Three coverages to carry this Fall
MQ gives you three concepts to work with as we head into Fall Camp season
Every coach needs tools within their bag that layer their scheme, tie looks together, and answer specific issues that pop up during the season. Static schemes that never change from week to week will get you beat. The access to different looks can apply passive pressure on the offense. Mixing these “new” schemes can help give the defense the edge in an offense-dominant world.
One way to apply passive pressure outside simulated and replacement (Creepers) pressures is to tweak the coverage to defend against specific issues throughout the season. Whether it is a dominant WR or the defense needs to double or a route concept taking advantage of the coverage scheme, every defensive coordinator needs answers.
In today’s game, coverage dictates everything, from run fits to the front, as it is the critical piece in defending modern offenses. Defenses can solve most problems with coverage, and I’d argue when struggling to find answers, look to a defense’s coverage first. Run fits, and subsequently stopping the run will always be essential to success. The better a base run defense, the more a defense is able to place numbers in the secondary, and this is the paradox of defense.
We know that passing has become ever more efficient and at the higher levels, it has surpassed running the ball in overall efficiency. As a result, the game today is a pass-first, QB-led game. Applying pressure with the backend is critical to the modern defense and having answers to problems that will appear is critical to success.
The concept of “Steal” coverage has been around for a long time. I remember seeing it in a playbook from a Gary Patterson disciple about six or seven years ago. The coverage is perfectly designed to combat Air Raid offenses, primarily the deep crossing routes that coincide with the scheme. Additionally, with the ability to “split” coverage concepts in a two-high shell, defenses can utilize the weak side safety in multiple ways. Since most offenses key that defender, it is usually a good place to start.
Steal is a derivative of the POACH concept which is primarily used in 3x1 alignments. A Poach Safety will react to a player, especially if he goes vertical. The #3 WR is usually the target and the key-read for the backside Safety. Below is a diagram of SOLO, or my term for POACH coverage.
In Solo, the DS is reading the departure of #3. If the WR goes vertical, the DS will take him man-to-man. Any route underneath the coverage is left for the underneath defenders. The concept is the Quarters (MOFO) version of a single-high weak rotation scheme that places the Safety as the 3-Up player (6-Cross/6-Buzz).
Related Content: Where Single-High & Two-High Collide: 6-Cross
If #3 doesn’t go vertical, the DS will work to close the Post (Fox). Pitt’s Pat Narduzzi has used this coverage to leverage the Trips side of the formation and “push” the coverage over one man for decades. In the diagram, the CB, Sam, and CS create a triangle over #1 and #2 and can run Quarters (Sky) or 2-Read (Cloud) depending on the split. to
Versus Y-off formations (below), the concept is the same but less aggressive. In Poach, the BS will key the TE and adjust to the TE’s movement post-snap. If the TE goes flat or stays front side to block, the BS will play just as he would in Sky (Quarters) coverage, sitting on the hash and playing the box top-down. If the TE were to come across (Split Zone/Counter), the BS will sink into the edge of the box as the force player, fitting where needed but working outside-in.
Finally, if the TE were to go vertical, the BS would take the TE just as he would in Solo. The main difference between Poach and Solo, in my view, is the post-snap movement for the BS. In Solo, the Safety will use Cheat steps into the middle of the field (MOF), keying the TE. In Poach, the Safety, will stay in his base alignment and read the TE.
The issue with Poach/Solo is that the boundary CB (BC) is left to handle the single-WR by himself. If the player can do that, then the defense can shift the coverage to the front side of the formation. The scheme is excellent when the offense is attempting to run crossing routes or is unconcerned with the backside reads. One example of using this coverage is against nub-TE formations on primary passing downs. Michigan illustrates this below.
In the clip, the BS will slide into the middle of the field in a typical “Steal” technique, staying flat and reading his keys for any crossers. Then, the BS gives an “Under” call notifying the defense that the TE is running a shallow cross. The shallow crosser allows the BC to climb to the near hash and “pushes” the Steal Safety to the next man. In the clip, you can see that the BS hesitates and then continues to move on to the next vertical.
The concept Nebraska runs is what I call Vertical Cruise. The offense is trying to flood the deep zones and run a man across the coverage from the other side. The ability to push the coverage over keeps Michigan sound and doubles the most dangerous vertical threat, the #2 WR. Michigan runs a 2-Read (Cloud) concept over #1 and #2, allowing the FS to CAP the Seam route by #2. The Under call pushes the BS to the Dig of #1 and helps leverage the route for the field CB.
Steal coverage can be used in many ways, and Michigan illustrates a common communication within the scheme. Versus “quads” formations like the one displayed above, I like to use that nub-side Safety as a “joker” in the coverage. For years I have used the Steal concept as a base technique to allow the BS to work front side or fit the box, even if we are running a true split-field Trips coverage like Stubbie/Special or Stress. The slight push in the coverage is a great tool to combat modern offenses and the route concepts used by most Spread teams.
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