There are many qualities that a quarterback must possess. However, the most obvious is the QB’s ability to throw the football. Throwing the football requires a tremendous amount of coordination and teamwork for proper execution. The QB can make up for some deficiencies with proper reads. Whether it is the Pre-Snap Read, Reading on the Move, or Adjustments in routes, the QB’s recognition, anticipation and reaction are based upon his knowledge of the offense as it relates to what he sees.

Pre-snap read
The QB must make a “Pre-Snap Read” confirming the defensive secondary’s alignment. The PSR provides the QB with help in making the proper throwing decision; i.e., allows the QB to establish his thought process prior to the snap. There will be many times when the QB can determine what the coverage is before the snap. About eighty percent (80%) of the time the coverage will be given away by someone’s alignment in the secondary, typically the second defender inside. Even when the total coverage is not given away, through observation of particular alignments, you will be able to eliminate some coverages or narrow to a “Hard Focus” area. The QB must approach the LOS the same way every play and get his hands under the center. The PSR process includes a “Soft Gaze” left, middle and right. The purpose is to identify (1) the depth of the corners, (2) number of safeties, (3) weakside flat defender, and (4) the number of run defenders (“front”):

Find the Free Safety (“FS”) and Strong Safety (“SS”) to determine the type of front – seven-man or eight-man. If the safeties adjust to motion, be aware of a possible blitz.
Find the weakside linebacker (Whip (“W”)). This is a crucial read to recognize an outside blitz. It is the QB’s responsibility to adjust the protection to handle the outside blitz or allow the receivers to read “HOT.”

The PSR is only the first step in the throwing decision. The QB must identify the primary defender (the “Key”) to read (“Hard Focus”) and determine where to throw the ball. The Key is determined by the pattern and the related PSR. The ball is thrown based upon what the Key does within the QB’s line of sight. For example, on a strong side route the PSR must identify the SS. Upon the snap the strong safety can either man-up, cover the flat, cover deep third (1/3) or cover deep quarter (¼), and it is the SS’s action that allows the QB to decide where to throw the ball. Depending upon the route, the SS’s action might change the key (Reading on the Move [“ROM”]) to the Corner (“C”) or FS. The QB will make their throwing decision based upon what happens in his Hard Focus area and the related routes within the “line of sight”; i.e., does the Key rotate, invert or play man. When the QB keys defenders, not receivers, there are fewer throws into coverage.

Basic Coverages

A brief summary of coverages, including strengths, weakness, and how to attack them follows. The summaries include a place (“Patterns”) for the coach and QB to write in their specific routes to attack the coverages. These are the basic coverages: Invert (“sky”); Rotate (“cloud”); Two Deep, Man Under Two; Man with a Free; Man – Zero; Quarter, Quarter, Half; Zone Blitz; Robber; and Prevent.

Three Deep – Invert (“Sky”)

The PSR is based on the alignment of SS and C on the strong side. Teams will typically define the TE as the strong side, however a scouting report will provide this information. If the SS is aligned with less depth than the C, the read is an invert by the SS; i.e., the SS is covering the flat, if a receiver is in the flat. Confirm 3D coverage by the alignment of the FS. If the FS is off the hash and favoring the middle, assume that it will be a 3D. Also the QB must be aware of the weak side, if the Weakside Linebacker (“W”) is in a stack (lined-up behind a defensive lineman or end) or walk (off the LOS outside the end) position, it denotes a soft corner, with W responsible for the weak flat. If the end (“E”) is up on the LOS or in a three (3) point stance, assume he will rush. If you are throwing to the strong side upon the snap you can determine whether E is coming or has curl or flat.

– Strengths

Safe – always three deep
strong side force against the run
SS can get under an out and may be able to get under a stop or flat depending upon the wide receiver splits
can cover eight zones with a three man rush
can still bring four with strong side contain and have seven in coverage

– Weaknesses

Versus eight in coverage the defense can only rush three with five or more to block them
four defenders underneath to cover the six zones – large curl and horizontal seams
no leverage on wide receivers; i.e., cannot bump or push inside
possibly late to cover stop and flat, both weak and strong
cannot cover a strong side flood route (three or four receivers in the pattern) without E, then it is a three man rush
weak flat
weakside force

– How to attack it:

Stretch vertically and horizontally
plenty of pass protection
throw in the alley created by sending three on two in the perimeter (“flood type” routes)
weakside curl & flat
sprint away from SS

Three Deep – Rotate (“Cloud”)
The goal of this coverage is to take away the short passing game or protect against the wide side of the field when the offensive formation is strong into the boundary (short side). The PSR is based on the alignment of the SS and the C. The SS must be deeper than normal in order to cover the deep middle or deep outside (is aligned deeper than the adjacent C), the read is a rotate by SS; i.e., SS is covering the deep middle or outside. Also, in this coverage the C to the side of the rotation will be tight (up close) on the wide receiver as they have the flat. The secondary can disguise this by having both Cs up and on the snap the away (from the rotation) C back peddles to deep third [1/3] quickly (“bails”). However, we can determine the side of the rotation by the position of the Outside Linebacker (“OLB”). The OLB, whether W or S away from the rotation must be stacked or walked off as they have flat away from the rotation. You can confirm the 3D by the alignment of the FS. If the FS is off the hash and favoring the middle, assume 3D.

– Strengths

Safe – always three deep
force (to the rotation) against the run
leverage by the C (shut down weak flat or out)
can cover eight zones with a three man rush
can still bring four with force and contain to the rotation, and have seven (7) in coverage
easy to disguise

– Weaknesses

Versus eight in coverage the defense can only rush three with five or more to block them
only four defenders underneath to cover the six zones – large curl seams
cushion on the wide receiver away from the rotation
OLB is alone in the flat away from the rotation
cannot cover a flood route (three or four [3 or 4] receivers in the pattern) • force and contain away from rotation

– How to attack it

Flood routes – throw in the alley created by sending three on two in the perimeter (“flood type” routes)
plenty of pass protection
quick passes away from the rotation
run away from rotation
get TE involved

Two Deep – Five Under (Cover 2)

The PSR is based on the depth of the Cs and safeties. The Cs will usually be outside of the wide receivers and the safeties will be near the hash marks, aligned deeper than the corners. If the ball is on the hash, look to the strong side defensive back for their alignment because the safety will naturally be on the hash. If the end (“E”) drops to the curl, then all six (6) underneath zones are covered. When W has outside leverage on the second receiver, assume W has flat and rule out two (2) deep, five (5) under coverage and is possibly 3D rotation or Quarter-Quarter, Half.

– Strengths

Strong versus run
leverage on both wide receivers
cover five (5) of the six (6) underneath zones
four (4) man rush
takes away the outs
can hold up the TE
weakside force and contain

– Weaknesses

Safeties must cover half (½) the field; i.e., the three (3) deep zones are covered by two
inside receiver down the middle
LBs must cover curl
strong side contain
weak inside linebacker to curl
wide splits can create lanes

– How to attack it

Use “Spread Formations” to horizontally stretch the safeties
vertically stretch the flats to create lanes
a natural hole twenty to twenty-five (20-25) yards along the sidelines
weakside curl
corner routes
flood type routes

Cover 2 Man / Man under two-deep

This coverage is man-to-man with help over the top in the two (2) deep zones. This coverage allows the defense to bracket or double two (2) receivers. The PSR is based on the alignment of the Cs on the wide receivers. If the safeties give a 2D look (safeties near the hash marks, aligned deeper than the C’s) and both C’s are up tighter or looking primarily at the receiver instead of the QB, then Man Under Coverage (“MUC”) is confirmed. The Cs are the primary key, as they will usually be head up or shaded to the outside of the wide receivers. Also, the undercover (LB’s) will be head-up or at least in position to cover their man. Motion will force the undercover to adjust or run with the receiver.

Strengths

Double or bracket two receivers
four man rush
every potential receiver is accounted for (covered)
can bump because each defender has help over the top
excellent versus zone type routes or screens

Weaknesses

Poor run support
mismatch with the backs versus linebackers
hard to disguise versus motion
three (3) deep zones are not covered
one on one underneath
crossing routes
“bunch” and “snug” type sets

– How to attack it

Back routes on the linebackers
create mismatches with the TE running option (“read”) routes
stay shallow with routes, catch the ball short and run long
crossing routes (“mesh”) with the wide receivers
TE in the alley or fades to the wide receivers
running plays
use motion

Cover 1 man / Man-to-man with a free safety.

This coverage is man-to-man with a FS to help over the top. The PSR is based on the alignment of the Cs and linebackers on the receivers. The C’s will be head up or in an outside alignment because they have help from the FS. This allows the C’s to take away the outs. Also, if the SS aligns head up on his eligible receiver at a tight to normal depth (four to six [4-6] yards) and the FS is deeper than normal (twelve to fifteen [12-15] yards), this will confirm the Man with a Free (“MwF”) coverage. The linebackers will have the backs man-to-man. The QB should anticipate pressure from a five (5) man rush, with the possibility of the defense bringing seven (7). The QB must identify whether a blitz is coming and throw the ball to the defenders vacated spot (i.e., “hot read”) or add protection with an audible.

Strengths

Pressure from a five (5) man rush
every potential receiver is accounted for (covered)
defenders have help to the post • excellent versus screens and delays
C’s can play a tight man as they have help from the FS – crowd the receivers on third and five or longer
excellent versus zone routes
can take away the outs with an outside technique by the C’s
speed on speed – good blitz coverage

– Weaknesses

Poor run support
mismatch with the backs versus linebackers
hard to disguise versus motion
three deep zones are not covered
no under cover • crossing routes
“bunch” and “snug” type sets

– How to attack it

Back routes on the linebackers
create mismatches with the TE running option (“read”) routes
stay shallow with routes, catch the ball short and run long
crossing routes (“mesh”) with the wide receivers
TE in the alley or fades to the wide receivers
running plays
coverage away from FS by “looking off”

Cover 0 / Man-to-man blitz with no deep safety

This coverage is a straight man-to-man with no safety help. The PSR is based on the alignment of the safeties. Usually in Man coverage, the SS will play head up on the TE and the FS will play shallow on the weak side. Typically, there is no safety in the middle of the field. We can confirm this coverage by the inside leverage alignment by the Cs on the wide receivers. The C’s need this alignment as they have no inside help. The QB should anticipate pressure from a blitz. The QB must identify whether a blitz is coming and throw the ball to the defenders vacated spot or a crossing receiver; i.e., “hot read”. The QB could audible to add pass protection.

– Strengths

Pressure (blitz capability) and penetration from a six to seven man rush
big play potential
clog up the running lanes inside
force the offense to throw short

– Weaknesses

Poor run support
mismatch with the backs versus linebackers
hard to disguise versus motion
three deep zones are not covered
no under cover
crossing routes
no deep help
gamble defense
“bunch” and “snug” type sets

– How to attack it

Empty Formations — all receivers are one-on-one (but free rusher)
tough to cover slants – nobody in the middle
running plays – force and secondary force weakened
should have somebody open if QB has time

Quarter, Quarter, Half

The Quarter, Quarter, Half (“QQH”) coverage provides three (3) defenders deep, however it uses one (1) defender to cover half (½) of the three (3) deep zones and two (2) defenders each covering a quarter (¼). The underneath coverage can utilize four or five (4 or 5) defenders. This coverage employs a traditional weak side 2D with a squat corner and half coverage safety. The strong side can employ a multitude of variations (invert and rolls). The most common is a bail technique by the strong side C covering the deep quarter (¼) with the strong side OLB covering curl to flat. The PSR is based on the depth and alignment of the C’s and safeties. The weakside or side away from the quarters alignment will look like a 2D with the C head-up or to the outside of the wide receiver and the safety near the hash marks, aligned deeper than the C. The strong C can be aligned head-up and tight, but will bail (retreat) so that they are off six to eight (6-8) yards at the snap. The SS will be even with the C at the snap, and can also employ a bail technique.

– Strengths

Leverage on weak wide receiver, can use bump technique
deep routes to strong side
cover five (5) of the six (6) underneath zones
four (4) man rush
weakside force and contain
easy to disguise
can double (inside/outside) against a single receiver to the weak side

– Weaknesses

Weak safety must cover half the field
flood routes to the strong side
S must cover curl and flat
strong side contain
weak inside linebacker to curl
wide splits can create lanes

– How to attack it

Horizontal stretch on the safety covering half
vertically stretch the flats to create lanes
strong side outs
weakside curl
cannot cover a flood route (three or four [3 or 4] receivers in the pattern)
trips type formations & motion

Zone Blitz

03_graph_2

The Zone Blitz is a defensive scheme used to confuse the offensive line’s pass protection schemes, and the QB’s reads. A frontal rusher — i.e. a linebacker or defensive lineman — briefly engages the offensive lineman, then retreats to his pass zone, if he reads pass. The blitzers go through their assigned gaps. The droppers replace the blitzers in the pass zone. The coverage could be anything, but the most common zone blitz is the “fire zone,” which involves three deep and three intermediate pattern reading defenders.

– Strengths

Run lanes are covered
pressure on the QB – confuse protection schemes
QB reads are changed
easy to disguise
can double (inside/outside) against outside receivers and cover underneath zone with defensive linemen

– Weaknesses

Defensive linemen and other defenders in coverage who are not skilled/used to it – limited range
crossing routes through the underneath coverage
play action, if offense can protect

– How to attack it

Horizontal and vertical stretch on the pass zones
TE versus defensive linemen
screen passes
play action, with patterns to the backs
Maximum protection with deep combinations through the open areas

Cover 1 “Robber”

prorat
The Robber coverage is a defensive scheme used to confuse the QB’s reads. It is designed to take away the middle pass zones, both the underneath and deep middle. It can be employed out of a four across or two deep look. A QB reading through the middle of the field (goal post) will read man or rotation and attempt to hit crossing routes or attack the deep middle which is where the “robber” is. The coverage can also be used with man coverage allowing the “robber” helping out in the middle.

– Strengths

Middle zones
confuse QB’s reads
easy to disguise
can double (inside/outside) against inside receivers
can lock-on QB’s eyes

– Weaknesses

Deep outside versus man
outside breaking routes by inside receivers
play action

– How to attack it

Outside on timing routes
play action with deep routes
crossing routes to the outside versus man
QB must look robber off
clear lane throws

Prevent
The Prevent is a defensive scheme designed to force the offense to use time to score. It protects against the quick scores, while allowing the offense to pick up chuncks of yardages. The QB must be descipline when facing the Prevent by taking the easy yardage. At the high school and collegiate level, attack the middle of the prevent because the clock stops to move the chains for first downs. The defense linemen will use outside rush techniques to keep the QB in the pocket. The QB must be patient throwing in the underneath zones to recievers on the run.

– Strengths

Deep zones, four defenders deep
can get under deep outs and curls
can keep the QB in the pocket with an outside rush
defensive backs can fly to the ball when it is thrown deep
protect the boundary

– Weaknesses

Inside run – draws
backs on delays to middle
middle hook zones
quick routes on time
in the undercover seams

– How to attack it

Horizontally stretch the pass zones
deep crossing routes
underneath at twelve yards or less with stops, flats and outs on time
empty sets
draws
backs on delays
get the ball to speed underneath

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