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Inside Monte Kiffin's Playbook: Coverage vs. Route Combinations

In this installment of the Monte Kiffin Playbook series, we take a look at specific route combinations and how Kiffin's coverage intends to stop them.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As usual, I will proceed with the assumption that you have the previous installments of this playbook series, or at least those pertaining to coverage in the secondary.

If not, the coverage playbook articles can be found here and here.

First, I will show the formation itself, which details the general assignments during that call. Following each formation, I will insert several pages of route combinations with that particular coverage's assignments.

For ease of reference and portability, I'll give you the defensive coverage reference sheet here:


Now, we'll go through the coverages in the order in which they're presented in the playbook. First, the Over 2:


This article should be a good help in understanding this sheet. Especially the table at the bottom, which is essentially a quick reference for reactions to offensive motion and formations.


Note that a 'C' (Cornerback) with no assignment (parenthetically encapsulated instruction) is in man coverage on that receiver. Also, assignments such as 'Y Cross' indicate man coverage on the tight end that crosses the formation; 'Y Seam' indicates to cover the tight end up the seam. Both of these coverages are in anticipation of a route, but, if the route doesn't happen, the player will stay in his zone. 'X Dig,' then, is in anticipation of the X receiver executing a dig route. 'Check down,' for the Mike backer, indicates that he is to find and eliminate the check down option.

The exact method by which these formations are discerned and reacted to is unknown to me. I assume it involves a ton of practice and film study.


You may have noticed that the front four are left out of these diagrams. Why is that? They're rushing the passer. Always.

'Zoom' is a Z receiver motion. The other words are formation names (which are far from universal, and are of little importance for us, as fans, to learn - better to learn the formations themselves).


Peel, Fly, and Yukon are all motion words.


And just one more...


As you can see, just one coverage call can be very complex, and is adaptable to a multitude of route combinations and formation variations. I would bet that, in the past 15 years, this system has evolved considerably to counteract the specific trends of today's offenses. It's comforting to know that Kiffin does not hold any of his play calls to be perfect for a certain situation, and emphasizes the need to adapt the call to what the offense is actually doing.

In a way, the defense has a similar philosophy to Garrett's offense, which reacts to the defense's coverage and tunes its routes. What does this mean? We'll have paradoxes in practice as both sides wait for the other to do something that can be reacted to. In truth, Kiffin's defense is more act and react than read and react, so there will be no universe-rending paradox.


Now, the Under Pirate/Tag 57 reaction sets.


Note that we're examining the same formations. These are meant to represent nearly every iteration of a base set found in the NFL at that time. This is also useful for evaluating the coverages side-by-side (though that is best done by someone with a keener strategic mind than my own).


Note that, in this coverage, we follow motion with the corners. Additionally, note the "5 play it" and "5 check 7" notes. Previously, I explained that the first digit refers to the play in case of a receiver-on-each-side set, while the second refers to the play in the event of a twins formation. Motion necessarily impacts this by creating one situation from the other, and the instructions in the top right are whether or not to shift to the other play.




Ideally, these are now fairly easy to read.

We not move on to the Under China set (note that under and over in the coverage name corresponds to the front that should be played with it).


Under China is interesting in that it's a single deep safety, single linebacker zone concept. It's our Cover 1, with a linebacker (or sometimes a safety) playing an additional zone underneath. The rest of the defense is in man coverage.


I don't believe these can get much easier to read. Note that the deep safety is most often the strong safety, not the free safety. This is a change from the conventional looks, with the free safety seeing considerable action in man coverage and, occasionally, as a the lurking underneath zone (which I should emphasize exists solely to capitalize on poor reads by quarterbacks and generate turnovers).


Now we see some deep free safety looks, with the strong safety coming in to linebacker depth.


Note the vast array of looks that his one defense can present, though it only embodies a single concept (1 deep zone, 1 short zone, man coverage).


Note the Deuce Double H Fly to Trips play, specifically the strong safety and cornerback. The strong safety is to keep a depth of six yards and align over the H, then bump the H on his route. The corner is meant to replace the safety after he moves with the motion.


And we're left with one remaining coverage, the Over Smack 6.

The Over Smack 6 is a cover 3 concept, with three deep zones and varying underneath coverages.


Pay attention to the wide variation in underneath schemes using the four players unoccupied by the three-deep.


You can see already that the three-deep concept gives a sense of confidence that opens up many possibilities underneath regarding who to cover. A safety is even brought up occasionally to give the look of a man defense.


We even see some looks where only one safety is kept deep, and the other actually does take on man coverage roles.


So many arrows, so much movement... This can be good in that it illegitimizes the quarterback's pre-snap read, but also a risk due to players not being in position to make plays immediately.


We see a few looks here with the conerback actually playing inside the Will backer. I'm not certain if the intent is to hide him in the formation in order to disturb the quarterback's read. It's a practice I am unfamiliar with, but look forward to seeing in action this coming season.


And, we've made it! Those are the reactionary schemes for all base coverages in response to all base offenses within Monte Kiffin's scheme. Next time you're doing a film session this season, match the offense and defense to these charts - you'll be able to evaluate who did their job effectively (remember, the one caveat of film study was not knowing the plays - now, you have a chance).

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