Thursday, April 29, 2010

Quarter Coverage- Safety Push Technique

A push is when the #2 receiver to a side pushes vertical and draws man to man coverage by the deep safety to his side. In my previous post on split safety coverage I briefly explained the rules of 2-Robber and Cover 4. In both coverages vertical releases by the #2 WR past 8 yards would put the FS (and WS) in Man to man coverage on the WR. A WR vertical release past 8 yards is known as a "push" call by the free safety.

Knowing the assignments and responsiblities of a coverage is important. However, knowing the technique to execute those assignments is even more important. The technique involved in a push by #2 is more detailed than many might think. There are many misconceptions of the technique. Also, there are many ways that people teach their safeties in a push situation.


The goals of the FS coverage technique on a push by #2 has two primary goals:

1. Be in position to cutoff deep vertical routes.
2. Have good enough leverage to play inside cuts by the #2 WR effectively.

Outside cuts are not part of the goals in basic robber coverage. The flat defender or corner are covering outside, so the FS should not have to worry about those routes. He has help there. On the other hand he does not have inside or over the top help. Therefore, it only makes sense that he leverage those routes. So the starting point to proper coverage technique begins with the initial angle the FS takes towards covering the #2 WR.


This is the proper push angle. He should be at point with this type of leverage once the #2 WR pushes man coverage from the FS. This angle (if maintained) will allow the FS to play inside and vertical routes. A bad angle is a common mistake that many FS's make when first learning.

There might not be to much difference to the two angles at first, however the poor angle will get the FS in trouble if he gets an inside route (post or dig) from the #2 WR.

There is not as much of a problem if the # 2 WR runs a vertical route, but inside routes will be a problem. The aiming point of his angle should be past the cutoff point. The cutoff point is the point on the field where a WR will make his breaks inside or outside. It is usually at a distance 10-15 yards past the LOS. The diagram below will show the problem with redirecting from a bad angle.

This angle will make it too easy for the WR to beat the FS inside. From this point the FS will be out of phase in a chase position with no inside help. This is not middle field coverage. In this coverage inside routes must be properly leveraged to avoid giving up the big play.


With the proper angle the FS will have adequate time to redirect and leverage both types of inside breaking routes.

The FS has more inside leverage on this coverage, and can see the route break-off with plenty of room to to allow for the proper recovery. This is the players main priority. It might make it harder to play corner routes, but he should have help from the corner there. This is a timeless football principal: LEVERAGE THE BALL TO WHERE YOU HAVE HELP.

This angle has benefits for the vertical route as well. If there is a speed mis-match, the FS has a better angle to cutoff the deep route.

This shows the FS cutting off the WR at the appropriate place on the field. There is still a chance the WR can cut inside but routes that deep are uncommon, the FS will have more time to recover, and the QB will probably thrown the ball the time the route gets this deep.

Below is some video of the proper angle and technique on a push. The FS is playing the TWINS WR's on the defensive left.

Even though the WR makes a break past the typical breaking point the FS should not worry too much about getting beat at this depth.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Quick Thoughts- Determining Coverages for a Defensive Scheme

The pro-I, wish-bone, and wing-t teams are not as common as they were in the 90's. Despite the fact that the spread is the current trend, high school defenses will still see a form of one of these run-offenses 2-5 times a year (sometimes more depending on the area). Good spread offenses force defenses to vary their coverage to keep themselves from getting exploited all day. The spread, due to it stress on spacing forces defenses to be conscious and aware of the windows and pass vulnerabilities that a coverage entails. While, traditional run offenses attacked coverages by the virtue of the coverage's force rules and run fits.

For example, lets consider squat/halves coverage (cloud force).


Vs a squat corner many teams might attack the corner by utilizing a crack block on the safetyor backer coupled with a kick-out block by the full back on outside running plays. The pro-I coach is gonna use the wide positioning of the force player to create a wider running lane. This falls within the rules of the force player, fundamentally. A force player's job is to turn the ball back inside, but the angles the WR will have on the crack on the Safety or backer, and the fullback will have on the corner make this an excellent adjustment to squat/halves coverage.


Spread teams don't think about run force vs squat/halves coverage as much as they think about pass coverage. This holds true for the run-heavy spread teams. Spread coaches, advocate "2-beaters" as the way to attack the coverage. Smash routes, fade/speed-out, and 2 outside verticals with a middle of the field split (post) route are just some the popular plays to attack squat/halves coverage.


No matter if you are facing mostly run heavy offense with only two wide-outs on the field or spread offense based from 4-wide formations; you are going to have mix up your coverages. Defenses facing the running sets are going to need a method to mix-up their run fits, and teams that face spread offenses are going to have to mix-up their pass zone responsibilities.


So of you reading, might be thinking," this is obvious! " Well, it is. But to what extent and in what way? Many coaches claim to be "Cover-2", "Cover 3", "Cover-4", "Man", or "Robber" coaches. Everyone has a coverage they like best and have bought into fully. However, seeing defense in this way limits the ability to mix it up, by making the idea of mixing up coverages scary.

The toughest dilemma for coaches is the goal to commit to getting good at one thing, versus limiting their effectiveness at that one thing in order to make time (room) for other things. The old phrase "Jack of all trades and master of none" is the hallmark phrase of this philosophy.

The mental block for coverage determination is the way we view coverage. Brophy's article about Nick Saban's Middle Field Coverage describe a great way to view coverage.

When you get down to it, there are really only two types of coverages in Saban's world;
  • middle of the field safety
  • split-safety coverage
When you teach a quarterback to read a defense, THIS is, afterall, what you teach him. From there, you can have 3 types of defenses;
  • man to man
  • zone
  • pattern match (after pattern distribution)

There really are two main forms of coverage.
1. Middle Field
2. Split Safety

Excluding man variations, which should be part of any team's coverage system, zone coverage falls into these two categories. Offenses have a general plan to attack each coverage type.


Coaches will attack the stress player responsible for flat/force and the middle field safety. The vulnerabilities in this coverage are the seams and intermediate windows of the flat/curl areas. 4-verticals will stress your seams, and curl-flat and vertical-dig combinations will stress your flat/curls defenders.


On pass coaches will attack the Middle of the Field. Squat/halves, quarters, and robber coverages are all susceptible to plays that attack the middle of the field. Split Safety coverage offers benefits that middle field coverage does not. It can provide better coverage on vertical/deep routes (exception is squat/halves) and more effective coverage on intermediate routes. However, the nature of split safety coverage allows offenses to run post routes that attack the middle of the field. This route is easier to throw and execute than deep vertical routes.


Whether you are a Split Safety or Middle Field coverage coach, you cannot stay in just one of them. Obviously, if you have a talent advantage versus the opponents you play, you can possibly get away with it. But all things equal, good coaches are gonna exploit you. You have to use a favorable mixture of coverage calls to put the play-caller in a lose-lose situation. The economic concept of game theory can provide ideal ratios to optimize coverage calls. However, most of us don't have the time nor desire to calculate this. There is an easier way.

Step one is to recognize the vulnerabilities of your coverage. If you run split safety coverage 90% of the time, it is unreasonable to complain about people killing you on the post. No matter how well you teach your techniques, the natural advantage of attacking the middle of the field versus split safety coverage will be enough to get you burned more times than acceptable. On the other hand, it would be unreasonable to complain about intermediate routes and 4 verticals killing you in middle field coverage. The same reasoning applies to this.

Step two is to determine what play call ratio you ideally want to use and what ratio of time you will dedicate to practicing each concept. Some people will be more in favor of split safety coverage and others middle field. Whichever you choose, it is in you best interest to at least in concept involve adequate time for the other.

Remember the benefits and weaknesses of each. Fundamentally, using each one gives you a solid base to defend against offenses. In addition to this, properly mixing the two coverage types into your play calls, allows you to put more pressure on the offensive play-caller by making him guess whether you will be in middle field or split safety coverage.


This might ruffle some feathers, but this is just something I have observed. I have seen many defenses get burned by being too one-dimensional in their coverage scheme, and witnessed offenses get stuffed by less-talented teams that mix up the two concepts effectively.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Defending the Counter- GT Part I

The counter is a staple plays that is run across many offensive philosophies. It is the hallmark of angle blocking teams. It can cause numerous problems for the defense, and put tremendous pressure on the d-line and backers. Stopping it is a priority for most teams, whether it is run from the I, wing-t, or spread. Defending it well requires sound alignment, gap-control, and a keen understanding of run-fits. The first step to defending it, involves understanding what the play is designed to do and what key things must happen in order for the offense to execute the play effectively.


The counter blocking assignments are simple. One player is assigned to kick-out an edge defender (most likely a DE), another is designed to seal a linebacker, and the rest block down and away from the play. The backs job is to run between the kick-out and seal blocks.

The rules for the blocking are quite simple. The biggest thing the offense must determine is which player will be kicked out.

The key block in the play is the Double team of the play-side defensive tackle. Whether the tackle is a 3 or shade-nose makes no difference. The goal of the offense is to blast this player backward into the backside linebacker. The aiming point for the double team is to take the d-tackle past the center. This accomplishes two goals. One, it walls off the backside backer from pursuit, and two, it widens the running lane for the back and stresses the play-side defensive end and linebacker.

If the offense can create the above situation, the defense is in trouble. Determining how to defend the counter is irrelevant. Deciding between squeezing and spilling will make no difference, because the play is gonna gain yards period. Squeezing occurs when the "kick-out" defender squeezes down the line (with the down-block) and makes contact with the guard, keeping his outside shoulder free. The idea in a squeeze is to condense the running lane and push the ball to the linebackers. However, if the double team is able to push past the center the running lane cannot be condensed adequately.

Here the DE does a good job of squeezing, however the running lane is too large because of the double team. The back has enough room to make a cut off the seal on the linebacker. The backside backer cannot help stop this.

Spilling involves the DE and backer essentially trading responsibilities. The DE's goal is to get inside the kick-out and spill the play outside where the backer can make the play. Even with a good spill the counter can still go, if the double team pushes the d-tackle past the center.

Even on a good spill the DE has to much ground to cover to properly play inside the kick-out. The back simply needs to hug the line of his center and double team. The Seal block can easily get the linebacker despite the spill.


Handling the Double-Team

This might seem obvious to the typical reader, but is the most important principal when defending the counter. DO NOT ALLOW THE DOUBLE TEAM TO GET MOVEMENT ON THE D-TACKLE! This is a must, don't be stubborn about it. If the O-line is strong enough to drive your D-Tackle back, and no technique can prevent it, then have the tackle cut the linemen and create a pile. You cannot allow the offense to put stress on the play-side defenders.

Run Fits

Once you take care of the double team, you can begin to formulate a strategy of how you are going to defend the counter with your play-side defenders. The main ways are to squeeze and spill. Prior to determining those two techniques, it is important to know how your players will fit into the run. The basic run-fits are detailed below:

(these can change slightly when spilling if the Tackle runs around the guard)

Versus any kick/seal play the two offensive blockers create three running lanes or "gaps". A lane on the outside of each of them and one lane in between them. The idea for the offense is to ideally create an open lane in between them. For the defense, you must be able to place defenders in a position to defend these three areas. If you do not have these three covered the offense is gonna have a running lane. Here is an example of the run-fits if the defense chooses to squeeze. (More on the squeeze will be discussed in part 2)

Using this framework, it should be easy to diagnose the problem that occurs when the double-team pushes the d-tackle past the center. Lane #3 is undefended.


This is just an introduction into defending the Counter-GT. In this section, I talked about the goals of the offense, the most important priorities for the defense, and the principals for defending the play on the play-side. In part II I will go more in depth into the techniques and principals involved in squeezing an spilling.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Cover Black- Inverted Man-Under Halves

Spread Teams put stress on the defense. The challenge of defending the pass and run effectively put the defense into difficult decisions. The need to stop the run while at the same time maintain excellent pass coverage is difficult. Zone coverage is the mainstay of choice vs the spread because of these needs. Zone allows all eyes to be on the run while coverage is developed to protect deep passes. Because of this, offenses attack defenses with quick/short, intermediate, and outside breaking routes. In response to this defenses have mixed in man coverage variations to deal with this attack.

Man coverage can take away short and inside breaking routes. Outside routes are harder to cover because of the inside-leverage defenders use in man coverage. In certain man coverages defenders can use outside-leverage. In order to use outside-leverage the defense needs to provide inside and/or deep support to remain sound. A popular coverage to use when the defense wants to defend the pass is man-under halves support.

In this coverage the players in man coverage will use a trail technique and the safeties will provide deep support. Any outside cut and intermediate inside cuts should be covered by the man defenders. However, there are two drawbacks to this coverage. First, the quick inside slants are hard to cover. The man defenders are out of position to cover these routes due to outside alignment and there isn't anyone that can provide immediate help to these routes. Second, run support is weak. The man defenders are too far from the action to provide adequate support and the safeties are gaining depth to provide deep pass support. This limits run support to 5 players. Given that the offense has 6 players to use in the running game, this puts the defense at a disadvantage versus the run. Due to these drawbacks the defense usually runs this coverage in long yardage situations where the threat of the slant and run is of less concern.

The does not put the defense in the best position, because the best coverage for deep to intermediate pass plays is restricted to long yardage downs. However, the offense can run these types of passes on any down. How can the defense improve this position? For one, the defense will need to utilize this coverage on situations other than long yardage. Another thing about today's spread offenses, is that they can check into different plays depending on what the defense gives them. This alignment will invite offenses to check into running plays.

The solution must then allow the defense to show this alignment but defend the run more effectively. If a defense can do this, then the offense will be in a guessing game. In short, the defense will have gained the upper hand. What type of coverage would this be? In comes Cover Black, an inverted man-under halves coverage.


Playing the Run

In cover black the defense shows the offense a man-under halves look and invites the run. The wrench in the works is that the defense has 7 players that it can commit to the run. The 2 extra run defenders are the safeties. The safeties need to stem to 1x8 alignment and flat-foot read thinking run 1st. On a run read the safeties can activate into the box quickly. Also, they will probably pursue freely because offenses do not account for the safeties in their run blocking schemes. This coverage is effective versus inside and outside running plays.

Versus the inside run

The linebacker is responsible for the A-gap. The FS sees the tackle move inside, so he move over to cover the QB pull. The WS sees the run action and activates to defend the B gap. The Defensive end leverages down the line and takes the back. If all goes as planned the QB will pull the ball not knowing that the FS will be in position to play him.

Versus the Option

Here the rules are little different. On fast flow the play side safety moves lateral and checks the slot receiver. If the slot releases towards him or vertical he needs to take away the play pass. The SS is man to man on the slot but begins with his eyes on the backfield. While jamming and disrupting the slot, he should trigger to run force whenever he sees fast-flow his way. The WS can protect the cutback by checking backside B-gap and then get into pursuit. The end can take QB.

Playing the Pass

The rules for the underneath man defenders are as follows.

1. Align o/s leverage on man
2. Maintain outside leverage and cover any outside cuts by your man
3. Stay over and outside your man on vertical releases.
4. If your man releases inside yell "in-in!" release him and continue to gain depth. (stay over the top in case he cuts vertical again. )
5. If you are covering a slot and your man is running a vertical route and you hear the corner make an "in" call, work inside your man. (You will not have post help anymore)

The biggest challenge is number 5. However, this is not a play type that people will run at a man under halves look.

Safety Pass Rules

1. Don't chase a shallow crosser. A shallow cross is a route that is below linebacker depth.
2. You have the 1st inside cut (past linebacker depth) of speed (don't take an inside cut by a TE).

Lets look at some diagrams of cover black in action.

Versus a Dig Post Combination

Basic rules application here. The SS makes his "in" call and gains depth. The corner should alert the SS to his inside cut so that he (the SS) can cutoff the route while the corner plays the route over the top. The FS will handle the dig.

Versus Vertical and Dig

This is an example where the SS will have to work inside his receiver. The corner will make an "in in" call. This alerts the SS that he has lost his post help, but will have outside from the corner. An important coaching point with this technique, is that the SS must work inside by going over the WR. He should be over and outside initially. It is problematic for him to work inside by going behind the WR, because if the WR cuts inside (ie Post) before the SS gets inside the WR will be wide open and have an easy lane to go the distance.

Versus the Deep Out by #1

The idea for the offense is to wall of the SS from getting underneath the out by #1. They run this when they expect the corner to bail and play deep zone. Versus man the route becomes more of a comeback. This coverage will look like zone to the WR's so they will try to wall with the slot.

Teams will not want to run a deep out to #1 versus this coverage, but lets talk about the technique to take this away.

The SS has to maintain outside leverage and remain over the top when the route pushes vertical. The FS should shuffle and look for inside cuts. The corner should stay outside and over, break aggressively outside as soon as the receiver breaks out. Due to leverage the corner is in perfect position to cover this route. The only difficulty will be if the QB throws the ball the WR's inside shoulder.

It is important for the SS to maintain proper leverage in this play, because he will be in perfect position to cover a corner route by the slot.


Cover Black is a great and deceptive coverage. It is a great change-up and stand alone coverage that can be run on any down. It is especially useful when your defense employs man-under halves. The offense will not be sure what coverage you are in when you align in this look. You can utilize man-under coverage on more than just long yardage situations when you have cover black as a change up.

Defending the Slot-T Offense Part I

The slot-t misdirection offense is a difficult offense to defend. It places 11 players in close proximity to the ball and forces the defense to play slow. It's misdirection can throw a defense into chaos if they don't have their eyes in the proper place. The base alignment of the offense is shown below.

There are multiple ways to align, and it is recommended that you show multiple alignments when you are facing the slot-t. The offense is based on rules. The line makes blocking calls to execute their plays. If you can stem and show different pictures, you will confuse their blocking assignments.

The offense functions on a series system. Meaning a certain range of plays are utilized within a given series. There are various series that can be run. I will look at 4 series in these posts on defending the slot-t offense.

1. 100's
2. 200's
3. 300's
4. 400's

These four series comprise the majority of what this offense will run and also encompasses their base plays. The rest of the series for the most part are adjustments and can change depending on the year.


On defense the starting point is reads and keys. If these are off, you are in for a long night. There are two main key types: Backfield and Linemen. This offense thrives on defenses that read their backfield. The misdirection alone gets backers out of position constantly. Vs this offense line keys are more effective and will get players into better position consistently.

Line keys are best the majority of the time, however, there are times when reading a certain player in the backfield is more effective. How do we know when to read backs? Easy, the best time to read backs is when the offense is running a particular series, the 200 to be exact.


The 200 series begins on the 2nd "hut" meaning all of these plays happen on 2. The first "hut" puts the z-back in motion.

When this occurs one of three plays will usually happen. In general terms, they are called F-Wham, Z-Pitch, and H-Trap. Using diagrams from the actual playbook:


The F gets a dive and the H leads him.


QB fakes to the F then pitches the ball to the Z.


H delays then takes hand-off once the F clears.

The last play needs more explanation. The left tackle will influence the defender by showing pass, then release to the backer. The Right tackle pulls to kick-out the defender. The H delays then opens to take the hand-off and run behind the trap. This play is especially devastating if your players are favoring the pitch.

Reads vs the 200 Series

As I said earlier the best thing to read is the line preferably the guards. This offenses uses lots of pulling by these players, so you can rely on the guards to take you to the ball. However, this is not the case in the 200 series. The guards do almost the same thing each time. The most reliable key in the 200 Series is the H-Back.

Once the Z goes in motion on the first "hut" the backers eye's should immediately go to the H-back. He plays a crucial role in the execution of these 3 plays. In the F-Wham he lead blocks for the F. On the Z-Pitch he leads outside for the Z, and on the H-Trap he gets the ball and runs opposite the flow. Also, only on the H-trap does a linemen pull, and it is a tackle who pulls. Since the preferred read is not the tackle, it will be hard to read the trap by keying linemen.

Let look at the movement of the H in respect to each play.

As you can see from the above diagrams the H will take you to the play in this series.


This is just an introduction and an explanation of when to read the backfield vs the slot-t. In the next part I will analyze the 300 series and explain what to look for with the line keys. The other parts will cover pass defense and overall game-planning.