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.

1 comment:

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