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Film Room: Defense 2020 Part Five—Zone Coverages

Ryan Walters is back, and he’s bringing his zone coverages with him.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

In the last two installments of Film Room we looked at man-to-man coverages Mizzou defensive coordinator Ryan Walters ran during the 2019 season. Under Walters, Missouri’s defensive identity is build around man coverage, but there are a handful of zone coverages Walters sprinkles in as well. Today we look at a few of these zone schemes.

Cover 2

Cover 2 is a five-under two-deep zone coverage.

Notice that the cornerbacks re-route the widest receivers inside to help the deep safeties behind them. The corners are flat defenders, but will often gain depth until a flat threat emerges.

As the diagram shows, the interior underneath defenders are often taught to drop to landmarks on the field—the hole player to the field’s middle, and the outside hook-to-curl defenders to the hashes.

A few examples.

Cover 2 Example One

Cornerback Jarvis Ware (#8) is lined up as if in press-man, but he is responsible for the defensive right flat. Because the safeties are playing deep, the cornerbacks are the force players against the run. Notice how the ball is directed all the way out to Ware. The Rebel quarterback does not have the ability to turn the ball upfield before he reaches the sideline.

Cover 2 Example Two

This is another run play, but watch the technique of the corners play. They reroute their receivers, then settle into the flats which suggests that it is Cover 2.

Cover 2 Example Three

Here the Tigers disguise the coverage, lining up in a Cover 0 look before the safeties bail to their deep halves on the snap. Again, watch the hard technique of the corners.

Cover 3

As the name suggests, Cover 3 is a three-deep coverage, employing four underneath defenders.

There are many alignments from which a team can get into Cover 3. In this diagram the defense lines up in a two-high look before spinning the boundary safety into the weak curl/flat area, and the free safety to the deep middle.

For a Cover 1 defense like Walters’, Cover 3 lends itself especially well to disguise, as both defenses employ a deep middle safety.

Here is Cover 1 out of a standard, undisguised alignment.

Cover 1

We can see how easy it is to play Cover 3 out of the exact same alignment.

Cover 3

Some examples of Cover 3.

Cover 3 Example One

This initial alignment suggests a five-man rush supported by Cover 1.

At the snap, however, defenders drop to their Cover 3 zones.

Cover 3 Example Two

Once again, it is difficult to tell at the snap whether the coverage will be Cover 1 or Cover 3.

Cover 3 Example Four

The Tigers are disguising their intent again, giving a max blitz look with six men on the line of scrimmage. The secondary alignment suggests Cover 0.

Coverage responsibilites for Cover 0.

At the snap players drop to their Cover 3 zones, with nose tackle Jordan Elliott (#1) dropping into the low middle.

After showing max blitz, this ends up being three-deep five-under, with only three pass rushers.

Cover 2 Robber

This brings us to Coach Walters’ favorite zone coverage, Cover 2 Robber. Let’s take a moment to become acquainted with this scheme which we might think of as an amalgam of a few coverages we’ve already discussed.

Cover 2 Robber employs the deep safeties and hard corners of a traditional Cover 2.

Cover 2

It adds to this scheme the element of the Aztec safety, or robber as we’re calling it here, as in the Cover 1 Robber coverage we looked at in Film Room’s previous installment.

Cover 1 Robber

If we put these elements together we get Cover 2 Robber.

Cover 2 Robber

The resulting coverage is most similar to Tampa 2, a two-deep coverage with the Mike linebacker running deep down the field’s middle.

Cover 2 Tampa

We might notice a few things about Cover 2 Robber. First, the addition of the Robber eliminates the fifth underneath zone player that we had in Cover 2. This is two-deep four-under with a Robber. Second, the ability of the Robber to help in the deep middle of the field means the two safeties can play a bit wider in their deep zones. This helps them get over the top of deep sideline routes.

Let’s look at some examples.

Cover 2 Robber Example One

As we noted, the robber allows the deep safeties to play wider than in straight Cover 2. This snap demonstrates the benefit of the extra width as boundary safety Joshuah Bledsoe (#18) is able to get over the top of the Go route that is expanding toward the sideline.

Cover 2 Robber Example Two

Notice that Mike linebacker Cale Garrett (#47) is right on the hash—his landmark in Cover 2 schemes—when he tips the pass, leading to a Ronnell Perkins (#3) interception.

In the tight shot we see Perkins, who was playing the deep half, snag the INT, while robber Joshuah Bledsoe (#18) closes in from his spot in the middle of the field.

Cover 2 Robber Example Three

Here we get a nice wide view—broadcasts give them to us too infrequently in my opinion—and can see the robber settle into his zone in the middle of the field.

Cover 2 Robber Example Four

Once again, the wide lens lets us see the deep safeties retreat on the snap as the robber steps down into his area.


To this point in our series on Ryan Walters’ defense we’ve looked at fronts and coverages. The final two installments of the series will focus on blitzes.