Unlocking the Fangio coverage system.
MatchQuarters examines Vic Fangio's path through the coaching ranks and unknots the connection between his single-high coverages and their split-field counterparts.
The split-field universe has two basic coverages, Cover 2 and Cover 4. Within both sub-categories, there are multiple ways of teaching the systems. For example, some coaches prefer a pure zone (spot drop/“plays like Madden”), zone-match (underneath defenders pass off routes), and man-match (once the match is completed, you take your man everywhere he goes).
Spot-drop zones are easy to identify because no defender “hugs” up or matches a WR and keeps vision on the QB. Some call this “vision” Quarters. The system I have described since the birth of MatchQuarters has been of the zone-match variety. DBs will guard WRs and carry them vertically in man-to-man fashion. Underneath, the defenders will match, carry, and deliver their primary WR to “cap” defenders, typically the DBs.
In man-match defenses, the system is built on a true split-field model, where even the underneath defenders will carry their man through zones depending on the coverage. The DBs will work depending on the designated call. One of the best ways to identify the difference between zone-match and man-match is to watch a Mesh concept and the apex defenders (overhangs). If the two underneath defenders take their man back all the way across the field or carry him vertically with their back turned to the QB (no zone eyes), then the coverage is most likely man-match based (insert “Isn’t this just 2-man Karl Scott laser-eyes” meme). The most famous of this system is the Saban Cover 7.
Largely man-match and zone-match is dependent on the overhang player’s ability. If a defense plays with a 3rd CB, it is likelier to play man-match. If that overhang is a “big” Ni or a true LB, then the defense will likely play zone-match. Defense is all about matchups, and most DCs don’t want their lesser athletes (non-DBs) running vertical columns with speedy slots, which is why most man-match defenses play with an extra coverage defender to the passing strength.
Football is a game of geometry. In Quarters, the defense is building a Box, while in Cover 2, the defenders build a triangle. How a team matches the routes can differ depending on philosophy. It all depends on who your apex or overhang players are. If they are DBs (Georgia/Bama/Baylor/Ni hybrid defenses), most defenses will play heavier on the man side with the CB and Ni and let the Safeties play vision off the hash. If the overhang is a LB or “big” Nickel (Iowa/Pitt/ traditional 4-3), the defense will likely lean into the zone side.
For Quarters teams, there are three basic ways of playing the “box”:
1) True vision Quarters that play just like a zone. The apex defender will “bang-to-buzz” (B2B) or work “hard” through the #2 WR and then zone over the flat. The two DBs will “Rail It!” and work their landmarks, only nailing down when the QB throws the ball.
2) Zone-match or what I call Sky (above). The QB will play MOD (off) or MES (press/Man Except Shallow) on #1. Most likely, the CB will take him man-to-man. The apex defender will “cover down” to the Slot, take all of #2 out, and carry any vertical, only coming off versus a Smash call. The Safety will “sway” on the hash and only play “man” if #2 runs a vertical route (Bender/Post).
3) Man-match Quarters (MEG) or 4-Lock, “locks” the CB on #1 and the overhang on #2, with the Safety leveraging off the hash depending on the call (MEG/Switch/Bracket).
In the Cover 2 universe, the system also plays out in three main ways:
1) True zone Cover 2 will “look like Madden,” with defenders guarding an area and using vision to play through routes. In this system, the CB will take any route to the flat, even if it is #3 from the backfield.
2) Zone-match Cover 2 (above), also known as Cloud or Palms, plays man-match with the CB and Safety but uses the overhang as a zone defender. I call him a “Wall-2” player. The CB will take #2 only if he breaks out. If both #1 and #2 go vertical, the CB and Safety will carry them man-to-man. I define what a vertical is below — OVO or Over the Overhang.
3) Hard “Trap” coverage. In this variation of Cover 2, the CB will aggressively step toward the Slot and take anything out. The Safety will work immediately to the mid-point of #1 and #2, while the overhang will play a Wall-2 technique, carrying the vertical of #2. The CB and overhang will also play trail technique, forcing throws deep to the Safety.
Related Content: MQ’s full-length guide to split-field Quarters (Amazon)
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