Craig: Playing linebacker in Cover 2 should include wings or cape

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 19, 2012 - 6:35 AM

The Vikings' defense is designed to have a freak or two in middle.

hide

Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune file

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

When the Vikings play Cover 2, the middle linebacker is called the "middle-read" defender. He isn't asked to channel his inner Deion and run stride for stride with a wide receiver 30 yards downfield. It only looks that way sometimes.

"It's not like I'm flipping my hips [like a cornerback] and taking the guy man-to-man all over the field," Vikings strong-side linebacker Chad Greenway said. "If I was that fast, I'd be playing receiver."

With about an 8-yard head start, the middle-read defender drops as deep as the deepest receiver in his zone and simply tries to create a difficult angle for the quarterback. Only it's not that simple when you're 250 pounds or so.

"Basically, you're trying to buy air time on the pass," middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley said. "If the quarterback has to loft the ball over you rather than throw a line drive, that's air time for the safeties [who are playing two-deep coverage] to come make a play on the ball."

All three of the Vikings' starting linebackers have some middle-read duties in Cover 2 calls. Brinkley plays it the few times that it's called in the base defense (three linebackers). Greenway plays it in the dime (one linebacker). And Erin Henderson plays it in the nickel (two linebackers).

Henderson drew unwanted attention to the Cover 2 scheme when the Colts' Reggie Wayne beat it badly for a 30-yard touchdown with 7 seconds left in the first half of the Vikings' 23-20 loss at Indianapolis on Sunday. Henderson's mistake was subtle, but illuminates just how ridiculously difficult it is to play linebacker in a pass-crazed league that has even rookie quarterbacks operating out of an empty backfield with four- and five-wide sets.

Henderson was 8 yards behind the line of scrimmage and dropping when the Wayne touchdown play began. Wayne was the near receiver in a tight two-bunch set to the right. Cornerback Antoine Winfield was in press coverage and shadowed Wayne 10 yards downfield before releasing him inside to Henderson.

Henderson was doing everything right in his deep drop until he reached the 9-yard line. That's when he hesitated and sneaked a peak toward quarterback Andrew Luck. That's a no-no, especially when the guy running full speed at you is the 15th-leading receiver in NFL history.

"I got nosy," said Henderson, "and he kept running."

The slight separation was all Luck needed. His dart split safeties Mistral Raymond and Harrison Smith at the goal line.

Coach Leslie Frazier, a Tony Dungy disciple and therefore a huge proponent of the Cover 2 scheme that's considered antiquated by some critics, defended the scheme.

"You do it because you've done it enough to where you know that the linebacker can make the play, along with safety help," Frazier said. "And we got neither in that instance."

Vikings linebackers coach Mike Singletary is a Hall of Famer and one of the best middle linebackers in league history. When Buddy Ryan, his defensive coordinator with the Bears in the early-to-mid 1980s, perfected his famed quarterback-crushing "46" defense during Chicago's Super Bowl-winning season in 1985, Singletary was ahead of his time as a middle linebacker who was sometimes asked to play deep middle coverage.

"The key is trusting your reads and not getting fooled on the play-fake," Singletary said. "The offense is always trying to fool you, get you to hesitate so the receiver can get by you. That's tough for a linebacker to do. Buddy originally designed the '46' as a nickel defense with a safety playing in the middle. But then he figured he could do it with regular people at linebacker."

Of course, calling Singletary "regular" is a monumental stretch. Unless "regular" means eight-time All-Pro and two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Few have the skills he had. Or the skills of a Brian Urlacher, who made the Bears' Cover 2 scheme dominant in his prime.

"It's a different game now for all linebackers," said Frazier, who played cornerback in the Bears' "46" defense. "Even 10 years ago, you were looking for guys who were in-the-box linebackers.

''Today, those guys have almost gone by the wayside, whether you're a Cover 2 team or not. Those linebackers, particularly the outside backers, are pretty much a hybrid safety/linebacker."

That's why the Vikings made Greenway one of the highest-paid 4-3 outside linebackers in NFL history when they signed him to a five-year, $41 million deal with $20 million guaranteed before last season.

"It's definitely not easy," Greenway said. "But it's just part of the job description in today's NFL."

Mark Craig mark.craig@startribune.com

  • related content

  • Mark Craig's NFL power rankings

    Tuesday September 18, 2012

    MARK CRAIG'S POWER RANKINGS1. 49ers (2-0)2. Texans (2-0)3. Falcons (2-0)4. Cardinals (2-0)5. Chargers (2-0)6. Packers (1-1)7. Seahawks (1-1)8. Eagles (2-0)9....

  • Souhan: Replacement refs are bad for business

    Wednesday September 19, 2012

    Roger Goodell stating that replacement officials can handle the job is an indictment of his credibility.

  • Playing in a fantasy world

    Wednesday September 19, 2012

    Fantasy football players come in all shapes, sizes and genders. What draws them in? The competition, money and camaraderie.

  • Vikings add tackle to practice squad

    Tuesday September 18, 2012

    Troy Kropog gives the team depth on the offensive line. Receiver Tori Gurley was cut.

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Tennessee 7:25 PM
Jacksonville
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
New York 7:00 PM
Chicago
New Orleans 7:30 PM
Houston
Milwaukee 9:00 PM
Sacramento
Oklahoma City 9:30 PM
Golden State
Florida 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Colorado 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Toronto 6:00 PM
Carolina
Washington 6:00 PM
Columbus
Anaheim 6:30 PM
Montreal
St. Louis 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Edmonton 9:30 PM
San Jose
St Thomas (TX) 11:30 AM
Rice
Stony Brook 6:00 PM
Canisius
Temple 6:00 PM
Delaware
FIU 6:00 PM
Long Island
Lehigh 6:00 PM
Quinnipiac
South Alabama 6:00 PM
Richmond
Seton Hall 6:00 PM
South Florida
Ga Southern 6:00 PM
Stetson
Yale 6:00 PM
Vermont
Cleveland State 6:00 PM
Virginia
Wright State 6:00 PM
Western Carolina
Nicholls 6:30 PM
Louisiana Tech
Morgan State 6:30 PM
Rider
Idaho State 6:30 PM
South Dakota St
Oakland City 7:00 PM
Austin Peay
Eureka 7:00 PM
Bradley
Appalachian St 7:00 PM
Charlotte
Connecticut 7:00 PM
Duke
Southern Miss 7:00 PM
Jackson State
Coastal Carolina 7:00 PM
Ole Miss
Montana State 7:30 PM
South Dakota
LSU 8:00 PM
UAB
Ohio 8:05 PM
Evansville
CS-Dominguez 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Walla Walla 9:00 PM
Idaho
DePaul 9:00 PM
Oregon State
Nevada 9:00 PM
Pacific
Portland State 9:00 PM
San Francisco
CS-Bakersfield 9:05 PM
Utah State
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Niagara 14 1st Half 12:15
Cleveland State 8
High Point 9 1st Half 15:19
VA Commonwealth 9
Towson 10:30 AM
Wake Forest
Presbyterian 11:00 AM
Charlotte
Chicago State 11:00 AM
Bradley
Northwestern Coll 11:05 AM
Drake
Vanderbilt 12:00 PM
Marquette
Temple 4:00 PM
Howard
Southern Miss 4:00 PM
Ole Miss
UMBC 4:00 PM
Rider
Miami-Florida 5:00 PM
UCLA
St Mary-KS 5:00 PM
South Dakota
William & Mary 5:00 PM
Wofford
Troy 5:30 PM
Evansville
Loyola Marymount 6:00 PM
USC
St Francis-PA 6:00 PM
Duquesne
Indiana-Southeast 6:00 PM
IUPUI
Delaware State 6:00 PM
Detroit
Tenn Temple 6:00 PM
Gardner-Webb
West Virginia St 6:00 PM
Radford
Fairfield 6:00 PM
Seton Hall
Dartmouth 6:00 PM
New Hampshire
Ball State 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Jacksonville 6:00 PM
Tennessee St
Trine 6:00 PM
Western Mich
Tenn Tech 6:30 PM
Lipscomb
Samford 7:00 PM
Tulane
New Orleans 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Incarnate Word 7:00 PM
TX-Pan American
Ark-Little Rock 7:00 PM
South Dakota St
CS-Northridge 7:30 PM
Northern Ariz
Santa Clara 8:00 PM
Oregon
(19) Oklahoma St 8:00 PM
Weber State
Washington 8:00 PM
San Diego State
Cal Poly 8:00 PM
New Mexico
(10) Louisville 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pmX41-28
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pmX42-10
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit NoonX17-3
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo NoonX17-16
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay NoonX19-13 ot
Nov 2 - vs. Washington NoonX29-26
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago NoonX21-13
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay NoonX24-21
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina NoonX31-13
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets NoonX30-24 ot
Dec 14 - at Detroit 3:25 pmX16-14
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is your favorite pro sports coach in the Twin Cities?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close