How I Teach Match Quarters – Pt. 2

A clinic on the pedagogy of match quarters. Pt. 2 — Teaching the Safeties.

Teaching the Safeties

Four Read (Sky)


Sky coverage is the “go to” coverage for Quarters teams on first down, and is used by many defensive coordinators to gain a nine-man box. The key difference in how DC’s play Sky coverage is the cover down by the Sam linebacker. In a true 4-2-5 scheme, the Sam LB is completely covered down to the #2 WR. The lack of a gap inside the box enables the Sam to widen his alignment and hold the inside hip of the slot. A 4-3 scheme apexes the Sam, allowing him to be aggressive to the box. How a DC decided to cover down the Sam affects how the safety to the field plays Sky coverage. In the diagram above, the defense is running a 4-2-5 with an Over Front and the Sam is completely covered down on the Sam. The 4-2-5 allows the safety to be more of a “robber” player, hanging in the intermediate in pass distribution and aggressive to the run. In a 4-3, the safety is in a hybrid man scheme because the Sam will be late to help with the #2 receiver.

The initial step of the safety referred to as a “step off.” This technique is a step-replace technique very similar to the CB’s slide technique in Sky. Each safety is aligned at 10 yards with a toe-to-heel stance and shaded to the inside eye of the slot receiver. 10 yards is a good depth for the safeties because it gives them enough depth to carry a vertical, yet they are close enough to drive on WR screens and play fit support in the run game. The main responsibility of each safety in pass coverage is to protect the inside of the field and bracket the #2 WR with the OLB. In coverage, the safeties are considered “robber” players and fit underneath any post route from the #1 WR (intermediate). The CB is the “topper” and must pin, or “top,” any vertical route from #1 (high hole). Against a double vertical route combination, the safeties will “collision and carry” the vertical of the slot WR. The collision and carry method is one that must be practiced multiple times.

The danger of Sky coverage is in the vertical by the slot. Being able to collision the slot as he is going vertical allows the safety to slow the WR down while regaining the upper hand on the route. In Sky, the safety is “stepping off” and is not fast bailing (Cloud). This allows the WR to climb with tempo. In order to combat a vertical by the slot, the Sam must get hands on the WR (easier out of a cover down) and the safeties eyes have to determine departure speed. Reading the departure speed of the slot is a key attribute a quarters safety must have. In order to combat the aggressiveness of the scheme, the safeties eyes have to be transfixed on the slot at the snap of the ball.

Versus the run, the safeties are responsible for making the OLBs right. If the OLB gets stuck inside, the safety will fit outside of the slot receiver (fit support). The OLB/safety work as a team to bracket the slots and cover the “O” gap to the field and the boundary safety (DS) corrects the Will to the boundary. This tandem action allows the safety to be aggressive to the ball in the run game. As stated in the previous paragraph, the safeties must key the slot’s departure speed in order to combat the aggressive nature of four-read.

The Cover Safety (field) has the most help  because the Sam is able to cover down all the way to the slot (in a 4-2-5). This allows the Sam to get his hands on the #2 WR and force the receiver to “run the hump” or slow his departure speed. The Down Safety (boundary) versus 10 personnel 2×2 must hold his position longer because the Will is not covered down to the slot (fold player into the “B”). Versus a 20/11 personnel look, the DS can be aggressive to the run because he must hold contain in the “O” gap (Will is now in the box) and is the intermediate player in the pass. This “robber” technique forces offenses to run vertical routes and away from the RPO slants. The aggressiveness of the DS in 20/11 pers. is why many quarters teams have a field corner and a boundary corner. The boundary corner tends to be the best man cover player because he is most likely not going to get quick support from the DS, who must fit the run.

Film Study

In the video below, the DS does a great job of attacking downhill. Both safeties utilize a step off to read the slot and the offensive play before they react aggressively to the run.

Two Read (Cloud)


Cloud coverage completely changes the responsibilities for the safeties. Instead of being fit support and attacking the run “right now,” the safeties are responsible for anything deep to their side and are secondary support (high hole). In Sky, the safeties were fit support and had to “fit” off the OLBs to make them right. Against the pass, Sky safeties are stepping off, being patient, and waiting for the slot to dictate. In Cloud, the safeties have more of an “open stance” and align at 12 yards. This depth allows the safeties to climb and get over the top of the #1 WR if the offense runs an HBO scheme or clear/out. Against a double vertical scheme, the safeties will hold the inside of the slot and take all of the vertical. Unlike Tampa 2, where the Mike “runs the pole” or drops to the middle deep third, two-read protects the inside third by holding the safeties on the inside of #2 if they go vertical. This technique is the reason teams run split coverage. If the safety cannot get to the vertical of #1 he checks Sky. This fluidity between schemes allows the defense to hide what the secondary is doing and doesn’t force the defense to spin to single-high.

The initial step of a Cloud safety is fast bail and climb, and the reason for the open stance. The safety’s alignment does not change and holds the inside eye of the slot until the WR deviates from a vertical path. If the WR runs an out route or goes underneath the OLB, the safety will pull and climb to the top of the #1 WR’s route and becomes the “topper” or high hole player. This is essentially Cover 2, but with a pattern matching. In the run game, the safety will wait until the ball is handed off, or clears the box until he attacks (secondary support).

Film Study

The first play in the video is a great example of split coverage. The safety to the single WR is in Sky while the safety to the field is in Cloud. The Cloud safety fast bails until the ball is handed off. In the second and third clips, the defense is defending and Empty set with Cloud to the boundary and Special (essentially two-read with the CB man on #1) to the field.

If you are looking for pass distribution examples in 4 and 2 read click the link –

If you are looking for drill work, visit the YouTube site –

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Author: MatchQuarters


8 thoughts on “How I Teach Match Quarters – Pt. 2”

  1. Sky vs 2 vertical and a switch concept is something that we have a hard time beating.
    What do you do against it?

    1. If it’s a quick switch from a tighter alignment it’s better to check to Cloud. If you are getting picked on you might want to check to Cloud. Out of Sky the CB has to stay high & see the switch while the Saf stays in the intermediate. The OLB also has to help by widening the #2s route. The best way to prevent it is to rep it all Spring & Fall.

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