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Cover 4

An alternative to 8-man fronts
by: Ken Flajole
Linebacker Coach, Seattle Seahawks
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At every level of football, the ability on defense to effectively control the opponent's running game is the foundation by which productive defenses are forme. Having the means to add players into defending the core of the formation (the box) without compromising the coverage disguise is the essence of what I would like to share.

Cover 4 is the covererage term for Zone Quarter Coverage (3 under, 4 deep). Depending on the front that is utilized with it, it gives the defenseive secondary specific cutback gaps vs. the run while allowing it to hold the disguise of a 2 Deep Coverage Shell. This disguise is critical for various reasons.

1. Uniformed look to the QB on his pre-snap read.

2. The abilitiy to play multiple coverages from the same pre-snap look. If you play other coverages from a 2 Deep Alignment, there is no pre-snap intent by the defense of what coverage they will be in.

3. No pre-empt to QB that the defense is employing the 8 Man Front mechanics. (QB less likely to check out of selected run plays because of defensive look).

4. When you have a 2 Deep Coverage Shell - QB cannot locate single coverage by the defense because of the pre-snap look.

Although playing 8 Man Fronts from a 3 Deep Look is effective vs. the run, it does come at a cost:

1. Pre-snap look is an alert for the QB (Possible audible because of 8 Man Front look).

2. Multiple coverages fromt his look is difficult or severly compromised because of defender locations.

3. QB is alerted to single coverage on the outside receivers and can identify, pre-snap, the best mismatch.

Cover 4 is an effective change-up to 8 Man Fronts without exposing your corners forcing them to hold up in single coverage.

Let's begin by defining the alignments and general run responsibilities of the defensive backs and linebackers. The diagrams will incorporate an Under and Over/Cheat Front so one can see how the coverage can be used in both fronts. The Seattle Seahawks have had one of the top rushing defenses in the 1990s. In 1996, Seattle allowed only 15 rushing yards to the Minnesota Vikings in a game on Nov. 11. In 1997, the Seahawks allowed only 10 rushing touchdowns, the third best total in club history.

Diagram 1

Diagram 2

A. Defensive backs (Diagrams 1 and 2)

1. Corners are aligned at 7 yards with their inside foot on the outside foot of the receiver. They will play this from an outside leverage alitnment unless they get a maximum split and then revert back to inside technique. This can be played from off or press alignment.

2. Free safety will align at 10 yards deep and 1 yard outside the weak offensive tackle.

3. Strong safety will align at 10 yards depth ant 2 yards outside the tight end.

This is a general alignment rule and does not adjust to formation, #2 receiver location, down and defense.

B. Linebackers

1. Under front (Diagram 1)

Back linebacker -9 technique (inside foot split the crotch of the TE).

Mike Linebacker -Minus 3 technique. Outside Shade alignment of the offensive guard at 3.5 yards.

Plugger Linebacker -Minus 4 technique. Head up on the Offensive Tackle at 4 yards.

2. Over/ Cheat Front

Buck Linebacker -Minus 4 technique. Head up alignment on the Offensive Tackle at 3.5 yards.

Mike Linebacker -Minus 0 technique. Head up alignment of the Offensive Center at the 3.5 yards.

Plugger Linebacker -Minus 4 technique. Head up at the Offensive Tackle at 3.5 yards.
C Press "Read"
SS "Poach" 10 and 2
SS "Poach" 10 and 1
C Press "Read"

C "Read" and 7
SS "Poach" 10 and 2
FS "Poach" 10 and 1
C "Read" 7

B Force
E Chase/Reverse
C Secondary Force
SS "Alley" and Fill where needed
FS Cutback thru "A" Gap to ball
P "A" Gap to scrape
C Arc

Diagram 3

Diagram 4

B Chase/Reverse
E Force
P Scrape Alley
C Arc
SS Cutback thru "B" Gap to ball
FS Fill where needed
C Secondary Force

C. Defined run gap responsibility in the "under" front

As you can see from diagrams 3 and 4 - After clearing the initial Run/Pass key, the safeties move into defined Cutback Gaps when a run is away from them and fill where needed when a run is to them. Depending on your philosophy with your Force Defenders (Buck Linebacker and Defensive End), you can further define where your Safeties fit vs. the run to them by the blocking scheme that the offense utilizes. Any reach or base block on the force defender would be played as we have illustrated in diagrams 3 and 4. If you get a Down Block by the TE/OT and your philosophy is to bounce the play outside, then the Safeties can be instructed to assume force vs. this scheme and put all secondary blockers on their inside Pad. (Diagram 5)

Diagram 5

If your philosophy is for the Free Defenders to put all blockers on their inside pad regardless of blocking scheme, then your Safeties should always fit inside the Force Defenders on run to them. (Diagram 6A and B)

Diagram 6A

Diagram 6B

Because of the run/pass conflict that exists for the Plugger Linebacker on the run solid/TE side, built into the coverage is a way to defend bootleg/naked pass plays. The general pre-snap agreement between the Safeties and the two Outside Linebackers (Buck and Plugger), is that anytime the Linebacker is behind the ball (inside the core of the formation) and is not on the LOS or removed from the core of the formation, then the Safety will take any flat route by #2 off the bootleg/naked pass. The Outside Linebacker will come off the run fake and be responsible for any crosser from the opposite side (Diagram #7). If the Linebacker is on the LOS or removed from the core, then the flat route is defended by him and the Safety has the crosser from the opposite side (Diagram #8). The Outside Linebacker away from the Bootleg Pass is responsible for the Running Back on his release outside or throwback screen to him.

Diagram 7

Diagram 8

SS and E Force
E Reverse
C Secondary Force
P Scrape Alley
FS Cutback thru "B" Gap to ball
C Arc

E Chase/Reverse
E Force
C Arc
SS Cutback thru "C" Gap to ball
FS Fill where needed
B "Alley"
C Secondary Force

F Force
E Chase/Reverse
SS "Alley"
C Secondary Force
SS Fill where needed
FS Cutback thru "A" Gap to ball
C Arc

E Flat Route by #2
Y "Crosser"
M Collision TE & Back Checkdown
FS Middle 1/3 Post
B Zone under "Z" & Back in Flat

Flat Rout by #2
Collision TE & Back Checkdown
Zone under "X" & Back in Flat
Middle 1/3 Post

D. General Coverage assignments for the Defensive Backs and Linebackers.

1. The Corners are in a "Red" technique. This means the Corner plays the Wide Receiver with a man-to-man attitude on all routes with the exception of quick unders or smash routes (which we will refer to as "China" routes). They can play this "Read" technique from both off and press alignments.

2. The Free Safety and Strong Safety are in a "Poach" technique. This is defined as matching on the inside edge of any vertical release by the #2 Receiver to their side. If #2 is not vertical, then their responsibility converts to help on the #1 Receiver inside and deep. The Safeties are instructed that if the #2 is not vertical, they will back up the Corner on their side, on any double move by #1 that does not come inside the ball. (Diagram #9). On any immediate route by #1 that does come inside towards the ball, the Safety will defend it aggressively and the Corner will zone it off and back the Safety up for any double move by the Wide Reciever. (Diagram #9).

Diagram 9

Diagram 10

F and H #2
B and P Relate to #2
Y #3
M Relate to #3
SS Back-up Corner for double move
C Back-up FS for double move

3. The Safety also has the flexibility to make a "Me" call to the Corner pre-snap. This is contingent upon game plan and Receiver split. The call allows the Safety to play #1 inside and underneath on any inside route with Corner holding his outside technique and protecting the Safety over the top of any double moves by #1. This call is usually featured in the single Receiver side where there is no threat of #2 release occupying the Safety (Diagram #10). Usually the split of #1 is close enough that the Safety has a legitimate chance of being able to drive and get underneath the Wide Reciever. If the split gets too wide by #1, it becomes difficult for the Safety to get to #1 without compromising the disguise of the coverage and removing him further from his cut back gap on run.

FS is responsible for driving the slant by "X" on a "Me" Call as well as playing underneath the curl.

4. The two Outside Linebackers in the coverage (Buck and Plugger) relate to the final #2 Receiver by release. The Mike Linebacker (middle) relates to the final #3 Receiver by release (Diagram #9). If the #2 Receiver goes vertical, the Outside Linebacker's responsibility entails that he carry #2 inside-out to a depth of 12 yards and then dish #2 off to the "Poach" Safety who is also reading off #2 release. Anytime we carry #2 on a vertical, we are alert for deep "in" route by #1 on that side or shallow crosser from the opposite side (Diagram #11). All "China" calls by the Corners allow the 2 Ouside Linebackers to play #1 aggressively on any inside cut. The Corners play #2 outside for the Corner Route or if #2 goes inside, they gain depth to back-up the Safety for any double move (Diagram #12).

Diagram 11

Diagram 12


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