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    Andy Freeland
    Statistician and researcher for NBC's Sunday Night Football.
  • Ciro

    by Published on 07-27-2010 05:11 PM

    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.