4-3 Pattern Read Coverages: Play Any Zone Coverage While Simplifying LB Rules

Aug 17, 2019 | Defense, Coverage, Two High Coverage Structures

By Erik Kruppe
Head Football Coach
Farmington High School (MO)
Twitter: @KnightsFBFHS


At Farmington High School, our linebackers spend much of their time working on keys, reads, proper run fits, block destruction, and tackling. When it comes to defending the pass, we try to keep it simple for them. We want our linebackers to know exactly what is expected of them versus the pass, regardless of the coverage called.

Base Concept

Everything we do defensively is based out of a 4-3, Cover 4 concept. From our Cover 4 look, we have the ability to get in and out of different coverages. We want our linebacker’s pass defense rules to be consistent, regardless of what coverage is called.

To do this, our linebackers (Sam, Mike, and Will) are taught a count system. The Sam and Will understand their pass responsibility is based off the #2 receiver to their side, while Mike’s responsibility is based off #3 strong. Our linebackers understand they will either drop off their number, or play man on their number. For instance, the Sam will either drop off #2 (any zone concept) or play man on #2 (any man concept). We determine zone or man coverages by numbers and colors. Numbers indicate zone coverages, while colors indicate man coverages. For the remainder of this report, we will discuss how our linebackers pattern read (i.e. drop off) receivers in our zone coverages.     

Pattern Read Concept

Our Linebackers will drop off, or pattern read, their assigned receiver in any zone coverage. One of the first things our linebackers are taught is that their receiver can really only do one of three things: he can release inside, outside, or vertically. While each of those releases can encompass many routes, our linebackers need to understand the initial direction of the receiver’s release.  

Sam/Will’s Pattern Read Drops

Our Sam and Will drop off #2 to their side. If #2 is a split receiver, our linebacker will “Walk,” apexing the #2 receiver (#2) and the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOL). If #2 is a tight end or a running back, our linebacker will remain in the box. 

Against a vertical release, our linebacker is taught to drop inside-out, making sure he does not expand past #2.  He is to get his hands on and collision #2, settling underneath the route. As #2 continues to run vertically, the linebacker will get his head on a swivel and look up #1. If he sees the #1 receiver (#1), he will expand to the hip, allowing our cornerback to sink underneath the smash concept.  If he does not see #1, our linebacker will square up and break on the ball when thrown.

Our Sam/Will is taught to let an inside release of #2 go, and look up #1 instead. This is one of the most difficult things to get linebackers (young ones in particular) to do correctly, as their natural instinct is to chase the route. We like to run double crossers when teaching our pattern read concepts in practice, because it allows the linebacker to see what it feels like when they chase a shallow cross, only to have the cross from the other side enter a vacated zone. We would rather have them learn from failure in a practice instead of a game.

Versus an outside release, our Sam/Will is taught to expand with the route, staying higher and wider than it. By staying higher and wider than the route, it allows us to drive the up-field shoulder versus the arrow route, and smoothly work to the hip pocket of a wheel route (which our linebackers are expected to run with). Once recognizing an outside release, our linebacker must get on his horse, because he is naturally out-leveraged by alignment.