Hey Guys, Thanks again for checking out this post. Hopefully this series of coverage beaters has been helpful as you game plan and prepare each week. It’s hard to believe, but some of us are already halfway through the regular season and are thinking about league rivals and playoff berths already.

First things first, if you haven’t subscribed yet, click here now to get your free air raid playbook!

So far we have looked at Man and Cover 2, today we are going to look at what I think is the most basic of all zone schemes: Cover 3. Let’s get into it!

I once attended a coaching clinic simply because I saw that Mouse Davis was doing 3 1-hour sessions. Mouse is the father of the Run and Shoot…one of the first guys who really tried to exploit the defense with the pass. He was the brains behind the Houston Oilers of the 80’s and the Bills of the 90’s and June Jones’ Hawaii teams. He probably knows more about the passing game than any man on Earth.

As you can imagine, in a 3-hour session, I took about 14 pages of notes. There were a ton of things that stood out and I was able to bring back to my coaches and my kids. But, one thing stuck out above everything else. I wrote it down and circled it and underlined it in bold ink. He said, “I design my plays to beat Cover 3 first. If a defense can stop you by playing Cover 3, you will never have an effective passing game.”

If the defense can play 3 deep and stop your passing game, that means that they can keep 6 or 7 guys in the box to stop the run. They can blitz without the fear of getting beat over the top. They have the advantage.

In other words, our passing games have to be so effective at beating Cover 3 that the defense is forced to play something else to stop our system. So, in a way, it is a bit of a paradox. We need to be so effective against Cover 3that the defense can’t play Cover 3.

That is the case with this version of Air Raid. If a defense lines up in Cover 3, you should be thinking about shredding them and setting records!
I always think it is important to try to get into the mind of the defensive coordinator. Why is he playing Cover 3?

First, he has a bend but don’t break philosophy. Cover 3 creates a shell that can be difficult to beat over the top. He wants to make you keep lining up and eliminate the big play. He will happily concede 4-7 yard completions, betting that you can’t complete a high enough percentage to keep the chains moving.

Second, he doesn’t trust his CB’s or OLB’s to play 1 on 1 coverage. If he did, he would play Cover 1 and force you to throw over the top of his CB’s, knowing that his guys would win most of those battles. He would rather have his guys retreat and tackle once the completion is made.

Third, he wants to stop the run. Cover 3 gives him 8 guys with their eyes in the backfield. This gives him numbers in the run game.

He is daring you to throw the ball. OK…bring it on!

The base Cover 3 that most of us see is characterized by soft corners, probably 6-8 yards off, backers or strong safeties walked out over our slot receivers, and a single hi safety. At the snap the CB’s will back pedal, the OLB’s will fly to the flats, the MLB’s will drop on an angle to 8-10 yards and look for crossing routes.

Remember our rule about game planning. The first thing we do with any coverage is identify the grass. The second thing we do is identify the plays in our arsenal that put our guys in that open grass. It’s that simple.

Holes in Cover 3

There are three areas that we want to exploit in cover 3. The first is the flats. The corner is soft and the OLB is a run-first defender that has limited coverage skills. The 5-8 yard region outside the hashes will be wide open all night. The second area that we want to take advantage of is the seams. That is, the area up the hashes, behind the backers and outside of the single hi safety. The third area is the middle of the field in front of and in between the dropping middle linebackers.

Our system has a ton of plays that exploit these exact holes!



Before we get into the plays that beat Cover 3, if you haven’t downloaded my free version of the Air Raid, some of the terminology may not make sense. Click here to download the playbook now.

Quick Game Plays to Beat Cover 3:

Ace Blue – This is my all time favorite route against Cover 3. First, you have a 6 yard hitch against a soft corner that should be open all night. If the CB starts to jump that route, throw a hitch and go. Second, your H and Y both run seams up the hashes. Teach your QB to be good with his eyes and move the safety. Throw the ball on a line, right over the backers and in front of the safety. Coaching Point – Vs Cover 3, teach your slots to throttle down once they clear the backers.

Trips Blue – Once again, you will have the hitch against a soft corner. The safety has to choose between the over route by the Y and the seam by the H. Coaching point- Make sure your H releases outside the linebacker.

Ace Black/Trips Black – The go route will eliminate the CB. The OLB has to choose between the stick and the arrow.

Ace Orange – This is a classic combination route for cover 3. The OLB will run with the flat route, and you should get the slant right behind him.

Ace Brown – If you like the back shoulder fade, you can throw it. Otherwise, take your slot 1 on 1 with their OLB.

Trips Double Brown – The OLB can’t be right. One of the quick outs will be open.

Drop Back Plays to Beat Cover 3:

Ace Verticals – This play is as old as football itself. 3 deep can’t cover 4 verticals…take your best match up.

Trips Verticals – I like this a little better than Ace because the picture is cleaner for the QB. The safety has to choose between the Y and H.

Ace Comebacks – This is the drop back version of Blue. You have your choice between two seams vs a single hi safety or a comeback vs a soft corner.

Trips Curl – I love the outside curl. If the OLB gets depth and occupies that window, then the flat route is open.

Smash – The whips should be open all night.

Trips Smash Y Sail – The CB should retreat to cover the H on the corner route and the OLB will cover the whip. The sail should be wide open.

Ace Levels (All Variations) – I love the Dig on this play. The post will hold the single safety and the dig should pop open.

Ace H/Y Option – The coaching point is to keep the playside post skinny so the CB stays with it. Work the option route against their OLB or the cross to the Y.

***Don’t forget about your RB. Because the shell is so soft, the RB will have a lot of space to just sit in open zones on check downs. If the windows get messy, teach your QB to take 4 yards to the RB every time.

***Throw a ton of quick screens and bubble screens. I especially like Trips H Bubble.

***Check out what they do on the backside of trips. Some teams bump their OLB inside so that they can walk out over both guys on the trips side. This means they have to play 1 on 1 on your Z or X. Remember…if they were good at man, they would play man. If they play 1 on 1 on the backside, tag routes to that guy and turn it into a 1 on 1 drill.


Here is the bottom line. If you want to beat cover 3, master the air raid. If you master this system and become efficient at it, you are not going to see a ton of cover 3. The defense will have to adjust. They will have to do something different if you keep shredding them. But, if they stay in Cover 3, smell the blood in the water. Attack it!

Thanks again for reading guys. Next week we will look at Cover 4. Keep Chucking it!