Challenge the Spread with Press Quarters

By Cody Alexander

Defenses that press the corners within their quarters scheme force the offense to change the way it attacks a defense in the passing game.

When a defense presses the corners, it is eliminating route choices. Most offenses when faced with a team that presses tries to throw vertical routes (fades) or slants (beat the man inside – high percentage throw). The elimination of route choices can make the offense predictable.

If the offense chooses to attack the defense with fades, it is putting its faith in a very low percentage throw. Unless the wide receiver is just that much better than the corner, pressing can put the advantage to the defense’s side.

Since defense tends to be reactionary, it is important to create defensive schemes that can adjust to anything an offense throws at it while also forcing it to change at the same time.

Why press?

The design of press quarters relies on the law of averages. Any offensive coach will admit that when a receiver is pressed it eliminates the route choices. To a defensive coach, being able to eliminate play calls from an opposing offense is like money in the bank.

If a cornerback only must worry about a fade or a slant, he can attack the receiver with confidence. Both routes can easily be combated from a soft press technique, especially one from an inside alignment.

Press quarters isn’t just about the pass. There is a run fit piece to the design, too.

Two great examples of this concept in college are the linebackers in Michigan State’s and Pitt’s press quarters defense, both of which also are ultra-aggressive in the run game. By eliminating the outside receivers, the defense has literally shrunk the field, which allows the linebackers to be aggressive to the box.

The safeties align over the slot receivers and act as stopgaps in case of pass. The safeties’ eyes focus on the slot receivers, while the linebackers focus on the end player on the line of scrimmage (EMOL) and react to the low-hat (run) or high-hat (pass) read given by their key.

This aggressiveness allows the defense to have a seven-player box on alignment alone. The secondary, because it is in quarters coverage (four read), plays the offensive set much like man and matches the routes.


Some coaches argue that pressing an outside receiver is dangerous and leaves you vulnerable to the quick outside vertical throw – the fade in particular. This is true if you play a “hard” press corner. The hard corner technique, seen in an aggressive Tampa 2 defense, stresses strong, physical play underneath, and utilizes safeties with range to combat the outside fade by the No. 1 receiver.

The problem with Tampa 2 is the defense’s Mike linebacker is always in a run/pass conflict because he must cover the middle third of the defense yet also stuff the run as a primary box fitter. As defenses have shifted to utilizing quarters schemes, the need for large physical corners has gone to the wayside, moving them to the nickel hybrid position or boundary safety (most likely to be in the run fit).

Teams that defend the spread on a daily basis need fast, fluid corners who can run and match up with speedy receivers. This goes for the safeties, too.

The evolution

In match quarters, the defense is running a pseudo-man scheme where the back four are either playing man (corners – release under routes) or bracket concepts (linebackers under/safeties over).

The next evolution for quarters schemes came in the form of “soft” press by the corners on the outside receivers. This is not the old school, in your face “hard” press. This is more like a point guard in basketball press. By backing the corners up to a depth of 1½ to 2 yards, the corner has taken away the chance of error by being too physical. The depth allows the corners to feather off (hot-foot shuffle) and makes the receiver choose which stem point to attack immediately.

Once the receiver has made his move, it is easy for the corner to react, off-hand jam (opposite hand of the stem) and get to cut off (versus a fade) or “top” the route (versus a slant). “Soft” press allows the corner the freedom to react instead of guessing and transfers the pressure from the cornerback (reactionary) to the receiver who now must show his cards early.

The press alignment also eliminates certain routes from the route tree. By pressing, the averages suggest a corner will face a deep route (fade/post) or a slant. Aligning inside, the corner can drive on the slant, wall off a post or force the receiver to the sideline on a fade (forcing the lowest percentage throw).

When utilizing a “soft” press technique, a defense can eliminate routes and attack the outside receiver. By shrinking the field, the safeties and linebackers can compress the line of scrimmage and shrink their focus of play. This type of match quarters acts as a bracket defense for the slot receivers and frees up the linebackers to be aggressive and downhill on the run.

Safeties in a press quarters scheme do not change responsibility from regular quarters. They are still under any deep route by the No. 1 receiver coming into the field (intermediate zone), and can react quicker versus run/pass option (RPO) screens (bubble/switches).

In terms of teaching “soft” press, most players have played basketball at some point in their life. It is easy to relate the soft press technique back to the basketball court. In basketball, a defender is discouraged from making physical contact. The “soft” press technique may take the physicality out of the press, but it allows the corner the freedom to react smoothly instead of guessing presnap.

The corner is forcing the receiver to show his cards early, then reacting with an off-hand jam working to the cut-off (fade) or to “top” the route (slant). A two-high safety scheme combined with pressed corners forces the offense into low percentage throws or “shots.”

Deep shots are the equivalent of a three-point shot in basketball. Like Golden State in the NBA, some teams have developed their whole offense around them (see Baylor under Briles, Oklahoma State, or the whole Big 12 in fact). The point of split field quarters is to make the deep ball harder to complete for the offense, while also forcing them to throw it. By aligning in a two-high press scheme, a defense can bracket the easiest throws to the slot (middle of the field/seam).

Press quarters is an easy adjustment to make for defensive coordinators looking to gain an edge on spread (or any defense). The ability to shrink the field by eliminating the outside receivers allows the defense to suffocate the run, even gaining a nine-man box. Since defense is reactionary, it is important to force the offense into running plays that have a low percentage of success. By pressing the cornerbacks, the defense has allowed the linebackers to key the box and the safeties to bracket the slot WRs. This bracket concept puts a defender over and under the modern offense’s most dangerous man, the slot. The inside alignment of the outside linebackers helps to rob the curl while the safeties (playing pseudo-man coverage) keep the top on. Suffocate the box, bracket the most dangerous receivers, and force the offense into low percentage throws. Gain an advantage with press quarters.

Cody Alexander is the secondary coach at Midlothan (Texas) High School. He also is the author of “Cautious Aggression: Defending Modern Football,” which is available at Amazon and other online bookstores. You can follow him on Twitter @The_Coach_A. Visit his website at: