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msuBy Mike Kuchar, Senior Research Manager, X&O Labs

Here are a few nice in season tweaks that you can add to your Quarters coverage to attack Ace formations.


By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikekKuchar


Editor’s Note: The following research was conducted in part of X&O Labs special report on Quarters coverage which can be accessed in full by clicking here.



One of the knocks against using Quarters coverage structures is the vulnerability it may have in defending closed sets where deep safeties must be tied into the run game. While that fundamental can developed with constant coaching, we’ve found that using “Tight” and “Flats” coverage adjustments in quarters coverage can help alleviate what can potentially be problem areas in 12 personnel teams.

Ace Formation (Diagram 32)

The Ace Formation is a balanced set where there are two-wide receiver threats to each side of the formation. In traditional Quarters rules, it may be sensible to play a "Read" call to both sides of the formation in order to get those safeties activated in the run game. This makes sense. With eight potential gaps in the run game, those safeties are forced to become run players first - you’d be a gap short in the run game in a 4-3 front (only seven box defenders). But if you’re lining up against anybody with the ability of New England Patriots and their two tight ends (ok, maybe with a quarter of the ability of Gronkowski), then you’ll need to make sure those safeties can handle number two vertical stretching the field.

Tight 4 Call

Backer Support (Bronco)

Editor’s Note: Bronco Support refers to the linebacker being responsible for "forcing" the ball in the run game. It is the linebacker’s job to either make the play on the perimeter in the run game, or force the ball back inside.

A question becomes how deep you’ll need to play those safeties in their alignment. They have to be in good position to tie into the box in the run game, yet deep enough to handle the vertical stretch of number two.

Darian Dulin, the defensive coordinator at Abilene Christian College (TX), uses what he calls a Tight 4 alignment. In the Tight 4 alignment, Dulin accomplishes all of the vital information that is mentioned above when defending the Ace sets. Based out of a 4-3, quarters coverage structure, Dulin plays with his Sam and Will linebacker on 9-techniques on the outside edge of the tight end (Diagram 33). Most of the time, these two backers are two yards outside the tight end, essentially because they are force players. He’ll play with the two ends in five techniques and the two tackles in 2i techniques, or inside shade of the guard. The Mike is at 6 yards deep in a true middle linebacker set.

According to Dulin, on run schemes, the Mike is a fast flow player, playing the B gap away from the back, while the back-side safety plays the B gap to the side of the back (Diagram 34). This is vital for Zone Read teams that like to run the QB. But in order for the safety to play the B gap as an inside fitter, he plays at 8 yards. "We just tell him to be slow on his read, because he’s got the edges taken care of with the Sam and Will," says Dulin. "We just tuck him into the box and be a cutback player to QB player. Stack and fit is what we tell him." Since Dulin plays some under-front, with a walk-up Sam, that player is comfortable playing in that position.


4 Flats Coverage
Safety Support (Sky)

Editor’s Note: Sky Support refers to the safety being responsible for "forcing" the ball in the run game. It is the safety’s job to either make the play on the perimeter in the run game, or force the ball back inside.

We questioned whether a Will linebacker, who usually is a "box" player in a 4-3 defense against single width, could play an edge technique with a good deal of efficiency. After all, his line of sight changes and now he’s playing on an edge – a spot he’s not accustomed to. If this is a concern for Dulin, he’ll play more with two 7-techiques and keep the core intact. Those LB’s could stay in the box. The Will and Sam could both be in 50 techniques (which are outside shades of the tackle), and play what he calls Four Flat (Diagram 35). Now both Safeties - who will stay at eight yards will still be force defenders and responsible for number two in the pass game - basically playing any number two receiver in the flat.

The safeties rules are Man to Quarters to Cutters - which means the following:

  1. They will play Man on number two first.
  2. If no number two threat, they zone their quarter.
  3. If no one in their Quarter, they cut (or rob) to number one.

Dulin tells his corners that they are Man on the number one receiver, which is standard in all his Quarters concepts. But, he could often move his safeties up to six yards just to make sure they are fitting gaps in the run game. They are outside force players in the run game. It’s a sound coverage against any boot or naked combinations (Diagram 36) - which we will detail in Case Four - but may not be the coverage of choice against offenses that tend to stretch the seams with tight ends. In this case, Dulin would play his traditional Quarters scheme. But again, it does provide answers for teams that present heavy run tendencies in this formation.


The following research was conducted in part of XandOLabs.com special report on Quarters coverage, which can be accessed in full by clicking here.




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