Hey guys, today is the last post in this series on coverage beaters. Over the last four weeks, we have looked at Man, Cover 2, and Cover 3. Today we are going to look at how to beat Cover 4.

In my experience, this is the default coverage against our spread formations. Most teams don’t have the safeties to play Cover 2 or the corners to play Man.  And, like we looked at last week, Cover 3 will not contain this offense. For that reason, I think most defenses will default to Cover 4.

First, let’s define what I mean when I say Cover 4. There are a couple variations of this coverage. The first is a true Quarters coverage, where the CB’s and the Safeties each take one quarter of the field, the OLB’s take the flats, and the Mike drops to the middle. The second variation is a Man Combo Scheme, where the CB covers the #1 receiver, until #2 crosses his face. The Safety and OLB combo #2 and #3, with the safety taking any vertical threat and the OLB running with anyone who releases to the flat.

I actually prefer the Man Combo rules in terms of creating a sound defensive scheme, but Quarters is probably safer and is definitely easier to teach. Either way, don’t get hung up on these nuances. The crux of Cover 4 is that there will be a shell of 4 defenders deep with underneath coverage by the linebackers. Sometimes the issue with identifying coverage in high school is that kids don’t aways do what they are coached to do. So, a lot of times, it’s tough to decipher between Cover 4 and Soft Man. Choose one and go with it. Remember, what you call the coverage doesn’t matter, we are looking for open grass. So, whether you call it 4 and it’s really Man or you call it Man when it is really 4, it doesn’t matter as long as you are attacking the grass that the defense gives you.

To beat Cover 4 we have to understand where the holes are. Cover 4 is similar to Cover 3 in a lot of ways. The defensive mindset is to keep the ball in front and make you line up again. But, it solves one of the biggest issues with Cover 3 by dropping an extra safety to guard against 4 verticals. The holes in Cover 4 are in front of the CB’s, in the flats, and behind the Mike (or in front of the Mike depending on his depth). The seams can be difficult to hit because of the safeties over the top.

Holes in Cover 4

Like Cover 3, you can tag a pass play with play action which will pull the backers up and allow you to slip behind the backers.

This is maybe the biggest hole against Cover 4. If you line up in ACE against a Cover 4, they have to walk their OLB’s out over your slots or you will kill them in the flats all night. This means that they are leaving 5 guys in the box. If they respect your passing game enough to play like this, you have created a mismatch in the running game. If they are going to play like this, run the ball all night and take advantage of the numbers. Their safeties will have to make a ton of tackles, or they will be forced to adjust. Then you come back with your passing game. It’s all about numbers. Create the advantage and exploit it!

The check down is not a failure! Because they can’t bring a ton of pressure with 5 guys in the box, your RB should be able to get into the progression on almost every single pass play. If they are dropping 4 guys deep and running their OLB’s to the flats, your RB is 1 on 1 with the Mike backer. I will take that match up every time…my best athlete 1 on 1 vs a backer! It should be like stealing 5 yards every play. It sounds boring, but 5-7 yards a play is never boring. Their Mike cannot guard your back. Instill that in your QB’s head. If he sees the middle of the field vacant, hit the back in stride and let him run away from the Mike.

***Don’t forget to practice this. In practice, it’s tempting for the QB to force the ball to his first or second read, even if it’s not open. His mindset is that it’s only practice, it doesn’t really matter if he throws a pick or an incompletion. But, if you are going to use it in the game you have to make the QB hit the check down in 7 on 7 and Team.

This is something that I’ve mentioned before, but it bears repeating. Remember that Cover 4 is a balanced coverage. One way to beat Cover 4 is to make the defense unbalanced. Trips unbalances the coverage and forces the defense to make a choice. They are either going to stay balanced, which gives you a numbers advantage on the trips side. Or, they are going to cheat their safety over, which gives you a 1 on 1 match up on the backside. Either way, you have an advantage.



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.

Ace/Trips White – This route was made for Cover 4. Pick your best match up and get an easy 5-7 yards.

Trips Double Brown – One of the quick outs will be open

Trips Blue – Take the hitch if they give it to you. Make them come up and then hit them with a fade or a hitch and go later in the game

Trips Black – This is a game with the outside linebacker. He has to cover the stick or the arrow, he can’t be right. The playside safety might come downhill to take away the arrow route. If he does, come back with Trips Right Stick Z post.

Ace Black – Again, this puts the OLB on an island and makes him choose between the RB and the Y or H.

Ace Red – The open guy will depend on how their OLB’s play. If they fly to the flats, the inside slant should be open. If they try to reroute the slots, the outside slant should be open. Go through your progression…Inside Slant, Outside Slant, Swing.

First, let me say I love drop back plays against Cover 4, because protection should not be a problem. You even have enough guys to double team their best linemen if you so choose. You should have your whole arsenal of drop back plays at your disposal. Here are my favorites.

Ace/Trips Curl- The Middle Curl is a really easy throw and should be open. The key to this route is to make look like a crossing route, and then sit when the Mike opens his hips. If not, there is a huge pocket for either outside curl.

Ace Levels (All Variations) – The playside safety will dictate whether you throw the Dig or the Post. Don’t forget about the back on the arrow route.

Ace Mesh – The Corner routes could occupy the CB’s and the Safeties, if this happens one of the Mesh routes will be open.

Ace Smash – The CB has to drop for the corner route. I love the whip. If the backers fly hard to the flats, the check down is wide open.

Trips Verticals – This takes practice, but teach your QB to throw the back shoulder fade to X or Z. I like to give my QB a landmark…13 yards on a line at his back shoulder. If he doesn’t like it, take the check down.

Trips Right Mesh Z post – This is similar to the throw on Verticals. Throw the wheel route on a line to the back shoulder.

Trips Left Sprint Left Flood – The OLB will cover the quick out. The Sail route will be 1 on 1 against the safety.

Ace H Option – I love the crossing route. If the Mike takes it away, come back with Curl.

Here is a nice little special to throw in if you know they play a lot of Cover 4. Run this into the boundary:

Trips Right Verticals X Skinny Post T Wheel: USC used to run this all the time with Reggie Bush. The CB has to run with the X. This puts the OLB 1 on 1 with the RB up the sideline. Cue the band and the cheerleaders!

Hopefully, this post and the previous 3 posts about attacking coverages have been beneficial. But, I want to reiterate one thing before we end this discussion on how to beat Cover 4.

As a coach, we want to know the holes in every coverage so that we can always call the right play and give our guys the best chance to succeed. We also want our guys to start to recognize coverage so that they can make adjustments to certain routes and get themselves open. But, remember that this is a progression based system. If you don’t use the progression, the system will not work.

Teach the QB the progressions and trust the system!

You can anticipate who will be open based on certain coverages, but If the QB learns to go through his reads and throws it to the open guy, you are going to be fine. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is tell your QB who you think is going to be open. It can hamper him. It can make him play tentatively. And it can make him force the ball. You need to find that balance between anticipation and reaction. Every QB is different. That is the nuance of coaching. You need to find the right buttons to push with your guy.

One of the most rewarding moments as a play caller is when you call a play anticipating a certain throw, and your QB shocks you by throwing a TD to someone else. That means that he has embraced the system, learned to trust his progressions, and that he is actually “playing” football.

So, even after all this talk about coverage and exploiting the defense, try not to get too robotic. Coach hard during the week and try to identify your best plays. On Friday night, trust the system, trust your players, and let them play!

Thanks again for reading guys, it means a lot to me.  Keep chucking it!