Bombers 101: Understanding Richie Hall’s Base Pass Coverages

“Soft-zone.”

“Prevent defence.”

These terms have long followed longtime CFL and current Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive coordinator Richie Hall.

Correctly or incorrectly, those are very circumstantial, oversimplified descriptions of the base concepts of Coach Hall’s pattern-matching defence. The reality, though, is that it can be soft as a 5-deep, 3-under zone at its most basic, but can also be a tight cover-0 at its most aggressive. It all depends on the routes of the receivers.

Pattern-matching is the modern, aggressive way of playing zone-coverage. Defensive backs take zone-drops while reading the receivers, and depending on the responsibility of the defender and the route(s) of the receiver(s) he’s reading, the defender’s coverage becomes either man-to-man or zone-coverage. On most plays, a portion of the defensive backs will be in man-coverage, while the others are in zone. It’s all dependent on what the offence does.

“M.O.D.” coverage: 

In short, Coach Hall’s base pass defence is a coverage concept called “man-only-deep”. In Canadian football, “M.O.D.” is a 5-deep zone defence with cover-4 rules that becomes man-coverage when opposing receivers run vertical routes. A “vertical” is described as any route that breaks past linebacker depth (5-9 yards). Each defender is reading 1-2 receivers that will dictate his coverage. If the receiver that he’s reading runs vertically past linebacker depth, the defender becomes responsible for playing him in man-coverage, whether he ends up running a go, post, corner, hook, dig, etc. Defenders will assume their zone responsibilties if their receiver declares a shallow route (i.e. drag, slant, arrow, etc.) before reaching linebacker depth of 5-9 yards. Defenders will “number” receivers on each side of the field from outside-in, making the widest receiver the no. 1, the middle receiver the no. 2, and the most inside receiver the no. 3.

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-The MIKE is the middle-hook defender with eyes on the quarterback. If he hears an “under” call, he’s responsible for “walling off” any shallow route coming across the middle from the side of which he received the call.

-The WILL is the hook-curl defender to the short-side of the field. If the running back is aligned to the short-side, he will take a more shallow zone-drop with eyes on the ‘back.

-Whether he’s the aligned to the short-side (boundary) or the wide-side (field), the free safety is always reading through the no. 3 receiver. If no. 3 goes vertical, he becomes the safety’s responsibility in man-coverage. Fortunately, though, the safety should have outside help on any routes that break outwards to the sidelines. If no. 3 runs a shallow route, the safety gets his eyes to the quarterback and is free to look downhill for any inside-breaking route to rob.

-A change Coach Hall has implemented in 2018 is that he always has the SAM follow the no. 3 receiver regardless of whether he aligns to the boundary or the field. If no. 3 runs any sort of quick out-route or hitch, the SAM is responsible for matching 3’s release (see Maurice Leggett in clip below). If no. 3 goes shallow-inside (i.e. drag, etc.), the SAM will pass him off to the inside linebackers before dropping to his hook-curl zone. The SAM cannot let no. 3 go vertical up the seam uncontested, and will respect no. 3’s vertical stem before passing him off to the free safety and dropping to his hook-curl landmark. If the MIKE linebacker is sent on a blitz, the SAM has the same initial read on the no. 3 but has to run with him if he runs an immediate shallow route across the middle.

-The cornerbacks must first get their eyes to the no. 1 receiver. If he stems vertically, the corner is man-to-man on him. He wants to maintain outside-leverage in order to funnel the receiver to his inside help from the halfback. If no. 1 runs a shallow route (slant, hitch, speed-out) the corner will get his eyes to the quarterback and will not break on no. 1’s route to make the tackle and limit yards-after-catch until the QB aims his front shoulder to the receiver. Meanwhile, he’ll continue to sink using soft-squat technique, providing underneath help to the side-lines for any corner-route going over his head from an inside receiver. (See CB Kevin Fogg on play below).

-The halfbacks are reading the no. 2 receiver to the no. 1 receiver. If no. 2 pushes vertically, he becomes the halfback’s responsibility in man-coverage. The half needs to maintain inside leverage as he’s not guaranteed to have safety help, therefore he must attempt to funnel the receiver to his outside help from the corner-back. If no. 2 goes shallow, the half assumes a deep 1/4 zone and must get his eyes to the no. 1 receiver, bracketing him with the corner and creating a double-team.

Strengths: This coverage has five deep defenders regardless of what the offence does, while the man-coverage on deep-routes allows for tighter coverage and prohibits defenders from being pulled out of their zones, creating “soft spots”. This coverage allows the free safety to be heavily involved in the run defence, as shown by Taylor Loffler’s team-leading 75 tackles in 2017, and if the no. 3 is shallow, the safety becomes a free-roamer over the middle to rob any in/over/dig-routes.

Weaknesses: Underneath coverage is very susceptible to being overloaded. Cornerbacks can be left on islands on deep-routes, and are the only defensive backs on the field with no underneath help (quick hitches to the no. 1 will always be open). Defensive backs are in disadvantageous positions to defend 8-to-12-yard hooks, often being caught in the transition from deep 1/4 zone to man-coverage.

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Trap” coverage: 

Every defence that runs cover-4 “M.O.D.” will also run trap-coverage. The 5-yard-out is the number one challenge for all defensive coordinators who run cover-4 concepts to find ways to cover, and trap-coverage (also called “Palms” or “Cathy” coverage) is the best way to fool offences into thinking the flat is wide open before a cornerback emerges and capitalizes on the throw.

In trap-coverage, the corner is reading the no. 2 receiver while using soft-squat technique (sometimes the Bombers will align their corner slightly deeper to give him more of a flat-food read). At the snap, he needs to start sinking deep to disguise the coverage as “M.O.D.”, which will hopefully convince the quarterback into thinking the flat will be open. If no. 2 runs a quick-out, which is a common “M.O.D.” killer (but the perfect route for trap-coverage), the corner will break forward and should be in good position for an interception.

If no. 2 runs a shallow inside-breaking route, the corner will then get his eyes to the no. 1 receiver, and is free to jump any route from him as well. If no. 2 goes vertical, he becomes the deep defenders’ responsibility, and the corner needs to immediately turn his eyes back in front of him to the no. 1.

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-The halfbacks are also reading the no. 2 receiver. If no. 2 goes vertical, the halfback will assume a deep 1/4 zone. He essentially becomes man-on-man on the no. 2 with outside-leverage, but has inside help from the safety, creating a bracket/double-team.  If no. 2 runs any sort of shallow route, the halfback must immediately get his eyes to the no. 1. If no. 1 runs a go-route, the halfback needs to be overtop of him.

-The safety will rotate over to the boundary at the snap. If no. 2 stems vertically, the safety keeps inside-leverage and double-team him with the halfback. The safety should be in good position to make a play on the ball on any hook or inside-breaking route (dig, post, etc). If no. 2 runs a shallow-route, the safety will drop into a deep 1/4 zone with his eyes on the quarterback, and needs to put himself in a position to get overtop of a possible seam- or post-route from the no. 3 to the field.

-The MIKE linebacker has a middle read zone. He needs to gain more depth than his typical middle-hook zone, and will open his hips to the field-side receivers. The MIKE is responsible for carrying any deep route deep-crosser over the middle from the no. 3, as the safety has been rotated over to the boundary.

-The WILL has his usual hook-curl zone if the no. 2 receiver runs any shallow-inside or vertical route, but is also responsible for matching any quick out-route from the no. 2. This is designed to trick the quarterback into thinking his receiver has outside-leverage, and can be thrown open to the sidelines. That’s where the corner comes in to snag the interception.

-Nothing changes for the SAM and field-side defensive backs. They are playing “M.O.D.” coverage and have the same reads and assignments. The only difference for the SAM is that he needs to carry any vertical route from the no. 3 a little bit longer in order for the MIKE to get enough depth to overtake the receiver.

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Strengths: Excellent counter for defences who are getting abused by speed-outs against “M.O.D.”, and relieves stress on the underneath linebacker zones while maintaining four deep defenders.

Weaknesses: Need to get pressure on the quarterback. Hi-Lo route concepts are easy trap-beaters. Linebackers can’t afford to bite on play-action. Backside defensive backs won’t necessarily have safety help against vertical routes.

Thoughts: 

Trap-coverage is only one of many variations Coach Hall has of his base cover-4 “man-only-deep” pass coverage. As does any defensive coordinator, Hall has a number of exotic wrinkles he can tag onto his base coverage to counter any adjustments the offence is making, and is obviously sure to mix in a number of separate coverages — cover-0, cover-1, 2-man under, quarters, etc. — and blitzes in order to keep offences off balance.

In my opinion, there are a number of reasons that Coach Hall takes a lot of fire from a play-calling perspective. For one, I think the Bombers run far too many zone-blitzes with their inside linebackers. The CFL is no longer a blitz-happy league, as defensive coordinators are noting how quick quarterbacks are releasing the football for short, consistent gains. The league’s best defences (Calgary, Saskatchewan, etc.) are consistently dropping 8+ defenders in pass-coverage.

When the Bombers do send pressure, I think there needs to be more variance in the blitzes and coverages being played in the secondary — quarterbacks seem to pick apart the underneath zones when the Bombers don’t pair their blitzes with man-coverage. Although Coach Hall’s blitz package becomes exponentially more exotic as the season progresses, I think there needs to be even more chaos (i.e. defensive ends dropping into pass-coverage while linebackers replace them in the pass-rush) in his blitz schemes. Trap-coverage is all about pressuring the quarterback with unique blitzes and forcing him to make a poor decision — this doesn’t happen when linebackers are blitzing from 6 yards deep.

Most importantly, I think Coach Hall needs to let his defensive backs play more aggressive. Seeing as “M.O.D.” can become a tight cover-0 against certain route combinations, there is really no room for error for defensive backs. Instead of playing cover-4 with a 10-yard-cushion on 2nd-&-10, get Adam Bighill and Taylor Loffler back deep as safeties and mix in some two-high pattern-matching coverages. Put your top-notch group of defensive backs in a position to take away throws in the flat while trusting their skills to prevent any deep-routes with the help of two safeties.

Especially considering its used by other defensive coordinators around the league, Coach Hall’s base cover-4 “M.O.D.” scheme is a good foundation for a CFL pass defence. It’s not “prevent defence”, and its an aggressive coverage as much as its a “soft-zone coverage”, but there are obvious flaws (which is the case in every coverage scheme). Fortunately, though, these flaws can be limited with the inclusion of good situational play-calling and adjustments.

That is where much room for improvement lies.

Five Unsuccessful Offensive Plays that Should Have Sealed Bombers’ Win in BC

You can blame Richie Hall for allowing another 300-yard passing game. You can blame the defence for taking countless 15-yard penalties. You can blame all the missed tackles.

You wouldn’t be wrong. All of these surely contributed to the Bombers’ full-blown collapse at BC Place, resulting in a 20-17 loss to the Lions after leading 17-0 at halftime.

Ultimately, though, this game is completely on Paul LaPolice’s offence.

Upon kicking a field goal with 8:56 left in the second quarter to make it 17-0, the Bombers had eight more possessions to put together one more scoring drive — just one which would have likely been the nail in the coffin for a BC-Lion team low on confidence. On seven of those drives, the Bombers either entered field-goal range or came within, at most, two first-downs of getting there.

Quarter Start Conclusion Result
2 W-27 BC-52 Punt
2 W-28 W-27 Punt
3 B-51 BC-1 Turnover on downs
3 W-48 W-48 Punt
3 W-27 W-53 Interception
4 W-35 BC-7 Turnover on downs
4 W-45 W-45 Punt
4 W-54 W-46 INT

Had even one of these drives turned into points, the Bombers probably would have won the game. It didn’t matter if it had been the first-drive on the above list or the second-last one.

But the Bombers got in their own way, enabling the Lions to mount what should have been an impossible comeback. Regarded as the best offensive coordinator in the league in many circles, Coach LaPolice called his worst game of his current tenure in blue and gold, failing to take advantage of eight different opportunities to win the game.

Here are five plays unsuccessful offensive plays in the game that would have sealed the win for the Bombers had they been properly executed:

1. Darvin Adams’ second-quarter drop

After Justin Medlock’s second-quarter field goal gave the Bombers a 17-0 lead, Travis Lulay and the Lions’ offence went two-and-out, giving the Bombers a golden opportunity to deflate the Lions with a third-consecutive scoring possession.

After advancing the football to the Lions’ 52, Lapolice called a head-scratching double reverse run to Rashaun Simonise — who, at 6’5″, is not the most nimble athlete on the team — on first-down, which was limited to a one-yard gain. Thankfully, though, Nichols delivered a strike on 2nd-&-9 down the seam to Darvin Adams to move the chains, putting the Bombers at the 37-yard-line with a fresh set of downs.

Except he didn’t. The ball went right through the hands of the typically sure-handed receiver, forcing Coach O’Shea to send out his punt team in opponent territory.

2. Turnover on downs from BC’s 2-yard-line

At this point in the game, the Lions’ offence had hit rock-bottom. Prior to halftime, horrible clock management resulted in the Lions coming away with zero points after driving the ball to the Bombers’ 5-yard-line, and then on their first possession of the second half, they turned the ball over on downs in their own territory.

The Bombers took over at the Lions 52, with yet another opportunity to ice the game. And they did everything right, driving the ball down to a 3rd-down play from the 2-yard-line.

This is where the game changed.

For starters, I have no problem with the Bombers’ decision to go for it. According to Coach O’Shea post-game, the Bombers were 25/26 in short-yardage last season, and had supreme success in short-yardage the week prior against BC.

There is, however, a problem with the play-call. Coach LaPolice gave backup QB Chris Streveler two designed shotgun runs from the inside the 3, denying Andrew Harris a golden opportunity to notch a hat-trick on the night.

The third-down call — a shotgun quarterback dive — was particularly surprising, as the Bombers ran the exact same play last week for a touchdown, and BC had all week to watch it on tape. LaPolice is so successful because he adds new tricks and looks every week; to run the exact same play in the same situation — against the same team exactly one week later — is not great play-calling.

3. Turnover-on-downs from BC’s 7-yard-line

This is the same story as the Bombers’ first turnover-on-downs of the night.

Once again, I have no issue with the decision to go for it on 3rd-&-1; the Lions had just made it 17-10, and the Bombers have the best short-yardage crew in the league. But, once, again, LaPolice went back to a play that worked for the Bombers last week against the Lions (Streveler went around the edge for a 26-yard romp on 3rd-&-1 in week four) and expected it to work again.

After last week, however, the Lions know first-hand that the Bombers have a tendency to run outside on short-yardage, and they were ready for it. Odell Willis penetrated into the backfield almost immediately, bringing down Streveler for a 3-yard loss and the Bombers’s second third-down turnover of the night.

4. Incompletion to Dressler in fourth-quarter

After a great hold from the defence to keep the game 17-10, Nichols and the offence took over at their own 45-yard-line with six minutes left. The Bombers needed to control the clock to give their defence a rest, but chose not to put the ball in Harris’ hands despite the 31-year-old’s 139 rushing yards on the night. Instead, Nichols dropped back to pass on first-down, and it became clear his confidence was shaken, having already thrown a pair of bad interceptions in the game.

Although there was a defender in the face, the Bombers needed Nichols to make this throw. The Bombers would have been in second-down Harris-territory, and it would have helped Nichols’ confidence. They would have been one more first-down away from a game-sealing field goal.

After this incompletion, it became clear that the Bombers were, officially, choking.

5. Late-game interception on throw to Demski 

The game is now 17-17. The Bombers have had seven possessions to get just one field-goal, and have been unsuccessful. But none of that matters now.

They get the ball back after a BC touchdown with 1:50 left to put together a game-winning drive. And not only is there more than enough time, but the drive starts from mid-field after a penalty on the kick-off. The Bombers are a first-down or two away from all their previous miscues and mistakes since 8:56 of the second quarter not mattering in the grand-scheme of things. It is truly an ideal, even dream-type scenario for an offence.

But Andrew Harris did not get the football. Instead, a mentally-shaken Matt Nichols is sacked on first-down, and a second-&-18 throw into traffic is knocked into the air and intercepted — to the surprise of no Bomber fan.

Should Nic Demski have made a better play on the football? Absolutely. But he shouldn’t have even been put in that position, as Andrew Harris and his 10.7 yard-per-carry average should have been putting the Bombers in second-and-manageable.

Ultimately, this poor play-call and execution was one of many offensive blunders in the game that cost the Bombers.

Hall (re)Discovers Winning Formula for Bombers’ Defence

It’s now time to burn the evidence from the Bombers’ week three loss in Hamilton.

With four sacks, three interceptions, and just 105 yards passing from BC Lions’ QB Jonathon Jennings in a 41-19 win on Investors Group Field, its clear that defensive coordinator Richie Hall and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers scrapped their previous defensive approach from the start of the 2018 season, which had resulted in a 1-2 record entering week four.

All season, the Bombers have been running more soft match-coverage (man within a zone-defence) than they ever have under Coach Hall. (You can read more about match-coverage and Hall’s 2018 defensive scheme here). It felt as though Mike O’Shea opted to keep Hall aboard for a third season as long as he still had new ideas to improve the defence, and match-coverage seemed to be it. Mike Reilly’s 408 yards passing, however, sliced this soft coverage in week one, while Jeremiah Masoli and Ti-Cats’ head coach June Jones not only had similar success in week three, but also exposed Hall’s inability to adjust mid-game.

After coaching the Bombers’ defence into the ground against the Tiger-Cats, Hall and his unit bounced back in a major way in week four. Both schematically and in the box score, the Bombers’ defence looked nothing close to the one that was chewed up in Hamilton.

The Bombers’ defence got a fresh start to 2018 by re-visiting the old.

Simply put, Coach Hall went back to what he’s had the most success with in the past in Winnipeg. The Bombers’ defence resembled itself from 2016, but with the addition of a game-changing middle linebacker this time around.

The Bombers almost entirely ditched their match-coverage schemes against BC, instead re-introducing themselves to their spot-drop zone looks that made them the no. 1 ball-hawking defence in the league two seasons ago. There was a great variation and disguise in the combinations of boundary and field coverages within their patented cover-4 looks, giving Jennings more confusion at the line of scrimmage prior to the snap.

Most notably, after Masoli and the Ti-Cats completed pass after pass in the wide-side flat last week, the Bombers finally deployed coverages with field corner Tyneil Cooper in the flat to take these easy quick completions away — a simple change that should have been made at half-time against Hamilton.

Rather than blitzing his inside linebackers from depth all game like Hall has a tendency to do, the Bombers barely blitzed Jennings at all this week. Instead, Adam Bighill and Jovan Santos-Knox spent the game in pass-coverage, offering inside help for the Bombers’ flat defenders.

The early returns for having Bighill roam the middle of the field were quite good: two interceptions (one for a touchdown) for the 29-year-old, as well as the opportunity for the Bombers’ defensive backs to play closer to the line of scrimmage and far more aggressively.

Having both inside linebackers in pass-coverage paid extra dividends against the Lions’ 3-step pass offence. For reference, look at the effect of having both inside linebackers in coverage against a quick-throw concept on the play below. (Watch Bighill, no. 4, on the top-half of the screen).

The Lions wasted a large portion of their night trying to expose the Bombers’ soft-zone looks with their quick-pass offence, thinking they were going to get the same looks from the defence that they saw on tape in the Hamilton game. But those looks never came, and when they weren’t there, Jennings panicked and took terrible sacks that should never be surrendered.

Although its important to consider the anemia of the Lions’ offence, the Bombers’ defence looked especially good on Saturday night. The defensive line got pressure with only four pass-rushers, the defensive backs challenged passes, and the entire unit contributed to four interceptions. Most importantly, though, was that Coach Hall overrode his scheme from last week, taking a completely different approach into the BC game, while also mixing up his in-game play-calling to yield successful results.

This unit still has plenty of room for improvement under Richie Hall, but week four was certainly a step in the right direction.

As shown in the past two years, Hall’s schemes are quite flawed, but there should be enough talent on this defence to delay a coaching change until the end of the season, which may be the best-case scenario.

But, at least for one more week, there are still signs of life for this defence under the direction of Richie Hall.

Bombers’ Defensive Coaching Hits Rock-Bottom in Steel-Town

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers do not lack talent on the defensive side of the football.

This is a team that added several highly-coveted free agents this off-season such as Adam Bighill and Chandler Fenner to an already promising core featuring Chris Randle, Maurice Leggett, and Taylor Loffler.

But after watching Hamilton Tiger-Cats quarterback Jeremiah Masoli pick them apart to the tune of 369 passing yards at a 76-percent clip — just two weeks after Edmonton QB Mike Reilly went for 408 yards in week one — it’s undeniable that there is, however, a glaring issue that is holding back this group of talent.

A coaching issue.

Defensive coordinator Richie Hall has long been notorious for his soft-zone, bend-but-don’t-break defence. He doesn’t don’t want touchdown drives to come easy. The philosophy revolves around offences having to play disciplined and patient, convert 2nd-downs, and have to put together 9-plus play drives.

The problem is that is has been easy for opposing offences. And they are putting together 9-play touchdown drives.

At ease.

Week three’s 31-17 loss to the Tiger-Cats should be remembered as the lowest moment yet for Coach Hall’s tenure with the blue and gold. And this is the same coordinator who has given up a combined 995 offensive yards in the Bombers’ last two West Semi-Final appearances.

This defensive performance was especially bad because the Ti-cats continuously did the exact same thing over and over again. The fans knew what was coming, the players knew what was coming, and Hall, too, knew what was coming.

But there were no adjustments, even though they would have been so simple and minor. There was a stubbornness in the play-calling that cannot be overlooked.

Ti-Cats head coach and offensive coordinator June Jones, who’s untraditional 7-man protection scheme has been garnering attention around the league, didn’t do anything groundbreaking. He didn’t reinvent the wheel. Six-offensive linemen sets have never been the base of any offence for a reason. Regarding Jones’ play-calling during Friday’s contest, it never broke, so he never had to fix it.

With, obviously, a few exceptions, the Ti-Cats really only gave the Bombers three different looks to defend. A six-receiver, empty-backfield protection (which was used to call the same two pass concepts multiple times), a 3×1 formation with 6 offensive linemen and WR Brandon Banks to the backside, and a 4×0 (Quads) formation with, again, 6 offensive linemen.

And they ran the same plays out all three of these formations. Most commonly, however, was their 228 concept. To the wide-side, slot-backs Luke Tasker and Jalen Saunders both run speed-outs, while WR Terrance Toliver runs a fade-route to clear out. The Ti-Cats would tag different routes for Banks to run on the backside.

Here’s the play out of 3×1 and 7-man protection:

Here it is out of empty 3×3:

And here it is out of quads to the field with 7-man protection. In quads (four receivers to one side of the field), the play is slightly different as slot-back Jalen Saunders runs a deeper out, but the concept and Masoli’s reads are pretty much the same.

This is not the only three times the Ti-Cats ran this concept against the Bombers. Not even close. The amount of times Jones called this play, with zero variation (except for maybe the back-side route tagged on for Banks), is upwards of double-digit figures.

Just for fun, here’s another example of the Ti-Cats running this route-combination.

June Jones really just ran a basic a college football run-and-shoot offence in this game. You could hear it in the simple play-calling (thanks to TSN’s live mics) and see it on the field. They have a handful of base concepts and they run them out of three different formations. Aside from this play, the Cats would mix in double hitch-screens to their WRs in their empty set, one bubble screen off an RPO (run-pass-option), and a couple other pass concepts to branch off of their base plays. That, in a nutshell, was their passing offence. It’s all it had to be against Hall’s defence.

It is inexcusable for a professional defensive coordinator to not only draw up the wrong game-plan, but to also not make the needed adjustments when they are so obvious.

How the Bombers Defended

This year, the Bombers are deploying more match-coverage than they ever have.

Match is one of two types of zone-coverage, with the other being spot-drop zone. In spot-drop coverage, which is the old, traditional, reactive type of zone, defenders simply drop to areas of the field, maintaining a healthy balance of reading the quarterback’s eyes and reacting to the receivers. Match-coverage is an aggressive zone defence, where defenders are never covering an empty space. The defenders will drop and then quickly match with the receiver in their zone. They are man-on-man with the receiver until he leaves their zone and the defender can “pass him off” to a teammate. It is, essentially, man-coverage within a zone defence.

Chris Jones’ Saskatchewan Roughriders deploy the most aggressive pass defence in the league with their match-coverage. From a fans’ perspective, it almost always looks like they’re in man-coverage, but that’s only half of the time. Cover-3 match and cover-1 man look very similar, but there’s a difference.

Here’s Saskatchewan running cover-1 man-coverage:

And here’s Saskatchewan running cover-4 match-coverage.

Due to the width of the field making it harder to “pass off” receivers without their being massive holes in between zones, spot-drop zone has long ruled the Canadian game. Match-coverage only really become popular in the CFL once the league implemented drastic changes to the illegal contact rule in 2015, causing dramatic increases in completion-percentages and passing yards. It’s harder than ever to cover receivers in man-on-man, while a zone-defence will get picked apart if quarterbacks and offensive coordinators know its coming. Match-coverage is a healthy balance of the two. Chris Jones and Noel Thorpe were the first two to successfully overhaul their defences into aggressive match-coverage schemes, but there are still many defensive coordinators in the league who’ve yet to go there.

The Bombers have always ran match-coverage in the past with Richie Hall, but it looks to be their base pass-defence in 2018. The problem, however, is that while the Riders are almost always either in press-coverage or close to it when running match-coverage, the Bombers’ defensive backs are coached to give a cushion.

A massive cushion, at that.

Whereas the Riders look like they’re in press-man when the play match-coverage, the Bombers look like they’re in a soft, spot-drop zone.

Hall’s philosophy has always seemed to want to make offence’s have to execute 10-play drives to reach the end-zone, but that doesn’t seem to work when it comes to match-coverage. Or at least it didn’t against Masoli and the Tiger-Cats.

Lack of Adjustments

In all of the above plays in this article, the Bombers are running some variation of cover-4 match. (Against Hamilton’s 3×1 formation, however, they’d double team Banks with Fogg and Randle operating a spot-drop zone to the boundary against one player). As mentioned, the Ti-Cats ran the 228 concept upwards of 10 times — completing it every time — and the Bombers were in the same variation of cover-4 match every…single…time.

June Jones called the same plays over and over again because the Bombers did not adjust.

The Riders’ match-zones are so successful because Chris Jones protects his defensive backs. With four linebackers often on the field, Rider defensive backs are able to play a linear game due to having help deep, inside and underneath. It’s a very aggressive pass-coverage that allows the defensive backs to take risks, align in press-coverage and not have to over-think.

Hall has always been a blitz-happy defensive coordinator with his inside linebackers. The Bombers’ defensive backs do not have the same luxury as the Riders’ due to so often not having as much inside help from linebackers. This is why they’re always giving a large cushion.

With Hamilton often operating with 7-man pass-protection, Hall had the opportunity to take a glorious numerical advantage in the secondary, with potentially 8 defenders on 4 receivers. Instead, Hall continuously blitzed Adam Bighill and Jovan Santos-Knox in attempt to get pressure with 6 pass-rushers against 7 blockers in pass-protection.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work. And with the Bombers playing a soft match-coverage, Masoli had quick completions in the flats all game long.

I am by no means a professional defensive coordinator, but I would have liked to see the Bombers take the numbers advantage in the secondary more often rather than continuously playing into the hands of the Ti-Cats. To me, 8 pass-defenders on 4 receivers sound more advantageous than 6 pass-defenders on 4 receivers with 6 pass-rushers on 7 pass-blockers (especially considering the Bombers weren’t getting pressure either way).

It’s simple math.

The most inexcusable aspect of Hall’s play-calling against the Ti-Cats was him choosing to not adjust his coverages to take away the flats on the wide-side. Hamilton continuously flooded the flats with two receivers, putting field-HB Maurice Leggett in a lose-lose situation.

Field-CB Marcus Sayles spent the entire game in a deep quarter-zone. Never once did the Bombers deploy the rookie in the flats with Leggett deep to counter the Ti-Cats passing concepts. Because of this stubbornness in the play-calling, Masoli and Jalen Saunders had a field-day in the wide-side flat.

It was like this simple adjustment was too obvious to make. And the stubbornness to not make the simple change is inexcusable.

The Bombers have had worse defensive performances in the past three years, and while it was only a week three loss, this is probably rock-bottom for the Richie Hall era in Winnipeg. The stat-sheet might not say so in comparison to other losses, but this was simply the worst defensive game-planning, play-calling and in-game adjusting that I’ve witnessed in a long time.

With that being said, the defence will rebound. Even if it’s always slightly being held back, it could still become a top unit in the league. There is simply too much talent for it not to.

And the Bombers’ defensive coaching staff will make schematic changes. They’ve had success giving offences other looks in the past, and won’t be solely glued to cover-4 match in the future.

But this loss to the Tiger-Cats will always be hard to overlook.