X's and O's Attacking Cover 3...

In my last post, we looked at the Cover 3 zone defense, and the techniques and goals associated with it. Today we will look at several ways offensive coordinators attack this coverage.

One of the most basic ways to attack any 3 deep zone coverage is the 4 verticals concept we've discussed before. It allows you to send 4 receivers vertically to an area of the field covered by only 3 defenders, someone is almost guaranteed to be open for an easy completion.

We'll leave that one out of our discussion today, but we will discuss ways OC's attempt to attack cover 3 for big plays, for intermediate "chunk" yardage and for safe short throws that help move the sticks in 3rd and short to mid yardage situations.

The X's and O's come after the leap of faith...

Below you will see an offense with 11 (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) Personnel on the field, lined up in a 2x2 set against a defense in 2-4-5 (Nickel) Personnel.


This is actually a combination of 2 half-field concepts, first we will look at the open, or weak side.

The X and F receivers are running a double post combination, with the #1 (X) running a Dino post.. This route involves 2 breaks to the corner and one to the post inorder to get the CB to turn his hips, before breaking deep to the near post. The #2(F) WR is running your typical 8(post) route with a slight adjustment. His main job is to get the FS to follow him so he has to cut harder across the field than to the actual post. Look for this combo to be called between the 40 yard lines, which is a time when OC's will look for a big play.

This is another example of a horizontal stretch we have covered before. The reason it works is pretty basic. The CB is playing with his back to the sideline and outside leverage on #1's inside breaking route. He is trying to funnel the WR to the FS, so by having #2 run a post as well, we keep the FS in the middle of the field and the CB is left playing outside leverage, on an inside breaking route with no inside help. Which means what should be a relatively easy pitch and catch for a big play, and its time to strike up the band.

The closed, or strong side is running a flood concept which puts a vertical stretch on the zone defense. We have our #1 (Z) running a clear out 9 (Go) route, this takes the top of the defense and forces the CB to run with him down the field. Then our TE(Y) runs a 5(Out) route at 12 yards, and the RB (H) runs a shoot route to the flats, aiming for a depth of about 3 yards. The QB reads deep to short here, Y should be open pretty regularly considering the CB is running deep, and the SS will be attacking downhill to the RB in the flat. If the throw is made accurately and on time, its a catch and run for 15-20+ yards.

Now to our next concept... Same personnel same alignments, just another way to attack the Defense.


This concept is called the Shallow Cross, or High-Low Opposite. This is a concept you will see on every level of football, and it is a base concept in Andy Reid's play book in Philadelphia. Here the money happens between the numbers, with the F and the Y. The F runs a shallow cross or drag route where he replaces the feet of the WOLB or DE, and aims to run to a depth of 3-5 yards while the Y runs a 10 yard dig route.

The X receiver is also important in this concept because he along with the Y run a dig post combination that is a very common Cover 3 beater. This route combination of shallow-dig-post, forces the FS, and the LB's to each make decisions about where they are going to go, allowing the QB to find the guy they don't cover and deliver the ball for a solid chunk of yardage, if the FS drives on the dig, the ball goes over the top to the post, if he stays on top of the post, and the LB's jump the shallow, the dig is wide open (this is very common), and if the linebackers drop to 10 yards on the dig, the shallow is an easy throw to one of your better athletes (would be Miles for DAL), and he's in space with an opportunity for good YAC. The back runs a shoot route to the open side to pull the Curl flat player down to the flat to open up a throwing lane for the dig, and Z runs a 9 route to clear out the CB on the closed side.

This is a concept that can be adjusted and altered in several different ways, you can change the player who runs the shallow cross to any of the 3 WR's or the TE, and that changes the routes for the rest of the players, or you can tag a wheel route for the RB to try to get him in space on the sideline once the CB follows the post. But the idea remains the same, force the defenders between the numbers to make decisions and take advantage of those reactions for solid chunks of yardage and opportunities for YAC.

Now to our final 2 concepts...


Again we have the same personnel on the field for both offense and defense, aligned in the same looks. This is again a combination of 2 concepts, and we will start on the open side and work across the formation to the strong side.

On the weak side we have the X and F running a slant-flat combo. This is a very common quick (3 step) game concept that is especially popula

Here we see it against cover 3, where we are putting the stress on the curl flat defender. running the #2 WR to the flat forces that defender to react and cover that route to keep from being beaten to the outside. His reaction should clear out room for the slant by #1. If the Nickel CB stays in the seam to sit on the slant, just whip it out to the flat and let F take it up the sideline to move the sticks in a short yardage.

As we look at the strong side, we see a curl-flat combo that puts a very similar stress on the defense, forcing the Curl to flat defender to make a decision and then taking advantage of that decision, if he reacts the way he is taught to react he will break on the flat route leaving the curl route open to move the chains, and if he stays home on the curl, you can dump it to the flat and work the sideline for the gain and the new set of downs.


Cover 3 gives the defense alot of flexibility to stop the run and be sound in coverage, but as we see from these examples this coverage, similar to every coverage, has its weaknesses that can be exploited. This is why deception is key in pre-snap alignments, many times you will see a team line up w/ 2 deep safeties, and walk the SS into the box just before the snap to keep the QB from knowing what coverage is coming.

Hope you enjoy... Please feel free to shoot any questions in the comments section, there are lots of knowledgable guys out there in BTB world, that love to talk football.

Next week we'll look at man coverages, followed by zone blitzes probably...

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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