I’ve been getting some decent feedback from the pass defense images I’ve made, so I’ve decided to extend this series for now.

Cover Zero and Man Free

In Cover Zero, all the defensive backs have assignments, and so there is no “free” safety. This is good for blitzes, but can be weak if your defensive backfield lacks the ability to cover for any length of time. In this image, the stippled lines represent an assigned ‘man’.

Cover Zero, Tampa Under front, ace backfield.

Cover Zero, Tampa Under front, ace backfield.

The coverage “man free” or “one free” is a defense where the free safety is a free agent, able to defend or double cover or safety blitz, as the need arises.

man free, Miami 43 over front.

man free, Miami 43 over front.

Cover  1

Cover 1 keeps the free safety back in a deep zone. Otherwise, coverage beneath is man to man, or perhaps a mix of man and zone.

Miami 43, shade front, man plus cover 1 by the free safety.

Miami 43, shade front, man plus cover 1 by the free safety.

Cover 2 and Tampa 2

Back in the day, Cover 2 was also called the double zone, because both outside receivers had a form of double coverage. There are references that claim the 1963 Chicago Bears played a form of a double zone and confused the heck out of people. This is significant because most folks were only playing rotating zones, if that (see the Cover 3 section).

Cover 2 from Miami 4-3 over front. Cornerbacks jam then fall into zones.

Cover 2 from Miami 4-3 over front. Cornerbacks jam then fall into zones.

Cover 2 is famous for having a hole in the middle. But if you have a  fast, agile middle linebacker, as the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers did, then you can have him race down the middle and split the deep zone into three, forming  what is known now as the Tampa 2 defense.

Tampa under front, Tampa 2 zone defense. Modeled on the diagram in Matt Bowen's Tampa 2 article.

Tampa under front, Tampa 2 zone defense. Modeled on the diagram in Matt Bowen’s Tampa 2 article.

Cover 3: rotating zones versus the modern Cover 3.

In the early 1960s, when you said zone coverage, by default you meant  this, and only  this:

Tom Landry's 4-3 Inside, showing a 1960s era strong side rotating zone. Strong side linebacker and   left cornerback jam before falling into zone.

Tom Landry’s 4-3 Inside, showing a 1960s era strong side rotating zone. Strong side linebacker and left cornerback jam before falling into zone.

This kind of defense was abused in Super Bowl III, where Baltimore’s rotating zone became a sitting duck for a still  mobile Joe Namath. By the 1970s, usage of this defense fell away, as it was too easy to diagnose.

The Cover 3 we will show here comes from a Stack 44 setup, achieved when a 4-3 Stack (Miami 4-3) overshifts the secondary. Some people call the defensive back at linebacker depth a monster or rover, and these kinds of defenses, with three defensive backs at backfield depth, naturally lend  themselves to Cover 3, with three deep backs.

Cover  3 from a Stack 4-3 monster.

Cover 3 from a Stack 4-3 monster.

QQH coverage

This is quarters-quarters-half coverage, what some folks call Cover 6 (Cause Cover 2 plus Cover 4 equals Cover 6). Note how it changes the complexion of the related Cover 3 from above.

Quarter quarter half coverage from a  Stack 4-3 Monster.

Quarter quarter half coverage from a Stack 4-3 Monster.

Cover 4

Also called quarters coverage. This is a kind of prevent defense.

Quarters coverage, from a  Tampa 4-3 under front.

Quarters coverage, from a Tampa 4-3 under front.

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If you own exactly one book on the Dallas Cowboys, I’d strongly suggest this one be your book.

The essential oral narrative of the Dallas Cowboys.

Peter’s book is an oral narrative, composed of dozen of interviews of the “critical players”, and thus similar to, say, Studs Terkel’s “The Good War“. The book is organized in chronological order, from the foundation of the franchise to the middle 1990s. It’s not really a tell all book, though it interviews people who were very pro franchise and others who didn’t care much for their treatment (the linebacker Rodrigo Barnes, for example). It is rich in detail, exhaustive, but an easier read than its 838 pages would suggest. For the historian, comments about the way Tom Landry was blocking when the franchise began would be useful to those tracing the origins of the zone blocking scheme. We’ve talked about the specific quotes involved in our review of Pat Kirwan’s book.

Along with Pete’s book, I would also recommend this set of DVDs

along with this set of 10 Cowboys games.

These videos, along with the book, would aid any fan in tracing the nature and character of the franchise over the years. The one place where the book appears to be lacking is in any coverage of the Miami 4-3. While a ton of interviews touch on Tom Landry’s contribution to the 4-3 defense, such as the flex defense, coverage of Jimmy Johnson’s Miami 4-3 just isn’t there at all. That, I’d suggest, is the largest open hole in the Golenbock book.

I can’t say for certain if the 1991 Super Bowl (highlights here, DVD here) contains the oldest nickel front in the world, as there is a side of me that  thinks the Miami 4-3 is a thinly disguised 2-3-6 – think about it, using what kinds of players are placed where, as opposed to what kinds of names the positions are called. Isn’t a Miami 4-3 equivalent to this:

And not all that far removed from this:

Just sayin’.

In the book “Education of a Coach“, by David Halberstam, a book about Bill Belichick, and a decent read, Halberstam goes into great detail about  the base nickel front that Belichick used in the 1991 Super Bowl. And yes, isn’t this, the first offensive play of the Bowl, an argument that Belichick is your nickel front daddy?

I say, who is your nickel front daddy?

Halberstam says this defense was, in modern terms, a 2-3 dime. Of course,  with Lawrence Taylor as the rush linebacker, it was a rather stout 2-3.

Miami 4-3 notes..

  • This thread from Football Futures, I think, is one of the better reads on the Miami 4-3.
  • Coach Hoover: Miami 4-3 versus the flexbone.
  • Coach Huey: Miami 4-3 compared to the K State 4-3.
  • Fifth Down Blog on the 4-3 (including the Miami). The whole guide summarized here.
  • Linebackers in the Miami 4-3.