Basics of match-up zone coverage.
Probably the most important point you have to get across to the defensive backs is to utilize man-coverage principles as long as the receiver stays in the receiving zone.
The defensive backs have to communicate: let each other know that a receiver is coming into his zone. It doesn't make any difference whether the defender is a LBer or a Strong Safety. It is vital to know where the receiver is, what he is doing, and how you can help out.
The easiest coverage to be in while applying this principle would be Cover 2--your basic 5-under, 2 deep. See Diag. 1. The strengths and weaknesses of this coverage are as follows:
1. Five underneath coverage.
2. Ability to disrupt.
3. Can rush four.
4. Flat coverage.
1. Deep overages (fade, deep middle).
2. Strong side curl.
3. Run support off-tackle.
One way to limit the weaknesses is by applying the principles of the match-up zone. We teach our corners to align on the inside of the receivers and jam them so that they cannot run an uncontested route (Diag. 2).
We teach the DB to sit for the first three steps of the receiver, and read the route and the QB. By refusing to let the receiver go to the inside, you can cut off his middle routes.
Our LBers to the short side are responsible for the outside receivers who are working their way into the inside. As the LB drops into his coverage, he should look for the #1 receiver (Diag. 3). We want to attack the zone, not wait for the receiver. We make sure the receiver cannot break into the void or curl zone (Diag. 4).
If we are able to cut off the outside receiver with the CB, we will have our LBer look for #2, who, in this case, will be the RB (Diag. 5). The pluses are now starting to mount in the defense's favor.
Once we can disrupt the middle routes, we must come up with a plan to stop or disrupt the fade route. From Day 1, we teach our B to go with the receiver the moment he sees him going up. He should not rely on the safety to get over the top (Diag. 6).
How about the strong side? Is the TE coming up the middle? By running with the wide out, the safety can get over the top of the TE.
Because we are playing match-up zone, our strong side LBer will run with the TE, thus the route and cutting down on the TE's ability to catch the curl route (Diag. 7).
One area still needs support to stop the off-tackle play. We have to teach our secondary to read the blocks of the OT and TE on the strong side and the OT and the back on the weak side.
The key to everything is teaching man principles from day one in spring ball to the passing league in the summer.
The best compliment you can get as a coach is to have one of your opponents tell you that you did a great job of running your man coverage.
Just the way John Wooden used to do it at UCLA!
By Mike Ervin, Former Football Coach, St. Vincent School (CA)