Friday, September 27, 2013

Film Review: How MSU Adjusted Their Cover 4 to Shut Down Notre Dame

Introduction
Michigan State is known for their use of the Cover 4 defense, pretty much all day every day. While they occasionally make forays into other defenses, it is more often the nuanced changes they make within their cover 4 that confuses offenses. Against Notre Dame, the Spartans rolled up their safeties and played them a bit tighter to the #2. We'll look at how this affected Notre Dame, how the Fighting Irish tried to counter this, and how Michigan State was still able to hold down their offense.

Cover 4 - ND's Initial Attack
Previously I have written about MSU's defense, both their front and their favorite coverage. Against Notre Dame, Narduzzi and Dantonio made a nuanced adjustment with how they played their safeties.
One of the constraints offenses run on MSU's defense is the bubble screen to the field side. They attempt to draw the OLB in against the run and bubble outside, putting him in a quandary to defend both inside and out and be responsible for a lot of open space.
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Narduzzi has adjusted his cover 4, even prior to this game, to defend this. MSU's corner will almost always press to the field side. This prevents the WR from getting any distance between the CB and the bubble receiver. It also forces the WR to block immediately and hold that block longer, something most WRs aren't necessarily good at. This is an adjustment to prevent any sort of immediate horizontal stretch passes such as the bubble screen.

But on top of that, look how close to the LOS the safety is playing. Cover 4 safeties will already play relatively down hill, but this safety is essentially lined up in man coverage and there is no hesitation once the slot receiver begins bubbling outside. Throughout this game on the field side, MSU committed their safety almost immediately to coverage, partially because they simply did not respect ND's ability to run against MSU's front 7 alone, but also to take the #2 out of the game completely.

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To continue reading about how MSU adjusted to take away ND's #2 receivers, as well as how Notre Dame attempted to adjust, follow the link to The Only Colors

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