• Turk Talk: Route Based Zone Coverages

    I am curious if there has been a shift in the way teams play zone coverage in the past 10 15 years.

    I played on a Div I-AA football team in college and all of our zone coverages were not defined by areas but by routes. For instance, our main coverage to any formation with double width was "Mix". In mix we were basically mixing Cover 2 and Cover 4. The corner did not have a zone but instead, if number 2 (the 2nd rec. counting from outside in) ran an outside breaking route, the corner had him. If 2 went vertical, the corner had number 1 vertical and out, if the 2 ran an inside breaking route (defined as slants and drags) the corner would play aggressive man on number one, knowing he had a safety to help over the top. This coverage was very effective.

    Talking to our QB, I found that a lot of teams would just have their defense run to their areas and cover what comes into the area. I felt our coverage system was more effective since we did not have defenders covering space unoccupied by receivers and effectively allowed the release of the wideouts to dictate what coverage we play. We never got caught with 4 verticals against two, or with the out vertical combination against 4.

    My question is, has this coverage system taken hold in NFL? I read and hear a lot about Tampa 2, which seems somewhat like "mix" in that the corners really sink against vertical routes by 1 and drive on anything that shows in the flat instead of releasing the WR to the safety immediately. Or is this something that some teams do, and others don't? Other has this route based zone coverage always been the standard in the NFL.

    Any of your insight would be appreciated.


    Turk: Coverages over the years have gotten more complex. What you described as "Mix" make reads tougher on QB's. With all the different types of coverages it is very difficult for QB's to know every coverage (too many moving parts). The way I teach QB's to read the field is: middle of the field open(mofo) or middle of the field closed (mofc). Mofo is a 2 safety high coverage and mofc is a 1 safety high coverage. The QB will base his progression on mofo or mofc. Once he deciphers mofo/mofc he then has to read man or zone coverage.

    This takes me to your "Mix"/mofo coverage. Once a QB makes the determination man or zone, he then has to understand what type of man or zone. More teams play a match up zone (mofo) than in the past. Match means that a Db or Lb will grab a rec when he comes into his zone and play him man. Defenses will also play zone defense to 1 side and play man on the other side (this is done to take away a certain rec or pass concept)." Mix" coverage is tough on QB's. How many times have we seen a QB throw a pick and everyone yells...how can you make that throw you idiot ? It could of been that the QB saw one thing and he didn't see or anticipate the defensive adjustments. Tampa 2 is more of a long yardage coverage than a "Mix" coverage. Tampa 2 teams that don't play "Mix" are much easier to game plan against and are easier to read for the QB. Throw in the all out blitz and the zone dog/blitz schemes with "Mix" coverage schemes and you can get a sense of what a QB goes through. It makes you really appreciate the elite QB's.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Route Based Zone Coverages started by Ciro View original post

    Comments 35 Comments
    1. Dexter's Avatar
      I love the X's and O's discussion. More please!
    1. FootballFan's Avatar
      Awesome. I've been dreaming about a website like this. I'll just add that the guys are just talking about what the QB is looking at on the backside of the defense - PAST the line of scrimmage - mentioned the blitzes and pass rush briefly.

      I don't know how many QB's in the league are responsible for looking over the LOS as well - or if that's left to position I played - center. I know that I was responsible for making sure we had the hats and gaps covered in the offensive system I was in, and if not - I had signals to send to my georges, teds and backs - running plays were a heck of lot easier for me to figure out than pass protections when the defense showed different gaps and formations with their front 7. While the QB is looking at all that stuff on a pass play, there's a blocking scheme that's worked into the play call for the guys up front - and if it doesn't match up well with what the defense is showing - it better get adjusted, or that QB is going to get butterfly kissed.

      How many times do you see somebody in the interior let somebody come free while double teaming somebody else, or a guy pulls out and a Dlineman or inside backer shoots through untouched? Corner blitzes are a nice surprise too.

      Makes me appreciate the good QB's even that much more.
    1. Kosar19's Avatar
      This thread reminds me of last year, Tony Dungy was breaking down of Peyton pre-sanp and how he was reading the D. It was amazing to see how he could not only read what the defense was, but also make adjustments knowing how the D would react and play it against itself. We have a tendency to use the term "great" a little too often. Only a select few QBs in history were/are great. There are QBs with talent, those with brains. It's the third variety, those with both, that can be great.
    1. DannyMilk's Avatar
      TURK TALK TURK TALK TURK TALK!!!!! Good thread guys!
    1. giantsfan97's Avatar
      Interesting stuff, more please
    1. Polishguy00's Avatar
      Maybe this needs to be in a different thread, but reading this, I had a thought about something about running backs. I was trying to form a thought about any possible mid-play adjustments a defense can make to check down receivers but I was thinking that there are not a lot of "do-it-all" running backs anymore. I'm thinking the Keith Byars type of guy, you know, a guy who can run, chip block, pass block and be effective on screens. Any theories out there from the guys who know a lot more than me?

      I think of Kevin Faulk as being close.
    1. Polishguy00's Avatar
      Oh, yeah. Turk Talk is awesome.
    1. lawless's Avatar
      Turk,
      during your pre-snap reads, would you check to a different formation to dictate how you would expect a defense to react according to down and distance?
    1. souza's Avatar
      A lot of footballs "matchup zones" stem from quarters coverage concepts. In its simplest form, the defense will be in a two high safety look with the ability to adjust pre-snap to any other man or zone coverage in the playbook as dictated by down and distance, offensive formation, or defensive desire to force the offense's hand. The cornerback will make his read off of the route of the #2 wide receiver. If the receiver crosses the lb's face inside or breaks off his route short of a certain yardage-based landmark, the cornerback automatically matches up with #1. If the receiver carries his route beyond that landmark vertically, the cornerback continues his zone drop into the deep quarter of the field. In the simplest quarters coverage, the safety does the same thing, reads #2, if the wr carries his route past the landmark, the safety matches up with him. If the receiver breaks in, he tags it to the linebackers, and either works to help #1 or looks to the other side of the field for a receiver entering his zone. Hope that helps explain some matchup zone concepts common vs 2 x 2 offensive formations. A lot of adjustments within the basic concept have been created to complicate life for opposing quarterbacks, receivers, and offensive lines, (endless on the NFL level) but thats a start...
    1. thephaze's Avatar
      Awesome analysis.

      I like learning about the coaches, QBs and defenses do to outsmart one another.
    1. Tinindian's Avatar
      I 2nd that. I love the X's and O's discussions too. Information that you don't get from the TV programs.
    1. Turk Schonert's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by lawless View Post
      Turk,
      during your pre-snap reads, would you check to a different formation to dictate how you would expect a defense to react according to down and distance?
      This is done by using shifts or motion rather than an audible.
    1. Turk Schonert's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by thephaze View Post
      Awesome analysis.

      I like learning about the coaches, QBs and defenses do to outsmart one another.
      It's really one big chess match !! ... with contact.
    1. FootballFan's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by Polishguy00 View Post
      Maybe this needs to be in a different thread, but reading this, I had a thought about something about running backs. I was trying to form a thought about any possible mid-play adjustments a defense can make to check down receivers but I was thinking that there are not a lot of "do-it-all" running backs anymore. I'm thinking the Keith Byars type of guy, you know, a guy who can run, chip block, pass block and be effective on screens. Any theories out there from the guys who know a lot more than me?

      I think of Kevin Faulk as being close.
      I'll take a stab. Not sure exactly what you're asking though. I agree that the every down back is pretty much a thing of the past in the NFL. I'll also add that I believe that RB's coming into the league, unless they've come from a really good program, have a really hard time picking up blocking protection schemes in the NFL on pass plays and whether or not they can pick it up usually is going to dictate how much they play - and it's a big deal because it's often a RB that's going to be responsible for picking up a hat or a gap (player or space) along the line of scrimmage that has a bad matchup - or no matchup - in the blocking scheme of the play call. What I was writing about before.

      When you see the center get down over the ball as the OL is getting in line and the offense gets into its formation - before they get 'set' - that center is usually moving his head side to side, and will sometimes turn completely around and look back into the backfield and start pointing to linebackers or safeties - when you're down in there - the center is actually talking to his lineman, QB and pointing into the backfield- all that stuff - that's when he's communicating any blocking adjustments presnap. THat's the way it worked in my offense - I was responsible for the blocking calls - the QB - well - all I really cared was that he got his hands right so I didn't break his fingers with the ball off the snap. I'm pretty sure most, if not all NFL offenses are going to be using the center to make line calls and adjusments when necessary for blocking as well.

      The RB is often the last blocker available to keep a passing play alive against a really good defense, and they've got to be able to recognize when and where there's a space somewhere along that line of scrimmage that they're going to need to fill, and it might be totally different than what was expected coming out of the huddle.

      Blocking and tackling. IT's a great game.
    1. Colts01's Avatar
      Turk this is what were talking about! As The Linc said I believe this is "A perfect storm of awesome"! My follow up question would be which Qb do you feel is best at picking up these and making the adjustment on the fly,I know Im bias but Manning (big brother) Comes to mind,but who else would you say on the offence as far as audibles go?
      Long live TURK Talk !!!!
    1. BuckeyeRidley's Avatar
      THANKS Ciro & TURK!!! Love Turk Talk!

      I think that Peyton Manning & Tom Brady are good with reading teams & executing plays based on the formation and any change made at the line. Appreciate those Elite QBs indeed!

      I find teams like the Ravens are beasty defenses to watch last year. Defenses that are competitive with these schemes put the QB & offense on front street. Exposure in the NFL is painful!
    1. DM138385's Avatar
      Turk Talk Rules !! Coach I will make the play for you !!!
    1. bluestree's Avatar
      Turk, you mentioned Cover 2 being easier for the quarterback to read. What led to it's popularity around the league? Do many teams play straightforward schemes anymore, or is everybody showing a lot of different looks?
    1. OverTheTop's Avatar
      While the in-depth terminology is somewhat over my head, the X's O's aspect to this topic is above and beyond what I had thought this site could become. Great job Ciro, Turk and everyone else who contributed to this defensive discussion. Provided a lot of excellent insight.
    1. Cris Collinsworth's Avatar
      Cover 2 and Tampa 2 are very different defenses. Cover 2 invites throws down the middle which eventually led to Tampa 2 that tried to take those 20 yard throws down the middle away by running the Mike backer down the middle of the field. Tampa 2 is really more of a 3 deep coverage, but the middle safety is a middle linebacker sprinting to get there. In the Super Bowl, Jonathan Vilma made one of the key plays in the game knocking down a pass to Austin Collie deep down the middle on third down. Vilma was brilliant in both the Championship game and Super Bowl, but that is the play that I will remember the most.