Coverage Beaters: Cover 3
By FirstDown PlayBook on Sep 23, 2015

Coverage Beaters

FirstDown PlayBook continues our definition and explanation of our five coverages in our new Coverage Beaters section today with Cover 3. 

FirstDown PlayBook defines Cover 3 as strong or weak safety rotation with zone coverage. We know most of you differentiate between strong and weak roll with a different number or call it 3 weak but for the sake of our Cover Beaters section Cover 3 will mean strong or weak.

Cover 3 When we are playing a Cover 3 team we look for the following things:


Look For Holes In The Underneath Zones

The very nature of Cover 3 says that there are three deep defenders and four underneath defenders to cover five underneath zones. These four underneath defenders must expand inside out to cover two zones either a Hook/Curl or a Curl/Flat. One of the first things to look for are ways to get eligible receivers running into or sitting down in those zones. You will see a lot of Curl and Hook type routes as well as three step combinations like a Slant Flat designed to expose the Curl/Flat or Hook/Curl defenders.

Look For Corner Cushion That Provides Quick Outside Throws

When we talked about Cover 1 a couple of days ago we said that we looked outside vs man coverage if we liked the match up. In a different kind of way, the same thing holds true for Cover 3. There are times when a cornerback is playing with enough depth that your quarterback can get a quick throw to your outside Receiver and let him make the corner miss before the Curl/Flat defender gets there. This is not real fancy but it often puts the ball in the hands of one of your best players in space because they are playing off of him to start with.

All Is Not Lost Deep

When the middle of the field is closed and it is man coverage you normally think outside with a four vertical attack because the two seam receivers will occupy the Free Safety and allow the outside receivers to compete one on one. When it is middle of the field closed and it is zone coverage your outside receivers should be covered by the corners but if your Tight End or slot receivers keep width on a four vertical concept they will put the Free Safety in a bind and allow your QB to throw opposite of the deep safety on a seam throw.

Don’t Run Through Zones

We have talked about this before. If you want to keep your receivers healthy and get them open vs Cover 3 or any zone coverage for that matter do not allow them or coach them to run routes that run through one zone into another. When you coach routes vs zone you have to be ready to talk more about throttling in holes and working away from a defender’s leverage as opposed to coming out of breaks for separation like you would vs man coverage.

Look Away From Safety Rotation

Most teams are going to give you some type of two high shell with the safeties even when they plan to play strong or weak roll. One way to teach a young QB simple three man progressions is to mirror the routes on both sides and sit your Back down as #3 in the middle. This way your QB has the same progression to either side. He just has to choose the best side to work. Often times a good way to teach this is to teach the young QB to read away from safety rotation as the Hook/Curl defender is expanding to that side instead of dropping down into the underneath coverage.

Get In Cover 3 Formations

Sometimes we act like we have nothing to say about what coverage the defense runs. If your team has a formation that they can run the ball well out of then chances are you are going to get a safety rotated down or quarters coverage with both safeties tightened down some. If the team you are playing gets in Cover 3 to stop your run game from 3×1 sets then get in a 3×1 set to throw your Cover 3 beater pass play. Also, consider throwing it with play-action to make it that much harder on the defense.

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