A lot of the focus on Giants Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher’s approach revolves around his pressure packages. However, his coverage disguises also play a critical role. A Giants defense that lacks a premiere pass rusher (and was 30th in sacks in 2018) will need to lean on deceptive coverage schemes to keep opposing passing games in check.
Disguising coverage is so important, especially in today’s NFL. Passing games are more evolved and the rules are more tilted in the offense’s favor than ever before. Asking your cornerbacks to play press-man coverage on 40-50 snaps every week is a recipe for lots of penalties and big plays. Outsmarting the offense is, therefore, crucial.
Well-designed coverage disguises can lead to turnovers and defensive touchdowns. They can result in sacks if the quarterback becomes indecisive or slow to process and react in response. They can also keep the quarterback from changing to the best play to beat the coverage at the line of scrimmage pre-snap.
James Bettcher showed the ability to effectively disguise his intentions throughout the 2018 season.
On the below play against the Redskins, the Giants appeared to be playing Cover-3 (2 cornerbacks and 1 deep safety, each responsible for a deep third of the field).
The Redskins were running an RPO (Run-Pass Option) play with a slant route over the middle. The quarterback here believed he had this route open based on the initial cover-3 look as well as the middle linebacker (circled below) attacking the line of scrimmage in response to the run action.
But the Giants weren’t playing true cover-3. They were playing cover-3 robber, with the deep safety sinking into the middle of the field to take away any intermediate in-breaking routes.
The ball was tipped at the line, but you can see that it likely would have been intercepted (or at least broken up) by the deep safety anyway.
The disguise led to 6 points on this play.
Below, you can see an example of Bettcher’s combination man-zone coverages. On this play against the Jaguars, the Giants were playing man free on the outside and in the slot against the 3 wide receivers in the game.
In the middle, however, they played zone. The three inside defenders were there to account for the running back and tight end in the middle.
This is a look we see often from Bettcher. Lock up your best cover defenders on the opposing three best receivers and use your three linebackers/safeties in the middle to account for the tight end and running back.
This look isn’t quite as fancy of a disguise as the cover-3 robber look. It’s a subtler form of deception, because this is similar to how the Giants would align pre-snap if they were playing true cover-3 zone across the board. Playing different coverages out of the same look prevents the offense from being able to anticipate and get into the best play quite as often.
Bettcher doesn’t just disguise out of single-high safety looks, though. The below play is out of a two-deep safety alignment. Just about any coverage was possible out of this look. They could have played quarters, cover-2, 2-man, rotated to a single-high look, etc.
Bettcher chose to play man coverage to one side and zone to the other. To the top of the screen, you can see the man-to-man matchups with the safety rolling over the top. This was 2-man coverage.
To the other side, the Giants played quarters (Two deep defenders responsible for the two deep quarters of the field, and the 2nd-level defenders playing zone underneath).
The pass rush got to the quarterback quickly on this play. However, you can see how this coverage was tough to decipher pre-snap and took a few beats to decipher post-snap.
The more uncertainty a quarterback faces, the less likely he is to be able to make a successful anticipatory throw in the face of pressure. The best option on the above play would have been to hit the shallow crosser quickly. But at the snap, the congestion in the middle of the field and the unclear coverage look prevented the quarterback from being able to trust what he was seeing.
To play in James Bettcher’s system, every player needs to be versatile. The more Swiss-Army Knives he has at his disposal, the greater his ability is to successfully use disguise. This approach explains a lot of the Giants’ offseason decisions in constructing their defense.
Our preference would be to see Bettcher have his corners play a little more press man in 2019. Disrupting the offense with jams and re-routes of receivers at the line of scrimmage is critical to throwing off the timing of today’s passing offenses. Just watch the Patriots 2018 postseason if you don’t believe us.
That being said, jamming at the line often telegraphs the coverage to the quarterback. Which is probably why Bettcher chooses to lean more on providing off-coverage looks pre-snap. It makes it easier to disguise.
Many are writing the Giants off in 2019. The offense could certainly be in trouble given the status of their suddenly depleted wide receiving corps. There are also big question marks around the defense. Bettcher will be playing with lots of young and inexperienced defenders this season. If grasping a complex scheme proves to be too difficult for the kids, the big-blue doubters could be proven right.