OSU and Cover 4

By Ross Fulton on May 10, 2012 at 10:00 am
An adaptation that fits within the overall philosophy.

While Ohio State will implement a new offense under Urban Meyer, all indications from Spring indicate that the OSU defense under Luke Fickell and Everett Withers will largely retain Jim Heacock's successful scheme - a 4-3 under defense that will convert to a 4-2-5 over with their nickel to the boundary against 'spread' offenses, one that is not overly blitz heavy but instead focused on making offenses earn their yards.    

That is not to say that the defense will remain untouched, however.  One evident adaptation seen this Spring was the predominant use of cover 4, aka quarters, coverage.  Cover 4, as the term implies, simply means that four defensive backs each take a deep quarter of the field.  But this belies the aggressive nature of the coverage.  As Chris Brown--in a must read article--states:

At first glance, Cover 4 looks like an anti-pass "prevent" formation, with four secondary defenders playing deep. But therein lies its magic. The four defenders are actually playing a matchup zone concept, in which the safety reads the tight end or inside receiver. If an offensive player lined up inside releases on a short pass route or doesn't release into the route, the safety can help double-team the outside receiver. If the inside receiver breaks straight downfield, it becomes more like man coverage. This variance keeps quarterbacks guessing and prevents defenses from being exploited by common pass plays like four verticals, which killed eight-man fronts. 

The coverage thus provides a perfect vehicle to pattern read.  As such, what is a zone often looks like man coverage live.  

The coverage's real beauty, however, is what it provides against the run game.  As noted, the safeties sit their heels at ten yards, with their eyes in the backfield, and read the number 2 receiver.  As Brown diagrams, if the safeties see run blocking, they immediately become run game force and support players. 


Thus, what looks like a pass first defense actually produces a nine-man front, and keeps all defenders eyes in the backfield.  For this reason, Brown titles quarters coverage the most important defensive scheme of the past decade.

Putting its intrinsic benefits aside, quarters coverage fits well with OSU's defensive philosophy of the past decade--willing to sacrifice yards underneath to force the opposing offense to be efficient, not provide big plays down the middle, and yet have safety support in the run game.  Against spread offenses, the coverage allows the Ohio State hybrid nickel play to the field side flat, able to stick his nose in both the short passing game such as bubble screens, and yet attack wide side zone plays.

As such, the Ohio State defensive coaching staff has chosen wisely.  They have implemented a coverage that permits for recent adaptations such as pattern reading and allows for aggressive run support, yet one that fits well within the overall scheme that has been so successful for OSU in recent years.  



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