“Steal” Coverage Concepts to Defend Trips

Apr 2, 2018 | Defense, Coverage, Split Field Coverage Structures

By Mike Giancola
ST Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach
Westfield High School (VA)


Offenses today work hard to manipulate into formations that force defenses into stressful situations. Trips (3x1) concepts, in particular, pose a number of problems to defensive coordinators as they “load” zones to one side of the offensive formation while creating potential matchup problems. So what can defenses do to gain the upper hand against offenses that create the stressful situations with trips formations?  We think defenses are best advised to take a week by week approach.

For us, success can be cultivated into the weekly game plan by having multiple coverage schemes to combat 3x1 formations. However, diversifying the game plan too much can result in a break in communication and execution between coaches and players. There is a fine line that needs to be walked.

The approach that will be outlined here allows us to both manipulate and disguise multiple coverage concepts to defend 3x1 formations, while approaching it in such a way that it can be easily relayed and taught to players. This will help to keep offenses on their toes and guessing at how the defense is playing them. This, in turn, regains the upper hand for the defense.


Many approaches to defending 3x1 formations consist of playing 5 defenders over the 3 eligible receivers to the Trips side of the formation. This allows the defense to be sound numbers-wise, even if the tailback shows up as a 4th Receiver. General terms for these 5 defenders are Flat, Hook/Curl, Middle Short Hole, Deep Third and Middle Deep Hole. These terms correspond to the zones these players are responsible for (Diagram 1):


This terminology is sufficient when discussing football with those that regularly speak “the language”, but for those that are not as familiar it can be very confusing. We found that simplifying the verbiage we used when teaching our 3x1 coverage concepts enabled us to better teach the coverages we were installing, allowing us diversify our approach. The basic premise and location of the zones being covered are the same, except the language is adjusted (Diagram 2):


Coaching Points

Here is a breakdown of how we teach these five Trips side defenders discussed above:

Steal 1: Initially, the job of Steal 1 player is to take away the Slant, or inside, of the #1 receiver. If #1 drives inside or sits down the Steal 1 player reads through the QB’s release, making a play on the ball or carrying #1 to the next zone before he passes #1 off. If #1 stems and continues vertically, the Steal 1 player plays underneath #1 until work comes outside to him.

Steal 2: The Steal 2 player is responsible for taking away the Slant of the #2 Receiver. If #2 disappears outside, the Steal 2 player sluffs off (drops vertically) with eyes finding the route of the #1 Receiver. If #2 drives inside or sits down the Steal 2 player reads through the QB’s release, making a play on the ball or carrying #2 to the next zone before he passes #2 off. If #2 releases and continues vertically, the Steal 2 player carries #2 to 10 yards underneath and looks for work coming to him.

Steal 3:  The Steal 3 player not only needs to steal the Slant of #3, but also carry him vertically to 10 yards if #3 continues up the field. Since there is not close help to the single receiver side of the 3x1 formation, it is imperative that #3 does not cross the face of the Steal 3 player after 3 yards up field. We allow shallow drags across the face as we consider those “low hanging fruits” that we can easily rally to. If #3 disappears outside, the Steal 3 player sluffs off and looks for work coming in to him.

Apex:  The job of the Apex player is to play in between #1 and #2 vertically, slightly favoring #2 as that is the easier throw for the QB.  He needs to read release of both receivers and should be the last player to the party on plays like Bubble, Rocket and Tunnel. He is ultimately responsible for anything over the top, including the fakes built in off those plays. If #1 and #2 sit down or disappear the Apex player should continue to get depth, looking for #3 coming into his zone.

Alert:  The Alert player is looking to work over top of #3. If #3 goes vertical, it is the Alert player’s responsibility (we declare vertical if he has gone past 10 yards) unless he breaks out to the corner into the Apex player’s zone. If #3 disappears the Alert player looks to rob the next receiver coming to him. 

The beauty of using this terminology is you can apply it to all your players in an easily explainable way depending on the coverage concept you are using. This allows you to be multifaceted in the way you coach and teach a number of coverages to defend 3x1 sets. This also lends itself to disguising what coverage you are using by giving your players “man” principles while keeping true to zone concepts. Alignments of the defenders remain relatively the same, posing the problem to the offense of appearing you’re in same coverage all the time while playing number of different coverages.

Alert Concepts

The following coverage designs will range from Cover 2, Roll 3 and Robber with the defenders holding similar alignments to give the perception that the defense is playing the same coverage the entire time. Each coverage incorporates the rules outlined above, but the player executing each rule changes. The commonality between these coverages is the weak side Safety (the one aligned away from the passing strength) is the Alert player.  We spend considerable time on teaching the players how to hold their pre-snap movement as long as possible to disguise what coverage we are actually in.

NOTE:  The backside coverage will be handled with the weak overhang and the weak corner, playing with one under and one over the #1 receiver with a pass read.

Spoke (Cover 2 Concept)

We call our 3x1 Cover 2 sche