In this X’s O’s Football breakdown, we take a look at the quarters coverage and why team’s use it to defend not only the pass game, but also to defend the run game.
“I believe one defense can stop everything; I believe we could play an entire football game in our base defense, I believe that if everyone lines up exactly right, reads their keys, and does all the fundamentals involved with the defense, it is enough to win.” -Pat Narduzzi, former Michigan State DC, and new HC at Pitt, on quarters coverage.
Quarters Coverage Diagram
Unlike it’s video game depictions, Cover 4 is not a form of prevent defense, it’s a pattern match coverage, and it can allow for 9 men in the box versus the run. Besides being great versus the run, it’s inherent design is perfect to handle 4 verticals, as well. With the ability to get 9 in the box, take away the big play, coupled with it’s versatility, it’s obvious why it’s been the base coverage for many NFL and college teams. In recent years, the 49ers have been the most high profile Quarters based team in the NFL, but with Vic Fangio taking the Bears defensive coordinator job, that very well may change.
To get started, let’s take a look at the at the run fits, and the run/pass keys for the safeties in quarters coverage. The reason I am starting with the safeties, they are the engine that makes this entire coverage go, be it run or pass. The safeties will read through #2 to the offensive line for their run/pass keys, and if they read run, as seen in the image below, the play side safety becomes the force player, and the backside safety will play the cut back.
When it comes to defending the pass, this is where the versatility of quarters coverage really shines. Through a series of checks, this coverage can easily adapt to any offensive formation, wide receiver split, and motion, while still offering great run support. As for the coverage assignments and reads, let’s first take a look at quarters versus a 2×2 set, so we will have a good understanding of the coverage before delving into the variations in part 2.
SAFETIES: They will align 10-12 yards off the LOS, with an inside shade on #2 flexed, outside shade if #2 is aligned in-line. If #2 vertical at 8-12 yards(coaching preference), then he will match the vertical stem of #2, and if #2 goes flat or under, then the safety will look to rob #1.
CORNERBACKS: In quarters Coverage, the cornerbacks can align in a press position, jam and reroute #1 or use a press/bail technique, they can also align in an off position, 7-8 yards from the LOS. Regardless of how far off the ball the corner aligns, he will align with an outside shade. He will match #1 on any vertical route at a depth of 8-12 yards, and will aggressively play any out-breaking route by #1. If #1 runs a shallow route, such as a hitch, this will quickly become a cover 2 type of situation for the corner- he must continue to sink in order to help the safety on a possible corner route by #2. If #1 goes inside, then he will look to help on any vertical route by #2.
SIDE NOTE: How the cornerback aligns on #1(inside or outside shade) is a coaching preference, and may vary from one coach to another when quarters coverage is played.
FLAT DEFENDER: This title is somewhat deceptive, because he isn’t a “flat” defender in the same manner as the cover 3 curl/flat dropper. He will swing to the flat with #2, unless #1 cones inside, then he will wall #1(deliver him to the middle hook dropper). The Cover 4 flat defenders primary responsibility is #2 post snap, and when #1 comes inside, that makes him the new #2 receiver. However, with all that focus on #2, he still must not get out leveraged to the flat by #3.
MIDDLE HOOK DROPPER: He has one job to do versus the pass, to wall off any crossing routes. There is one exception to this rule, and that’s when the offense is aligned in a 3×1 set. Versus a 3×1 set, he must carry #3 vertical, this gives the backside safety time to work his way over top of the vertical stem of #3.
Here is a video from Pat Narduzzi about quarters coverage, and if you were uncertain of any of the assignments, this should help eliminate any confusion.