Anytime the Patriots face a mobile quarterback who can restart plays and make improvised throws, there’s a coverage concept that comes into play. It’s called “plastering.” And you can expect the Pats to have to plaster tonight.
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I’d never heard of the term before 2014, when Darrelle Revis spoke to our Phil Perry about it. Done well, it can result in picks, sacks and broken plays. Done poorly and David Tyree can make a helmet catch on you and send your team to a stunning Super Bowl loss.
The idea is this: once the quarterback begins to break the pocket and scramble, coverage players yell “plaster” and, regardless of whether they’re in man or zone, find the nearest receiver and shadow his every move.
Wilson is, generally, a quarterback who moves with the intent to keep the play alive for a completion until that chance is exhausted. Other mobile quarterbacks won’t spend as much time surveying once they take the ball down and light out for the territories. Tyrod Taylor, for instance, or Colin Kaepernick.
The obvious challenge when a quarterback begins to move is that receivers break off their routes and begin to freelance.
That’s a little bit of what happened in Super Bowl 42 when Eli Manning broke the pocket, ran for his life and threw a balloon down the middle of the field in the direction of Tyree. Nobody checked Tyree. He was unplastered. Which left Rodney Harrison in a position to come from a different zip code to try and make a late play on the ball. And he wasn’t able to succeed.
Here’s a story from 2011 detailing how the Jets under Rex Ryan and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine would carry out the concept. This was prior to a game against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers.
Once Roethlisberger starts to scramble, the Jets will scream out "plaster!" At that point, Jets defenders will take the nearest Steeler and try to stick to that receiver as long as they can no matter if they are in zone or in man coverage.
And if there are two Steelers in the vicinity, the defensive back will take whoever goes long to prevent a big play.
"The plays can last 10 to 15 seconds," Revis said of Roethlisberger's ability to improvise. "Plastering is basically just latching on to your guy. A receiver might run a curl route or a slant, but his next read, if he sees Ben scrambling, then he'll break it off and run vertical or maybe turn around and run to the sideline to get a catch."
The Jets have been practicing plastering all week long. The scout team quarterback was told to scramble often and the receivers have scramble rules, such as going deep while another receiver comes back to the quarterback.
"It's organized street ball, where if the original play is not there, now it kind of turns into a second play," Pettine said. "It's a playground-type mentality. He'll scramble. And three steps into the scramble, he's throwing it."
Seahawks receivers Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse and Tyler Lockette are the beneficiaries of Wilson’s mobility and understand to keep their feet moving and work in concert with each other and Wilson.
Baldwin has described Wilson’s mobility in these terms: “He doesn't turn the ball over. He makes smart decisions with his legs. And also when he's doing that, he's still looking down the field to make plays in the passing game. That's huge for us as receivers. We know that on any given play anything can happen. We could have a play and guys could be covered up and Russell can scramble out of the pocket and make something happen for us. To have that on your team, it’s extremely rare. The capability he has in terms of not turning the ball over when he does scramble also is rare.”
Generally, the coverage concept of plastering means to just cover up tightly on receivers. Last week, Seahawks corner Richard Sherman went next level with it by not just plastering Walter Powell of the Bills in terms of coverage but plastering him with a devastating hit in the end zone that decleated Powell.
This is a good example of the nuance involved and judgment necessary from officials and defensive backs. When the quarterback breaks the pocket and is not in a passing stance, his guys downfield are allowed to be contacted.
As a Patriots defensive back explained to me, the reason Sherman got such a clean hit on Powell was that Taylor took off before Powell even completed his route so Powell wasn’t expecting contact and Sherman ID’d Taylor as being out of his passing posture.
Additionally, Sherman has plausible deniability that he was defending his space and Powell could have begun blocking him. According to this voluminous breakdown of the rule by a site dedicated to covering the Bills, the argument could have gone the other way, though.
There’s a lot of rules interpretations, exceptions and articles here but you get the point. It isn’t cut-and-dried.
Bottom line, the Seahawks come to town with a less than impressive running game and a leaky offensive line. The Patriots will mush-rush Wilson and try to keep him from breaking the pocket and running for free yards. That means that extended plays are going to be the order of the evening. And plastering will be done.