Why Run a Quarters Defense?

By Cody Alexander

Now more than ever, defenses must have sound structural integrity. The days of the age old “plugger” at Mike linebacker are gone. All three linebackers must be able to cover in space while still being responsible for filling a gap.

The spread offense has also adapted itself to what every high school in America has: hybrid players. It is up to defensive coaches to adjust.

And the answer is already here: split field match quarters.

Defense is reactionary. Offenses are always going to have the advantage because they know exactly what they are doing. Modern defenses must be structured in ways that are simple, flexible, yet can adapt to every situation an offense may throw out there.

Quarters coverage is simple and adaptive. If a defender can count to three, he can play in a quarters scheme.


Starting from the outside in, the corners will always relate to the No. 1 receivers. The outside linebackers and safeties relate to the slots, and the Mike will relate to the No. 3 receiver. No matter what formation the offense throws at a defense, a quarters scheme can adjust.

Running a split field scheme complementary to quarters allows for multiple adjustments within the defensive structure. A quarters defense is not static despite what its detractors say. A quarters defense – run properly –is more multiple than a single-high scheme or just running a blanket coverage.


Spinning to a single-high structure gives a spread offense multiple options. If a defense spins the wrong way, the offense can out-leverage the defense away from the kicking safety. Even if the defense spins and keeps a balanced alignment, the defense has created one-on-one matchups across the board.

Modern spread offenses want a defense to spin to single high. The single-high alignment puts high percentage throws near the quarterback. The spread offense, particularly the Air Raid, is looking for throws over the middle and underneath.

Routes such as drags, crossers, slants and posts are all high percentage throws and close to the middle of the field. Quarters is designed to force the offense outside. Most high school quarterbacks are not going to be able to throw a 25-yard comeback but can easily throw to an open receiver down the middle. Running a single-high scheme puts each the defense at risk to high percentage throws.

The structure of a split field quarters defense allows for a flexible structure a high school level coach can utilize when defending the multiple variations of the spread. The main objectives of a match quarters defense are to force low percentage throws outside and bracket the offense’s best receivers, the slots. In a single-high scheme, the seam players are forced into a one-one-one situation with the slots. Even though the corners in a Cover 3 scheme are topping any vertical routes by the receivers in its unit – No. 1 and No. 2 – the seam defender must carry the vertical until pushed.

Couple this with the fact the seam defender is the primary force player, and an offense has a recipe for success, especially if it uses run/pass options (RPOs).

Where a quarters scheme earns, its stripes is versus single receiver formations. When utilizing a single-high scheme, a defense loses its plus-one away from the single receiver and opens the window for a high percentage throw backside – mainly the post.

Traditionally, offenses put their best receiver to the single receiver side. Quarters defenses adjust to this by keeping a safety at home to support the backside corner in coverage and an extra defender in the run fits (plus one). With leaving a safety to the boundary, a split field quarters defensive coach can use the offense’s tendencies to establish what coverage will be ran to the field and to the boundary.

Against two-back RPO teams, the X – or single receiver – is used as a presnap read. If the corner is in off coverage, the quarterback will flip it out to the receiver on a hitch route and force a one-on-one tackling situation for the defender. In a quarters scheme, the defense can stay in a quarters look to the field and gain the Sam as a force player while pressing the boundary corner to eliminate the hitch route: four read to the field, two read to the boundary.

All this can be done with calling one defense, your base. Like the modern spread that packages plays to gain tempo, a modern quarters defense can install rules that help the safeties call coverages without communicating to each other. By splitting the field, the defense has reduced the amount of formations an offense can run at it by two. Simplicity is how defenses can gain back an edge against high powered spread offenses.

A two-high safety scheme gives the defense nine in the box. This can be achieved by utilizing the safeties as fit support. The safeties in a quarters scheme are tasked with making the outside linebackers fit correctly.

If a defense is using the Sam to the field as its primary force player, the safety is most likely to fit outside. In many 4-2-5 or 3-4 Okie hybrid defenses, the Sam is required to have a full cover down. A cover down is a term used to describe the Sam’s width. In most cases, a quarters defense sets the front to ensure the Sam or hybrid Nickel is not in the box fit. This allows the defender to gain width and align closer to the slot.

This cover down alignment helps the safety defend vertical routes because the underneath defender can get hands on the receiver and slow him down. In the case of a cover down, the Sam becomes the force on the slot, making his fit on the outside of the receiver.

The theory behind a full cover down is to eliminate the presnap RPO screen, assist the safety if the slot goes vertical and force a cutback to the alley running safety and scraping Mike linebacker. Quarters is designed to condense the field, opposite of what a modern spread offense wants. Versus most RPO offenses, a quarters defense can eliminate multiple presnap RPO passes and force the offense into the box. This makes the offense predictable and protects the defense from having to constantly make open field tackles.

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: www.matchquarters.com.