The Tampa 2 was en vogue from the late 90’s till around 2012, but the Cover 3 is now the x’s and o’s style of choice. The two major reasons for the rise in popularity of the Cover 3, the nuances of current spread offenses(the zone read) and league rule changes. The Tampa 2 was predicated on punishing hits, but the rule changes have made those kind of hits illegal. If John Lynch were playing in the NFL today, his check would be a weekly donation to the league office.
Both defenses have the same core philosophy, to force the offense to sustain drives, and to play error free football. This was never more evident than in Super Bowl XLIX, as the Seahawks forced the Patriots to show great patience, and dink n’ dunk the ball down the field. Also, just as the Tampa 2 coaching tree grew throughout the league, so to is the Seahawks Cover 3 coaching tree. The Seahawks have now lost two defensive coordinators, Gus Bradley and Dan Quin, to head coaching vacancies, and linebackers coach, Ken Norton Jr, has moved on to become a defensive coordinator.
There is a reason the philosophies of both defenses are the same, that’s because the two coaching trees are actually one and the same. It all comes back to one man, Monte Kiffin, and how he helped influence the ideology of all these coaches, especially that of Seattle’s Pete Carroll. His influence extends beyond coverage schemes for Pete Carroll, and has shaped his entire defensive philosophy.
Now you can see why the Seahawks style of Cover 3, the one that is being adopted by teams throughout the NFL, is a very simplistic version, and not the pattern-matching style of Nick Saban. It’s a pattern-reading spot-drop coverage, the one Saban calls “country cover 3.” The odd part of this, most NFL teams run a very similar version of cover 3, just not with the stellar discipline, technique, and quickness of the Seahawks, and those rolled up press corners.
Let’s get into the schematics of the Seahawks brand of Cover 3. This scheme is not just about pattern-reading, though route recognition is obviously at the core, but it’s as much about reading the quarterback, and not his eyes, his shoulders. It also has the aggressive play of the corners, as they match the vertical stem of #1. When you watch the Seahawks corners play #1 as aggressively as they do, keep in mind that they are still responsible for any deep out-breaking route by #2, such as a corner route. Think about that for a moment, while playing tight and aggressive man coverage on #1, the corners must still have the awareness to come off #1, and widen with #2. I truly hope you can grasp the amount of discipline and awareness that takes.
Here are the coverage rules for a standard cover 3:
His drop is 10-12 yards deep, 2 yards inside of where #1 was aligned presnap, or to the top of the numbers(which drop is used is dictated by coaching preference). He must hold off the curl by #1, but not get out leveraged to the flat(that means he maintains his depth while expanding towards the sideline with #2), and will run with #2 on a wheel route. I must point out, he does not “cover the flat,” he allows the throw to take him there.
He drops 10-12 yards deep, 1-2 yards outside of the hashes. If #2 is aligned tight and releases vertically, he must remove him from the seam by force, and then locate #1. He must not let anyone cross his face, and will come off of #2 on any in-breaking route by #1. Do note, he will not react to any route under 5 yards, and the depth to which he will carry #2 is dictated by game situation(down and distance, time remaining, and score), as well as offensive tendencies.
If #1 and #2 are both vertical, then he will split the distance between them. If #1 is vertical and #2 is not, then he has #1 in what amounts to man coverage. The same applies if #2 is vertical and #1 is not, he will squeeze the outside should of #2, and take him man to man.
Middle of The Field Safety:
He is the catalyst for the entire coverage, and just as the Tampa 2 cannot function without a middle linebacker that can play the middle run through, nor can the Cover 3 function without a skilled middle of the field safety. He must stay deeper than the deepest, and must have the route recognition to play the post and dig. He must also have the range to get to the bottom of the numbers on a fade route by #1.
There is one thing to consider, the Seahawks probably do not have many of these coverage rules, outside of the landmarks for their drops, at least for their underneath defenders. Their coverage is even more simplistic than the one I described, and I make this statement based off what Ken Norton Jr. said to Bobby Wagner during the Super Bowl. Norton told him to move in the direction Brady’s shoulders were facing, and then added, watch the quarterback, he will tell you everything you need to know. So when Pete Carroll said they didn’t do anything special on defense, he truly meant it, and that may be the biggest understatement in the history of football.
There isn’t really a viable way of implementing this into Madden, and I will go over why this isn’t the best idea. If you were to man your CB’s up, and your opponent runs a smash concept, there will be no one to defend the corner route by #2. There is one instance where you could get away with manning one of your corners up, and that’s to the open/single receiver side of a pro set, but that’s pretty much the extent I’d feel comfortable going. If you are willing to risk giving up a big play, then feel free to do it versus any formation, but I would strongly suggest doing it very infrequently.
Now let’s take a look at the Cover 3 press in Madden 15. It’s a deceitful name, because there is absolutely no press to it, outside of alignment. There is absolutely no jam and reroute, as the name implies. I was so happy with the defensive additions in Madden 15, then I started to delve into them, and now I am left scratching my head. All-Pro Football 2k8 could have added Cover 3 press, because they actually had zone coverages where the defender would match the vertical stem of a receiver. Oddly, EA Sports cannot accomplish this with the power of the PS4 and XBOX 1. By the way, APF2K8 was released over the summer of 2007, so that tells you how far behind EA Sports/Tiburon has fallen.
I will finish with a brief coaches clinic video from Clemson Football, and a short piece from Mel Tucker, from the Fox Sports Series “Billick 101.” The Clemson Football clinic video is the closest thing you can probably find on how the Seahawks play their Cover 3. The Mel Tucker video will give you a good idea on how the standard Cover 3 works, which is what we have in Madden 15.
Mel Tucker and Brian Billick go over the standard Cover 3:
Pattern reads based off of the QB’s drop and shoulders: