As mentioned in the first part of this series on the Miami 4-3 Defense, the short passing game in the West Coast Offense caused a great number of issues for the defenses. With a basic understanding of a couple of the fronts the 96 Dolphins 4-3 defense utilized, we shall go about understanding one of their coverages used to dominate the short passing game, “Cover 22″. It is detailed below.
It utilizes outside leverage by the corner on the number one receiver to either side. This outside leverage is used to eliminate the possibility of the receiver getting an outside release, which would cause havoc for the safeties over the top who would be comprised by the potential distance between the sideline threat of #1 and any other deep receiver. When the corner “funnels” the receiver inside, he is also to sink with #1 receiver until another potential threat enters his Flat zone. Also, he is not all to cover any player under four yards until the quarterbacks eyes and shoulders indicate that the receiver in that zone is the new target. For instance, imagine the scenario shown below….
The squiggly lines indicate the drop the corner makes with the #1 receiver until the quarterback (not shown) makes eye and shoulder “contact” with the #2 receiver (“Y” or tight end) who is running the arrow route into the flat at a depth of 2-3 yards. Because of the shallow height in the route, the corner plays the #1, even though #2 is closer to the flat area. This area from the LOS to about 4 yards is often referred to as the “no cover” zone. The “no cover zone” is an area where the defense is willing to give up a short throw in order to cover deeper routes and make a physical play on the underneath routes, hopefully jarring the ball loose with a big collision. Also, if the Quarterback fails to put enough zip on the ball, the corner will likely have an opportunity for a big play interception.
The cornerbacks need to read “through” the #1 receiver to the #2 reciever and QB. If #2 goes flat, the corner needs to “feel” #1 and be ready for a curl, or perhaps a deep slant. Likewise, if #2 goes vertical, the corner needs to be ready for #1 to go vertical or sit. If he goes vertical, the corner needs to drop underneath with #1 until the flat is threatened. I’ll save the #1 running a “sit” route for the end of this article.
Safety Play In The Miami 4-3 Defense
The safety aligns anywhere from 9-12 yards usually in cover 2, although this playbook specifically says 10 yards. The safeties will also align 3 yards outside the numbers. Note that the football field in the pro’s is different from the college game, specifically the distance from the hash to the numbers. In high school and college ball, the safeties typically align 2 yards outside their respective hash.
The safety is responsible for their deep half of the field. This means they must stay deeper than the deepest. They need to be ready for any ball that is lofted over the head of a linebacker. They must also know the weaknesses in the defense. Understanding that the corner has the flat, there is a gap around 12 yards behind the corner on any given play. Also, there is a gap in the middle of the field (which would eventually lead to the Tampa 2, but that is for another article). The safety needs to read #2’s route. If #2 goes vertical, he needs to read #1 for the same reasons listed above for the corner. If #1 goes vertical as well, the corner has a dillemna. 2 Verticals on his side probably dictates that there are at least 1 if not 2 verticals on the other side (the offensive play is call “Verticals, genius, isn’t it?). That means the 2 safeties need to cover 4 deep routes. The underneath coverage players (corners and linebackers) should be helping with this problem. The outside linebackers force the #2 receivers inside to the safeties. The corners force #1 inside to the safety as well, compressing them. The safety then needs to sit on the top of most the players, and take away the easier throw, which will be the one to the inside, or the #2 vertical routes. He should have the athleticism to cover a throw to #1, and the ball will need to be lofted if the corners and linebackers are playing the receivers properly, creating a big play opportunity. As for the sit route, again, that will be covered later on in this article.
If #2 goes flat, the safety immediately looks to #1, ready to rob the (1) post, (2) dig,(3) or curl route. If #1 runs vertically up the field, he needs to keep inside position. If #2 continues up the field, pushing vertical after running flat, and #1 runs vertical as well, the safety treats it like 4 vertical, as described above. In this case though, the #1 and #2 receivers switched rolls, so #1 is now #2 and vice versa.
Outside Linebacker Play in the Miami 4-3 Over Defense
The outside linebackers have hook to curl to their respective side. This is an area that is about 5 yards from the LOS to about fourteen yards deep. In this zone, the linebacker is responsible for “walling” or, according to this playbook, “Buzzing and Jamming” the #2 receiver on a vertical release. As described earlier, this will force the #2 receiver inside to the safety, and compress the distance for the safety. Also, it prevents the receiver from running down the middle of the field. If the #2 receiver breaks inside after running vertically up the field, the linebacker needs to be ready to carry the post pattern through his zone and alert the other linebackers of the deep threat.
If #2 runs flat, the linebacker trails underneath #1, ready to rob the curl route and make a play on any slant route. If #2 starts to run vertical, the linebacker needs to make a “wheel” call, allerting the corner that the corner needs to adjust to the wheel, and the linebacker needs to take the curl route. If, for whatever reason, the linebackers and corners have a problem with this, the coaches can teach the linebacker to follow the #2 flat receiver if he pushes vertically, and the corner then takes #1’s curl route. This would mean swapping responsibilities in coverage. In essence, the corner becomes the linebacker.
If #2 runs vertical, as described earlier, the linebacker needs to glance at #1. If #1 is pushing vertical, then the linebacker needs stay inside and underneath the #2 receiver. If the quarterback throws this ball, he will need to loft it over and to the outside of the receiver, and the safety will be in a great position to pick the ball off.
If #2 runs inside and runs a drag route, the linebacker needs to be ready to let #2 go and alert the other linebackers with a “drag” call. Understand this as the no cover zone principle, as it will likely be shallow. If this is the case, the linebacker should be ready for a dig by #1 coming across his zone. If the linebacker heres a drag call from another linebacker, he needs to be ready for the incoming receiver after he leaves the middle linebacker.
Inside Linebacker Play in the Miami Over Front Defense
The inside linebacker has the duty of protecting the middle of the field, specifically working the strong hook zone. However, the direction of his initial drop is changeable, as the middle linebacker checks the #3 receiver, which may be the runningback. Which ever direction that player is aligned, or if they are in the backfield the direction of their route, will determine the linebacker’s drop.
The linebacker is responsible for taking inside leverage and “walling” number 3 if they push vertical. This also applies to a tight end. If he works inside the outside linebacker and pushes vertical, the mike needs to take inside leverage on the route in a similar fashion to the outside linebacker’s play vs #2 pushing vertical, as described above.
Normally, in cover 2, the inside linebacker is responsible for getting physical with any inside route (i.e drag) and knocking the receiver off coarse only if it will not take the middle likebacker out of his zone or won’t make him overextend and get off balance. If the middle linebacker sees an inside route, he needs to alert the outside linebacker and potentially the corner who are in the direction of the receiver.
However, in Cover 22 for the Dolphins, this linebacker carries the crosser. That means he will lock on to the underneath route, unless someone gives him an over call, indicating they can handle the player without zone conflicts. This is a interesting coaching point, because it will eliminate this weakness, but at the same time it will make the overall coverage more vunerable to a post route, dig, or other inside route by #2.
If this linebacker also needs to be prepared versus trips sets. In trips, he will be moving to the #3 receiver as the coverage rules dictate. If #2 runs an outside route, lets say an “out” (clever, aren’t I), and the #3 receiver runs an arrow into the flat, the Mike and the rest of the defenders should recognize this as a flood play. The Mike will move to the curl area then underneath #1. The corner would take the flat arrow route by #3, and the outside linebacker would cover the #2 receiver.
Smash and China Combination
The Smash and China are route combination concepts for the offense that are designed to outman the cover 2 or the Dolphin’s Cover 22 based off working deep routes into areas the coverage should not be covering or would be significantly weak against.
Smash is a combination that has #2 running a deep corner or post-corner route. The #1 receiver runs a “stop” or short hook route that stops at about four yards, and pushes the corner to the outside. Occasionally, this can be combined with a very shallow flat route by the #3 receiver. In order to stop this play, the defense must follow their rules. If #2 pushes vertical, the outside linebacker needs to wall him off. When the corner sees this, and he sees that #1 stopped, he needs to drop with #2 and help underneath. The safety takes the deep route, and can’t be caught flat footed or guess on the first move. He needs to be ready for the break to the outside by the “Y” or #2. If the QB turns his should and head to number one, the corner needs to be ready to break on the stop route, along with the linebacker. The safety needs to stay disciplined and cover the deep route until the ball is in the air. If the ball is thrown to the #2 receiver running the post-corner, the corner needs to turn his hips and get underneath the ball. The linebacker needs to take a proper pursuit angle and the safety needs to be ready to break up the pass. Overall, as a defense, the group needs to understand the weaknesses of the coverage. Understanding the weaknesses will help in teaching the pattern reading concepts, because the defense will know how the offense will likely attack them in this coverage.
China is a similar concept. #2 pushes vertical running the corner or post-corner. #1 runs the stop, but as he is coming out of his break he almost turns it into a slat/drag route. This is used to stop teams that have outside linebackers who settle underneath the #1 sit route, because if they do the receiver will run right behind the coverage to the area between the outside linebacker and the middle linebacker. This gap will be increased vertically because the safety and corner are handling the post-corner route, so if a quick receiver runs this route, it can be deadly if the defense does not play it properly. Also, if the route is mirrored or run on both sides of a 2×2 set (2 receivers running the combination on each side) if the Mike is influenced (by #3) or chooses to help one side and the QB throws to the other, the offense has big play potential. Proper communication is critical to stopping this play. Players cannot be overly aggressive and must take proper angles. The corner has to help the OLB and the Mike by keeping an eye on #1 as he drops to prevent the deep throw to #2, as described in the smash route above.
(Sidenote: The Mike is influenced by the flat route by the runningback. This is Smash to the left and China to the right. The #1 receiver, “z”, catches the ball infront of the outside linebacker and corner who are caught off guard and he takes it to the house unless the free safety turns around. I forgot to draw his line. Either way, its a huge gain.)
I hope you guys enjoyed this article. It does not give full detail on pattern reading but it is enough to get by. I hope you enjoyed it. Of coarse, if you have questions, ask me or leave a comment.
You can read part 1 on the Miami 4-3 Defense by clicking here!