How the Vikings Defense Manipulates the Quarterback

The Vikings are a predominant zone coverage defense that relies heavily on 2-safety looks. However, they do a great job of disguising their intentions with lots of movement before and after the snap. Well-executed disguises can flat out fool the quarterback. At very least, they can prevent the quarterback from getting into the best play at the line of scrimmage. On Derek Carr’s costly interception in the 2nd quarter last Sunday, the Vikings were able to do both.

On this play, Carr used a hard count to try and uncover what the defense would be doing. Minnesota showed good discipline by barely reacting to the count and tipping their hand. Still, it looked to Carr that something fishy was about to happen. From our perspective, it seemed that Carr was eyeing the deep safety to his left, Anthony Harris (#41) stacked over safety Jayron Kearse (#27), who was on the line of scrimmage.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

A stack is generally a blitz indicator. Also note safety Harrison Smith’s positioning on the other side of the field. He was a little deeper than Harris, and it looked like he was making sure to get depth so he could more easily become the single-high safety in the middle of the field at the snap.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

To Carr, this was a single-high blitz look. Based on the route combination he would eventually change the play to, he seemed to be anticipating something like a 3-under 3-deep coverage (meaning 3 defenders responsible for the deep thirds of the field, and 3 defenders responsible for the underneath zones) with Jayron Kearse blitzing.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Focus on the underneath zone to Carr’s right. If that linebacker was indeed the only defender in that area, two “stick” routes to his side would be a great way to attack. Carr changed the play and called for this route combination.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Whether or not the Vikings actually changed their coverage with Carr’s audible, the disguise was set. Carr thought they would be playing one defense, but it turned out that they were playing another. In fact, they were playing cover-2 with safeties Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris splitting the field in two instead of rotating to single-high.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Cover-2 calls for 5 underneath defenders to cover the width of the field instead of the 3 that Carr was anticipating. The double-stick route combination can easily be taken away as a result.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Carr looked to the outside first, but that route was taken away by cornerback Trae Waynes, who was sitting in the flat.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Carr then turned to the inside stick route. But it was being undercut by linebacker Eric Wilson.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

Carr locked onto this route, though. He looked a bit caught off guard by the way he lost his feet and throwing base. He ultimately made the bad decision to force the pass, trying to throw it high over the undercutting Williams, but the ball sailed. Carr should have just thrown it away and lived to play another day.

Below you can see it all play out.

And here is the throw from the end zone angle:Carr INT EZ (New)Top to bottom, the Vikings have a lot of good things going for them on defense. They now have a secondary that has been playing together in Mike Zimmer’s system for half a decade. They play well together. They communicate. They read and react well to route combinations as a unit. They combine scheme and disguise, as shown above. They will be a tough opponent for any offense in 2019.

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