Josh Norman is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL right now. Through four games, Norman already has four interceptions and 2 pick-sixes, which both lead the NFL, and his 12 passes defended are the second most in the NFL. Norman also has the best opposing passer rating in coverage, as quarterbacks are averaging a QB rating of just 23.1 when throwing the ball his way.
Norman is playing at an extremely high level right now, and the Carolina Panthers' defensive staff are also adapting their schemes to fit Norman's strengths as a cornerback. The Panthers are not only playing more man coverage in their secondary in 2015, but they're also utilizing some of the most aggressive zone concepts in all of football known as "Trap Coverage". Josh Norman's pick-six against the Buccaneers this past Sunday is a perfect example of the Panthers utilizing Trap Coverage so they could get Norman in a situation where he'd have the freedom to make a play on the football.
The specific coverage shell the Panthers utilized on this play is called Cover 2 Trap, also referred to as 2-Trap by some coaches. Cover 2 Trap is very similar to the traditional Cover 2 shell. Here's a quick refresher of what a traditional Cover 2 looks like:
Courtesy of Shakin The Southland, SB Nation's Clemson Tigers blog.
Cover 2 Trap is basically a more aggressive version of Cover 2. Instead of the cornerbacks simply sitting back in their flat zones, their jobs in Cover 2 Trap will be to carry (run with for a while) and pass off any vertical receivers to the safeties (who also have to be more alert and ready to play man coverage compared with a traditional Cover 2), before coming back down to attack any routes by inside receivers going towards the sidelines. It's all about baiting opposing quarterbacks into making what should be a generally easy and safe throw.
Here's a GIF of Norman's interception:
The Panthers are in their 4-2-5 defense. Josh Norman is at the top of the formation lined up across Vincent Jackson. The Buccaneers are in 12 personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) with a trips set to the top of the formation with both tight ends lined up in the slot:
The Panthers execute their zone coverage beautifully. At the bottom of the formation, Charles Tillman has help underneath from Thomas Davis, and over the top from Kurt Coleman. At the top of the formation, Josh Norman does a great job of carrying Vincent Jackson vertically. A.J Klein drops back into his zone and takes out the inside slot tight end, which leaves the outside slot tight end Brandon Myers apparently open on his out route. The bait has been set -- Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston has no idea it’s a Cover 2 Trap disguised as a traditional Cover 2. The Panthers have all their zones covered and Winston reads Myers as his only open receiver on the play, as the Panthers hoped he would:
Norman has his eyes on Winston the entire time. As soon as Norman sees the ball leave Winston’s hand, he starts breaking towards Myers’ out route.
Norman gets the interception and returns it for the touchdown, with the help of a nice block from Bene Benwikere on Jameis Winston.
Norman went on to have another interception later in the game, on another play where he was in zone coverage and reading Winston’s eyes. Moving forward, I expect the Panthers to continue to utilize aggressive zone concepts such as Cover 2 Trap, which plays to their personnel strengths in the secondary by putting their cornerbacks in situations where they can generate defensive turnovers.
All GIF’s and images courtesy of NFL.com.