Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Safer Way to Play Quarters Coverage Part II

Well after the first installation on this topic, I'll talk now about some of the adjustments that can be made to defend the weaknesses of Quarters coverage.  This is not going to be a long post, as most of my stuff has been pirated from the likes of Jerry Gordon, as well as some of what Gary Patterson is doing at TCU.  However, failure to mention some of this stuff would inevitably flood my inbox with questions, so I figured why not go ahead and write a post about it?

If you don't own this book, stop reading and go buy it NOW!

The Weaknesses of Quarters Coverage
Typically the first thing you hear people say when asked why they don't run Quarters coverage, or what is the weakness of Quarters coverage is that the flats are weak.  This is so very true, there is not denying this simple fact.  However, let's look at the issue and see why coaches still employ this coverage despite this glaring weakness.

Any coverage that has the flats defended from inside-out is going to be weaker in that area.  The reason being is that a displaced receiver has a yardage advantage over the defender covering him.  Now, move the defender out over the number one receiver and the defense gains a tactical advantage, somewhat.  The flat defender, generally is responsible for forcing the ball back inside on run plays.  Remove this player from the core of the defense, and the offense now gains the tactical advantage on the run.  So, the idea here is to be able to do both.  Of course the way to do both, is in-game adjustments and from scouting, but also from having built-in answers to your coverage issue.  Enter in Cover Two Read.  Some call it a soft Cover Two or a Sink Cover Two, but no matter, it's a way of getting the best out of Quarters and Cover Two, otherwise known as halves coverage.  Again, none of this has no been talked about before, and all of the calls I'm mentioning can be found in Jerry Gordon's book "Coaching the Under Front Defense".

Alert Coverage
Alert Coverage is a tag added to Quarters, that changes the assignment of the corner and the outside linebacker (OLB).  Alert is the way Quarters morphs into Two Read.  Alert is not a good call against a large displacement by the two receivers, nor is it a very good call against a single receiver side.  Alert Coverage is meant to be called to two detached receivers.  Here are the rules:

Alignment: Corner will still align in traditional alignment of seven yards off and in outside shade.  Corner can also use a press and bail technique.

Assignment: The corner will still play man-to-man on the number one receiver on anything but shallow routes.  Against a wheel call (an out by the number two receiver, called by the safety), the corner will now funnel the number one receiver into the safety and get eyes to the number two receiver.  As the corner sinks, and funnels, he is awaiting to break on the throw to the number two receiver.  The corner only comes off of the number one receiver once the ball is thrown to this receiver.  The corner is also responsible for the wheel by the number two receiver.

Alignment: The safety, in Alert Coverage must align deeper than he would in traditional Quarters Coverage.  The safety should align 10 to 12 yards deep and be two yards inside the number two receiver.

Assignment: The safety will still play flat-footed, buzz or shuffle on the snap.  All reads are the same as Quarters, except if the number two receiver goes out.  If the number two receiver goes out (usually under the depth of eight yards), then the safety makes the "wheel" call alerting the corner that he now has a route coming at him.  The safety will now pedal and get eyes to the number one receiver.  The safety, on a "wheel" call is now responsible for the number one receiver vertical.

Alignment: The OLB no longer has to walk out as far against two detached receivers.  The linebacker (LB) can play closer to the box, but should walk out a minimum of five yards from the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOL).  Into the boundary the OLB need not walk out at all.

Assignment: The OLB is a wall player.  He will wall all crossing routes, and will get hands on any vertical stem by the number two receiver.  The OLB will play the curl zone, and pass crossers off to the middle linebacker (MLB).  The OLB is responsible for the wheel of the number three receiver, should one present itself.

Alignment: Based on formation.

Assignment: The MLB's assignment is the same in Alert Coverage as it is in Quarters Coverage.

Alert is a great Quarters check for those teams running a lot of quick game against you.  It is still safe against four verticals as the corner is still really playing a deep quarter of the field with his technique if the number two receiver doesn't go out.  Alert is not a good check to a wide displacement by the number one and number two receivers.  If this distance is large, the safety cannot get over the top of the number one receiver, or must cheat his alignment to the point of losing leverage on the number two receiver running vertical.

How the run is defended out of this look is still a matter of debate.  Since I based out of Quarters, and my safeties were my run fit guys, I left it the same in this coverage.  I've had some die-hard Two Read guys tell me I was wrong, but in my opinion, this is just a check, or adaptation to Quarters.  I'm not looking to major in Quarters with a minor in Cover Two.  I just need a check that can help with the quick game against two displaced receivers.  No need to change up everything I'm doing with my base coverage.  I recommend keeping the safety as the force player, but to each their own.

Jump Call
Jump is a more aggressive version of the Alert Coverage shown above.  Jump would be what some refer to as hard Cover Two, or a squat Cover Two look.  Here the corner will reroute the number one receiver, but will not carry him, if he gets a "wheel" call from the safety.  The corner can align the same as always, but with the Jump call, he will actually jump the out by number two rather than the throw to the number two receiver.  For the safety, he will need to align a bit deeper, and possible wider, depending on the split taken by the number one receiver, however he should never align wider than the inside eye of the number two receiver.  With the jump call, the safety must pedal at the snap.  He will not be guaranteed any help if the number two receiver is out, coupled with a vertical stem by number one.  The OLB and MLB play things the exact same way as they do in Alert Coverage.

Might as well...

Jump is when, by game plan, you have the bead on the OC trying to throw the bubble or the arrow routes.  Jump is a very good call to mix in as it will show you have the ability to play some hard Cover Two, even though you are a base Quarters team.  Jump is not a good call when expecting a vertical by the number one receiver, because you aren't guaranteed that the traditional "hole" in Cover Two will be helped by the corner as it would be in Alert Coverage.  Think of the two coverages this way, Alert is safe, Jump is a bit more risky.

Bronco is a coverage that TCU has made famous over the past few seasons.  The rules are simple, and in the end it's basically off man.  You can play Bronco Coverage with a banjo concept, or hard and fast man-only-deep (MOD) rules.  However you choose to play it, the coverage is very good against the "spread-to-run" offenses many of us are seeing these days.  The rules for Bronco Coverage are as follows:

Alignment: The alignment depends on how aggressive you want to be.  I start out teaching a no-switch off man principle, so I play my corners pressed (see diagram below).  The corner is a man-everywhere-he-goes (MEG) defender in Bronco.  Now, if you play a banjo concept, you will want the corner to play deeper, and my recommendation would be to play him at his traditional depth of seven yards, shaded inside the receiver, however.  Neither way is wrong, nor is it better than the other, and I will explain the rules of the two concepts later in this post.

Assignment: When I first teach this, I teach it to the corners as a MEG concept.  For our corners, this coverage is no different than Cover Zero (pure man).  Now if I'm teaching the banjo concept, then the corner has a similar rule to his standard rule in Quarters with one simple change.  In Quarters, the corner will take the number one receiver man, unless he's shallow (routes breaking under eight yards).  In Bronco, I do two things, I reduce the depth to five yards to declare vertical, and I add the words "out".  So, in Bronco, utilizing a banjo concept, I tell my corner he has the number one receiver vertical and out.

Alignment: The safety will align six yards off and one yard inside a detached number two receiver.  This changes to one yard outside an attached receiver (with five yards of the core of the formation).

Assignment: The safety will have the same rules as the corner in both the basic version of Bronco and the banjo version.  The safety is responsible for the number two receiver vertical and out.  Again, as with the corner, the depth of what I tell them "vertical" is, will be reduced to five yards.  Against inside cuts by the number two receiver, the safety has the choice of calling "push" if he feels the route isn't vertical.  This tells the OLB to let the running back (RB) go, and the safety will now take him.  If the safety feels this route is vertical, of course he would not give the OLB a call and would run with this route man-to-man.  If the safety does give a "push" call, then he will now rob the curl to post of the number one receiver (as he would in Quarters Coverage).

Alignment: The OLB can take his base alignment as if there was not a detached number two receiver.  In other words, he can remain in the box.  He will even remain in the box against trips formations.  This coverage is designed to free up the LB's to remain in the box and is more focused on them stopping the run than the pass.

Assignment: The OLB, as with Alert and Jump tags, is a wall player and will handle all crossing routes in this coverage.  Crossing routes are passed off between the OLB's and the MLB.  The major difference in Bronco Coverage, when talking to LB's is that they are not dropping off of a numbered receiver.  The OLB's as well as the MLB are responsible for the RB.  The OLB's will take the wheel of the RB, unless given a "push" call by the safety.  

The MLB's assignment is the same as he would in Quarters.  He is the middle hole dropper and assigned to cover the number RB vertical.

Bronco with no banjo concept

Bronco with the banjo concept

The sole purpose behind Bronco Coverage is to be able to keep the OLB's in the box to defend the run.  I've heard some folks call this "Box Coverage".  Whatever you call it, the coverage is a great adaptation for those posing spread folks that try to play a seven on five or six game in the box by spreading you out with receivers.  No need to get the defense bent out of shape if your opponent doesn't throw the ball out to the receivers very much, or those receivers are no threat to your defense.  The coverage is still safety force, but the OLB's are in a position to handle some of this responsibility as well.  I teach Bronco with a catch-man philosophy, and it does take a bit of getting used to.  The edges of the defense can be soft at times if the wide receivers (WR's) are good at making their stalk blocks look like routes.

Bronco is better served, being played to one side of the field, preferably the short side of the field as shown below.  In the illustration you can see that the OLB is allowed to stay in his home alignment because the coverage to his side is Bronco.  This allows this player to focus more on stopping the run, and less on having to get out to a pass zone.  To the field side you can play whatever you like, in my example, I'm playing Quarters to the field.

Bronco can even be played into three-by-one formations.  It's aggressive, but it is a good coverage if you have the cats to run it.  The only adaptation that needs to be made, is that the single side corner will now have to man up, as he is all alone due to the weak safety being moved over to the trips side of the coverage.  The weak side is played just like Solo coverage.

Bronco into trips

In conclusion, with a few calls and adaptations you can set up Quarters Coverage to work versus many of the common formations and route concepts in the game today.  Now, if you have the time, I recommend installing all of these adjustments.  In the past, I've been able to get Quarters in and perhaps one or two other calls (usually Bronco and Alert).  One year, I ran only Quarters and Bronco and it worked out just fine for the young group I had.  No matter what you do, there will need to be adjustments that you make, as every coverage has a weakness to it, and Quarters Coverage is no exception.


Monday, June 22, 2015

A Safer Way to Play Quarters Coverage

In all my years coaching this coverage, the number one question that arises is "How is my OLB going to run with a wheel route?".  It happens a lot where I coach at, because the post/wheel route concept is the single most popular concept around.  It was made legendary around here in the early 80's when a local team made several playoff and state championship appearances, with the post/wheel concept being their top concept from a twins formation.  Anyhow, around here, you need to have an answer for this question, or you're going to be in some serious trouble.

Originally, my adjustment was to play 2 read to two detached quick receivers.  This was a great solution, and I've written in length about 2 read, and using it as an adjustment to Quarters coverage.  However, at my last the talent pool was as dry as I've ever coached in.  I still wanted to play a pattern match coverage, but the boss man detested the OLB running with the wheel.  I also didn't have a lot of time to deal with to install multiple coverages and checks to various formations.  What I needed was a coverage that would defend well over 90 percent of what we were going to see.  Well, here's what I came up with, and I'll share with you the differences between standard Quarters, and my version.

General Rules
For the safeties, my Quarters was the standard stuff.  Everything in this coverage was based off what the number two receiver did.  Also, the safety and the corner worked in tandem, not by reading number two, but by communicating what they were seeing their respective receiver doing.  I figured, most of our guys were coming out of youth football where they had played man-to-man coverage, so their eyes were used to being on their man (or in poor cases, the backfield).

What did number two do?  In this case...had a drink!

I taught that the number two receiver could do one of four things, and they are listed below.  One unique thing I taught, was our safeties eyes would follow the number two receiver to his next threat.  I got this from talking with a college coach at a clinic a couple of seasons ago and I really liked it, because it naturally makes sense.  Here are the four reads and reactions we taught our safeties:

  1. Go vertical.  If number two goes vertical (depth based on game plan), then the safety would lock on man-to-man.  Standard, 100 percent Quarters stuff right there.
  2. Go out.  This was the only route the safety had to make a call on.  The safety would make a "wheel" call to the corner and the OLB to announce that number two was not vertical and was now threatening the flat area.  When number two was out, the safety got his eyes to number one, and was purely a robber player.  I told them this "Eyes to one, rob curl to post".  That simple.  As you can see, the safeties eyes follow the number two receiver to his next threat.  The number two receiver is out, so the safety's eyes follow him to number one.  At this point the safety is in a good position to break on a route coming into the curl area, or work underneath a post route.
  3. Go in.  If the number two receiver worked inside off the snap, the safety would follow him with his eyes to the next threat, which in this case is the QB.  The safety would now slow pedal, reading the eyes of the QB.  Usually when the number two receiver drags inside, or slants inside, you're getting a high-low concept, such as post/drag, mesh etc., or you're getting double slants.  Again, the safety is in good position to play these routes by reading the eyes of the QB.  The corner will alert the safety as to what route he's getting so the safety will know how to react by either speed pedaling to work under a post, or driving up on a slant cut.  I'll discuss the corner technique at length later.
  4. Block.  I won't discuss run blocking at the moment, because to be honest that horse has been beaten to death on this site (lol).  I'm talking about pass blocking.  In the case of spread offenses this may be a TE or H-back that's been left in to block, rather than run a route.  In this case, the safety's eyes go to his nearest threat, which again, is the QB.  The reactions when the number two receiver block are the same as when number two is inside.
Safety reads vs. #2 out

Safety reads vs. #2 in

Now, depth of these routes are all based on game plan.  In some cases, I've had the safety jump that drag route with a call.  These are just the general rules of our coverage.  Nothing really ground breaking here, except for the teaching of the safety's eyes.  I had never really heard anyone discuss where the safety should put his eyes if number two didn't threaten him vertically.  Now on to the corners.

The corners reads are the biggest change in my version of Quarters with the old standard way of doing things.  Most coaches teach the corner in Quarters that he has the number one receiver man-to-man on anything but a shallow crossing route.  I was no different, and my teaching still starts out this way, but with a few added twists.  Again, I teach a numbers game and teach the corners that the number one receiver can only do one of four possible things.  The reads and reactions are shown below:

  1. Go inside.  If the number one receiver goes inside, then the corner will give an "in" call to alert the OLB and safety that the number one receiver is attacking the inside of the flats to the curl area.  He will stay over the top of number one and play for the double move (think sluggo).  The only call that switches this reaction, is if the corner hears a "wheel" call from the safety.  Now the corner knows, he must become a pure zone player has he may have another route entering his zone.  This is where my coverage takes a different turn than traditional Quarters.  It's not as aggressive as say, Michigan State's, but for high school football, it works just fine.  Later I'll go over route concepts so that you, the reader, can see exactly how these reactions work out.
  2. Go outside.  Any route that doesn't threaten the corner vertically, gets a call (see above where the corner calls "in").  Here, the corner will call "out" to alert the OLB that the flats have been threatened immediately.  The corner will stay over the top of this route and work for depth, looking for two things.  First, he always plays the double move, which in this case would be the out-and-up.  Second, the corner will get depth to help the safety play any deep out cut by the number two receiver on concepts such as smash.  The corner, in the case of smash, is really a free player.  He can rally to the out (or hitch, some folks run it both ways) and assist on the tackle, or he can bait the QB into throwing the corner route and come outside and under and play the ball.  Either way, the corner's main job is to make the QB hold the ball by playing in between these two routes.
  3. Stop short of vertical.  In other words, run a hitch.  In this case, the reaction is the same.  The corner calls "China" to alert the OLB that the flats are being threatened from the outside.  The corner plays the exact same technique as when the number one receiver runs a shallow out cut.
  4. Goes vertical.  For most Quarters coaches, this is where "it's on" and the corner locks on man-to-man.  For me it is the same, to a point.  If the corner does not hear any call from the safety, it's man.  However, if the corner hears the "wheel" call, he is now a zone player, NOT a man player.  This simple adjustment in technique is the key to the coverage.  The corner, on a wheel call, will now play a zone technique and would squeeze the post to the safety.  Now, if there is no actual "wheel" route, the corner ends up playing the high shoulder of the post as he would in old-school Quarters.  If the number two receiver actually does run the wheel route, the corner will squeeze the post to the safety and come off late on the wheel route.  The key to making this coverage work vs. this in-out switch stuff offenses are running nowadays lies in how the OLB reacts to all of the above.

Corner's calls

The OLB is an important piece of making my version of Quarters work.  The thing most coaches will note, is the fact that I do not change a thing from the way regular Quarters teaches it's flat players to how I teach it.  The only difference is, I give the OLB a safety net with the corner helping late over the top on a wheel route.  The OLB is called a "match 2" player in pretty much any Quarters schemes I've ever taught, and this one is no different.  The OLB will look to match the number two receiver to the flats.  Let's look at how the OLB fits into the system with his reactions to the number two receiver.

  1. Number two goes out.  This one's simple.  If number two is out, the coverage becomes man for the OLB.  The OLB will now run with the number two receiver wherever he goes, this INCLUDES running with him on a wheel route.  The good  news is, he has help over the top in the zone corner (due to the safety giving a wheel call-see the safety section for clarification).  
  2. Number two goes in.  The OLB will still drop to the flats, but is now completely trusting the corner with what the number one receiver is doing.  If the OLB hears "in", then he settles his feet, eyeing the QB and sits in the slant window.  If the OLB hears "out" or "China", he must, as I put it, "get on his horse" and get out to the flats to play inside and underneath these cuts.  If the OLB doesn't hear anything, but ends up having a three two switch (where the number two and number three receivers cross), then the OLB will play the new number two with the same reactions as he would if this receiver were originally the number two receiver.  
  3. Number two goes vertical.  Here, the reaction is exactly the same as if the number two receiver goes inside.  One coaching point, and it's a major disagreement I have with the way Michigan State teaches their Quarters, versus mine, is that the OLB should NOT reroute the number two receiver if he's going vertical.  I do not want my OLB "muddying" up the read for the my safety.  MSU teaches the OLB to knock this receiver down, I don't want this.  Number one, it's another technique I have to teach my LB, and number two, it messes up the safety's read on this receiver.  I simply have the OLB drop to the flats.  He does not reroute.  This is VERY important because if the OLB reroutes he may be late to his intended drop target and is doing exactly what the offense is wanting him to do (think pick or rub routes here).  
Ok, now that we have the rules in place, let's look at how all this shakes out vs. some of the various concepts many of us see.

Route Combos
The first combo is slant/arrow.  Against this combination, the safety, seeing number two expand gives a "wheel" call.  This alerts the OLB he's got a flat threat and the corner that he's now a zone player.  The corner will shuffle or pedal out for the three step drop, then upon hearing "wheel" knows he needs to bail into his quarter.  As the corner sees the slant, he calls "in" to alert the safety that the curl is now being threatened.  The safety, shuffles laterally to match the number two receiver's release until hearing the "in" call, at which time he drives on the slant.  These are some of the best collisions in all of football.  My safeties love driving on the slant because they are coming from depth and can adjust on the fly, as well as the fact most receivers are unsuspecting of the safety playing this route.  The OLB, cares nothing of the "in" call because he's heard the "wheel" call which overrides anything the corner says.  The OLB is expanding and trying to "top" the arrow route.  The corner, is over the top of all of this protecting against the double move (sluggo).



Now let's move on to the slant/wheel combination route.  This is where the coverage takes better shape and you can see the subtle differences between traditional Quarters coverage and my version.


Here we see the safety driving on the slant, due to the "in" call by the corner.  The safety would have also given a "wheel" call which alerted the corner, he's a zone player now, and also alerted the OLB he HAS to run with the number two receiver now.  What the modification in coverage does, is allow for the corner to play a double move by number one (sluggo), and play off and help the OLB with the wheel route.  The OLB's play, helps the corner squeeze the slant to the safety.

A better example of this is shown below, and that is how the coverage adapts to handling the post/wheel combination.  The safety gives the wheel call and gets eyes to number one.  As one climbs vertical the safety will open to him and must expect the post or dig routes.  Once the receiver's hips sink, the safety can now turn into the post.  I tell my safeties to "run the post for the receiver".  In other words, run the same route the receiver is running.  The corner, will hear the "wheel" call and knows now, he is a zone player.  The corner squeezes the post to the safety, but will do so, keeping leverage on the wheel.  The corner can squeeze down inside on the post, because of the play of the OLB.  With the OLB carrying the wheel, it gives the corner time to help pass the post off to the safety as well as get back over the top of the wheel.  Through repetitions, what I was finding was that the corner was able to drop off and read the QB versus this combination and was breaking more on the throw, rather than the route.  This gives the defense, the old "plus one" advantage we are always looking for.

The next combination, is the curl/arrow and curl/wheel.  This is one of the toughest to defend because the curl is so enticing for the corner to jump.  From the illustrations you can see that the safety would give the "wheel" call, this alerts the corner he's a zone player, and the OLB that he must now run with the number two receiver man-to-man.  The corner will high shoulder the curl, and is in perfect position to leverage the number two receiver if this route turns in to the wheel route.  The safety, will continue to expand with number two, because he has not gotten a call from the corner.  Again, the OLB's technique is what makes the coverage work.  The OLB by expanding works into the curl window, long enough to buy the safety time to work to the curl.  If the arrow turns into the wheel route, the OLB buys the corner some time to adjust off the curl and take over the wheel route.


As you can see, the coverage is not all that unlike traditional Quarters coverage.  The only difference is that the OLB is not forced into running with the wheel route by the number two receiver alone.  He has help over the top in the form of a pure zone cornerback.  Yes, this coverage is not as aggressive as traditional Quarters coverage, but remember, it's built for lesser athletes.  Sometimes being overly aggressive with lesser talent can lead to trouble.  What this coverage DOES DO, is still gives you a means of pattern matching that allows defenders to cover receivers and not grass, while having some built-in help for the lesser skilled coverage player (the OLB).

What routes are you seeing?  Send me an email to and I'll feature it in the new Mailbag posts.  In the next post, I'll focus on some of the problem routes, and the calls and adjustments used to help the defense defend these adaptations.