Knowing basic zone coverages is one of the first things installed for high school players. Unless you are playing at a big suburban school, or a private school, or the damn near college level of some Texas high school football outfits, these coverages never change, but how teams scheme to find the openings does. A 16 year old kid playing in a summer 7on7 tournament is running quarters, or solo, or whatever else, just like the guys Saturdays and Sundays. Each defensive pass defender knows their responsibilities, but any decent QB knows what those are too. Maybe that chess match never evolves beyond checkers, but it’s definitely there. Here is what you can expect to see against which types of formations.
Point 1: Remember, every coverage has it’s strengths and its weaknesses. 11 guys can just BARELY not cover enough ground, hence all the open windows available at certain times, that is if a competent play designer is involved.
Point 2: Coaches like zone defense because defenders can keep their eyes on a MOBILE QB. IF you are in man defense, that’s when you tend to see QB’s rip off giant 30 plus yard runs. Also, you tend to see more man defense at the goal line or ten yards and in.
Remember the 2010’s Seahawks? I bet ya do.
I had a buddy that thought the 2010’s Legion of Boom Seahawks were overrated. “Surely, you can’t be serious!?” I told him. He was serious, but his name actually was Shirley. But that’s not important right now. Those Seahawks lived in Cover 3, which means the 2 corners and high safety have the deep part of the field, with the linebackers covering the low middle and flat areas. This worked out well, with Earl Thomas (pre gangbang) using his incredible range, and Richard Sherman rerouting receivers to Thomas. (It also helped Sherman was a former receiver at Stanford and super intelligent.) The other safety was Kam Chancellor, who would spin down to the tackle box as a robber sometimes, and devastate crossers and running backs. It was weird, it’s like the Seahawks hit on some late round picks, but then properly used them to their talent.
Commonly Seen: This is called usually when a team has two backs in the backfield, lessening the threat of a pass. (However two backs can also gear up some good play action, which in turn creates long developing routes.) It guarantees that their will be “8 guys in the box”, which is very helpful if it ends up being a run.
Possible Problems: routes and concepts that expose this are if four receivers end up going vertical ( a.k.a. downfield), especially up the seams (and or the hashes). This is when you hear the phrase “The QB looked off the safety” more times than naught. Also simple hitches to the outside receivers work well because corners have to be playing off and not pressing. As well, the outside linebackers have to be “late to the flat” (I’ll explain when you’re older. Don’t tell your mother.), so dump offs and out routes can work too.
Cover 4 or Quarters
Just because there are two high safeties doesn’t mean it’s automatically Cover 4. It could be Cover 2, or 2 Man, or really they’re disguising cover 3 and will move at the snap! Basically if all four receivers go vertical it looks like man coverage, because each deep player will then have…a quarter of the field!
Commonly Seen: When the offense goes with 2×2 receivers, more commonly seen in college. Sometimes that could be a TE on the line, but he still counts. Hell, you could have two TE’s on the Line and two receivers flexed out, and it’s still 2×2 to the defense. (But the run fits will be different).
Possible Problems: When there are two high safeties, you would be smarter than not to have some run plays cued up on offense. Or at least, some short passing game, because their are only three mid range defenders close to the Line. Two high safeties, regardless if it’s Cover 2 or Cover 4, are susceptible to huge post routes right down the middle. Also the massive kryptonite to this are the Dagger or Mills concept, where both receivers on the same side run a combo of a deep post and or an in breaking route. Otherwise, it’s a bit harder to take shots downfield.
***Here is a Mills Concept. A Quarters Coverage killer.
Now hang on just a dang minute mister….what if THREE WR’s go to a side?!
Get this, you still run quarters coverage. Teams like 3×1 because you can isolate your stud receiver on an island by their lonesome, like the Chiefs do ALL the damn time with Travis Kelce. If the defense goes to bring a safety over the top of that, then the offense has better numbers to the three man side. This is true in college where they might run a fast receiver screen, or a big roll out where they flood that side of the field.
Remember that backside safety with two jobs? Wanna see him not do either of them?
So you saw the end of the Chiefs/Raiders game, right? Here is me doing a breakdown of solo coverage, or literally what our team uses at JV.
Okay, last one. Cover 2.
Commonly Seen: There isn’t really a formation this is brought out against, it’s more for preventing explosive plays, but you can nickel and dime your way down the field with it. Cover 2 has kind of been in and out of vogue. Cover 3 and and Cover 4 are probably more popular with stuff you tend to see more in college, like teams that run wide outside zone or jet motion, therefore having a corner already down for run support.
Possible Problems: Like Cover 4, the middle of the field is wide damn open. Also, if notice, either side of the safeties is wide damn open next to the sideline. The perfect kryptonite to cover 2 is a Smash concept, where if you look above, the Y or H or both, will run ten yards and take a 45 degree angle to that wide open spot.
PROBLEM SOLVING: You want to stop those easy Smash routes? Then get a 3rd guy up high, so it starts to look like, wait a minute, Cover 3. ***Here is how Lovie Smith and the Bears bastardized it with that HOF freak show Brian Urlacher.***