X's and O's... More Basics... Cover 3...

Last week we looked at a base coverage that is in every NFL defense, Tampa 2, as well as the route schemes Offensive coordinators use to attack it.

Today we will look at another base coverage you will see from most every team every Sunday, including your very own Dallas Cowboys. This 3 deep zone Coverage is called Cover 3.

The X's and O's after the jump...

Below you will see a defense with base 4-3 personnel against base or pro offensive personnel (2 Backs 1 TE 2 WR) in an offset I-formation that the Cowboys probably call "Near Right."


Cover 3 is a coverage that does a lot of different things for the defense. As you notice, the SS has lined up in the box of the TE's outside shoulder. So your defense has an 8 man box giving you the ability to stop the run. However, because the CBs and FS drop into 3 deep coverage, you are able to put a top on the defense to stop big plays. Nick Saban at Alabama runs almost endless variations of this coverage with pattern matching principles(we'll get into that in a later post). Cover 3 is also the foundation for the zone blitz schemes(we'll cover these too) that are played by every NFL defense.


When you look at Cover 3, atleast from this front the most important place to look is the SS and the WLB. They are the force players against any outside run, and as you see, they don't take a straight line to the flats, instead their assignment is called curl/flat or curl to flat. This assignment calls for them to drop in to the "seam" in the defense, which is about half way between the hash and the numbers on each side. This is the most vulnerable spot in the coverage, as this "seam" runs all the way from the LOS past the safeties. The SS and WLB have the responsibility of dropping to this area and covering any immediate threat, but must react immediately to any routes to the flat. They can not let a back or TE get outside of them to the flat.

The CB's align in an off position and drop to their deep third alignment with their back to the sideline using what's called zone technique. This allows them to keep outside leverage against an outside release and keep the receiver between them and the FS. The FS drops to his deep middle zone getting enough depth to get over the top of any vertical route by the #1 reciever to either side.

The Mike and Sam, after reading pass drop to their hook/curl responsibility, where they will watch for crossing routes, and react to throws made to the curl area, or the seam as we called it above.

Again in Cover 3 we are dropping 7 and rushing 4. Play good coverage make the QB hitch up and look past his primary read, and let your D-Line rush the passer. As you will see in the post on zone blitzes (probably 2 or 3 weeks), the ability to put 8 in the box, and still prevent big plays leaves a lot of flexibility for teams like the Cowboys, who want to line up in various pre-snap looks, and bring pressure from different places.

When do you call it?

Cover 3 is great for run/pass toss up situations, 1st down, or 2nd or 3rd and medium yardage (4-7). Being able to put 8 guys in the box and still be sound on the back end is perfect for those situations where your opponent is about as likely to run as they are pass.


A great call for a team that needs to be able to stop the run, but doesn't want to give up the big play. But,if you can't depend on your SS and WLB to be the "orce player in the run game, and make the runner cut back towards their teammates, your defense is in for a butt whippin.

Follow me on Twitter @JIckes1

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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