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Sep 05

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COVERAGE 101: General Thoughts, Zone Principles, Coverage Menu

GENERAL THOUGHTS

1 – “Picks in ZONE, Break-Ups in MAN”

2 – Individualized Player Vision Capability Progression

3 – Saban/Dantonio Field Zone and Receiving Threats Understanding

4 – “Routes occur at 3-13-33”

5 – UNDER COVERAGE IN ZONES = IDEAL DEPTH LANDMARK is 12 YARDS

6 – TYPES of DEPARTURES and DROP ANGLES

ZONE COVERAGE

With the multiple coverages that are employed by defenses there are various individual techniques that the coverage people must master and then employ versus specific routes, patterns, and concepts. What follows is a simple checklist to teach ANY form of ZONE coverage regardless of scheme or technique. Each building block is equally as important and are best mastered in succession; some players will always be naturally better at certain levels and will have an instinct and feel for zone pass defense. However, and to use the most extreme example, we can’t expect most players to consistently disrupt the BALL when they can’t even get a run-pass KEY from their designated surface. In coverage we are looking for PICKS in zone and BREAK-UPS in man – here is the ZONE pass defense checklist from BOTTOM (most basic) to TOP (most advanced):

-RUN/PASS KEY

In ZONE coverage the pass defenders should be keying the best available surface in the core of the formation, NOT the detached receiving threats. People on two feet should never just move to move but upon receiving a pass key begin to depart toward their physical landmark on the field.

-PHYSICAL LANDMARK ON THE FIELD

This is the place on the field HORIZONTALLY and VERTICALLY that the defender should be able to get to while drilling it on air versus a normal 5 step QB drop within each given coverage scheme.

-QB DROP

In spite of the above building block there are of course several different types of QB drops and both the TEMPO and ANGLE of departure of the defender must adjust based on knowledge of the QB drop.

ELIGIBLE RECEIVER LANDMARK

For every zone coverage the defender must have an eligible receiver(s) landmark; there is both a pre-snap and post-snap element to this, that is to say: your drop is “2 to 1” meaning “relate to #2 and then relate to who becomes your new #2” while having vision to #1/new #1.

-SIDE OF FIELD PATTERN

Each defender must have a working knowledge of common offensive pattern concepts as they build on their base of understanding. At the very minimum they must know, after their eligible receiver landmark, who the 2nd and 3rd most dangerous threats to their physical landmark on their side of the midline and how they commonly exchange.

-NEAREST THREAT FROM ACROSS THE MIDLINE

Especially when facing the challenge of defending FULL-FIELD 4 and 5 MAN PATTERN CONCEPTS each zone defender must know pre-snap who their nearest threat is from across the midline.

-QB SETUP ON HIS SPOT = THE POINT BETWEEN the “ZONE DROP” and the “ZONE BREAK” = “SETTLE and SINK”

When the QB gets to the top of his drop and on his spot that is the point when the zone defender must “settle and sink” with his hips and shoulder square; the depth of an UNDERNEATH ZONE defender at this point for a normal 5 step drop should be 12 yards; he can then continue to “melt” as deep as necessary (usually 18-20 yards which is where the VERY DEEPEST intermediate routes would BREAK = “Deep Comeback”/”Fly and Die”).

-QB MOVEMENT IN THE POCKET = “SHUFFLE”

If the QB moves laterally (or slightly up) in the pocket the defender should move horizontally by shuffling, NOT cross over running.

-QB SHOULDER = “COCKED”

When the QB’s shoulder turns to match the EYES of the direction he is looking then the defender should be poised and COCKED and have all 3 major lower body joints loaded to POINT and BURST in that same direction.

-QB ELBOW = “FIRE” – “Key the Elbow”

When the QB’s FRONT ELBOW (GUIDE HAND ARM) moves is when the defender begins to BREAK and RUN in that same direction.

-BREAK = “BURST” – “Should be able to cover 1/3 the distance the ball is thrown”

The break is an all-out SPRINT in that same direction transferring eyes from the elbow to the actual human the ball is travelling towards. It is imperative to NOT TRACK THE FLIGHT of the FOOTBALL on the BREAK.

-BALL – Catch it and Score or violently disrupt the catch and the receiver

If the break is excellent then the finish is in front of the receiver for a pick. If the break is good then the finish is through the receiver for a break-up. If the break is poor then the finish is behind the receiver securing the tackle.

ZONE COVERAGE from TOP to BOTTOM (HIGHEST LEVEL OF LEARNING ON TOP)

-Ball!

-Break = “BURST” “Should be able to cover a 1/3 of the distance the ball is thrown”

-QB Elbow = “FIRE” “Key the Elbow”

-QB Shoulder = “COCKED”

-QB Movement in Pocket = “SHUFFLE”

*(QB SETUP ON SPOT) = THE Crucial Point between the Zone Drop and the Break – “SETTLE and SINK”

-Nearest Route Threat from across the Midline

-Side of Field Pattern

-“Drop off Of THESE Eligible #’s” = Eligible Alignment Individual Route

-QB Drop

-PHYSICAL LANDMARK on the FIELD

*(RUN-PASS KEY)

COVERAGE MENU

As we all evolve our defensive packages we are obligated to the fact that everything starts with the Coverage Menu. From a defensive coach perspective we know that everything starts with stopping the run on especially first and second down. That is what puts our players in a position to be ahead of the down and distance ruler and on schedule to make tackles for losses and sacks while creating takeaway opportunities.  

Ultimately this leads to the ability to achieve the only goal that really matters which is championship-level SCORING DEFENSE a.k.a. ALLOWING OUR OFFENSE to score more than they do. All of this is dependent on the coverages we choose to deploy because that dictates how many people we have available to directly and secondarily fit run plays. Different coverages provide different answers for what the enemy wants to do most and also clearly does best. It is our job as coaches to pick from the menu appropriately and in a timely manner. Some are better for straight run defense, some for might run/might pass, and some are used best simply to stop the pass. All have their merit and the more the players can handle the more solutions to common problems we can provide. What follows below is a sample coverage menu with a simple explanation for each. Clearly each one can merit an entire playbook explanation summary given all the variables and situations. Hopefully, this provides a good starting point.

ZONE COVERAGES with 4 RUSHERS and 7 DROPPERS

-4

Automatically adjusting/hybrid 2 shell coverage which provides a deep zone defender over the top of every vertical pass threat and 9 run defenders in and around the box.

-3

Middle closed post coverage with field/strong safety rotation bringing the 8th run defender to the box and providing help to the free access/quick pass to the boundary or weak.

-6

Opposite of 3 with boundary/weak safety rotation.

-3 BUZZ

Same as 3 except allows the safeties to hold a middle open shell longer by inserting a safety and “buzzing” a backer outside. Provides an answer to field/strong RPO’s.

-6 BUZZ

Same as 3 Buzz just to boundary/weak.

-3 Cloud Strong

Field/Strong Corner Rotation to FLAT Drop from a 2 high shell. Helps versus field/strong outside run/bubble game.

-3 Cloud Weak

Same as 3 Could Strong just to Boundary/Weak.Different way to “double team” a strong X receiver.

-2

Pass oriented defense to eliminate free access by Z and X receivers. Need to have different ways to stunt to mix-up the box look as it is a 7 man front defense that can be loose in seams/alleys.

-DOUBLE ROBBER

Run oriented defense that also helps to take away #2 receiver to the field. Base 9 man front. 

MAN COVERAGES with 4 RUSHERS and 7 COVERAGE PEOPLE

-1

Run/Pass oriented coverage to load the box for the run and defend short and intermediate between the #’s patterns. Provides the ability for low hole and high hole (post) help/extra rushers (jump cover)/double teams to threats.

-2 SWIPE

2 high shell coverage with people covering all eligible receivers and/or adding pressure to extra protectors.  Great for 3rd and 11+.

-1Y

Run oriented call where a designated coverage person finds the TE and allows for man replace run fits with the front adjusting accordingly. This coverage also can double team a threatening WR.

ZONE COVERAGES with 3 RUSHERS and 8 DROPPERS

-8

Base Cover 4 look with the underneath Curl-Flat and Hook-Curl quadrants accounted for and a deep zone defender over the top of each vertical threat.

-3 DOUBLE CLOUD

Nickel defensive back deployment to a deep third with 5 underneath zone droppers disrupting the vertical entry of all 5 eligible offensive players.

ZONE PRESSURE COVERAGES with 5 RUSHERS and 6 DROPPERS

-4FZ

Pressure defense from a base cover 4 (middle open) look.

-3FZ

Pressure defense from a base cover 3 (middle closed) look.

-2FZ

Pressure defense that allows for a “trap-flat” player to the pressure-side for the quick-answer throw.  

MAN PRESSURE COVERAGES with 5 RUSHERS and 6 COVERAGE PEOPLE

-10

Straight “Man-Free” coverage with all 5 eligibles covered and deep-post safety help.

-10 PEEL

All 5 eligibles covered with deep-post safety help; outside rushers peel all flare/swing routes. 

ZONE BLITZ COVERAGE with 6 RUSHERS and 5 DROPPERS

-HOT

Mid-Deep Zone defenders over the top of the #1 and #2 vertical receiving threats to both the field and boundary with deep-post safety help. 

MAN BLITZ COVERAGES with 6 RUSHERS and 5 COVERAGE PEOPLE

-0

All 5 eligibles covered with no help.

-0 PEEL

All 5 eligibles covered with no help but with peel/add-in principles.

About the author

Coach Burkett

Travis Burkett just completed his seventh season at Cornell, serving in 2013 as the Assistant Head and Defensive Line Coach. He previously was a graduate assistant working with the defense at Bucknell and an assistant coach at his alma mater, San Luis Obispo High School. Burkett played at St. Mary's College (CA) and also professionally with the Bergamo Lions in Italy.

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