Understanding coverages and attacking them with passing game

There are many qualities that a quarterback must possess. However, the most obvious is the QB’s ability to throw the football. Throwing the football requires a tremendous amount of coordination and teamwork for proper execution. The QB can make up for some deficiencies with proper reads. Whether it is the Pre-Snap Read, Reading on the Move, or Adjustments in routes, the QB’s recognition, anticipation and reaction are based upon his knowledge of the offense as it relates to what he sees. Pre-snap read The QB must make a “Pre-Snap Read” confirming the defensive secondary’s alignment. The PSR provides the QB with help in making the proper throwing decision; i.e., allows the QB to establish his thought process prior to the snap. There will be many times when the QB can determine what the coverage is before the snap. About eighty percent (80%) of the time the coverage will be given away by someone’s alignment in the secondary, typically the second defender inside. Even when the total coverage is not given away, through observation of particular alignments, you will be able to eliminate some coverages or narrow to a “Hard Focus” area. The QB must approach the LOS the same way every play and get his hands under the center. The PSR process includes a “Soft Gaze” left, middle and right. The purpose is to identify (1) the depth of the corners, (2) number of safeties, (3) weakside flat defender, and (4) the number of run defenders (“front”):
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Find the Free Safety (“FS”) and Strong Safety (“SS”) to determine the type of front – seven-man or eight-man. If the safeties adjust to motion, be aware of a possible blitz. Find the weakside linebacker (Whip (“W”)). This is a crucial read to recognize an outside blitz. It is the QB’s responsibility to adjust the protection to handle the outside blitz or allow the receivers to read “HOT.”

The PSR is only the first step in the throwing decision. The QB must identify the primary defender (the “Key”) to read (“Hard Focus”) and determine where to throw the ball. The Key is determined by the pattern and the related PSR. The ball is thrown based upon what the Key does within the QB’s line of sight. For example, on a strong side route the PSR must identify the SS. Upon the snap the strong safety can either man-up, cover the flat, cover deep third (1/3) or cover deep quarter (¼), and it is the SS’s action that allows the QB to decide where to throw the ball. Depending upon the route, the SS’s action might change the key (Reading on the Move [“ROM”]) to the Corner (“C”) or FS. The QB will make their throwing decision based upon what happens in his Hard Focus area and the related routes within the “line of sight”; i.e., does the Key rotate, invert or play man. When the QB keys defenders, not receivers, there are fewer throws into coverage.

- Basic Coverages A brief summary of coverages, including strengths, weakness, and how to attack them follows. The summaries include a place (“Patterns”) for the coach and QB to write in their specific routes to attack the coverages. These are the basic coverages: Invert (“sky”); Rotate (“cloud”); Two Deep, Man Under Two; Man with a Free; Man – Zero; Quarter, Quarter, Half; Zone Blitz; Robber; and Prevent.

If the SS is aligned with less depth than the C. Confirm 3D coverage by the alignment of the FS. if the Weakside Linebacker (“W”) is in a stack (linedup behind a defensive lineman or end) or walk (off the LOS outside the end) position. it denotes a soft corner. if a receiver is in the flat. Safe – always three deep 2. i. the SS is covering the flat. . SS can get under an out and may be able to get under a stop or flat depending upon the wide receiver splits 4. with W responsible for the weak flat. the read is an invert by the SS. If the FS is off the hash and favoring the middle. assume he will rush.Strengths 1. Teams will typically define the TE as the strong side. If the end (“E”) is up on the LOS or in a three (3) point stance. can cover eight zones with a three man rush 5. strong side force against the run 3. assume that it will be a 3D. Also the QB must be aware of the weak side. If you are throwing to the strong side upon the snap you can determine whether E is coming or has curl or flat.e.. can still bring four with strong side contain and have seven in coverage . however a scouting report will provide this information.Three Deep – Invert (“Sky”) The PSR is based on the alignment of SS and C on the strong side.

2. Safe – always three deep force (to the rotation) against the run leverage by the C (shut down weak flat or out) can cover eight zones with a three man rush can still bring four with force and contain to the rotation.How to attack it: 1. The SS must be deeper than normal in order to cover the deep middle or deep outside (is aligned deeper than the adjacent C). 3. weak flat 7.. The PSR is based on the alignment of the SS and the C. 6. 4.e. assume 3D.Weaknesses 1.Weaknesses 1. Also. The OLB. If the FS is off the hash and favoring the middle. You can confirm the 3D by the alignment of the FS.e. weakside force . 5. whether W or S away from the rotation must be stacked or walked off as they have flat away from the rotation. Stretch vertically and horizontally plenty of pass protection throw in the alley created by sending three on two in the perimeter (“flood type” routes) weakside curl & flat sprint away from SS Three Deep – Rotate (“Cloud”) The goal of this coverage is to take away the short passing game or protect against the wide side of the field when the offensive formation is strong into the boundary (short side).. 2. cannot bump or push inside possibly late to cover stop and flat. However. i. 5. 2. The secondary can disguise this by having both Cs up and on the snap the away (from the rotation) C back peddles to deep third [1/3] quickly (“bails”).Strengths 1. SS is covering the deep middle or outside. Versus eight in coverage the defense can only rush three with five or more to block them only four defenders underneath to cover the six zones – large curl seams cushion on the wide receiver away from the rotation OLB is alone in the flat away from the rotation .. we can determine the side of the rotation by the position of the Outside Linebacker (“OLB”). 4. the read is a rotate by SS. in this coverage the C to the side of the rotation will be tight (up close) on the wide receiver as they have the flat. 4. and have seven (7) in coverage easy to disguise . i. 4. . 2. 3. then it is a three man rush 6. 3. Versus eight in coverage the defense can only rush three with five or more to block them four defenders underneath to cover the six zones – large curl and horizontal seams no leverage on wide receivers. 3. 5. both weak and strong cannot cover a strong side flood route (three or four receivers in the pattern) without E.

then all six (6) underneath zones are covered. Half. assume W has flat and rule out two (2) deep. plenty of pass protection 3. cannot cover a flood route (three or four [3 or 4] receivers in the pattern) • force and contain away from rotation . run away from rotation 5. 3. .5. If the end (“E”) drops to the curl. look to the strong side defensive back for their alignment because the safety will naturally be on the hash. 2. Strong versus run leverage on both wide receivers cover five (5) of the six (6) underneath zones four (4) man rush . The Cs will usually be outside of the wide receivers and the safeties will be near the hash marks. aligned deeper than the corners. When W has outside leverage on the second receiver. If the ball is on the hash.Strengths 1.How to attack it 1. quick passes away from the rotation 4. five (5) under coverage and is possibly 3D rotation or Quarter-Quarter. 4. Flood routes – throw in the alley created by sending three on two in the perimeter (“flood type” routes) 2. get TE involved Two Deep – Five Under (Cover 2) The PSR is based on the depth of the Cs and safeties.

. 6. 2.Weaknesses 1. can hold up the TE 7.How to attack it 1. i. 4. The Cs are the primary key. 3. the three (3) deep zones are covered by two inside receiver down the middle LBs must cover curl strong side contain weak inside linebacker to curl wide splits can create lanes . Also. Motion will force the undercover to adjust or run with the receiver. If the safeties give a 2D look (safeties near the hash marks. 6.5. 3. 3. aligned deeper than the C’s) and both C’s are up tighter or looking primarily at the receiver instead of the QB. the undercover (LB’s) will be head-up or at least in position to cover their man. takes away the outs 6. then Man Under Coverage (“MUC”) is confirmed. The PSR is based on the alignment of the Cs on the wide receivers. 4. Double or bracket two receivers four man rush every potential receiver is accounted for (covered) can bump because each defender has help over the top excellent versus zone type routes or screens Weaknesses 1. This coverage allows the defense to bracket or double two (2) receivers. 2.e. 2. Strengths 1. 5. 5. 4. 5. 3. 7. Safeties must cover half (½) the field. 4. as they will usually be head up or shaded to the outside of the wide receivers. 5. 6. Poor run support mismatch with the backs versus linebackers hard to disguise versus motion three (3) deep zones are not covered one on one underneath crossing routes “bunch” and “snug” type sets . 2. Use “Spread Formations” to horizontally stretch the safeties vertically stretch the flats to create lanes a natural hole twenty to twenty-five (20-25) yards along the sidelines weakside curl corner routes flood type routes Cover 2 Man / Man under two-deep This coverage is man-to-man with help over the top in the two (2) deep zones. weakside force and contain .

e. The linebackers will have the backs man-to-man. . Also. 5.. with the possibility of the defense bringing seven (7). 4. 2. The QB should anticipate pressure from a five (5) man rush. The QB must identify whether a blitz is coming and throw the ball to the defenders vacated spot (i. This coverage is man-to-man with a FS to help over the top. 6. catch the ball short and run long crossing routes (“mesh”) with the wide receivers TE in the alley or fades to the wide receivers running plays use motion Cover 1 man / Man-to-man with a free safety. this will confirm the Man with a Free (“MwF”) coverage. The PSR is based on the alignment of the Cs and linebackers on the receivers. This allows the C’s to take away the outs.How to attack it 1. 7. The C’s will be head up or in an outside alignment because they have help from the FS. if the SS aligns head up on his eligible receiver at a tight to normal depth (four to six [4-6] yards) and the FS is deeper than normal (twelve to fifteen [12-15] yards). 3.. “hot read”) or add protection with an audible. Back routes on the linebackers create mismatches with the TE running option (“read”) routes stay shallow with routes.

3. 6. catch the ball short and run long crossing routes (“mesh”) with the wide receivers TE in the alley or fades to the wide receivers running plays coverage away from FS by “looking off” . 6. Poor run support mismatch with the backs versus linebackers hard to disguise versus motion three deep zones are not covered no under cover • crossing routes “bunch” and “snug” type sets .Strengths 1. Back routes on the linebackers create mismatches with the TE running option (“read”) routes stay shallow with routes.How to attack it 1. 2. 2. 4. 2. Pressure from a five (5) man rush every potential receiver is accounted for (covered) defenders have help to the post • excellent versus screens and delays C’s can play a tight man as they have help from the FS – crowd the receivers on third and five or longer 5. 3. 5. 4. 3. 4. excellent versus zone routes 6.Weaknesses 1. can take away the outs with an outside technique by the C’s 7. 5. 7. speed on speed – good blitz coverage .

Cover 0 / Man-to-man blitz with no deep safety This coverage is a straight man-to-man with no safety help. The PSR is based on the alignment of the safeties. “hot read”. The QB should anticipate pressure from a blitz. Pressure (blitz capability) and penetration from a six to seven man rush big play potential clog up the running lanes inside force the offense to throw short . 3.Strengths 1. 4. The QB could audible to add pass protection.e. The C’s need this alignment as they have no inside help. .. Typically. the SS will play head up on the TE and the FS will play shallow on the weak side. The QB must identify whether a blitz is coming and throw the ball to the defenders vacated spot or a crossing receiver. We can confirm this coverage by the inside leverage alignment by the Cs on the wide receivers. there is no safety in the middle of the field. 2. Usually in Man coverage. i.

The weakside or side away from the quarters alignment will look like a 2D with the C head-up or to the outside of the wide receiver and the safety near the hash marks. 7. 9. Quarter. The strong C can be aligned head-up and . Quarter. This coverage employs a traditional weak side 2D with a squat corner and half coverage safety. 6. however it uses one (1) defender to cover half (½) of the three (3) deep zones and two (2) defenders each covering a quarter (¼). The strong side can employ a multitude of variations (invert and rolls). Half (“QQH”) coverage provides three (3) defenders deep.Weaknesses 1. 3. 2. 4. The most common is a bail technique by the strong side C covering the deep quarter (¼) with the strong side OLB covering curl to flat. 2. 5. Poor run support mismatch with the backs versus linebackers hard to disguise versus motion three deep zones are not covered no under cover crossing routes no deep help gamble defense “bunch” and “snug” type sets . Empty Formations — all receivers are one-on-one (but free rusher) tough to cover slants – nobody in the middle running plays – force and secondary force weakened should have somebody open if QB has time Quarter.. 8. 4. Half The Quarter.How to attack it 1. The underneath coverage can utilize four or five (4 or 5) defenders. 3. The PSR is based on the depth and alignment of the C’s and safeties. aligned deeper than the C.

3. 5.tight.Strengths 1. 3. 3. 6. 2. 2. 4. but will bail (retreat) so that they are off six to eight (6-8) yards at the snap. Leverage on weak wide receiver. 6. 5.How to attack it 1. can use bump technique deep routes to strong side cover five (5) of the six (6) underneath zones four (4) man rush weakside force and contain easy to disguise can double (inside/outside) against a single receiver to the weak side . The SS will be even with the C at the snap. 2. 6. 4.Weaknesses 1. Weak safety must cover half the field flood routes to the strong side S must cover curl and flat strong side contain weak inside linebacker to curl wide splits can create lanes . 5. Horizontal stretch on the safety covering half vertically stretch the flats to create lanes strong side outs weakside curl cannot cover a flood route (three or four [3 or 4] receivers in the pattern) trips type formations & motion . . 7. and can also employ a bail technique. 4.

Zone Blitz The Zone Blitz is a defensive scheme used to confuse the offensive line’s pass protection schemes. The coverage could be anything. Defensive linemen and other defenders in coverage who are not skilled/used to it – limited range 2. if he reads pass. The blitzers go through their assigned gaps. A frontal rusher — i. crossing routes through the underneath coverage 3. Run lanes are covered pressure on the QB – confuse protection schemes QB reads are changed easy to disguise can double (inside/outside) against outside receivers and cover underneath zone with defensive linemen . and the QB’s reads.Weaknesses 1. play action.e. 3. . then retreats to his pass zone. but the most common zone blitz is the “fire zone.” which involves three deep and three intermediate pattern reading defenders. The droppers replace the blitzers in the pass zone. 2. 4. a linebacker or defensive lineman – briefly engages the offensive lineman. if offense can protect .Strengths 1. 5.

4. outside breaking routes by inside receivers 3. play action with deep routes 3. It can be employed out of a four across or two deep look.Strengths 1. play action . Middle zones confuse QB’s reads easy to disguise can double (inside/outside) against inside receivers can lock-on QB’s eyes . 5. with patterns to the backs Maximum protection with deep combinations through the open areas Cover 1 “Robber” The Robber coverage is a defensive scheme used to confuse the QB’s reads. Deep outside versus man 2.Weaknesses 1. 3. crossing routes to the outside versus man . both the underneath and deep middle.How to attack it 1. Horizontal and vertical stretch on the pass zones TE versus defensive linemen screen passes play action. A QB reading through the middle of the field (goal post) will read man or rotation and attempt to hit crossing routes or attack the deep middle which is where the “robber” is. Outside on timing routes 2. 2. It is designed to take away the middle pass zones. .How to attack it 1. 4. 2. 3.. 5. The coverage can also be used with man coverage allowing the “robber” helping out in the middle.

Where to attack the coverage based upon the play called. clear lane throws Prevent The Prevent is a defensive scheme designed to force the offense to use time to score. 5. Deep zones. 4. The strengths and weaknesses of the coverage. The QB must be descipline when facing the Prevent by taking the easy yardage.Weaknesses 1. The QB must be patient throwing in the underneath zones to recievers on the run. while allowing the offense to pick up chuncks of yardages. 4. At the high school and collegiate level.4. Inside run – draws backs on delays to middle middle hook zones quick routes on time in the undercover seams . . 3. 2.Strengths 1. 4. flats and outs on time empty sets draws backs on delays get the ball to speed underneath Review A critical component to a successful pass is that the quarterback recognize the coverage. attack the middle of the prevent because the clock stops to move the chains for first downs. Horizontally stretch the pass zones deep crossing routes underneath at twelve yards or less with stops.How to attack it 1. four defenders deep can get under deep outs and curls can keep the QB in the pocket with an outside rush defensive backs can fly to the ball when it is thrown deep protect the boundary . The defense linemen will use outside rush techniques to keep the QB in the pocket. 2. 3. 6. 5. 2. 2. 5. 3. . 3. QB must look robber off 5. Materials given to a quarterback (DVD. flash cards) 1. 7. It protects against the quick scores. Quick recognition of the secondary.

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