Kurt Coleman’s Two Interceptions in Panthers’ Cover 4 | NFC Championship 2015

Kurt Coleman intercepted Carson Palmer twice in the NFC Championship. Both of these interceptions were due to Coleman’s excellent discipline in the Panthers’ Cover 4 defense. The Cover 4 defense, with four deep defensive backs – typically two safeties and two outside cornerbacks – is a staple coverage of the Carolina Panthers. In this breakdown, we will take a look at two instances where Carson Palmer and the Arizona Cardinals chose to target Coleman specifically, and why these two plays ended as turnovers instead of touchdowns.

Before I begin, if you haven’t read my other two breakdowns from this game check them out:

To start we’re going to look at Palmer’s first interception (third turnover on the game) that happened at the end of the second quarter. By this point in the game, Cam Newton and the Panthers are up 24-7 against the Cardinals.

Interception 1
Situation: 1st and 10 at CAR 22
Description: (0:56 ­ 2nd) (Shotgun) C.Palmer pass deep middle intended for Jo.Brown INTERCEPTED by K.Coleman at CAR 0. Touchback

Offensive Formation: Shotgun Trey Right Far
Offensive Personnel: 11 (1 RB: David Johnson, 1 TE: Darren Fells, 3 WR: Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, Michael Floyd)
Defensive Formation: Cover 4 w/ Four Underneath Zones


  • Pre-snap Carson Palmer sees two deep safeties and #24 Josh Norman and #27 Robert McClain on the outside both lining up well off the line of scrimmage.
  • The play design is a jumbo sail (three level read) on the left with a “Pin” concept on the right side of the field using speedy John Brown on the post-route and Darren Fells on the in-route between the hashes.
  • As discussed in my Cam Newton “Pin” breakdown (link here), the “Pin” concept is specifically designed to attack Kurt Coleman, or the inside safety, in a Cover 4 defense.

So why doesn’t this play work as designed? Take a look at Palmer’s view before he throws the football:


The depth of the linebackers (shaded in white in the image below) is the main reason. Since their drop is on the same plane as Darren Fells (red arrow) between the hashes, there is nothing to bait Coleman. In order for this play to be effective, Fells HAS to drive up the seam to get Coleman to commit to the underneath route and ditch his deep middle quarter responsibility. Since Coleman does not get baited, he is in perfect position for the pick.

From the Cardinals’ perspective, Palmer can’t throw this football. The Cardinals still have roughly 50 seconds left in the half. He is much better off dumping it to Larry Fitzgerald on the drag-route or by throwing it away to live another down.



The second interception by Coleman happened early in the 4th quarter while the Panthers were up 15-34.

Interception 2
Situation: 1st and 10 at CAR 44
Description: (11:48 ­ 4th) (Shotgun) C.Palmer pass deep left intended for Jo.Brown INTERCEPTED by K.Coleman [M.Addison] at CAR 1. Touchback. The Replay Official reviewed the touchback ruling, and the play was REVERSED. (Shotgun) C.Palmer pass deep left intended for Jo.Brown INTERCEPTED by K.Coleman [M.Addison] at CAR 1. K.Coleman to CAR 1 for no gain (Jo.Brown). PENALTY

Offensive Formation: Shotgun Double Flex
Offensive Personnel: 11 (1 RB: David Johnson, 1 TE: Darren Fells, 3 WR: Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, John Brown)
Defensive Formation: Cover 4 w/ Four Underneath Zones


  • Carson Palmer is in shotgun and has two twin bunches on the opposite sides of the field.
  • The offensive play design is an underneath mesh-concept combined with a deep post and deep hitch route.
  • Similar to the “Pin” concept, the Cardinals hitch and post is meant to beat Kurt Coleman while widening the outside cornerback so he can’t make a play on the ball.
  • Coleman, again, does not fall for the bait like in Interception 1 and covers the deep post-route.
  • Palmer sees that he isn’t committing to the underneath-route, and attempts to pump fake him into staying short. Coleman briefly slows down and then recovers.
  • Palmer releases the ball deep hoping that’s enough, but he puts it too far left for John Brown. The 5’11” wide receiver has no chance in this jump ball situation.

Just like before, Fells does not get enough depth to entice Coleman to stay shallow. If Fells drives deeper, then this is an easy hi-lo read for Palmer allowing him to target Brown or Fells for a large gain. Bad read by the tight end. Additionally, I will also point out that Palmer’s ball placement is terrible. If he places the ball five yards to the right and maybe another 2-3 yards deeper this MIGHT (big might) have been a touchdown depending on Coleman’s recovery ability.

Overall, the Cover 4 defense is something you should pay attention to in the Super Bowl against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. Kurt Coleman’s presence in this Cover 4 defense is one of the reasons that makes the Panthers the #2 defense by DVOA rankings.



Follow Samuel Gold on Twitter: @SamuelRGold.

Samuel Gold

Sam founded NFL Breakdowns after working his way through the journalist farm system and is enjoying life in the big league. Growing up outside of Washington, D.C., Sam didn’t choose the Redskins, the Redskins chose him. Out of a love for the game and an insatiable curiosity to determine why his beloved team was underperforming, Sam turned to studying film in NFL Breakdowns.