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Friday, December 02, 2005

Reading the "square" to determine coverage

I didn't invent this, but thought I'd pass it along. Sorry that I don't have any diagrams, those would help. From what I remember a lot of this came from Lindy Infante, but it's been used by lots of great passing coaches for a long time. This deescription is close to what I've always taught:


The most important area for determining secondary coverages is the middle of the field about 15 to 25 yards deep and about 2 yards inside of each hash. We call this area the “square”.

We normally read the “square” in our drop back passing game. Reading the “square” becomes necessary when it is impossible to determine what the coverage they are in before the snap or to make sure of secondary coverage after the snap.

In reading the “square” the QB simply looks down the middle of the field. He should not focus on either Safety but see them both in his peripheral vision.

A) If neither Safety shows up in the “square”, and both are deep, it will indicate a form of Cover 2. A quick check of Corner alignment and play will indicate whether it is a 2/Man or 2/Zone. If neither Safety shows up in the “square” and both are shallow, it will indicate a Cover 0 (blitz look).

B) If the Strong Safety shows up in the “square”, this will indicate a Cover 3 rolled weak or possibly a Cover 1.

C) If the Weak Safety shows up in the “square”, this will indicate a strong side coverage. It could be a Cover 3 or a Cover 1. If the coverage is Cover 3, it could be a Cover 3/Sky (Safety), or a Cover 3/Cloud (Corner), depending on who has the short zone.

NOTE: When either of the Safeties shows up in the “square”, the best percentage area to throw the ball in is the side that he came from! If NEITHER of the Safeties show up in the “square” – throwing the ball into the “square” is a high percentage throw.


Zennie said...

This is interesting, but I would guess it can't be applied to roll-out plays. In other words, it seems that a combination of techniques to read coverage is appropriate if one is to have a passing game with multiple launch points.

Zennie said...

Also, it seems to be a holdover from what I call the "pre-progression" era. At what point does the quarterback come off this method and drill down to a particular receiver? It seems like you can't have a progression system and this -- perhaps I'm wrong.

Chris said...

Most of the best college and pro passing teams use a combination system. For example, I drop back and read the square, if it is MOFO and Cover 2, I then have a progression read of post->corner->flat. If it is single safety rotated from the left, I look to the left then read corner->post/in->flat on that side.

So you really have both defense reading and progression/passing lane reading. Even the best pro teams still do simple progressions based off passing lanes, they just get more sophisticated on their keys.

The usual ways this is done is either it changes the order of the progression (outside in vs. single safety, inside out vs. no middle safety/cover 2, etc), or it tells you which side of the field you're working on, and then you progress from there.

This last point even has two branches as well. First, typical mirrored routes (i.e. both outside receivers run out routes), you read the coverage rotation to know where you have a numbers advantage (see the original post where if the deep safety comes from the left, you want to throw left). Second, slightly more sophisticated, you put to one side routes to beat one coverage and on the other one to beat a different coverage. So if you see two high safeties, you do your progression (Z-Y-H or whatever) to the right, but one high safety you would progress on the left.

Spurrier actually used to have plays where he had 3 coverage beaters on the same play (left, middle, and right) and his QB was to identify the coverage and work that progression!

To me this is actually a drawback of the all-gun offenses in that you lose the QB's first couple steps off the line because he can't look down the middle of the field (or at least as long).

You're right about the roll-out/multiple launch point thing. Typically the play is designed to go to that side of the field and it is a simple progression 1-2 or 1-2-3 (sometimes you can build in a backside post and read the free safety). You give up using the whole field, but the idea is that a) you've hopefully protected the QB by moving him a bit b) made it an easier/shorter pass c) sometimes simpler is better, he doesn't have to worry about making the right read, just find the passing lane, and d) on true roll-outs you may have a run-threat as well as a pass threat to make up for it.

Chris said...

Oh, just to clarify, typically the first leg of the drop is spent looking down the middle of the field. On 3-step drops it is the first step, on a 5-step it is the first three steps, etc. QBs, as they get more experience can see more and more things on those first 3-steps. Then on the last two steps of the drop, when they should know a) if they are bringing pressure, b) which progression are they using, and c) probably which guy in the progression will be open (though they must fully go through the progression!).

Note, that the hot reads in my offense and many others, if they are bringing heat and we aren't protecting with enough guys (and no check at the line was made), even if it was a 5-step drop with a hitch step, it will become a 5-step-plant-and-throw on the 5th step, or even it needs to be thrown on the 3rd step.

Zennie said...

Thanks for this, Chris. In re-reading this, I'm reminded of an interview I conducted in 1996 with then-Cal Bears Head Coach Steve Marriuci. (I'm very sorry about his treatment this year, but that's another story.) At the time, I was a columnist for a local Oakland, CA newspaper called "The Montclarion."

Anyway, I asked "Mooch" to explain what he asks his quaterbacks to look for when they break the huddle and before and after the snap.

He said, "We have two concepts: Wide field and narrow vision. When the quarterback comes out of the huddle the first thing he does is check the formation: Is everyone lined up correctly? That's important. That's wide field. Then what front is the defense in? Where are the corners and safeties? Then the ball is snapped. He goes to narrow vision. "Where's my key moving? Then he goes into his receiver progression."

What seems to be obvious to me is that each coach essentially has a different teaching method they think will work to get their people to do what needs to be done.

It seems like Spurrier throws a lot at the QB to think about. I write that because you mention that Spurrier has plays where there are two sets of patterns for different coverages on diferrent sides of the play.

My guess is -- knowing this -- a zone-blitz 3-4 team would be very successful at (say) faking the weakside blitz, but bring the corner from the strongside and playing a 4 short, 3 deep zone.

But as I think about this more, I would guess the emphasis is placed more on pre-snap reads. If I were working with Spurrier, I would encourage the use of pre-shifts to force the defense to reveal its coverages early, and discourage the use of exotic pass defense schemes.

Then, the quarterback would be less likely to be forced into committing an error by the combination of all of the points of reference installed in the offense, and the "key breakers" that are a part of many modern defenses.

What do you think?

Ted Seay said...

Zennie: On your roll-out point, I see it simply as a variation on the field-read theory, where you are pre-determining which third of the field will be your primary hunting ground (the outside third to playside) while leaving the possibility of a throwback of some sort to a backside receiver...

PS: I used to enjoy reading the Montclarion, both when I was at Cal and later when I was living in Oakland...

Zennie said...

Thanks for the insight, Ted. I also have bookmarked your site. Oh. I wrote for the Montclarion from 1993 to 1996. I also share the same love of the Run and Shoot's pure passing simplicity, and for the Walsh's Offense' variety.