The Best Way to Attack Cover 4

By Bill Mountjoy

Cover 4 – or quarters – is a four-deep look with the cornerbacks and safeties each playing one-fourth of the deep zone.

Defensive backs will play man coverage on vertical routes while linebackers play zone underneath. If there is no vertical threat, the defensive backs are free to help another defender.

This coverage has two safeties deep but is distinguished from Cover 2 in that the safeties disregard the hashes and align on the H and Y. It is based upon safeties helping the corners on in-breaking routes by the receivers, which can be countered by having H or Y blow the top off the coverage by taking the safety vertical and deep, causing the defense to become a three-deep zone and allowing the WRs to run in breaking routes.

Also, play-action passes directed at one of the safeties can make that safety vulnerable to throws to the receiver behind him. The corners will have no help on receiver routes to the outside, which is one of the areas we will exploit.

Here are 11 questions you need to answer to successfully attack Cover 4:

  • Can we read the coverage coming in our presnap look? You usually can.
  • Do the corners take an inside or an outside alignment? Is this determined by the split of the receivers?
  • How fast do the corners bail? Are they slow playing until the QB clears the three-step drop?
  • Do the safeties play flat-footed or backpedal as they read H and Y (vertical, flat, cross)?
  • If H or Y crosses underneath, does that safety go to deep middle and/or look for an in break by one of the WR’s? If so, which one?
  • Is there a formation they may not play Cover 4 against?
  • Will different forms of motion eliminate Cover 4?
  • Which linebacker is the weakest in coverage?
  • Does the Mike go to hook/curl to the side the running back goes?
  • Do the outside linebackers go curl/flat off the release of H/Y?
  • Do they play this coverage in a specific area of the field?

Bill Mountjoy coached Virginia high school football for 33 years, most of it as a head coach at six different schools. His team won the 1971 VAAC Private School State Championship. He also coached five years on the college level, serving as an offensive assistant at NCAA Division III national champion Randolph-Macon College.

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