Hardball and Solo Coverage to Defend RPOs

Nov 20, 2017 | Defense, Coverage, One High Coverage Structures

By Jerrod Sparling
Head Football Coach
River Valley High School (OH)


Sparling XOLab

We have used 3 Cloud Coverage (“Hardball” to us) and variations of it against 3x1 and 3x2 formations since 2014. During that time, we have had great success in taking away RPOs (Bubbles, Smokes, Read Slants), as well as vertical based concepts, without having to thin out of box to do so. This coverage also decreases the amount of space 2nd level defenders can get horizontally stretched away from the box, which allows for more freedom in your run defense. Over the years, we were able to match 4-2, 4-3, 3-4, and 3-3 fronts with the coverage with relative ease.


Here is a look at the structure that we use in our Hardball Coverage. Note that when we are using this coverage, we use a standard 6- and 7-man box setups such as 3-3, 3-4, 4-2, and 4-3 variations to get proper gap alignment and responsibilities. For us, we usually have 6 in the box to 10 personnel and 7 in the box to 11 personnel, unless specific tendencies have us doing different.


Trip-Side Flat Defender


Depth & Alignment - 2 to 5 yards, with his butt to the sideline. Pre-snap he will stem to 2 yards inside the #1 receiver. If the formation is condensed or if the corner is worried about being able to get inside #1, we tell him to line up in between #1 and #2.

Responsibility - Funnel by looking #2 to #3. Playing curl to flat. 

If both go vertical, he must attempt to get hands on #2 and sink to your curl zone. He can be aggressive because he have over-the-top help. He will then be a late flat player on any outside flat route by #1. Rally to any catch in flat area.

If he gets a flat threat by #2 or #3 (Arrow or Out), he must continue to sink to curl zone and be a late flat player. He must also be aware of any flood concept so that a throw is not made over his head. At that point, he will rally to any catch in flat area. 

  • If #2 goes away - Get your eyes on #3 immediately.
  • If you get any bubble screen - Jump the bubble.
  • If #2 or #3 Runs a Wheel - Collision and Run with it.

Trip-Side Invert Defender (This is usually the SAM Linebacker)

Depth and Alignment - 4 to 6 yards, splitting the difference between #3 and the tackle. If he is in the box against 11 personnel, we like him to be on the outside shoulder of the tight end or H-back, depending on the front.

Responsibility - Funnel by looking #3 to #2. When in the box, funnel #2 while maintaining leverage on #3 and play the Curl zone.