With two receivers split from the formation (slot) you end up with a 3-on-2 advantage for the defense. As we covered before, there is a variety of ways to handle this. In attempt to tackle two things at once, we’ll cover these concepts using Saban-speak (out of Nick Saban’s playbooks). It should be noted that Saban’s “system” is extremely concise, flexible, and modular (in its application). What comes with those benefits is a dictionary full of terminology to communicate every conceivable action and response on the field. We’ll use his method as a way to keep a central thematic framework, but these concepts are relative to what everyone else does (so don’t get hung up on the verbiage).
The first is basic Cover 3 Sky (“Fist”) with what amounts to be the old “country cover 3”. Fist brings the overhang player down outside of #2 receiver serving as primary force. This defender will drop into the seam and not carry any route by #2 deeper than 12 yards and jump the first receiver to the flat. The corner would play all of #1 receiver vertical (or #2) out and up. The free safety would play middle of the field to the #2 receiver. Because these two receivers are handled by these three players, additional receivers (releasing back) would be immediately jumped by the next linebacker inside (Will) unless #1 or #2 released inside.
Examples of matching in Fist
- Vs 1 back – the FS will check to Rip/Liz rules (match left/right away side) and man #1 and #2.
- Vs Wide slot split (horizontal stretch) – with a great deal of space underneath to cover, a “TOKYO” (smash rule) call can be made to have the corner take all short routes and have the overhang defender carry a vertical stem.
Sky (Fist) remains an all-purpose coverage solution to slot, but can face limitations with quick 2-man games against the overhang player.
COVER R - ROBBER
We’ve covered robber coverage before and this version would be just like Virginia Tech plays it. This is best against a tight #2 with the FS dropping into the seam and the overhang player immediately expanding to the curl. This isn’t much different than TCU’s ‘2 Read’ (covered before). The FS acts as the robber, reading #2-to-#1, playing the front hook with a #2-to-QB-to-Alley fit progression.
The corner immediately drops to the deep third with the overhang defender jumping first receiver to the flat. With the corner committing to the deep half, any vertical route by #2 will be bracketed inside-out by the FS and corner.
examples of matching in robber
COVER 2 - CORA
This is traditional cover 2 cloud with the FS over the top in deep half coverage and defenders in the curl and flat. The overhang player will align inside #2 and the corner outside of #1. With two outside underneath zone defenders on top of two split receivers, you have the ability to aggressively attack the quick game. With any slot coverage, you are only as good as your answer to the smash route. With true ‘Cora’, the force corner will sink in the flat (playing “TOKYO”) and the overhang will carry #2 vertical.
examples of matching in Cover 2
Cover 2 is great against quick game and perimeter run game. How a defense matches vertical routes in Cover 2 will typically be its weak spot.
One adjustment to this Cover 2 look is known as “Leach”. It is exactly the same with the exception of the overhang defender is man-to-man #2 (slot/curl). This would afford the (usually exceptional) slot receiver to be double-covered underneath or deep with the surrounding zone defenders.
COVER 4 - THUMBS
Thumbs is a 3-on-2 quarters principle that can morph itself into swipe bracket when only one receiver is vertical. The FS will double #1 or #2 from inside out with the corner playing deep third outside. The overhang player is the sole underneath defender and will take first shallow out / in receiver between #1 & #2.
examples of matching in thumbs
Quarters is great against vertical game and play-action, but the lack of underneath support can cause perimeter leverage issues the offense can exploit.
COVER 5 – COUGAR / IOWA
Adding this as a final thought, Cover 5 is the man-under with deep half help. The FS will rob everything inside with the ability to double either receiver deep. I didn’t provide any illustrations as it is pretty self-explanatory and is the ideal passing coverage. The FS will rob everything from the inside. Because the corner (your best cover guy) will be man-to-man on #1 outside wide “on an island”, you will typically have a 2-on-1 cone/bracket on #2 between the deep safety and the overhang player.