MQ’s Four and Two Read Pass Distributions

Match Quarters pass distributions explained.

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:

Curl/Flat (CFL)


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.

Pick Flat


CB: Seeing #1 go underneath, the CB looks at #2. Since #2 is going vertical, the CB climbs vertically to match the underneath of the corner route. This turns into a pseudo-cloud concept because of 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.

Stop/Corner (Smash/China)



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.



Double 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. Much 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.

Clear/Out (HBO)


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.

Slant Bubble/Out


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.

Swirl/Dig (Hi-Low)


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.

Switch Verticals


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 vertically. 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.


Author: MatchQuarters


37 thoughts on “MQ’s Four and Two Read Pass Distributions”

  1. Hi Cody,

    I am installing a 3-4 defense this year and have bought three of your books to get a better understanding of coverages. My question to you is if there is a resource to find the verbiage of the communication of the secondary. Basically I am asking is what are the corners, safeties and OLB communicating to each other during the play. I can’t seem to find it and would love your insight. Thanks

  2. How would you handle a smash concept in 2-read? Should the OLB’s play rob the corner route or China to the hitch?

  3. Coach,

    Could you explain the “push” call? I’m starting to grasp the concept here, but the push call seems to be evading me somewhat. I hope it’s not the easiest part, and I sound like a fool. Who makes the push call? Is it only made when the running back crosses the face of the Sam?

    Thanks coach!

    1. PUSH refers to when the #3 WR pushes horizontally & crosses the #2. This forces the overhang to PUSH w/ the motion. The LB in charge of #3 now works to cut #2 (who becomes the new #3). It is verbaige that helps w/ route matching & exchanges.

  4. Is it possible for 2 read with corners pressed? That way the offense doesn’t know if we are in press man, press quarters, or 2 read.

    1. You bet! There are 2 options: 1) Outside press & funnel – eyes on #2; or 2) The Peek technique. Inside press #1, but “peek” back at the #2 WR if #1 runs a fade. In the Peek technique if #1 runs a slant the CB can see #2.

      1. Press like you are in man, but when you get in-phase on a fade peek around & trap #2 out. Great compliment if you run a bunch of Qtrs.

  5. How would you defend 2×2 all slants? Do you teach the CB to drive on the slant of #1 and the safety to drive on the slant of #2 or are they passing it off.

    1. CB tops the slant of #1, safety tops the slant of #2, & the OLB cuts under #1. The offense doesn’t want to throw to #2.

    1. As they travel across the field the LBs will carry and deliver them to the next man trying to get hands on them if possible to disrupt timing. Any time a WR crosses another it creates a new #. This exchange is crucial when running a match scheme. LBs can’t go chasing under routes. They have to be aware of any WR working opposite.

  6. Coach – Awesome stuff. I have a couple questions. In 2-read, what if you get a deep out by #2 and a fade by #1? If the corner is suppose to play any out route, he should break on the deep out, correct? With that in mind, the Deep out also cleared LB depth so shouldn’t the safety be playing the deep out as well. This would leave #1 open on the fade.

    This was something I struggled teaching my kids, and I’m wondering if you have the answer for me!

    Second, who has the RB swing if he swings in any of these? OLB collision and expand? Mike? It is never the corner, correct?

    Thank you!

    1. 1) There has been many an argument over who takes the sail route (deep out) in 2-Read (Cloud). I teach my CBs in Cloud to drive through the #1 WR when breaking on any out route by #2 (basically knocking him off his path and forcing him into the Saf). Even though the #2 WR went deeper than LB depth (which some consider a vertical), the CB has to keep his eyes on #2. In Cloud coverage the CB is technically the intermediate zone player. So, if a team runs flood you have to play it just like a fade/sail. The CB will come off #1 and drive on the sail. This is why the Saf needs to fast bail in Cloud. He needs enough depth to drive on #1 vertically even if #2 runs a deep out. Remember, anything underneath is not the Saf’s responsibility, so he should climb to the next vertical (and only drive on ball thrown). Conclusion, the CB will drive on the sail with help underneath from the OLB. The Saf will fast bail out and climb. As #2 breaks out on the sail, the Saf will climb to meet #1 (collision is key by the CB to slow the vert of #1). The sail is a long throw for HS QB’s, the CB should have time to drive on it.

      2) The RB in any 2×2 set is the Mike’s responsibility (#3 WR) and he will push with the RB until a route either breaks in (new #3) or continue to push if #1/2 go vertical. In a 3×1, the RB is #2 weak, and the OLB will push. I teach my OLBs in match quarters to carry their man until crossed by another or “pushed” off their man. So, in a Flood (ex. #1 – Clear/Sail/Flare) concept, the OLB would still fit underneath #2 because #2 went out. The Mike will take all of #3. If anyone were to come in (say a pick/corner/flare), the Mike and OLB would exchange. The CB and Saf would take the vertical (as in any Smash concept) and the OLB would “push” with the flare (new #2) and the Mike will take the pick. I demonstrate this in my 4/2 Read article. Lastly, the CB only takes the flare of #2 if there is only 1 WR and the RB is the #2 (3×1/2×1). Even then, the CB will zone over a flare and only break on ball thrown or if the RB crosses the LOS.

      Thanks for the question. Hopefully this helped. Anything else do not hesitate!

      -Coach A.

      1. How do you determine if #2 is vertical in 2 read? I’ve tried it two different ways, we would tell the safety if #2 is past 8 yards safety is man on #2 and corner is man on #1. We also tried the drop of the OLB if it is past the OLB he is vertical and safety is man on. We got beat a few times buy the post by #1 and deep out by#2. Both corner and safety drove on the out route that was about 8 1/2 or 9 yards.

      2. Depends on the coverage. If it is 2-Read the CB can trap the offense when they try and run a Sail (deep out). In 4-Read, the CB has to honor the vertical by #1. In that case, it is the responsibility of the OLB & the Saf to work in tandem to vice the out route.

        Against a Post Sail, the best option is to be in a 2-Read scheme. The CB should compress the Post back into the field and detach once the Sail is ran. This allows the Saf to climb and top the Post. This is a complex route and can take advantage of Quarters teams. If offenses are running out routes, best to stay in 2-Read.

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