the quarterback faster if you send Stuckey instead of Manti Te'o. On the flipside, you can cover longer if you have a Jimmy Wilson as opposed to a Donald Butler.
I just wanted to show that Pagano can get creative with different packages and dial up some effective blitzes. Here's to hoping a deeper group of DBs allows him to do so this year. Next up, previewing an underrated signing, Patrick Robinson.