X's and O's.... Basic Pattern Reading (2 high safeties)...

As we have looked at base zone and man coverages, as well as some zone dogs(5 man pressures), we have seen alot of the basic ideas we will see on Sundays in the NFL. However there is a prevailing trend in all levels of advanced football that is much more complicated to understand, but must be addressed.

This idea can be traced back all the way to the Big 8 with Kansas State and their Banjo (match up zone) coverage, where a defender essentially played man coverage on a player until he ran out of his zone at which point he passed him off to the adjacent defender. Since those days it has evolved into a complex set of reads and adjustments made out of several base defensive looks that adjust to route being run by offensive players, as they run them.

You see these types of coverages on Sundays, but there are several collegiate teams that major in this kind of coverage. Alabama, under Nick Saban is on example of this type of team, which features pattern matching out of mostly single high safety looks, while TCU under Gary Patterson feature more 2 high looks with pattern matching principles.

We'll get into some X's and O's and some coaching points after the jump...

So what exactly is pattern reading?

Pattern reading is a philosophy on defense that is used by teams like Alabama and TCU to defend the spread looks they see on saturdays. What it allows you to do is create 3 on 2 or 4 on 3 matchups on each side of the field, and giving established responsibilities for common route combinations. It is considered a zone coverage, but rather than the spot, or landmark drops you see in Tampa 2 and Cover 3, each defender in coverage reads the routes run by specific players on their side of the field and reacts accordingly.

Lets look at our first example of pattern reading:


The basic idea in a 2 high pattern read is that the CB is responsible for any vertical route by the #1 reciever on his side, in this case X, and Z. And the safeties are responsible for verticals by #2 on each side (Y, U). Sam and will will run with flat routes or account for shallow crosses, and the Mike will cover the RB out of the backfield.

So we look at each side here, we have 2 very common Cover 2 beaters as the route combinations. Flat-7 to the left side, and the snag concept on the right. As we look at the left side we have a vertical route by #1(X) which the CB runs with. The FS reads the release of #2(U) and sees him go to the flat, so his attention turns to helping the CB on X. The Will backer sees this release to the flat and he runs over the top of the route.

On the right side, #1(Z) does not release vertical as he runs his slant route (sometimes a slant-hook where he stops and turns to face the QB), so with no vertical threat from #1 our CB drops to his deep quarter of the field. This puts him in position to help underneath the 7 route run by #2 (Y) which the SS has covered over the top of. The Sam then is in position to cut under, or blow up #1 on his slant/slant-hook.

One important aspect of these types of coverages is the technique played by the CB. Most times at the snap, rather than back pedaling they will open their hips and take 3 shuffles, which when combined with their 5 yard depth gets them to a depth of 10 yards, this technique puts them in sync with the timing of a 3 step drop by the QB, while keeping them over the top of the 3 step routes they'll face in the quick game. As they shuffle they look through the #1 WR to the backfield to see the QB's drop. This puts them in position to either turn and run with the vertical, or react to the underneath throw and make a play. (This could explain alot about why Dre Kirkpatrick didn't know how to back pedal).

The safeties line up at 10 yards (as opposed to 12 in Cover 2 or Tampa 2) and play flat footed unless immediately threatened vertically by #2, they then read from #2 to #1 looking for the first vertical threat.

Let's look at another example...


Here we see the offense running two common 3 step (quick game) route combinations, the slant-flat, and the curl-flat combos. The defense is again in a base 4-3 alignment with 2 high safeties.

Here the CB's still take their 3 shuffle steps, looking through their man into the back field, and when they see the QB's foot hit the ground on his 3rd step they know the balls coming out quick. Each safety can widen to help because they are not threatened vertically by #2, and the LB's widen out with the flat routes. And again the Mike has responsibility for

You can see how they have 3 guys in the vacinity of the catching area for the slant and the curl, and 3 guys who can rally to the ball on the throw to the flat. This is what you want against the quick game, have guys around the receivers to make a play on the ball, or gang tackle after the catch.


Pattern matching was created as a way to matchup against each of the basic concepts in the modern passing game, and specifically to stop multiple receiver route combinations. They require a ton of communication from the players, especially in the secondary.

This is the first in what will be atleast 2 maybe 3 posts on this subject because it is complex, and very flexible. But I think it gets the idea across that these ideas can solve alot of the problems that traditional landmark zones have.

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.