Disguise is an important tool for any defensive coordinator to have in his toolbox. It’s critical, especially at the NFL level, that quarterbacks spend as many plays as possible not trusting what they see pre-snap. This prevents them from getting into the best possible play at the line, slows down their decision-making, and can often lead to turnovers.
“Cover-2 Robber” is a great disguised coverage that’s set up to generate those turnovers. Even the most experienced quarterbacks have difficulty recognizing it.
Chiefs Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo loves to use this look and was effective doing so with Tyrann Mathieu roaming his secondary for 3 seasons. On this example from 2019, he was even able to fool Philip Rivers, a 16-year veteran at the time.
This was 3rd-and-8. The Chiefs lined up against the Chargers’ 3×1 set in a 2-deep look with Mathieu as one of the deep safeties:
At the snap, Mathieu stepped up underneath and the other deep safety, Juan Thornhill, rotated towards the middle of the field:
From the movement of those two deep safeties alone, this coverage initially appeared to be a rotation to cover-3 buzz. This is a fairly common coverage look, especially on 3rd-and-long, with Mathieu moving into position to handle the #3 receiver’s in-breaking route. Below you can see Mathieu’s initial movement as well as the Chargers’ route combination:
But it turned out that the Chiefs were not playing cover-3. Thornhill kept running to the other side of the field. Safety Rashad Fenton, who had aligned underneath at first, raced to cover the deep half of the field to the top of the screen. The Chiefs were actually rotating back to cover-2:
Mathieu wouldn’t end up taking the #3 inside receiver. Instead, he let him go and turned his attention to the #2 receiver’s in-breaking route: