AbsolutAnalysis - "Coverage Rotations"

Matt Lathrop, .NET's "Xs and Os Guru", brings us Part Two of an in-depth look at defensive coverages.

Welcome to a special Thursday edition of AbsolutAnalysis. Today I am going to continue on the previous column, in which I described the most basic 7-man coverages used in football. This time around, I am going to give you a quick overview of simple "Cloud" and "Sky" secondary rotations, as well as a "Robber" look. These coverages, as well as what I presented in the last column, should give you a good foundation to start picking out what defenses are trying to run off of during a game.

The basic idea of a Cloud coverage is predicated on a Cover 2, yet combines elements of Cover 3 and Quarters, as well. This coverage starts off with a quarters look, showing a 4 deep, with the corners lined up 6 or 7 yards off of the ball, and the safeties playing on or close to the hashes. Let's take a look at our first visual.

Run Right
This first image shows you how the defense would react to a run right (or left from the defense's point of view), which in this case is to the strong side.

Here, the CB's have the role of being primary run support, and the safeties are used as secondary and cutback support. The play side LCB would be the primary run support force, attacking from the outside-in, in order to funnel the ball carrier to the cutback player(s), which in this case is the FS. The SS is "backing up" the LCB, in case he fails to funnel the ball carrier into the defense, and the RCB is playing "save the touchdown" by taking a deep pursuit angle to the far side of the field, in case the runner makes it through the Defense.

Run Left
In the event of a run to the opposite, or weak side, the same rotation is applied symmetrically, with the CB's swapping duties, as well as the safeties switching assignments.

As you can see, the FS turns into secondary support, and the SS is your cutback man, which is ideal seeing how the SS is normally the better tackler and has more of a presence inside the box. Again, the backside CB is the man who needs to haul tail across the field to make sure he is there to stop a long TD run, if the ball carrier makes it past secondary support.

Now let's take a look at how a Cloud call responds to a pass play. As you will be able to see, this is a mix of a Cover 2 shell, with the progressions of a Quarters coverage.

As you can see here, this is a very familiar coverage, combining aspects of Cover 2 with Quarters. As with Quarters, the safeties determine their responsibility by reading the #2 man. If #2 goes vertical, that is who they must cover deep. Obviously, this is more likely on the strong side with the TE running deep, rather than a HB coming out of the backfield vertically. However, if #2 runs a route out into the CB's outside zone, the Safety must float over and pick #1 up on a vertical. This differs from Cover 2 in a way that if four verticals are ran, the CB must recognize the Safety's read, and that he has no deep help, so he must cover deep on #1. On the contrary, it differs from Quarters because the CB does not automatically have the WR deep vertically. That covers the bases of Cloud coverage, not too bad, huh? What do you say we move on to "Sky"...

A "Sky" rotation is another call that is based on Quarters and is made out of this typical 4 man shell. It maintains the same responsibilities as a Cloud call, but changes which player has which assignment.

Run Right
Opposed to using a CB as the primary attack on a run play, Sky uses a Safety as the force. The CB's are pass first defenders, playing secondary roles against the run. (Here's a hint: Cloud = Cornerback, and Sky = Safety)

The play side cornerback turns into the secondary force, but the backside safety remains responsible for cutback, covering the middle third. As you can imagine, the Safeties would be aligned slightly closer to the box than in a traditional Cover 2, about 10 yards off the ball here, in order to be effective in initial run support.

Run Left
As with a Cloud, this is a symmetrical coverage, and a run to the opposite side is a mirror of the prior image.

As you can see, the FS is playing run first and must be the first man to the play as the primary force versus a run to his side of the field. The SS slides over and defends the middle third against cutback, and the play side cornerback has the role of secondary run support.


Below is a visual of how a secondary would react to a pass play in a Sky coverage. Like Quarters coverage, there is a man coverage philosophy on the outside, with the Safeties reading #2 in order to recognize their duties.

Versus a pass, the CB's are responsible for the outside 1/4's of the field, playing a man concept on the #1. The CB's are to cover the WR man to man on deep routes, and turn into a halves defender if #1 turns his route intermediately, releasing from the outside quarter, on a route such as a curl or dig. As you know, the Safeties are reading their respective #2. Lined up 10 yards deep, about two yards either way off the hash, and although we say they "read #2," they are basically going to cover #2 regardless. Again, if #2 goes vertical, the Safety must not get beat deep and give up a big play. However, if #2 releases to the flats, the SS guards curl to post (routes). The FS on the other hand, heads to the curl to flat zone if his #2 does not release vertically.

Ok, let's take a quick look at one more simple rotation before I finish this thing off. Below is an example of a Robber call. It is a coverage designed to send an extra man into underneath zones right at the snap in order to give the defense an advantage against a quick passing package, as well as against the run.

In this example, the FS jumps the under zones as the play begins, giving the defense an advantage in the box. This creates a three deep coverage behind him, with the CB's playing a man-to-man philosophy in their deep thirds, and the SS covering the deep middle. The LB's execute their Cover 3 drops and the FS is the disruptor, trying to make a play. As you might have guessed by its name, this is intended to "rob" the underneath passing zones by pushing one more man into the box at the very last second. By doing so, the defense hopes to disrupt any routes in the area, and try to get the QB to panic and\or make a mistake and throw a poor pass into the coverage. This coverage provides the option to play a simple Cover 3, or a flexible Cover 1 Free, depending on the talent of your personnel. Not only is this intended to guard quick passes, but it creates leverage for the defense against the run. Robber puts an eighth man in the box, providing immediate help in run support.

This puts an end to this special extra-edition of AbsolutAnalysis. Please feel free to email me with any comments or questions. Next time we will get back to the offensive side of the ball, and continue building on what’ve already gone over. Thanks again, I'll see you next time.

Matt Lathrop, .NET's "Xs and Os Guru", writes "AbsolutAnalysis" every week. Feel free to send him feedback at mattl@seahawks.net.

SeahawkFootball.com Top Stories