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Film Study: Ponder vs. Packers '3 Cloud'

National Football Post

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Click here for the entire Inside the Playbook series.

Click here for my chalkboard breakdown on a 3-Man rush scheme I trust.

When do you call for a 3-Man rush? That’s a question I get asked often (especially when it fails). However, you can see production as a defensive play caller when you rush three and drop eight if you play the technique of the scheme in the secondary. With the Vikings and Packers matching up again this Saturday night at Lambeau in the NFC Wild Card, let’s go back to the All-22 tape and take a look at Christian Ponder vs. the Packers “3 Cloud” defense. A crucial play that set up the Vikings’ game winning FG and earned Leslie Frazier’s team a playoff ticket.

Packers vs. Vikings
Personnel: Posse (3WR-1TE-1RB)
Formation: Doubles Slot
Route: “999” (4 Verticals)
Defensive Scheme: 3 Cloud

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What is 3-Cloud? Think Cover 3 (3-deep) with a 5-under look. From the All-22 cut-up, we can see the Packers showing Cover 2 (2-deep) at the line of scrimmage. Both CBs will bail to play the outside 1/3 technique with FS Morgan Burnett dropping to the deep middle of the field. Underneath, Green Bay has to two “buzz” players, a LB in the “middle hook” and two “cloud” defenders that will sink (vs. No.1) and attack any throw to the flat.

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With the Packers now showing the 3-Cloud look, the Vikings run the “999” concept. Think 4 Verticals out of a 3x1 alignment with No.3 (TE) working back to the open (weak) side of the formation. And just like targeting Cover 2, the Vikings are sending two verticals at CB Sam Shields in the outside 1/3.

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This is where the Packers run into issues. Because Ponder has time to step up in the pocket (allowing deep vertical concepts to develop), the Vikings can put stress on Shields in the outside 1/3 and test the discipline of rookie Casey Hayward (cloud defender).  With no threat in the flat, Hayward must sink to get depth under the No.1 receivers (Michael Jenkins) and Shields needs to stay square over the top of No.2. That allows the CB to drive on both verticals.

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From the end zone angle we can see the hole for Jenkins to sit down. That’s why the No.1 WR in the “999” concept stems his release hard and to the outside. With Hayward “squatting” (term for CB sitting and not gaining depth) and Shields having to transition (open the hips, re-direct) from the deep 1/3, Ponder has an open target.  Those are technique errors for the defense.

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Here is the finish from Jenkins. Get the feet down, move the sticks and continue to the drive to win the game.

Will the Packers come back to this coverage Saturday night?

The tape is the best tool for game prep in the NFL. What worked? What can you improve? How can you target the opposition?  I do trust the 3-man rush in certain game situations. However, I could see the Packers playing more 2-deep (Cover 2, 2-Man) or using pressure to force the ball out vs. Ponder and the Vikings in 3rd and 11-plus this Saturday night.

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