Reading Football Defenses – Know What’s Coming Before You Snap the Ball
Man or Zone?
Use motion to figure whether a defense is playing man to man coverage or zone. If you motion a receiver all the way across the field and one player from the defense runs all the way across with him then they are playing man coverage. If the defense just shifts and no one follows the motion man they are playing zone coverage. You should do this early in the game even on running plays on various down and distances to see if the defense is staying consistent in their coverage or see if they are mixing coverages. It is important to know whether the coverage is man or zone even if you are running the football. If the defense is playing man to man then the WR should be running off the defenders instead of blocking them.
Cover 1, 2, 3 or 4?
Once you have determined whether it’s man or zone now you need to know specifically whether it’s cover 1, 2, 3, or 4. Cover 1 is man to man coverage with a free safety in the middle of the field (also known as man free). Cover 2 is a zone coverage with 2 deep safeties that are responsible for half of the field each with the corners being responsible for the flats. Cover 2 is the most common coverage in the NFL and college right now. Cover 3 is a zone coverage
with one deep safety in the middle of the field responsible for the deep middle 3rd and the cornerbacks are responsible for their respective deep thirds. In cover 3 the outside linebackers will be responsible for the flats. Cover 4 is a zone coverage with 2 deep safeties and 2 deep corners all being responsible for 1/4th of the field. Again, outside linebackers would be responsible for the flats. Those are the four basic coverages but keep in mind that in complex defenses those coverages can be combined by playing one coverage on one side and a different coverage on the other. For this article we won’t go into that. In the next section we will talk about how to decide which of those coverages the defense is playing.
Read Corner’s Alignment
Let’s say through motion you have decided they are playing zone. We now need to know if it’s cover 2, 3, or 4. Our pre-snap read is to determine whether they have one safety in the middle of the field or two safeties splitting the field in half. If there are 2 safeties then observe how the corners are lined up. If their butt is to the sideline and they are only about 5 yards off the ball then they are playing cover 2. If they are 8 to 10 yards deep with the butt to the end zone then most likely they are playing cover 4 but it is possible that one of their safeties will drop to the middle and the other will move to the flats on the wide side of the field and they will play cover 3. It is important to determine the coverage because if you know what zone each man has you’ll know exactly where to attack them.
Attacking Cover 2
Cover 2 defenses do a great job of covering the flats since their corners are the ones covering them. The best routes against cover 2 are corner routes or fades. ask.com . You want to try and hit the sweet spot behind the corner near the sideline before the safey has a chance to get there. Attacking the middle of the field right behind the linebackers is also good.
Attacking Cover 3
The flats are vulnerable to a cover 3 defense. They are depending on linebackers to get out there but they are run first players. They are willing to give up the short pass and keep you in front then make the tackle. Four verticals are tough on a cover 3 defense because the corners have to split two receivers and the safety has to pick one side. Usually that is the side the QB is looking so a savy QB and look off a safety and hit the number 2 receiver down the hash.
Attacking Cover 4
Again as with the cover 3 you are going to want to attack the flats. Defenses playing cover 4 are not going to let
you beat them deep. Don’t get greedy just take what they give you.
Attacking Man Coverage
Crossing routes are great against man coverage. It’s tough for a defender to stay with a receiver all the way across the field. Slant routes are also good. Bunching receivers together or stacking them pre-snap also makes it tougher for the defense because they can’t jam receivers at that snap which is what most cover corners want to do. By bunching receivers you can also run pick plays to block defenders. If you have have a really fast receiver you need to consistently take shots against man coverage because it is so tough on the defense to cover one on one. At the very least you may get a pass interference call. It is important to look off the safety during man coverage because he is free and he will follow the QB’s eyes. In conclusion, this was a basic foundation on reading defenses. You need to know what the defense is doing and where they are going to be to effectively beat them. There are a lot of advanced concepts we didn’t touch on but hopefully there is enough information here to create discussion and give you a basic understanding of reading defenses. We also just focused on the passing game. You need to read defenses for the running game also and maybe that will be a future article. Links http://www.wikihow.com/Read-the-Defense-As-a-Quarterback http://smartfootball.com/quarterbacking/reading-grass-versus-reading-full-coverages-or-keying-specific-pass-defenders