Coordinator changes are arguably the most impactful alterations a coaching staff can experience. Scheme adjustments and personal play calling philosophies can vary drastically, even from within the same coaching tree.
The LA Rams have changed defensive coordinators this offseason and today I’m going to attempt to explain the potential differences to you between the coverage schemes of Brandon Staley and Raheem Morris.
Current Los Angeles Chargers head coach and former LA Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley showed a tendency for using a two high shell (two safeties playing deep). From this two high shell, Staley implemented a scheme interchanging Cover 4 and the hybrid Cover 6, which the Rams used more than any other team in NFL.
In a Cover 4 defense, the outside cornerbacks and both safeties split the deep area of the field into four equal quarters, which is why this defense is often called quarters coverage. Three underneath defenders protect the curl/flat areas, as well as the hook zone in the middle of the defense. It is designed to defend against the deep pass or in the red zone, to prevent the opposing quarterbacks from taking a shot in the end zone.
One of the principles of the Cover 4 defense is the ability for the deep defenders to convert their zone coverage into man coverage, as the offensive routes develop down the field. Once wide receivers threaten the quarter defender’s deep zone, they switch from zone to man and will follow the receiver for the duration of the play.
Cover 6 is a combo-coverage, taking principles from both Cover 2 and Cover 4. Imagine a line splitting the defense in half. Now picture one half of the defense playing Cover 2, with one safety covering a deep half of the field, and at the same time, the other side of the defense plays Cover 4, with the cornerback and the safety each taking a quarter. This defense is often called quarters, quarters, half, due to the defensive responsibilities of the secondary.
The quarters side of the coverage is usually designed to play to the field, or through the far hash, while the Cover 2 aspect plays to the boundary (the short side of the field) to lessen the area the single deep defender must patrol. Though this may be the norm, Staley ignored those tendencies and, as seen above, would allow his deep half defender to take the larger zone.
Cover 4 and Cover 6 are very good in preventing deep passes, though they can be beat with certain route combinations, like double posts on the quarters side of the field.
With so many defenders designated for deep zone responsibilities, quarterbacks can take advantage of the flats, hoping a receiver can get a big gain by breaking a tackle or two.
A good rushing team may also find success against these types of defenses due to the lack of defenders in the box. To counteract the inability of this scheme to clog every running lane, Coach Staley would often have the nose tackle “two gap.”
The two gap technique calls for the nose tackle to engage the center and instead of penetrating up field, he must use his leverage to mirror the blocker and defend against the two running gaps on either side of the direct opponent.
These schemes were so well coached (and executed by the players) it vaulted the Rams to the best defense in the league and earned Brandon Staley the Chargers head coaching job.
Now the LA Rams turn to Raheem Morris.
To his credit, the former Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator and interim head coach doesn’t believe inheriting 2020’s first ranked defense creates any additional pressure. “I don’t think it’s pressure, I think it’s more of an opportunity,” said Morris during a February videoconference.
While it has been said the Rams expect to keep many of the concepts that worked so well last season, Coach Morris may incorporate some of the single high safety schemes he used in Atlanta, utilizing a lot of Cover 1 and Cover 3.
Cover 1 is one of, if not the most straight forward defensive notions around. It is a simple man coverage scheme, with the free safety playing a deep middle zone and another defender (in this case the middle linebacker) playing an intermediate zone. The cornerbacks are taught to funnel the wide receivers inside, towards the two zone defenders for additional help.
Cover 3 is a zone defense with the outside cornerbacks and free safety each taking a deep third of the field, with four underneath defenders guarding the curl/flat and hook zones. This defense reached its zenith with the Seattle Seahawks during the days of the Legion of Boom.
Overall, Cover 3 is a very solid defense. It does a good job on the backend limiting deep passes while also protecting the intermediate zones with four players. As with Cover 1, it also allows the defense to play with more people in the box to defend against the run.
Time will tell whether Los Angeles looks like it’s 2020 version or implements more single high safety looks, similar to what Atlanta played last year. No matter the scheme, three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald and two-time All Pro Jalen Ramsey will continue to stifle offensive opposition.
Donald has been dominating in every defense he has played in since being drafted, while Ramsey shined in the Cover 3 scheme while playing under Gus Bradley in Jacksonville. Prior to leading Jacksonville as its head coach, Bradley was an essential part of the aforementioned Legion of Boom as its defensive coordinator.
Morris, a former defensive back in his own right, brings a wealth of experience to the Rams’ defense, as he also has history under Hall of Famer Tony Dungy and that famous Tampa 2.
Versatility could very well be the name of the game on the defensive side of the ball this year. No less should be expected from a coach who was versatile enough to switch from the Falcons wide receivers coach to their secondary coach in the middle of the 2019 season.
What coverages do you think the Rams should play most this season?
This poll is closed
Cover 4 (It worked pretty good last year!)
Cover 6 (If it isn’t broke don’t break it!)
Cover 1 (We have the guys to lock down the opposition!)
Cover 3 (It’s the best of both worlds!)
Cover 9 (What the hell is Cover 9?!?!)