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The most popular and common defensive coverage in football today is the Cover 3. There is good reason for this, as the Cover 3 is the easiest coverage to teach, the most catch-all coverage, and one of the most effective coverages in terms of stopping the run.
The strength of the Cover 3 defense is that it creates an 8-man front. This means that you have 8 players who’s first responsibility is stopping the running game of the opponent. The two flat defenders, the region closest to the sidelines and within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, are going to be responsible for containing any running plays and forcing them back inside. Two other players are responsible for the hook to curl area, primarily the area around the hashes. They are going to be focused on stopping the inside running game first, before dropping to their pass coverage zones.
Four players in the Cover 3, usually the 4 down-linemen in a 4-3 Defense or 4-4 Defense, will be looking to control a gap and stop the run, as well as rushing the Quarterback on passing plays. An effective pass rush out of these guys makes the Cover 3 coverage even more effective. There are holes in the coverage, but a great pass rush forces the Quarterback to find them quickly or pay the price!
The Deep Ball
The coverage is called Cover 3 because of the 3 deep pass defenders. From an area roughly 10-12 yards from the line of scrimmage, to the back of the end zone, we divide the field into 3 imaginary zones. In high school, these zones are from the sidelines to the hashes, and from hash to hash in the middle of the field.
The corner backs are normally responsible for the two outside thirds of the field. They must prevent any receiver from getting behind them. In particular, they must run with Go routes and Fade routes by the #1 receiver, the receiver closest to the sideline.
The Free Safety handles the middle of the field. He is a roamer. Nothing can get behind him, and he must be able to effectively handle the Post Route from either side. The Free Safety is also expected to give help to the Corners when the ball is thrown. A speedy, athletic Free Safety can also run the alley. The alley is the area between the hook-curl defenders forcing the running game to the outside, and the flat or contain defenders forcing the play back inside. While the cornerbacks are expected to have little impact on the outcome of the running game, the Free Safety can have an enormous impact if he is not only athletic, but a physical and effective tackler.
Spot Dropping or Pattern Reading
In recent years, pattern reading has become very popular. This is the technique of reading the routes of certain receivers and adjusting coverages based on those routes. While pattern reading certainly has its place, and we at Football-Defense.com teach pattern reading, it is not always necessary.
The basic Cover 3 Defense is, in my opinion, just as effective with Spot Dropping as it is with pattern reading. In particular, if this is not going to be your base coverage, or if you are working with young athletes (middle school or younger), spot dropping is the way to go.
To spot drop means for your players to drop to an area of the field when they get a pass read, rather than to move towards a particular receiver. The flat players will be dropping to the area of the numbers, while the hook-curl droppers are going to play the hashes.
Play close attention to film and football games you watch, and see how many throws are made on the hashes or on the numbers, as opposed to off of them. You will be surprised how many times that if your players were just standing on the hash, they’d have the pick!
The Cover 3 Defensive coverage is by far the most effective, easiest to teach, best run stopping coverage in football today. While many coaches swear by other coverages, and I am one, the Cover 3 is still the basis of your football coverage package. I can’t imagine any reason a team would not have some sort of Cover 3 defense installed!
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