Coverage 101: Cover 1 tools - Rat, Lurk, Hole, & Cross
In this edition of Coverage 101 we take a look at the four common ways NFL defenses create leverage in their Cover 1 menu.
A couple of years ago, I was asked, “What is the best coverage in football?” I instantly remarked Cover 1. Some of my followers were shocked; my brand name is Match-Quarters. But, the reality is, if you can play Cover 1 at a high level, there is not much an offense can do to counter it. Football is a physical sport and always will be. If you have the ‘cats,’ let’em eat!
Sure, there are numerous man-beaters, but if I can line up and play Cover 1, my athletes can play fast; I can gap you out in the run game and essentially kill your passing game. You are left trying to take shots or run into heavy boxes. Both are low-percentage plays.
At all levels of play, Cover 1 is utilized to tighten up windows and kill RPO reads. Against running QBs, the coverage can struggle, but there are ways to mitigate the risk of playing your QB player 15 yards deep, namely a ‘Cheat’ technique on early downs. Like all coverages, there are issues when running them at volume.
Most coaches use the coverage behind five-man pressures because it cleans up the secondary. Fire Zones (3-under/3-deep) are common, too, but against some offenses, you want to play tighter on the WRs in case the blitz doesn’t hit home. Against modern Spread teams, programs like Georgia have paired five-man pressures with Quarters, creating a Half-Field Zone, or in their language, ‘Big 12’ pressures; this is something I did when I coached high school football.
In Half-Field Zones, the field is truly split (above). Zone-side players must carry receivers into the man side, but man defenders can release theirs into the zone side. It can get confusing if you don’t live in that coverage system constantly. Formation into the boundary can also cause issues, as defenders must understand how that changes blitz paths or who is going.
The issue with zone coverage usually starts with motion. Motion can play with numbers, change rotations in the back end, be used as eye candy, or confuse defenders as they try and count their numbers (All coverages relate to the numbers of WRs). Man coverages clean all of this up by placing a defender on a WR and locking him. Easy button!
Related Content: Cautious Aggression - Defending Modern Football
Within the Cover 1 family, there are multiple ways to bracket WRs, switch off zones, or change who is the ‘Rat’ or ‘spy.’ Saban calls his Cover 1 with no rat Cover 0. The ‘1’ in Cover 1 tells the defense there is a ‘rat’ in the coverage.
Defense is all about leverage and matchups. At the NFL level, many times, Cover 1 is used on medium downs (3-6 yards) and without a complementary blitz. Edge rushers are used to rush the QB, not to drop into coverage. The extra defender is used as a vision dropper, screen deterrent, and cut-off valve against crossers. Offenses have become so attuned to Cover 1 that many teams are beginning to run post-snap Tampa 2 rotations from single-high coverages, or NTTs—Non-Traditional Tampas.
» Before we go any further, here is my verbiage for Cover 1:
Rat - Blitz tag that tells the DE opposite the pressure he is the vision dropper
Lurk - Regular rush (four-man), and the LB opposite the RB is the vision dropper
Hole - Regular rush and the ‘strong’ Safety (passing strength) is the vision dropper
Cross - Regular rush and the ‘weak’ Safety (away from the Ni) is the vision dropper.
*I have also seen Lurk and Hole flipped, but I like word association; Lurk has an ‘L’ for low or LB, and Hole has an ‘H’ for high or Safety. At the end of the day, adopt what makes sense to you. As one of my colleagues told me when I started coaching, “Call it PBJ. As long as the kids know what you are saying, it doesn't matter.”
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