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How offensive coordinators are defining coverage

Keep it simple stupid is the name of the game

NCAA Football: Miami Spring Game Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Defenses run all kinds of coverages and shift in and out of looks depending on formation, down and distance, hash and field zone. When a quarterback walks up to the line of scrimmage he can’t waste time thinking about if what he’s seeing is cover 2, cover 2 read, or some form of 2 trap coverage.

With the advent of the Air Raid and Run-Pass Options (RPO’s), offensive coordinators have taken control of the game and the best way defensive coordinators can keep up is to disguise coverage- but only if the quarterback is really reading it the way the defense wants!

The R4 model from Dub Maddox has put the power back into the OC’s hands once again. If a defensive coordinator wants to take away deep threats, you don’t run receivers right into defensive backs, you have option routes that break off short and force them to either adjust out of their game plan or risk being picked apart seven yards at a time.

I have talked R4 mechanics in my pieces like, “The world of open grass reads,” and in my “Film Review: Miami 13 - Virginia 16,“ and Air Raid play calling in, “The art of calling plays as an offensive coordinator.”

6 and coverage

“6” or “four verts” is the first play I install in my offense. It’s adaptable to beat any coverage, regardless of how you define coverage. Coverages can only come in two families: zone and man. From there, they’re broken into “shells” or how many players are above the ‘hard deck’ (see the image above). The hard deck is set by Dub Maddox at 7-yards. In the image above, two defenders are above the hard deck. This is a 2-high shell.

The cornerback covering the X is in press coverage. He’s below the hard deck and our X receiver has a chance to beat the CB deep. He will press vertically. Our J will break his route off short because his safety is above the hard deck. The H will run vertically with an inside release and the Z will break off his route. The CB over the Z is above the hard deck.

Palms 2 Read

Just to show you why we don’t spend so much time on coverage the old fashioned way- what the hell is really the difference between cover 2 and palms or 2 read? In the image above, the left is 2 read or Palms. Both the CB and FS are reading the #2 threat. If #2 pushes vertical the assumption is the safety will pick him up and the cornerback will take whatever #1 does. Defenses are assuming 1 is running something short, or a straight vertical route. The CB now has #1 full-time.

If the #2 runs a short route, let’s say he runs an arrow straight into the flat, then the safety doesn’t run down, he switches to #1 assuming he’s running a post, or vertical. The CB has to switch off and play the #2.

On the right of the image, it’s traditional cover 2. The CB is playing the flat and the safety is playing the deep half.

As an offense, does deciphering cover 2 from palms really matter? Not really and especially not for a quarterback on the field with around 20 seconds pre-snap and 2-3 seconds post-snap to make a decision. Instead he’s going to see if the WR is capped on his route, and from there- read the rhythm, read and rush routes.

Cover 4

As you can see in the image above, four defenders are above the hard deck. We’re not going to attempt to beat them deep. They’ve capped the route. As we’ve previously discussed, capped means that the defender owns the coverage, alignment and/or personnel on the receiver. The image above is cover 4 in my world and we’re going to play against cover 4 with short outside routes (and crossing routes). For the base play call above, we’ll see four hitches, if the QB doesn’t tag something else.

Cover 3

When three defenders are above the hard deck, we’re going to call that cover 3. Above, it’s a basic cover 3 model with the free safety in the middle of the field. In the image above, we obviously want to attack the one high safety. The J and H will both run vertical routes up the seams and force the safety to play one, the other, or sit and play both which is a must-lose.

On the outside, our receivers will break off their routes against the deep cornerbacks.

Cover 0

In the image above, there are no players above the hard deck. Our assumption becomes that they’re playing man, and cover 0. Usually we can tag something on one side and try to attack the man press coverage. To beat man I like a slant-arrow combination (rub route) or a wheel route like slant or dig outside and then the wheel from the inside receiver.

Above, a great combination is a dig from the outside receiver, a one-step slant from the #2 receiver and an opposite route from the #3 receiver. That forces interesting alignments in our CAPped or UnCAPed read system.

How this impacts Miami

It really doesn’t impact Miami a whole lot, I’m not sure how Dan Enos teaches his reads and coverages to his QB’s. But for us, the fans, we can watch a game much easier and not worry so much about “reading” defenses or “coverage” and just focus on how many players are above or below the hard deck, determining if we think they’re running man or zone.

This system of reading the shell makes it so much easier for QB’s to read defenses, and for the coach and QB to communicate. What seemed likely during the 2018 season was the lack of communication between N’Kosi Perry and Mark Richt. Under Dan Enos I think we’ll see improved communication and with his ability to adapt to his QB’s an improved fit into the system for Perry, Tate Martell or Jarren Williams.