Breaking Down The Cushion

David Welker

St. Louis Rams fans continue to be baffled by the cushion allowed to opposing wide receivers on a weekly basis. But maybe there was a method to the Rams cushion madness.

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All over St. Louis Ram's fans tweets and forum posts, a disgust for the soft coverage played by Rams corners can be seen. Many put the blame for the soft coverage on the corners. While the soft coverage led to easy quick slants, the scheme looked to be developed that way for a reason.

The Rams played a lot of cover 3 on Sunday. The cover 3 allows for some distinct positives. First, it allows teams to stack the box by moving the strong safety down into the box. Against a run-heavy team like the 49ers, adding an extra defender in the box is a necessity. A basic cover three includes these components:

  • Three defenders splitting the top of the defense into thirds.
  • Four underneath players defending the flat, the curl and the middle of the field.
The strong safety plays a pivotal role in the cover 3. In a cover 3, the strong safety is in the box in order to help against the run on the tight end side of the field, and help out in coverage on pass plays. The cover 3 does a good job containing outside runs as the strong safety and the will backer have outside contain. Essentially this defense helped the Rams stop the 49ers ground attack. The Rams limited Frank Gore to just 58 yards on 23 carries. That is a 2.5 yards per carry average. Outside of the 50 yarder Colin Kaepernick popped off, the Rams did a good job containing the quarterback as well.

In the play we are going to be looking at, the Rams come out in cover 3. Janoris Jenkins is on the outside and giving the wideout 7 yards of cushion. Cortland Finnegan is covering the curl to flat and the linebackers are cover the curls and crossing routes in the middle of the field.

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The 49ers have the outside receiver running a 9 route to clear out the corner. Crabtree attacks the zone vertically before breaking it outside replacing the area where the corner used to be.
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As the play progresses, we see Cortland get sucked in trying to make a play. The result is Michael Crabtree gaining position and the outside of the field being left wide open.
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As you can see, Crabtree catches the ball with no one within 5 yards of him. The combination of a good offensive play call, Cortland getting sucked in, and a good throw led to this 20+ yard completion for the 49ers.

While using the cover 3 bit the Rams on this particular play, overall it was a sound strategy that kept the 49ers off the scoreboard. The Rams have laid out a blueprint for every team playing the 49ers: contain the quarterback, stop the run, and don't turn the ball over. Hope you enjoyed this week's breakdown. For more insight, give me a follow on twitter @HawkWayOfLife.

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