Friday, January 22, 2010

Cover 1 and Cover 3 Beaters

After outlining how to identify all base coverages in my previous two posts, we now need to know how to attack them. Each coverage has both strengths and weaknesses, and defensive coaches will play these coverages according to what they are trying to take away from the offense.

Cover 3 Beaters:

Cover 3 is a very common coverage seen at the high school level. For one reason, it is hard to find corners that can lock up and play a lot of man coverage, or corners physical enough to be run defenders as cover 2 corners.

Four Verticals:

The easiest way to get a defense out of playing cover 3 is to hit them with the ever popular four vertical concept. This concept is exactly what it sounds, four guys running vertical. It provides a horizontal stretch on the FS with the two seams on the inside. The QB is taught to guide the safety with his eyes to one side and then throw to the opposite seam. Georgia Southern's Chris Hatcher explains the four vertical concept a little more in depth. Georgia Southern actually turns the outside receiver routes into 16 yard comebacks, but the same stretch on the free safety is taking place.


The curl-flat concept is a great combination as well to beat cover 3. It puts tremendous pressure on the on the flat defender, who is the OLB in cover 3. The OLB cannot be right in this situation, if he jumps the flat route then the curl window will open up nicely. If he hangs in the curl window, then the flat route will be there for the taking. The video clip below from Madden 10 shows a cover 3 defense, with the OLB jumping the flat route which results in a very wide window to throw the curl.

Quick game concepts:

Because of the bail technique of the corners in cover 3, it is very susceptible to quick game throws such as hitches and speed outs. The OLB has run responsibility as a force defender is cover 3, so the flats are there for the taking.

Cover 1 Beaters

Because cover 1 is a man coverage, looking for and game planning to get the ball your best athlete matched up on a questionable cover guy is a essential to beating cover 1.

Smash or China:

The smash concept is a great concept vs. cover 1 because the FS is in the middle of the field and will have a difficult time getting over the top of the corner route to help out. Defensive coaches teach man technique corners to play inside leverage to take away the inside breaking routes, so that leaves them susceptible to sideline breaking routs such as corners (also known as a flag route) and comebacks. The corners can either be ran by #1 with a reduced split or by a #2 or #3 receiver, depending on the best matchup. You can do what you want with the receivers not running the corner. Against zone, the corner route is usually paired with a hitch in order to high/low the corner to that side. However, a better option vs. man would be to run something to beat man coverage such as a retrace or bench route.


Mesh is a man coverage killer. Using a "rub" concept, the objective is to screen or a pick in order to get someone open vs. man coverage. It is illegal to intentionally pick a man, however the mesh concept is set up to accomplish this legally. Two crossers will run across the field at a depth of 4-6 yards in opposite directions. One crosser will "set the mesh" and the two will slap hands as they continue crossing the field. This ensures there is no space for the defenders chasing the receivers to get through. The result is a play that usually results in one of the meshers springing wide open as he gets into the flat area. Texas Tech has made a lot of their money on the mesh, versus both man and zone. A clip from NCAA 09 demonstrates the mesh concept.


Another popular cover 1 beater is the fade/out concept. This concept is where the outside receivers run vertical after getting an outside release. The inside most receiver will then run a short out route, which he will be provided with a lot of run after the catch room because of the vacated defenders going with the outside vertical routes. The 2:25 mark of the video below shows some good footage of the fade/out concept run out of a trips set.

Double Slants:

Double slants are just what is sounds, where the two outside receivers are running slants. The slant is a great man beater. Defenders are taught to not let their man get inside of them, so a good outside release fake is required. Here Ohio State state is shown running the double slant concept vs. Oregon's cover 1 in the Rose Bowl.

These are obviously not the only ways to defeat cover 3 and cover 1, but just a few of the more popular concepts that pose problems for these coverages.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Identifying Coverages Based On Defensive Pre-Snap Alignment- Part II- MOFO Family

The middle of the field open family of coverages consists of 4 base coverages; cover 2, cover 2 man, cover 4, and cover 0. By the "middle of the field open", we mean that there is no safety directly in the middle of the field. There are either two safeties lined up just inside or just outside the hashes, or no deep safeties in the at all.

Cover 2

The following diagram shows the zone responsibilities for each defender in cover 2. As you notice, there are two deep safeties which would cue you that barring a rolled coverage (which I will explain in a future post), this narrows it down to one of three coverages which are: cover 2, cover 2 man, and cover 4.

The quarterback is able to determine that cover 2 is being played by the following defensive cues:

1) 2 deep safeties most aligned 12-14 yards depth, on or just outside the hash
2) corners will be at a depth of less than 4-6 yards with outside leverage on the #1 receiver with their eyes looking in

Some pre-snap shots of cover 2:

Cover 2 man

Cover 2 man still employs two deep safeties much like cover 2. However, it is a man concept underneath and the responsibilities of the safeties change. They are true "free" safeties now which read the QB's eyes and play over the top of all routes. When differentiating cover 2 and cover 2 man, looking at the eyes and leverage of the corners will be the determinate. The alignment from all the defenders is very similar except they will match the splits of the receivers.

Cover 4

Cover 4, also called "quarters" is another MOFO coverage concept. The following diagram shows typical alignment and responsibilities for a cover 4 concept.

Cover 4 is a little bit different beast, that it is a zone coverage that employs a lot of pattern matching and some man concepts. This is how a QB will determine quarters coverage:

1) two deep safeties, usually not quite as deep and aligned more narrow than cover 2 safeties
2) corners will be at a depth of 8-10 yards with outside leverage

Some pre-snap shots of quarters coverage:

Cover 0

Cover 0 is a coverage that employs zero deep safeties and is a popular coverage when offenses are deep in the red zone or other short yardage situations. It is a true man coverage with no safety help over the top. The following diagram outlines cover 0.

How a quarterback will be able to determine cover 0:

1) Safeties will be at a depth of less than 8 yards and lined up over the #2 receiver.
2) Corner depth will be less than 5 yards with inside leverage and eyes on #1 receiver

Pre-snap shots of Cover 0:

Like mentioned in the previous post, defensive coaches will attempt to disguise the coverages as much as possible to cloudy the picture for the QB. For example, lining corners up at a depth of 10 yards to give a cover 4 look and bringing them down at the snap in order to disguise cover 2 is a common move. There are also special coverages that teams are playing nowadays that break these guidelines I have outlined in the last two posts. Those coverages will be broken down in a future post.

A few things to remember and teach your QB to help him to identify coverages successfully pre-snap.
1) Safeties- how many? depth? width?
2) corners- depth? eyes? leverage?

By knowing how to answer these questions correctly and what these answers mean, your QB will be more confident and have a better idea of what he's going to be seeing post-snap.

Identifying Coverages Based On Defensive Pre-Snap Alignment- Part I- MOFC Family

Before we get into identifying coverages, we have to know a little bit about what the defense is trying to cover. The field is broken up into 9 different passing zones; three deep and six underneath zones. Zone coverages are designed for all of these areas to be covered. The diagram below shows you all 9 coverage zones.

On any passing down, a quarterback always has things to check pre-snap in regards to the alignment of the secondary. How the secondary is aligned can give us cues as to what coverage the defense will be playing post-snap. Having a good idea of the coverage being played gives the quarterback an idea of where he wants to go with the football before the ball has gotten into his hands.

When identifying coverages, the first indicator for the QB is looking at the number of deep safeties present. There can either be 0, 1, or 2 deep safeties. We refer to this as "middle of the field open" and "middle of the field closed" families of coverages. We'll first take a look at the MOFC (middle of the field closed) family of coverages.

Anytime there is just one safety between the goal posts, we call this middle of the field closed. That's because there is one safety in the middle of the field, closing down our throwing lanes. Here is an example of what this would look like.

The two main coverages in the MOFC family of coverages are cover 3 and cover 1, also known as man-free. Cover 3 is a zone concept that employs three deep zone and four shallow zone defenders. Cover 1 or man-free is a man coverage. We will first look at cover 3.

Cover 3

Cover 3 consists of three deep zone defenders and four underneath zone defenders, assuming the defense does not blitz and underneath zone defender. Here are the responsibilities of the different defenders in cover 3, along with cover 3's strengths and weaknesses.

As you can see from the diagram all 9 zones are assigned for. However, the OLBs are responsible for covering 2 zones apiece. The curl and flat areas are often where cover 3 defenses can be taken advantage of. Also, the FS has a lot of area to cover in the middle of the field. There used to be a lot more cover 3 played than there is today. One reason for this, is because teams are taking advantage of the cover 3 FS by stretching him horizontally with a four vertical concept.

Here are a couple more looks at what cover 3 looks like pre-snap.

Cover 1 or man-free

The other coverage besides cover 3 that can be played with the middle of the field closed is cover 1 or man-free. This is a true man concept with the FS having no responsibilities except to read the QB's eyes and make a play on the ball.

Here is a diagram of cover 1, along with it's strength and weaknesses.

You'll notice each defender has no zone responsibilities, but is manned up on a receiver with the free safety being a true "free" safety in this sense.

The difference between cover 3 and cover 1 pre-snap:

We've gone through the two most popular coverages in the MOFC family. So, how would a quarterback tell the difference pre-snap after identifying the one safety in the middle of the field? I teach my QBs the acronym D.E.L., which stands for depth, eyes and leverage. They are to next check the depth, eyes, and the leverage of the corners. In cover 3, the corners will be head up or have outside leverage and play at a depth of 8-12 yards. Their eyes will be looking in the offensive backfield, as it is a true zone coverage. In cover 1, the depth can vary, but is usually played at less than 5 yards depth. Their leverage will be inside to to take away the slant pattern, and their eyes will be fixed on the man they are covering. If you noticed on the cover 3 pictures, the corners are playing deep with their eyes in the backfield.

Defensive coaches have made it a point of emphasis to not make it as easy and clear cut as this. They are lining up with 2 safeties and playing forms of cover 3, they are lining up with one safety and playing forms of cover 2. However, when seeing one deep safety there is a very good chance one of these two coverages outlined will be played.

Why do I coach?

While reading and interacting on the wonderful football coaching message board at, I've come across many coaches that are starting their own blogs in relation to this wonderful profession. I'm not sure just how good I will be at this, but I figured I'd give it a run.

First my very first blog post, I will answer the question: "Why have I chosen to become a football coach?"

In order to answer this question, I need to provide a little history about my life. I was always a very average athlete and high school football player. However, I have always been intrigued and even consumed by this great game. My Dad was a successful high school football coach before becoming a school administrator, and I'm sure my love of this game comes straight from him. We spent countless hours on the couch as I was growing up watching and analyzing football games. I would constantly ask questions on why things were being done the way they were.

I just completed my fifth year of coaching high school football, all as the quarterbacks coach. The experiences I've had coaching and interacting with young student athletes has been a very rewarding one to say the least. I can only hope that I've had as much impact on the young men I've gotten a chance to coach as they have had on me. I can't imagine any other profession offering the satisfaction that comes in coaching when you see a young man "get it". By this I mean, grasping a concept of coaching that will elevate their play and they see how this will increase their chances for success. I will admit, that my attitude and philosophy of coaching has changed quite a bit since entering the profession. When first starting out, the idea of being in control of young men and getting those kids to do things as I pleased was something that intrigued me about coaching. Look at me, I was the guy in control of my position group with the whistle around my neck and five kids at my mercy. I could tell them to jump and their response would be "how high?"

After a year or two in the profession, I realized coaching wasn't about bossing kids around and being in control, for me anyways. I realized it's not about getting on the whiteboard and showing these kids just how smart I was when it came to identifying coverages. My ultimate goal has changed to being a vehicle in which to help these kids achieve their goals, both on and off the football field. Darin Slack, who I feel is the best teacher of quarterback play on the planet once told me, "there is no greater thing a man can do than to serve his fellow man." I'm quite certain he wasn't the first one to say this, but I had never heard a football coach use words like that before. It sounded like something I would hear a minister say, not a football coach. I was used to quotes such as, Lombardi's "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing" in regards to football coaching philosophy.

We are all selfish people by nature. That's the way we are wired. We want what is best for us before we want what is best for others. I'm still driven by the thought of wearing a state championship ring on my right ring finger one day. I'm still driven by putting my wife and future family in a better position by making more money. I'm still driven by getting a job I love in a place I love. However, it is the relationship, positive impact, and the opportunity to serve these young men that I covet the most.

What I am about to write isn't a knock on any other sports. I played several sports as a kid, and encourage student-athletes to be well rounded and be multiple sport athletes. However, I believe football is a very special game. The most special game on the planet. I've read hundreds of quotes about football, in which many still stick in mind. However, the best quote I have ever come across regarding football was not said by a football coach. Dorothy Farnan, the English Department Chairman at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, NY says this about football...

"Football may me the best taught subject in American high schools because it may be the only subject that we haven't tried to make easy"

Life skills are taught and honed on the practice and game fields of America. Responsibility towards ones self, responsibility towards others, development of character, physical and mental toughness, self-discipline, sportsmanship, teamwork, integrity, and finally personal sacrifice for the good of something larger than yourself.

I've been fortunate to have been able to coach for two very good men and successful coaches in my five years, and learn a lot of football from them. The assistant coaches on the staff over the past five years have been tremendous resources as well. Being a football coach is an ongoing process. I don't feel that I will ever "arrive" and be to a point where I lose the desire to stop learning. This blog is just part of my ongoing process to become better at what I do, in order to serve young men and help them be successful both on and off the field.