Cover 4 has become a common coverage to combat the Spread to Run style of offense. There’s a great reason for this, Cover 4 is a great coverage. When Cover 4 is run correctly it takes away the threat of four verticals while also allowing the Safety to come down and play the outside run. When defending the Spread the defensive game is all about numbers, and the Cover 4 allows a defense to win this battle.
Beating Cover 4 with the Post Out Concept
With that being said, every coverage has a weakness. To me, the most exploitable weakness of Cover 4 is the Safety being asked to be three places at once. While the traditional rules of Cover 4 are that the Safety must play any run to the D Gap on his side, he also has to read the number 2 receiver. If the number 2 receiver goes vertical past a certain landmark (normally 6-7 yards) than the Safety has him wherever he goes. Meanwhile the Cornerback will have the same rule on number 1, if he goes vertical past 7 yards he will take him but if the receiver goes in he will expect to get help from the Safety.
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This opens up the defense to the out route from number 2. We really like to tell our number 2 receiver to push a step past 5 yards before he makes his cut, especially on the short side of the field. This blurs the line for the Safety on if he should take him or not. We will run this route two to three times and eventually the Safety can’t help himself, he starts to come down and play aggressively (this aggressive Safety play is encouraged and one of the big strengths of Cover 4). Once the Safety has made a tackle before the #2 receiver can turn the ball up-field we know we’ve got him where we want him.
We will then use the Post Out Concept to hit over the top of the defense for a big gain. While the Post on this route is a little different, the biggest coaching point on this route combination comes down to the out route. He must push an extra step past 5 yards, we tell him that his feet should touch two five yard lines. This includes when he is in his stance, when he is in his stance his is a yard off the line and his second foot is normally a yard back. This means that he will never run an out over 7 yards.
By crossing that 5 yard line the Safety’s eyes are tricked into believing that the receiver has gone past 6-7 yards and that he has him man to man. Meanwhile the Post receiver is being told that he is running essentially a 5 step slant. This puts him deeper than the Safety but allows the Quarterback to hit the Post in rhythm. The effect is a ball that replaces the Safety and allows the receiver to make a catch in stride and get vertical.
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Cover 4 is a great defensive coverage. It keeps the rules simple for the defenders and allows the defense to play an aggressive, smaller sized player at Safety. The way to beat this coverage though is to simply understand it’s rules and use them to put defenders in conflicting positions.