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Anatomy of a Play

Anatomy of defensive coordinator James Bettcher's schemes

6-13118.jpg's John Schmeelk breaks down the varied schemes of new defensive coordinator James Bettcher:

The Giants have a new defensive coordinator in James Bettcher. He was a very creative and aggressive coach when he ran the Cardinals' multiple formation scheme. According to Pro Football Focus, last season he blitzed 37% of the time, the fifth-highest rate in the league. He was over 40% the prior two seasons (47% in 2015), and had the highest blitz rate those years.

When you blitz at such a high rate, faking pressure can become a big part of your defensive package. You might speed up a quarterback or influence an offensive call if they think you're blitzing. If the offense is set up to counter a blitz that never comes, it gives the defense a great advantage.

This first play is one such example:

The Formation


The 49ers have it 3rd and 9 at the Cardinals 47-yard line. Look at this front the Cardinals are showing. The Cardinals have only one traditional defensive lineman, Pierre Olsen, in the game and he is lined up in the A gap between the guard and center. SAM linebacker and also nickel pass rusher Kareem Martin is lined up next to him over right tackle.  Pass rushing linebacker Haason Reddick is standing up outside of the left tackle, next to Martin. Hybrid rusher Chandler Jones is standing up outside the tight end to the left of the formation. No one is covering the center, left guard, or even the left tackle. Deone Bucannon, a converted safety playing linebacker, has crept up just outside of the left tackle. Fellow safety Budda Baker is behind the two defensive linemen.

How would you even label this personnel package with so many flexible players on the field? It isn't a straight 4-3, 3-4, nickel or dime. It all depends how you classify the players. If you count Bucannon as a linebacker, Baker as a safety and Jones as a lineman, it would be a 3-2-6, which would technically be a dime defense. If Baker is a linebacker, it's a 3-3-5 nickel. Good luck to offensive coordinators trying to figure it out.


Outside, Patrick Peterson just followed Marquise Goodwin into the slot, showing the Cardinals are playing man-to-man. Tramon Williams plays outside leverage on the receiver just outside of Goodwin, while safety Tyrann Mathieu mans up outside to the right of the formation as an outside cornerback. Safeties Antione Bethea and Tyvon Branch are deep.

There are four players on the field (Baker, Mathieu, Bethea, Branch), five if you count Bucannon, capable of playing safety in the game. Bettcher had several versatile players in Arizona who could execute different techniques and excel in various roles. It gave him a lot of freedom to get very creative with his scheme.

The Snap


Only at the snap do the 49ers have any clue what the Cardinals are doing. Despite the very exotic look, it turns into a pretty simple two-deep coverage with everyone else playing man-to-man. Bucannon has the tight end in man coverage, while Baker has the responsibility out of the backfield. The corners are manned up outside on the receivers.

The coverage is good outside at the snap. The Cardinals played man more than any other coverage scheme, and this is what they are in now with all the corners playing tight off the line of scrimmage.


Four men rush the quarterback, with Jones rushing off left tackle.  Reddick runs a stunt inside of Martin, but the 49ers do a good job of communicating and initially passing the players off. Olsen loops inside and is picked up by the 49ers center.

The Coverage


Quarterback C.J. Beathard has time initially, but his receivers are plastered. The safeties are reading the route combinations perfectly, anticipating and ready to help on routes down the middle of the field, leaving no openings. The only players with any amount of separation are the running back and tight end, but Beathard has not gotten to his check downs yet and is still hoping to convert on the 3rd and 9.

Chandler Jones successfully isolates on the left tackle and will soon have a straight line to the quarterback after beating the tackle off the edge. Martin has also gotten around the right tackle

The Sack


The outside rush forces Beathard to step up in the pocket where he is about to be tackled by Olsen from behind. Notice that even after Beathard scrambles and steps up in the pocket, no one is open. The sack on a four-man rush and man-to-man defense, disguised by an exotic pre-snap formation, ends the 49ers drive.

On this second play, we'll take look at another interesting defensive alignment up front that turns into a blitz from the secondary. Bettcher mixed up his coverages very well last year. According to Pro Football Focus, he played Cover One 34% of the time, Cover Three 31% of the time, and Cover Four 17% of the time. We looked at man with our first play.

Here is a look at some Cover 3:

The Formation


Here you see another multiple/diverse front from the Cardinals in a 3rd and 10 situation for the 49ers in the same game. The Cardinals have only two defensive linemen with their hands in the dirt with nose tackle Corey Peters shading the center's right shoulder. Frostee Rucker is lined up in the B Gap between the right guard and right tackle.

Then there are four players technically classified as linebackers on the depth chart standing up. Pass rushing linebacker Haason Reddick is standing up outside the right tackle. Converted safety Deone Bucannon is in the other A Gap shading the center's left shoulder. Linebacker Karlos Dansby is standing over the left guard, with Chandler Jones as a stand-up rusher outside the left tackle position. Six guys are at the line of scrimmage and no one knows who is coming.

Once again, if you count Jones as a lineman and Bucannon as a linebacker, this is a 3-3-5. If Reddick comes, which would not be surprising given his pass rush ability, it becomes a more traditional 4-2-5 nickel.


The three cornerbacks are playing off-coverage with Tyrann Mathieu (a safety playing the slot) creeping up from the slot position. The safeties are both playing deep.

The Snap


Reddick and Bucannon drop into zone coverage, while Dansby and Chandler join the two linemen in rushing the quarterback. The surprise blitz comes from Mathieu, who charges in from his slot corner position. It creates a tough protection assignment for the running back, who has to come across the formation to pick him up. The secondary settles into a zone. You can tell it's Cover 3 by the fact that one safety is lower in coverage.

The Coverage


The Cardinals play a great matchup zone, picking up the men in their areas and covering them tightly. C.J. Beathard is at the top of his drop and wants to get the ball out to his slot receiver, but Bucannon anticipates it and jumps the route. Beathard has to hold onto the ball here to avoid an interception or Peter knocking the ball down at the line of scrimmage. 

If Beathard wants to get it to the tight end moving in between the hashes that opened up because Bucannon jumped the slot receiver's route, he will have to reload. Both outside receivers running deep patterns are covered and Beathard has nowhere to go with the ball.

The running back does a great job in pass protection, coming over to pick up the blitzing Mattieu. Corey Peters, however, is beating the center inside, despite the fact he had help from the guard on the play.

The Sack


Beathard does not have the time. By the time he gets the ball back to throwing position and reloads, two things have happened. Reddick has come over to cut off the passing lane to the tight end and Peters has closed in on Beathard and is dragging him to the ground. Everyone in the secondary has successfully played their responsibilities.

It is another sack, this time on a five-man rush on a corner blitz with the secondary playing zone.

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