Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Nick Saban: Cover 3 Adaptation (Rip/Liz) To The Spread

After providing an overview of playing Cover 3 with pattern-matching principles, we'll now take a look at the adaptations utilized to strengthen this basic concept.

A mantra comically repeated within the circles of "Air Raid" offenses is, "everything works against Cover 3", meaning whatever the concept, you can pass at will against most cover 3 defenses. With natural voids in the defense in the flats and in the seams, the four underneath defenders are typically the lynch pin of how successful a cover 3 defense will be.

The easiest threat to victimize cover 3 is the #2 receiver in the seam. The defense must be able to account for this threat or it will spend much of the game seeing the free safety 'wrong' on a 4 vertical threat.

and so the chess match, begins
To accommodate for this deficiency, Saban's defenses have evolved through the last decade with a "Rip/Liz" match based on where the safety drops into the box (Rita / Linda) against the 2 quick threat (2x2).

From Coach Saban, himself

When you’re playing a passing team you always have a better chance with split-safeties, but with all this zone read / zone option stuff we see…all the spread stuff, sometimes you’ve got to be able to play middle-of-the-field coverage to get an extra guy in the box.


We got to the point where, this is the reason that we do this, when everybody started going spread we couldn’t play 3 deep zone. This started with the Cleveland Browns, I was the defensive coordinator in the early 90s and Pittsburgh would run 'Seattle' on us , four streaks. Then they would run two streaks and two out routes, what I call ‘pole’ route from 2x2. So we got to where could NOT play 3-deep zone because we rerouted the seams and played zone, and what I call “Country Cover 3” (drop to your spot reroute the seams, break on the ball). Well , when Marino is throwing it, that old break on the ball shit don’t work.

So because we could not defend this, we could not play 3 deep, so when you can’t play zone, what do you do next? You play Man (cover 1), but if their mens are better than your mens, you can’t play cover 1 .


We got to where we couldn’t run cover 1 - So now we can’t play an 8 man front.
The 1994 Browns went 13-5 , we lost to Steelers 3 times, lost 5 games total (twice in the regular season, once in the playoffs). We gave up the 5th fewest points in the history of the NFL, and lost to Steelers because we could not play 8-man fronts to stop the run because they would wear us out throwing it

We came up with this concept; how we can play cover 1 and cover 3 at the same time, so we can do both these things and one thing would complement the other. We came up with the concept “rip/liz match”.


The "Rip" / "Liz" call will alert the OLB to the call side that he has a safety coming down who will be assuming the Curl/Flat responsibilities. With the Rip/Liz declaration, the backers away from the call will alert to "Match" ("Rip - Match Left") their quick away from the call, and how the corner to his side will match their receivers. It is all premised on controlling #2 deep in the seam, by catching and carrying #2 vertical or outside past 12-15 yards (this should start sounding familiar to BRONCO/SCIF technique). If there is no threat of 2 verticals to a side, it really becomes your standard fare Cover 3. If #2 crosses / goes inside, he communicates with an "Under" call (alerting the backers inside to cut the receiver) and turns his focus to rob #1 underneath (like standard Curl/Flat Cover 3, robbing inside and underneath #1).
It is essentially saying to the corners and C/F player, "versus two quicks, we're man-to-man all the way, unless our guys breaks inside". The communication is the vital part of the equation. Because the defense is presenting a 2-high shell, you could be playing a Cover 2, 4, 7, or 8 concept, but when you drop the safety down, you have to have a fast and efficient way to communicate which safety is dropping and how the backers away from the drop will respectively handle their threats.

Worst case scenario in Cover 3 is the 4-verticals concept (4 receiver on 3 deep defenders). Rip/Liz match specifically handles this. If you accommodate for 4 verts, you aren't left with many other issues that can hurt you because you will still have 6 in the box. Getting down to brass tacks, lets review how this concept fleshes itself out.

If #1 is vertical and #2 is vertical (VERTICALS)


#1 presses vertical, the corner takes all of #1 - #2 presses vertical, the C/F players takes all of #2
The inside linebackers will match #3 as he presents himself, looking to expand from the hook zone. By carrying the two inside verticals, remember you still have a middle of the field safety, so the backer/safety carrying #2 can maintain a low-shoulder, outside leverage on the receiver. This puts him in great position to discourage the SAIL (or 'pole') deep out break of #2 if it were to develop (past 12-15 yards).

If #1 is vertical and #2 is outside (SMASH)

Looking at the quick game smash concept (backside 5-step check), you can see how this is handled. #1 into the smash (right side of the diagram) takes all of #1 because he hasn't stemmed inside ("under" call, remember) and the C/F match player here handles all of #2 (vertical-outside). On the backside (here the 'rip' adjustment ~ left of the diagram), #1 stems vertical, so the corner matches all of #1. The #2 receiver runs a speed out, so the safety takes him man-to-man.

If #1 is inside and #2 is vertical (DRIVE)

Now a little tricky, the backside match (left diagram, away from 'liz'), has #1 immediately inside on a shallow, so the corner can sink and be over the top of #2, who is running a vertical (past 12 yards) stem into a dig. Because #2 is not inside ("Under"), the C/F safety matches #2 outside and underneath. With the shallow by #1, the backside inside linebacker is looking to cut the crosser (X) and the nearside inside linebacker will ROBOT the dig (depth and rob underneath).

If #1 is vertical and #2 is inside (SHALLOW)

Here, you see (right side of diagram) the match principle of the backer does NOT have a vertical stem of #2, so he declares the "Under" call, alerting the backers to ROBOT and CUT, as he will play standard Cover 3 curl-to-flat rules (with not threat to the seam), gaining depth and width (underneath #1 to his side).

If #1 is inside and #2 is inside (QUICKS / YOGI strong flood)

With the vertical stem of #2 (right side of diagram) the C/F match player carries him and since he is playing outside-underneath leverage, can easily take all of #2 with the outside break. With #1 vertical, the corner can match all of #1, as he would on a vertical #1 in Cover 3. The nuance here is that #3 is immediately releasing to the flat. The inside linebacker to flow (M) can be the final 3 player as there was no "Under" call. This eliminates the easy flood against Cover 3 (and remains consistent with Cover 4 rules and SCIF/Bronco rules).

"Rip/Liz" is an adaptation of 3 Deep zone. How the corners and backer/safety support is primarily a game plan adjustment and can be tweaked on how your opponent actually uses 2x2 route packages. Now, you may be saying, "thats all well and good, but what about trips and empty"? Right, that will be up next, when we explore Saban's "mable" adjustment to Trips/Trey formations.

UPDATE: Be sure to check out the 'breakout' session in the comments section below. Also, the adjustment to 3x1 "Mable" is located here. In addition, here is the only film representation of Rip/Liz I could find (outside of a broadcast) of the safety spin, Cover 3, versus 2x2. It doesn't represent the pattern match well because it was a bubble screen, but you can pick up on the fits, backer response, and leverage of the C/F players



FYI - I will update THIS POST with coverage cutups soon, illustrating this being used in game situations. Much respect to my guy, Chris Vasseur, for helping me flesh out the details here and who is also running this with the program he's at now. Also, to coach Chip Bilderback, who's contributions to providing Saban's adapations have proven invaluable.


This blog is primarily just a way of sharing and exchanging coaching information; just trying to pass along nuggets that may help you and your team. Handling spread is an interesting task, and this was one way of adapting a 1-high defense to meet the needs of a threat. Next, we'll take a look at a defensive coordinator's other option for handling the spread, by going into detail of Gary Patterson's TCU "2 Read" handling 4-verticals.

14 comments:

aelephans said...

Great Post Brophy, it is getting to the point that the break on the ball shit doesn't work in high school...

One Question on the coverage..

2x2 Slots run vertical, outside receivers both stem inside and run 12 yard digs, and the back flares?

brophy said...

yeah, no kidding, brother.


Yeah, the rules remains solid.

As long as #2 is vertical (past 12), he is matched by C/F defender. The vertical by #2s is inside matched by the FS and outside-under matched by the C/F players

If #1 is inside and vertical, corners are squeezing the route outside-in because of divider rules (does this essentially become a deep mesh with both routes intersecting the middle of the field?)

With back flare, the H/C player to flow can match and jump it (the remaining H/C player will look to robot the deep(er) dig(s).

Jon E said...

This is great. It's basically a single-deep quarters coverage. This is a good alternative to 2-deep quarters for heavy pass teams. I think you could look at 2008 (I think) Patriots-Colts for Belichick running this.

The Colts ran their levels to good effect against it, though- the #1 running a 5 yd in route was killer.

It looks like flats are soft and curls or in routes from #1's combo'd with verticals by #2 would be effective.

It looks like a good concept, though. Thanks again.

Coach Hoover said...

Brophy,
Excellent, excellent work! I like this concept a lot. Jon E, you are right, this is a little weak vs the Flat, but it is very strong vs the Cover 3 killers (4 verts and Flood). Also, good comparison with Qtrs (which Curl-Flat with #2 vertical is also a weakness), but unlike Qtrs, this coverage is strong vs Flood. Brophy, if the RB with the check-down hooks up between the ILBs, who will match up with him? It seems like you could do that and hit #2 on a Dig.

Can't wait for the cut-ups and the Trips installment!

brophy said...

Yeah, and I think that is what is the beauty of this....it isn't anything special - it is just how they play 3-deep zone;
* it is built-in.
* it is congruent with what they already are teaching
* the skill sets/reads transfer to other concepts they regularly use.

It is just the adaptation of 3 deep zone.

Does he use Cover 3 (thats all this is) against every set? No.

His methodology changed my perspective of how I started out and I enjoy / interested in what it opens up in the game plan.

I believe what folks can take away from this (and what Saban has been big on) is playing "zone", but aggressively matching the patterns. Your defenders are not automatons like some Madden character, oblivious to how the routes disperse - hard-wire dropping to areas. So, those OCs across the ball will have a difficult identifying just what exactly it is that coverage is.

Since your backers are reading flow anyway, they naturally are reacting off that action, which ties in exactly with where those other (split) receivers will be. If I'm away from flow, just floating in space makes no sense - I would automatically be inside-rolling to [anticipating] the dig.

Chris said...

Thanks for the props and I am glad I could help!

DonkeyPunch22 said...

Thanks Brophy, and the contributing authors, too!

HVAC Man said...

on shallow or 4 vert, who picks up the RB on a quick flat to the left instead of right?

brophy said...

The ILBs are responding to back flow. With 1-back, it essentially becomes the Saban "Alert" where you have a 2-on-1 with the backs. Again, with Rip/Liz he's marrying Cover 3 with Cover 1, to get the best of both worlds (nothing earth shattering here).

The true beauty in his methodology isn't necessarily how he uses the C/F players, but how the H/C players are trained to automatically (aggressively) rob routes inside-underneath. If you watch them play, the LBs will jump flow and on pass-action immediately roll back for depth to kill intermediate shots in the hole.

This is where that "UNDER" declaration/communication plays in. Once it is made, it is an automatic that if #2 is under, LB TO can robot. LB AWAY will cut. If no "UNDER" call, LB TO (flow)will jump 3 to the flat. Aggressive pattern match....its a beyotch.

When going through my 08 cuts of Bama, they never got many 2x2 looks when they were in 1-high. Versus 2x2, they would primarily stay in 2-high (C2/C7) and or go 1-high and bring an 'Oscar' fire zone(bringing 5). I believe this is a result of them having this 'answer' to discourage the typical C3-beaters.

Saban has Rip/Liz in his MSU/LSU playbooks, just doesn't go into much detail. I'll try searching my LSU cuts or the recent Bama broadcast games to find video illustrations.

brophy said...

sorry....don't know if I addressed the question, per se....

The shallow isn't typically run with a flare TO the shallow (kind of defeats the purpose because it is drawing defenders to cover both), but if back flows to the field (and your shallow is coming from the boundary), then those 2 ILBs are flowing to the field it would work out like this....

Field Backer (to): cut the crosser (and be in position to also respond to the even shallower flare)

Boundary Backer (away): action is away from him, he'll jump to ROBOT deeper hole (dig).

HVAC Man said...

thanks brophy. Like your work. Sending out the RB in madden always works, but like you said the idiots always just cover the area regardless of what is going on.

Anonymous said...

Wow, really cool stuff here. How would this match up with a switch concept? Seems to me the SE would end up with great leverage on the CB in the seam, while an OLB could end up having to chase a slot on the wheel. Would they try a sort of banjo with the C/F player and CB? Seems like a stretch for a C/F with shoot/flat responsibilities to then get back in time to rob the SE? Plus if a RB flares to the switch side drawing an ILB down, that support is removed.

Hughes Steven87 said...

an important aspect of this defense is keeping leverage based on where your help is. Playaction would really stress the defender over #2 because if the linebackers step up to support the run they don't have the proper leverage to make a play on in breaking routes 

Diante Lee said...

Thats a good one, and may be the most difficult to guard against geographically speaking since those outside guys are coming from the numbers to the hash, and that's a lot of eye and leg responsibility for a LB. But he's going to be sinking to around 12 anyways on that number 2 as he's running verts, to take away the hitch and the deep in. Once he's - the slot - established himself as a vertical route though, the eyes should be flashing to #1 and he and the corner should be squeezing on that passing lane as he breaks towards middle, making your under call. You can't guard them all though, and chances are you're going to be faced with your corner peeling off of that dig route to rally down to the RB flare.

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