Buddy Ryan utilized multiple coverages in his 46 package. In addition to basic cover 3 and man-free, he integrated a number of rotation coverages each with multiple variations. The coverage I will be discussing today is “Cover-7” which is a (man-under halves) weak-side rotation coverage.
Coverage on the Wide-outs
The WS rolls to the weak ½ while the strong-side corner plays “thumbs” technique that involves him opening to the other ½. The other part of the thumbs is the jack backer getting underneath #1 and playing an inside-trail technique on the receiver. His job is to cover the inside cuts (and provide solid support on outside cuts) forcing the ball deep and outside to the deep corner.
Weak Corner and WS can play different games on the #1 WR. The options for them are:
Fist is basic inside trail bracket coverage. The Corner lets the receiver get ahead while he trails him 1 yard behind and 1 yard inside. His key here is the WR’s hips (or feet). He is responsible for underneath coverage of the WR. The WS plays over the top and is responsible for deep to deep-outside routes.
Slice is outside bracket. In Coach Ryan’s playbook slice technique is described: “The corner drives through any outside break, and the Safety drives through any inside break.” It is used as an automatic inside the 20 yard line.
Fist/Slice is an interesting adjustment. Is a unique bracket that works well against a slot WR (but good on a single WR). The corner forces the WR outside (same as fist) then crosses over him to a point 3 yards outside and even with the WR. This is a difficult read for the offense because the corner appears to be denying the inside breaks while inviting the outside breaks. However, after the initial jam, the corner works to take away any outside breaks. This is a great adjustment to teams whom like to run the “choice” route to the open side. The big question in this technique is how to properly defend inside cuts. Here the WS has inside cuts by #1. He should be aware of deep routes, but must play the inside breaks aggressively. The only problem with the aggressive play of the WS versus the inside breaks is the threat of the double move (i.e. Slant-go). The corner must help out with these situations. In Fist/Slice the corner must get over the top of #1 anytime he breaks inside to the WS. This is why the corner must play the WR outside and even, so he is in a position to get over the top of inside cuts. This technique allows the WS to play inside breaks very aggressively.
Coverage of the Middle 3
I have covered the bracket techniques used on the WR’s to each side. The remaining three eligible receivers require a coverage system. The Strong Safety, Mike, and Charlie have this responsibility. Their options are:
These coverages are varied techniques that alert the player for lock-man, 2-man combo, or 3-man combo responsibilities. Frank is very basic; the player has his assigned person in straight lock-man. There is no exchanging; you follow the receiver to the stands if he goes there. In the diagram below the SS has the slot man to man. There are times you can put the corner in Frank technique and allow the SS to play the brackets with the WS, but I will not discuss the variations here.
Zebra is a combo (banjo) coverage, this is common to most teams that run man coverage. In the above diagram the Charlie and Mike banjo the TE and back. Zebra is basically an alert for a possible 2/3 switch.
3-Way coverage is an alert for a 3-man exchange and more importantly a play action strong. On play-action the Charlie would have 1st man out, the SS would have the first crosser (the Mike would pass him off ), and the Mike would play the man in between the two.
Anytime the backers are not in 3-way, they must be aware of which of one is in Frank. Usually, if a player is in a frank technique, the other two are in zebra.
Like any coverage, there are going to be prepared adjustments for certain formations. Formations like wing-trips (12 personnel) create conflicts with the linebacker.
The Charlie and Mike are not in position to cover the 3 receivers. If the wing releases flat and the TE runs a corner, there are going to be problems. First, the Charlie would be responsible for the #2 WR (wing) but could easily get walled by the TE because of alignment. Second, the Mike will have difficulty getting underneath the TE. Besides checking to a different coverage, there needs to be more effective way of handling this Set.
The “I’m Out” Call
This call involves the Jack and Mike swapping responsibilities. The Jack now plays man with the Charlie and Strong Safety. He will now be in either frank, zebra, or 3-way. The Mike is now the player in “thumbs” playing inside-trail on the #1 WR. The full adjustment looks like this:
The drawback here is the positioning of the Mike in respect to the #1 WR. He has more distance to cover to get in proper trail relationship on #1. However, the defense is in a better position to leverage the routes of the middle three wide receivers. Even versus some problematic formations, this coverage can involve simple adjustments and remain sound.
Situations to Check out of Cover-7
Cover-7 is used to aggressively attack and take away underneath routes. It is most effective against 1 receiver to each side and a combination of the other 3 players in running-back or TE alignments. As a basic rule of thumb, cover 7 can be run whenever 3 eligible receivers are aligned in close proximity to the core of the formation and there is a wide receiver to each side. There is more to it than that, and spread formations/tight end trips/twins variations will take the 46 defense out of cover 7. The purpose of this coverage is to provide aggressive underneath coverage versus sets with a wide-out to each side.
Cover-7 is nothing new to football. Coach Ryan ran this coverage in the 1980’s. This era was dominated by running formations. Despite the fact that spread formations were not as big an issue, Ryan found a way to get his defense into a 2-High coverage from a 1-High shell. In addition to just getting into the coverage, he crafted a simple and effective way to change up the way he did his rotation coverage. This illustrates a timeless principal. For every coverage concept you have, it helps to have simple and alternative ways of running it. If you are a cover 3 person, it helps to change up which players have flats, Curls, and middle thirds. The 4-spoke, 3 deep rotation coverage are examples of this.
No matter the types of formations you see, you will always have to disguise and confuse the offense. Cover-7 is a great change up coverage that can be easily run out of a run-stopping front like the 46.