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.