Basing out of a defense that has split field coverage has its advantages when it comes to 2×1 and 3×1 sets. Many spread offenses split the field themselves, only reading one side of the formation. This allows defenses to take advantage of the one read RPO systems that many spread teams utilize. No matter what the defense throws at a split field match quarters team, it can align in the correct coverage. Another way to protect the defense is to formation the defensive play calls.
The single receiver and slot receivers are the main targets for RPO spread teams. They use the leverage of the secondary against the defense, reading dropping safeties and the depth of the corner. The single WR side usually sees the quick hitch or slant off of play action. Teams like Baylor use the leverage to RPO vertical choice routes. A defense can confuse the QB by playing with the leverage of the secondary pre-snap. This may seem like single-high to the untrained eye, but with a split field coverage scheme, a defensive coordinator can change the leverage to the boundary (single receiver side) and still run the base quarters scheme.
Defining the Coverage
In quarters coverage the safeties are responsible for fit support. This means they are to attack downhill as soon as the ball is handed off. Their main responsibility is to make the outside linebacker right, fitting off of his movement (preferably getting outside of #2 and making it cut-back to the alley running safety). In coverage, the safety is slow to turn and run, he is “stepping off” reading his triangle of the end man and #2. If a vertical threatens him he is trying to collision and carry the vertical of the #2 receiver (this is where quarters teams are vulnerable). Both safeties are in a pseudo-robber coverage. In pass distribution, the safeties will fit underneath the corner. Versus a double post, or post dig, the corner will “top” the post (pin the upfield shoulder so the WR can’t climb on the post), the safety will fit in the mid-point between the dig and post, and the OLB will fit under the post. In quarters there is always a deep, middle, and flat defender. The diagram below demonstrates quarters or “Sky” coverage, versus a base 2×2 10 personnel set.
Sky coverage is a great 1st down and run stopping coverage. This is where a defense is able to add players to the box that the offense doesn’t perceive. In true Sky coverage, a defense can have up to 9 men in the box on run downs. Most offensive coordinators do not count anybody outside the tackle box in their run blocking numbers. This is how match quarters teams can suffocate the run in Sky coverage. Where split-field quarters team earn their money is in 3×1 and 2×1 sets. Because the coverage to the most receiver side doesn’t ‘change in a split-field look, a defensive coordinator can play with the leverage of the secondary to the single receiver. This adds value, because instead of spinning, a defense just inverts the coverages, or moves the secondary around to give the defense a different look. All this, while keeping the same coverage principles.
Leveraging the Boundary
Deception is what match quarters teams rely on. The passive four-man shell is an illusion that most match quarters defensive coordinators want the offense to see. After the snap of the ball is where the defense morphs into the pressure. Splitting the field allows a defensive coordinator to get creative to the single receiver side. Trap coverage is an offshoot of Cover 2. The point of any trap coverage is to deceive the offense, and jump any short route. A defense utilizes this coverage when the DC feels the offense is going to run an out route or screen with the #2 WR. Some defensive coaches will make it look like Cover 2 except the CB won’t move. His eyes are locked on #2 waiting for him to take an out step. When the out arrives, the CB drives on the ball thrown. Some coordinators take it a step further and walk the CB inside the #1 WR, driving on #2 and cutting #1 if #2 goes vertical. In the end, it is just another variation of Cover 2.
Versus a single receiver, trap coverage looks like the CB or Safety is going to blitz. If it is run, the “trap” player inserts in the “O” gap or folds in on an out-block. Versus pass, the “trap” player will cut under the #1 receiver. The pass distribution is the same as in match quarters. The player trapping is the intermediate zone player and relates 2-to-1. This is a good technique versus RPO teams because a defense can give the illusion of a blitz one play then add a man the next. It is the constant cat and mouse game that RPO teams hate. Teams that RPO, use tempo to make the defense sit back. Trapping a player to the single receiver side is a quick and easy call to give tempo teams fits. Check-with-me teams can struggle against a trap secondary for the same reasons, the uncertain. The beauty in all of this comes on the other side of the field. Being in a split field secondary allows the coverage to the most receiver side stay the same.
Trapping the CB can be a nice adjustment to RPO teams that like to throw the hitch to the single WR. This creates conflict for the QB and the OC because they don’t know if the CB will blitz, or cut under the single receiver. Trapping is about deception. Anytime a defense can create doubt in a QB, that is a win for the defense. The goal when defending an RPO team is to muddy the read for the QB. Adding “trap” players to the boundary is a unique way to do this while keeping a sound structure and pass distribution to the field. In the run game, just like a dropping safety, the CB can insert himself in the run game by controlling the “O” gap, or folding in as plus-one box player.
Blitzing from Leverage
Blitzing from the trap alignment is a great way to add pressure and force a throw, or better yet, get a tackle for loss. Anytime a defense blitzes from the secondary it can be devastating when done right. Many coaches don’t even consider blitzing from the secondary or don’t think about bluffing the blitz. When trapping, a defensive coordinator must blitz, it gives the coverage a bite, and creates doubt in the QB. Against check-with-me teams, a DC can switch the call from blitz to trap (and vice versa) with ease and stay in the right coverage.
Boundary Blitz Package
Here are just a few examples of how a DC can blitz the secondary from the single WR side. Get creative and make the offense think. Don’t give an RPO QB the chance to decide early. The best way to defeat an RPO team is to change the reads post-snap. Switching from variations of trap coverage and blitzing with the secondary will allow a DC to stay ahead of the chains.