3 Ways to Defend Trips Formations from 1 Coverage Shell


Defending trips formations, even with many more spread formations, is still a tough task. Many teams will still check to one automatic blitz or one automatic coverage.

Well, that ends today! I want to show you 3 examples of how to defend trips from the exact same coverage shell.

For many of you, these are pretty safe adjustments too, meaning you’ve probably already got something like them in your playbook. You might not need my exact adjustment for defending trips formations, but maybe you can tweak your already existing concept.

We’ll present one slightly tweaked zone coverage adjustment, one man coverage adjustment, and finally a zone blitz. Again, all of these will come from the same shell. That way, you don’t need to teach new adjustments or give any tells to the offense.

Goals in defending trips formations

Before we get too far, let’s talk about your goals. I like to prevent big plays, aka 4 verticals, out of trips. That’s my first priority. My next priority is defending the run, so I am going to do what I can to keep 6 people immediately in the box, and get safeties involved if necessary.

If the team your facing does different things out of trips, you might need to adjust. However, make sure you adjust what you do in order to take away the two things they do best. Don’t try to defend everything, because if you do, you’ll defend nothing.

Coverage 1: Zone Coverage for Defending Trips

This is a zone coverage, but it has some man or matchup principles in it. There’s actually a few ways you can tweak this and still be effective.

As we can see in the diagram below, we get a trips open formation.

defend trips formations with zone coverage

You can play this like cover 2 or cover 4 on the backside.

The next big question you need to ask yourself is do you specialize more in cover 2 or quarters? Some teams never run true quarters. Others hardly run cover 2. There are probably a few teams that run neither, and if that’s the case, you might want to figure out a different adjustment (this can easily be just like cover 3).

Regardless, we’re going to put the corner on the #1 receiver to the trips side man to man.
The Sam linebacker or nickel player plays outside eye of #2. You could probably play him inside too, but play him outside lets him easily read the release of the #3 receiver.

This nickel player is going to be basically a corner in cover 2. Essentially this side of trips is cover 2 bumped one man inside. So the Sam/Nickel plays the curl/flat and drops with a release of #3 vertically up the field. He should not cover grass. He should react to throws in the flat after the QB has committed to that throw.

The Free Safety aligns just inside of #3, unless he has a tight split then he should split the difference of #2 and #3. He’s got the deep half like he’s in cover 2. He wants to play closer to the #3 receiver for deception reasons.

Since #1 is covered man to man, he shouldn’t worry about him as much as #2. However, the traditional smash concept is less of a threat here because the Sam/Nickel would get driven vertically by the #2 receiver’s release, and we have a man to man corner on #1.

The Middle linebacker needs to widen out a little bit presnap, but he can do that for all these coverages. To help protect him, I like go “G” the guard (put the nose tackle on the guard’s inside shoulder). He needs to be able to play the B gap.

The middle linebacker should run with #3 vertical and he has the middle hole otherwise with special focus on #3. He should zone turn and aggressively play over the top of him. He should stop and react to throws underneath once the ball is gone.

Defending the trips formation from the backside is more flexible.

You could play traditional cover 2 with the Will, Safety, and Corner. You could also invert it if you expect run, with the corner playing the deep half and the safety taking the flat. However, this will basically man lock the corner on vertical routes, and any crossers from the trips side will have an open window sooner in the play. However, this is a good run adjustment if you get a heavy run read.

You can also play quarters or 2 read here. 2 Read would basically mean if #2 (the back) goes vertical, the safety covers him. If #2 goes flat, the corner would drop until the back crosses his face, then he would take him. The safety would have #1 vertical then.

If you play traditional quarters, the corner would read #1. The safety would read #2. The Will would help rob #2 before robbing the curl from #1.

This is basically a heavily adjustable coverage, and you could even run a few variations of just this when defending trips formations.

Coverage 2: Man Coverage Adjustment to Defend Trips Formations

This coverage also has a few adjustments. You could bring pressure or rob underneath receivers.

defend trips formations with man coverage

You can choose to bring pressure with the Mike or Rob the middle or #3

I recommend playing everyone with inside leverage. The corner plays man to man on #1, the Sam/Nickel plays man to man on #2, and the near safety is man to man on #3. The backside safety plays the deep middle. The Will plays man to man on the running back. If he blocks you could bring pressure with him or have him rob the curl by #1.

The Mike robs #3 short. The free safety is playing quite far off, so if #3 runs a shallow route, the Mike should collision him. He should not let #3 run by him free. If #3 goes vertical, he should rob him short before getting eyes on #1.

If you wanted to play really risky, you could bring pressure with the Mike and the Will here. You could peel the C gap player on the back if he swings out. Or you could play the backside safety on him first before having him take away the middle third. This would cost you the ability to play loose on #3 though if you bring the Mike. You could cheat the free safety down, but that would give away the coverage.

Overall, man coverage is a good tactic to defend trips formations.

Coverage 3: Zone Blitz to Defend Trips Formations

Now, before I get into this, you could bring your pressure with 5 guys in any number of ways, especially if you’re using 5 of the 6 guys near the box (the 2 inside linebackers and the defensive line). Mine is just one example.

defend trips formations with fire zone blitz coverage

The Blitz Might Change Depending on your needs

Regardless, one of the guys in the box will need to play the seam/curl/flat to the single receiver side, so keep that in mind.

To the frontside, the cornerback will play fire 1/3 coverage. He has no 2 to 1 read like many traditional cover 3 variations. Basically, if #1 goes vertical, he should lock on man to man.

The Sam/Nickel has seam/curl/flat, and is out over the #2 receiver. I like slight inside leverage here. He should stay on top of #2 until he gets an out call by the safety which indicates that his #3 receiver has eliminated the possibility of 4 verticals.

The Sam/Nickel wants to pester #2 as much as possible if he goes vertical in order to discourage that throw.

The Free safety is playing what I call “Hole 3″. He’s got #3 vertical for 12 yards, at that point the safety should take over. He shouldn’t be over aggressive.

The backside safety and corner have the middle third and deep outside third respectively.

In terms of what to call with the blitz, it depends on what they do. Be mindful of full flow running plays into the boundary. Keep enough support their to take on that type of play. I also like blitzes that force a give read but provide a tough to block zone blitz to the front size.

The aggressive zone blitz will help you defend trips formations no matter what they send at you. It’s not a perfect coverage, so make sure you study their pass protections so your blitz can hit home.

Conclusions on Defending Trips Formations

Overall, make sure you scout the team so you know exactly what they like to do, so that way you can efficiently plan out how to defend trips formations without spending entirely too much time on it.

This means you should do some scouting in the off-season on your opponents and build coverage options into your pre-season for defending trips formations.


One thought on “3 Ways to Defend Trips Formations from 1 Coverage Shell

  1. Bill Owens

    Good article, coach!
    Could you briefly explain a bit more what you mean here:
    “I also like blitzes that force a give read but provide a tough to block zone blitz to the front size.”


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