When implementing a quarters scheme, Four Read is the Day #1 install coverage and a DC’s most likely first down call. The Cover 4 scheme allows the safeties to be ultra aggressive to the run, yet hold a two-high shell and keep the defense balanced versus multiple formations. Defensive coaches lean on the Cover 4 scheme because it allows the defense to essentially create a nine-man box versus spread sets. For most spread teams, the OC does not account for the two safeties (they are not physically in the box, or fold players). This is where teams running a quarters scheme gain an advantage. DC’s used to rely on a true Cover 2 scheme to gain the hard edge of the CBs against the run. This left the defense vulnerable on the edge of the box, passing lanes in the middle of the field (high completion throw), and put the Mike in a run/pass conflict. As modern football has turned to the spread (and RPO style), more DC’s are turning to the variations of match quarters to answer their run and pass distribution problems. In a previous article (The Art of Match Quarters), I touched on the basics of pass distributions of Four and Two Read. In today’s article, I will go in-depth on the intricacies of each versus popular route combinations.
Four Read :: “SKY”
The Basics – “Sky”
The term “Sky” essentially tells the safety they are the fit support player and thus the intermediate zone player. DC’s use this coverage on 1st downs because it allows the defense to gain two extra run support players. A great defense is built on anchor points. The defensive line serves as anchors for the linebackers, and the LBs the anchors for the safeties. Each fitting off and correcting each other’s fits. In a Four Read scheme, the safeties are fitting of the two OLBs. In a perfect world, the Sam would fit outside the slot on any run play, making everything cut back to the safety running the alley (this is where defenses can gain a nine-man box). In pass distribution, the safety becomes the curl player, while the OLB takes the flats and the CB takes all of any vertical of #1. If both #1 and #2 go vertical, each secondary player is responsible for carrying their man. Where teams take advantage of Sky coverage is with wheel routes. In a wheel route, the OLB has to absorb the out and carry the vertical with late help. The best way to attack a quarters team is to run a post/wheel concepts. Both the CB and the safety must carry the vertical of the #1 WR running a post. The CB “tops” the WR (hold the upfield shoulder) and the safety fits underneath (intermediate coverage). Here are some basic pass distributions against popular route combinations:
CB: The corner is responsible for any vertical of #1. The curl route extends beyond the LB and becomes a “vertical” for the CB. His role is to sit on top of the route.
CS: The cover safety does not have to move very far. His eyes are on #2. If #2 deviates from his vertical path, in this case, an out route, his eyes go to #1. Versus a CFL concept, he sits in the curl and waits for the WR (similar to a “robber” technique).
OLB: The Sam drives on any out route by the #2 WR and carries any wheel route. He must be pushed off his curl drop, and in this case, the out route by #2 pushes him to the flat.
CB: Seeing #1 go underneath, the CB looks at #2. Since #2 is going vertical, the CB climbs vertical to match the underneath of the corner route. This turns into a pseudo-cloud concept because the safety and CB exchange roles.
CS: The safety carries the vertical of #2, holding the inside shoulder in case #2 runs a post. In the case of a corner, the safety drives on the top shoulder of the route, switching roles with the CB.
OLB: The Sam holds the curl until pushed to the flat by the flaring RB, zoning over the route. The OLB will drive on ball thrown. The Mike, who is matching #3, assumes the curl zone and covers the pick route.
The pass distribution on a Stop/Corner is the same as the Pick/Flat. The only deviation is the Sam. The Sam holds the seam until given a “stop” call by the CB. Once the CB gives a “stop” call, the Sam pushes to the stop route and the CB sinks to the mid-point of the corner route. The safeties role is the exact same as against a Pick/Flat, drive on the top shoulder of the corner route and hold the inside if the WR runs a post.
CB: The CB has all of #1 since he is going vertical. Even with inside alignment, the CB should attempt to “top” the WR’s route. Topping just indicates that the CB needs to get into control position and make sure the WR cannot climb on the post route.
CS: The safety is responsible for the vertical of #2 and since the WR’s route clears the OLB, it becomes his responsibility. Mush like the CB versus a smash route, the safety needs to mid-point the dig and the post, driving on ball thrown.
OLB: The Sam needs to hold inside leverage and make the WR run the hump. His role is to widen the dig and make the WR climb more than he wants to. Once the WR begins to turn inside, the Sam will wall off his vision and deliver him to the sinking Mike.
Two Read :: “Cloud”
The Basics – “Cloud”
Cloud is the match version of Cover 2/Tampa 2. Unlike Tamp 2, the Mike is not the “pole runner.” In a Tampa, the Mike is responsible for the middle of the field (MOF), essentially the deep middle third, and the safeties bail to the mid-point of the outside WRs. Traditionally, the soft spot in a Tampa 2 defense was the MOF if the Mike didn’t drop, or the QB used his vision to pull the Mike from post coming behind him. To combat the soft middle zone, teams turned to match schemes to get the best of both worlds, because the safeties are responsible for the vertical of #2 and not trying to kick outside of #2 going vertical. Every player in the secondary is “matching” a man vertical. Like the Tampa 2, the CBs in a match scheme are still driving on any out route, and the OLBs are holding the curl. Unlike Tampa 2, a Two Read scheme puts the CB as the intermediate player and allows the OLB to push off the #2 WR late, holding the seam as long as possible. The underneath coverage is the same as Four Read, except the OLBs will hang longer in the curl because the CBs will drive on anything underneath and outside. There is no true “flat” or “curl” player. Everyone is “matching” a man in their zone and reacting off of them. Versus two verticals, the CB will collision and carry the #1 vertical. As stated before, the DC is playing with who the intermediate player is in the pass distribution.
CB: This is the play Cloud was built for. The CB, eying #2, will drive on any out step. The key versus any fade/out concept is the CB’s collision with the #1 WR to give the safety time to climb over top the route. I tell my CBs to “go hard” through #1 to get to #2. If the route is an out-and-up, the CB takes all of the wheel route.
CS: The safety pulls and climbs over the route of #1, in this case, a fade route. With the out step by #2, the safety naturally weaves to the route of #1 (eyes should read #2 to #1). His role is the deepest route in Two Read and must climb over #1’s depth. The pocket in the zone is the window right after the CB drives on the out. That is why the CB must get hands on the #1 WR.
OLB: The Sam must push with the out and takes the inside shoulder of the man.
CB: Anytime a route is ran behind the line of scrimmage it is important for players to zone over the route, and not drive on it until the ball is thrown. In the case of a slant/bubble, the CB will weave with the slant until pushed off by the bubble. Remember, in Cloud, the CB is driving on any out step, but because this is behind the line of scrimmage, the CB can be patient and zone over.
CS: The safeties eyes go directly to #1 once the #2 WR takes a bubble path. This is where match coverage can steal a man because players are “matching” a man. Since there is no real vertical route, the safety zones over the incoming slant in case of a “Sluggo,” or slant-and-go.
OLB: The OLB gets his eyes to #1 as soon as the WR bubbles. Seeing #1 coming on a slant, he sits in the curl and waits for the ball thrown. If thrown to the bubble, he is driving on the inside hip of the man.
CB: The CB weaves inside and delivers the WR to the Sam. On the bounce back, he will drive the out of the WR much like he would versus and out by #2 in HBO.
CS: The safety sticks with #2 because he clears the OLB. This is the indicator for a vertical. Sitting on the top of the route, the safety will drive on ball thrown.
OLB: The Sam needs to hold inside leverage, just like in the previous double post play, and make the WR run the hump. His role is to widen the dig and make the WR climb more than he wants to. Once the WR begins to turn inside, the Sam will wall off his vision and deliver him to the Mike. The key to this distribution is the Sam trusting that the CB will absorb the whip route. The Sam must stay patient and not deviate from the vertical of #2 until #1 crosses his face.
Vertical switch routes are easy to cover out of Cloud coverage. As the WRs cross, the CB absorbs the route of his new #1 And carries him vertical. This is no different than and HBO route that turns into a wheel. The safety sits on top of his new #2 and carries the vertical while keeping inside leverage. The Sam should collision the new #2 and zone under the #1 WR in case of a comeback. The only concern is the CB get walled off by the #2 WR’s vertical route since he is sitting on the outside shoulder.