The Best Ways to Defend 3×1 Formations Using Quarters Coverage

During my coaching career, I’ve always looked forward to the AFCA’s Technical Manual each year to learn new ideas and schemes from coaches of all different levels. This game is constantly changing, which means to stay ahead you must challenge your ideas and ways of thinking every year to keep up with the times and put your players in the best situation possible. From FBS all the way to High School, there are times when we are limited in our schemes based on our personnel. Our staff’s belief is to tweak and adapt our schemes to fit the talents of the players on our roster. With that said, we try to provide our players with a toolbox of schemes, including quarters coverage, they can use to put themselves in the best position possible based upon their skills and the skills of their opponent.

Defensive Philosophy

Our defense here at Denison runs a 4-2-5 Over Front using Press Quarters Coverage. I describe our coverage system as organized man coverage. We have zone concepts we follow to pass off routes to each other, but many times our quarters coverage can look very similar and appear to be straight man coverage. From a scheme perspective, we try to accomplish three basic goals when defending an opposing offense:

  1. Win with Numbers: Our goal is to have +1 against the offense in the run and the pass. In today’s RPO-crazy world that becomes very difficult when our extra man is being read by the quarterback. So now you must put your players in a good leverage position to be a factor in both. At the bare minimum, we want to have a hat for a hat, and that extra hat is usually for the quarterback.
  2. Win with Angles: Alignment is key in our defense and playing with proper leverage angles is vital. We constantly stress the importance of aligning for success based upon width and YOUR individual skill set. We want to be in specific leverages to take away different throws based upon the scheme.
  3. Deny ALL Throws: My biggest pet peeve is giving up a 5-yard hitch to a wide receiver when the defensive back is playing off. I know the argument is an offense will never do that all the way down the field, but now it’s second-and-5. The entire playbook opens up at second-and-5. The likelihood of an offense scoring points increases roughly 10 percent with each first down. I want to force as many second-and-10s as possible. Schematically, putting a defender in-between the ball and the intended target forces the quarterback to make more accurate/difficult throws. With that said, this philosophy and scheme, but most importantly our players, have placed us at the top of multiple statistical categories in our conference the past two seasons. In 2016, our defense allowed 295.7 total YPG (2nd in the NCAC), 181.2 passing YPG (1st), 106.4 passing efficiency (2nd), and 114.5 rushing YPG (4th). Opposing teams had a total of 157 1st downs which ranked No. 23 in all of Division III.

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This article will focus on one of our quarters coverage options for 3×1 played to the strong side of the formation, as well as multiple schemes we can play to the weak side. Within this article you will see an acronym our defense refers to as ASKA: Alignment, Start, Key, and Assignment. Each position on defense has their own ASKA describing their job for each defensive call. ASKA is our way of consolidating our players’ job responsibilities to break it down in a more concise manner. Each assignment for coverage will be broken down based on their key doing three things: going vertical, going out, and going in.

Mini Coverage

Mini is a called coverage check played to the strong side of a 3×1 formation. Our field corner (FC) will be responsible for the No. 1 wide receiver man-to-man. Doing so allows us to account for the vertical of all three wide receivers to the strong side and use the weak side safety (W/S) as an extra defender in whatever way we see fit.

3x1; Quarters Coverage; Trips Open; Mini Coverage

With the FC playing man coverage on the #1, we now play 2-Read or Palms on the #2 and #3 wide receivers with our overhang player to the field (OH) (linebacker or extra defensive back depending on personnel), Strong Side Safety (S/S), and Mike Linebacker (MLB).

  • FIELD CORNER (FC):
    • A: Press inside leverage No. 1
    • S: Deny inside; kick step, off-hand jam
    • K: Belt buckle of No. 1
    • A: Man-to-man No. 1
  • S/S SAFETY (S/S):
    • A: 1×10 inside leverage of No. 3
      • Know the matchups and the weak side coverage
    • S: Backpedal, match tempo of No. 3
    • K: No. 3
    • A: Mini Half (Alley/Quarterback)
      • Vert = Match No. 3 man-to-man
      • Out =Depth with eyes to No. 2, responsible for mini ½
      • In = Leverage release; shuffle; eyes to quarterback
  • S/S OVERHANG (OH):
    • A: 2×5 outside leverage of No. 2
    • S: x2 shuffle read steps
    • K: No. 3, with big vision to keep No. 2 in corner of eye
    • A: Mini Flat (Force/Pitch)
      • Vert = Match No. 2 man-to-man
      • Out = Leverage No. 3 out, secure the wheel
      • In = Squeeze and match No. 2 man-to-man
  • MIKE LINEBACKER (MLB):
    • A: Box alignment rules
    • S: Leverage the running back (RB); play inside/out on the ball
    • K: RB to flow
    • A: Hack (Final No. 3)
      • Vert = Reroute No. 3, force high release; see No. 2 thru No. 3
      • Out = Look up new No. 3, no new threat sink for depth and read QB intentions
      • In = Deny inside to force high release
3x1; Quarters Coverage; Trips Open; Mini Coverage 3x1; Quarters Coverage; Trips Open; Mini Coverage

Weak Side Quarters Coverage Options

Above we discussed how using mini coverage can provide flexibility as to what schemes can be used to the weak side of a 3×1 formation. The W/S can be used as an extra defender in the run fit, offer over-the-top help on the weak side No. 1 wide receiver, or he can help strong side on another wide receiver vertical. This can change based on game plan, personnel, or down and distance. We’ll discuss the three different schemes we like to use week to week.

Press

In traditional quarters schemes, the W/S is sometimes responsible for the vertical of No. 3 strong side vs. a 3×1 formation. In doing that, the weak side linebacker (WLB) is now responsible for the RB man-to-man. This can sometimes be an unfavorable matchup if the RB has some speed or if the WLB is not very good in man-to-man coverage. An alternative for this mismatch is running what we call press. Press is a weak side man coverage concept placing the W/S man-to-man on the RB taking the responsibility off the WLB. This change creates a much better personnel matchup and allows the WLB to be aggressive vs. the run and any inside breaking route from the RB. This coverage also allows for the W/S to be more involved in the run game. He is essentially another set of eyes keying the RB and can attack the line of scrimmage from depth. Many times, the W/S is not accounted for in the run fit and can attack the ball unblocked.

3x1; Quarters Coverage; Trips Open; Press Coverage

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  • BOUNDARY CORNER (BC):
    • A: Press inside leverage No. 1
    • S: Deny inside; kick step, off-hand jam
    • K: Belt buckle of No. 1
    • A: Man-to-man No. 1
  • W/S SAFETY (W/S):
    • A: 1×10 outside leverage 0f end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOLS) (OT)
    • S: Step down to 8 yds. reading the RB
    • K: No. 2 (RB)
    • A: Out and up of No. 2 (Force/Pitch)
      • Vert = Match No. 2 man-to-man
      • Out =Match No. 2 man-to-man; use the sideline, secure the wheel
      • RB Away = Sink for help; look for crossers; eyes to quarterback
  • W/S LINEBACKER (WLB):
    • A: Box rules
    • S: Leverage the RB; play inside/out on the ball
    • K: RB to flow
    • A: Curl/Cut (Alley/Quarterback)
      • Vert = Reroute No. 2; see No. 1 thru No. 2
      • Out = Look to No. 1, defend the Curl
      • In = Deny inside; Cut the route underneath
3x1; Quarters Coverage; Trips Open; Press Coverage 3x1; Quarters Coverage; Trips Open; Press Coverage

Cloud

Another scheme we use on the weak side of a 3×1 formation is cloud coverage. We use this scheme to provide over-the-top safety help to the BC when there is a possible physical mismatch or if the wide receiver is an absolute stud and we need to affect the timing of the passing concept by pressing him at the line. This is also a great quarters coverage concept on longer down situations. It takes the pressure off the BC by taking away the guarantee of a one-on-one situation.

  • BOUNDARY CORNER (BC):
    • A: Work to press outside leverage
    • S: Force/Funnel No. 1 inside to safety
    • K: No. 2 (RB) unless playing press on No. 1
    • A: Flat (Force/Pitch)
  • W/S SAFETY (W/S):
    • A: 1×10 outside leverage of EMOLS (OT)
    • S: Backpedal to deep ½ gaining depth
    • K: Run/Pass Read off the OT; big vision with eyes on quarterback
    • A: Deep ½
  • W/S LINEBACKER (WLB):
    • A: Box rules
    • S: Leverage the RB; play inside/out on the ball
    • K: RB to flow
    • A: Curl/Vert (Alley/Quarterback)
      • Vert = Match No. 2 vertical to safety
      • Out = Look to No. 1, defend the Curl
      • In = Leverage the release of No. 2; “In” call and sink for depth
3x1; Quarters Coverage; Trips Open; Cloud Coverage

Stud

Using cloud coverage, we can essentially double-team a team’s best wide receiver when he is aligned to the boundary of a 3×1 formation. When that wide receiver is aligned to the field, we’ll play what we call stud coverage, where the W/S plays a cheat technique to the No. 3 allowing a bracket-type coverage on the No. 2 or No. 3 depending on that wide receiver’s alignment. When stud coverage is called, we tag the mini coverage that we talked about before to the field to have the ability to use an extra man in coverage. The difference is the technique of the S/S and the rest of the secondary knowing where their help is.

3x1; Quarters Coverage; Trips Open; Stud Coverage

When the wide receiver we’ve identified as the stud is aligned at No. 2, he will be doubled by the S/S and OH to the field. The OH is still playing his normal technique of mini flat, but he knows he has inside help from the S/S. The OH has the outside route of No. 2 and the S/S has the inside route of No. 2. This leaves the W/S left for the vertical route of the No. 3.

3x1; Quarters Coverage; Trips Open; Stud Coverage

If the stud is aligned at No. 3, he will be doubled by the S/S and the W/S. They are both playing their normal technique, but they know they have inside or outside help, respectively. The S/S has the outside route of No. 3 and the W/S has the inside route of No. 3. The OH is playing his normal mini technique.

3x1; Quarters Coverage; Trips Open; Stud Coverage

Within both instances, the BC and WLB are in man coverage. The BC is playing press man-to-man on the wide receiver and the WLB is responsible for the RB out and vertical. For the FC and MLB nothing changes, as far as they’re concerned they are playing mini coverage. If the stud wide receiver aligns to the field at No. 1 we don’t change anything. Rarely is the best wide receiver ever aligned there and if he is we play our FC off.

Conclusion

There are strengths and weaknesses to every coverage. When game-planning against an opponent, we attempt to identify how we can defend their best players and take away what they do best schematically. In doing so, you can end up a little weaker in some areas. In our mind, that’s the lesser of two evils. Take away an offense’s best player and make the other ones try to beat you. In the end, we try to find out what our own players are good at and then put them in a position to use those strengths to be successful.

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I’d like to thank the AFCA and all involved for the opportunity to contribute to this publication. I’d also like to thank all the football coaches I’ve had the opportunity to play for and work for throughout my career. They have all had a significant impact on my football upbringing and led me to this point.

Not many get the chance to play for and work for one of their coaches, let alone do it at their alma mater. Jack Hatem was my defensive coordinator for two seasons and has been the head coach at Denison for seven years, heading into his eighth. Denison has a rich football alumni tradition including Woody Hayes, Glenn “Tiger” Ellison, Dave Maurer, Ken Meyer, George Hill, Steve Mohr, and Keith Piper. It has been a blast witnessing the transformation process of this football program over the last decade due to the efforts of Coach Hatem.

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In 2018, Bert Bathiany enters his sixth year as Denison’s head strength and conditioning coach and his fourth season as the defensive coordinator. As Denison’s director of strength and conditioning Bathiany is responsible for Denison’s 23 varsity sports programs. Until 2012, Bathiany served as the defensive line coach and head strength and conditioning coach at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky. He implemented all workouts for the football team in addition to monitoring nutrition and hydration. Prior to his promotion to defensive line coach and head strength and conditioning coach, Bathiany spent the 2010 season Lindsey Wilson’s graduate assistant coach where he worked with the defensive line and was an assistant strength and conditioning coach. Bathiany graduated Cum Laude from Denison in 2009 with a bachelor of arts in physical education with a concentration in sports management. He received his master’s in recreation and sports administration from Western Kentucky in 2012. In addition to his time at Lindsey Wilson, Bathiany also spent the 2009 season as a strength and conditioning graduate assistant at Western Kentucky. Bathiany is a certified Level 1 Sports Performance Coach through USA Weightlifting.


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