Defending Trips – Special Coverage

If the offense won’t throw to #1, lock him up and reduce the field.

When defending a team that runs Trips it is important for the defense to have multiple coverage options. Depending on how an offense chooses to attack a defense the selection of the right coverage can be crucial. Being able to switch from base coverage to base coverage allows the defense to keep the offense on its toes. If a defense only runs one base coverage against Trips, offenses will quickly find a way to exploit it. This fact alone should encourage a defensive staff to carry multiple coverages into a game and be able to use them when the opportunity arises.

Many times offenses use the #1 receiver as a decoy or chooses to run him off to create a void so the #2 or #3 WR can run an out route into space. One way to counteract the nonuse of #1 and outs by #2 or #3 is to run Special Coverage. Unlike Stress where the Sam is blind to what the #3 WR is doing, Special eliminates the #1 completely and reduces the field. The Sam takes on the responsibility of a Two-Read CB. His eyes are squarely on #2 and will carry the vertical of #2 if the offense runs vertical routes. Like Stress, the key player is the Sam linebacker and his ability to run with a vertical route. Eliminating #1 puts the Sam on an island with #2. As stated earlier, having options in coverage is important to defending the spread. A defense must be able to adapt to any situations and adjust to any formation/scheme thrown at it. 

Special Coverage

.01 Special

Special as a Base Coverage

Special Coverage uses man coverage to eliminate the #1 WR. The CB to the Trips side plays press to combat rub routes and to force the #1 WR outside (when running man a defense wants its players at different levels). The Sam, Mike, and CS use a Two Read (Cloud) concept to defend the #2 and #3 WRs. The Cloud concept allows the Mike to hang in his run read. This can help when playing teams that RPO the open “B” gap to the Trips side. The Mike, as in any match coverage, relates to the #3 WR. The luxury of Special is in Mike’s coverage responsibility. In Cloud coverage, the OLBs can “hang” in the curl because they do not have to push with an out route (the CB is trapping the out). As long as the Mike is not too far removed from the box he can fold into the “B” or get his head on a swivel and find an incoming route (base alignment versus Trips should be a “hip” technique – inside foot is on the outside hip of the DE).

Offensive Adjustments

Where offenses can take advantage of Special is with a double out concept. This would force the Mike to chase the out of #3. With #2 pushing the flat, the Sam will have to expand and drive on the out. This creates a window behind #2’s out route where #3 can out run the Mike. The key to defending the double out (and in any Trips coverage) is the Sam. The Sam can zone over the #2 WR while keeping an eye on #3. Most offenses are trying to hit the #3 WR on an out. If the offense knows you are in Special the #3 WR will be the target in the double out scheme and the Sam can “rob” the out route by slow playing.

Base Alignments

Like Stress, the CS will hold the inside of #3 and carry the #3 WR’s route vertically. The Sam will take all of #2 if the offense runs verticals by the two slot WRs. The Sams initial alignment is the outside eye of #2. Like a CB in Two Read, Sam’s feet are square and he will “feather” out keeping an eye on #3. If there is any out route by #3, the Sam will drive on it, just like a CB would in Cloud. The CS will hold any vertical route by #3 and top any vertical route by #2 if #3 makes a cut out or in. The CS’s initial steps are the exact same as they would be in Cloud or Stress coverage, fast bail. The beauty in Special coverage is it translates across multiple schemes. If a defense bases out of Cloud coverage, Special is an easy transition.

Special is great against teams that use their slots to run high-low concepts or attack the flat out of Trips. As stated earlier, many offenses neglect the #1 WR in Trips. Special plays to this trend. By pressing the CB on #1 and locking him up, the defense can reduce the field. If a defense is playing with a hybrid player at Sam, this coverage can be an easy transition from regular Cloud or Sky.

Special “Loose”

.02 Special Loose

One adjustment to teams that scheme Special with rub routes by the #1 WR is to give a “Loose” call. The “Loose” tag tells the CB to align as though he is in Stress or Sky coverage. The CB is still responsible for the #1 WR, but if the WR runs an under route, the CB can sink and help with any vertical route. As stated earlier, one of the major issues with Special is when offenses run four verticals because it isolates the Sam. If teams run Vertical Cruise concepts (verticals with one WR running an under route), a loose CB can help much like he does in Stress. The “Loose” call is a good change up for third and long. One last advantage to a “Loose” call is deepening up the CB if the offense likes to run vertical routes with #1. The tag creates space and allows the CB to stay deep.

Pass Distribution

.03 Spot Draw

Spot Draw: The issue here is always going to be the Mike. If he folds too fast the spot will be open. The CS is fast bailing and will be late support to help with the spot. If teams transition into a double out concept the defense can adjust by dropping the DS into the box or spinning to Cover 3 and put the Mike back into the box.

.04 Flood

Inverted Flood: Even versus regular flood, the Sam has to take the #2 WR’s route. The key versus flood is the CS and his ability to drive on the sail route. The Sam can zone over the out by #2 and play the mid-point of the Sail (though this leaves the out open, but forces the QB to throw over the Sam).

.05 MidHiLow

Middle High-Low: The CS has the toughest job because he must drive on a dig route while pedaling out. The Sam is essentially eliminated by the concept but must carry the “in” by #2. The Mike has to get his hands on #2 running the cruise route. If the offense flares the RB, the Will must push and vacate the box. The DS plays a key role in being able to “rob” the dig and playing the mid-point under the post.

.06 Smash

Smash: The Sam must hold the outside and not get outrun to the corner by the WR. The key is to make sure Sam gets his hands on the WR and forces the route to run the hump.

.07 4 Verts

Four Verticals: Sam must carry the vertical by #2 and get his hands on him. Like Stress, the Sam has the biggest responsibility and must eliminate the vertical by #2.

Film Study

© 2017, | Cody Alexander | All rights reserved.

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Author: MatchQuarters


18 thoughts on “Defending Trips – Special Coverage”

  1. I’ve noticed you have a “left” and “right” call under the Mike’s responsibilities. What do those calls represent?

      1. Thanks. Your book is a great resource for me as we are transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5 multiple defense next season. I’m sure I’ll be asking more questions.

      2. Don’t hesitate. You can use the CONTACT form on the site or hit me up through my DM on Twitter.

  2. What do you do coach your LB’s to do against #4 swing?
    We base out of special, and don’t know how to react to two concepts.
    Trips 4 Verticals, #4 Swing
    4 man Spacing concept: #1 Curl/Snag #2 Vertical (Wheel/Corner) #3 Middle Curl/Snag #4 Swing

    1. Auto “push” call. Vs a Trips formation, the LBs “pull-the-chain” & exchange as the push route works to the sideline. No different than when teams run Y-corner w/ a pick route.

      1) 4-verts – The Sam has to carry the #2 vertical. If you aren’t getting out routes by #3 you are better off basing in Stress.
      2) Curl/Snag – In Special, the CB should lock on #1 and the OLB has to hold the outside of #2 to eliminate him when he comes back outside.
      3) Wheel – The Sam has to carry… Maybe change to Stress or “kick” and run Cloud over #1 7 #2.
      4) Mid Curl/Snag – The Safety has to work to the Curl and the Sam/Mike have to exchange the snag.
      #5) Swing – Cross face, force a cut back.
      Here is the link to Stress –

  3. Do you ever run that variation of Special where the Sam mans up #3 and the corner and safety play cloud?

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