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Youth Football Online

Cover 4 Zone Defense | Pattern Reading

Cover 4 Zone Defense Overview and Pattern Reading

Cover 4 Zone Defense is one of the most popular coverages in football today. It allows a defense to match 4 Vertical threats while still playing tough on the run. As the spread run game becomes more popular many teams are moving to coverages that allow the safety to get involved in stopping the run. The Cover 4 allows an aggressive safety to control the D gap which allows the linebackers to focus on the interior run while still being sound against passing concepts.

Cover 4 is based on the concept that if the offense sends 4 vertical threats deep the defense can cover all four threats. They accomplish this by having both cornerbacks and both safeties responsible for a deep quarter of the field. When run using strictly base zone rules this makes for an excellent coverage for defending the deep ball.

The pattern matching concept is a simple but requires both the safety and cornerback to be on the same page. This can only be accomplished through very clear rules and lots of practice. In Cover 4 the safety and cornerback are both responsible for their deep quarter. This means that if the WR takes off vertical in their zone they must match them.

The # 1 receivers are the wide receivers closest to the sidelines. The #2 receivers are the inside receivers, second receiver in from the sidelines. 

Diagram  1: The rules for the safety are pretty straight forward. The safety is responsible for reading the #2 receiver. If he reads run he plays the D gap and serves to stop any outside run while the cornerback has deep coverage in the case of any play action.

Cover 4 Zone in Youth Football
Diagram 2

Diagram 2: If the number 2 receiver takes off vertically the safety will take him. The landmark can vary but it should be somewhere around 8 yards from the Line of Scrimmage. If #2 goes past the landmark the safety has him.

Cover 4 Defense
Diagram 3

Diagram 3: Where the coverage gets interesting is if the #2 receiver does not get to 8 yards. If #2 does not get past 8 yards then the Safety now gets to rob the #1 receiver. This can be especially effective vs. the Dig-Flat and Curl-Out concepts.

Cover 4 Pattern Reading
Diagram 4

Diagram 4: Meanwhile the cornerback has a pretty simple assignment. The cornerback is responsible for #1 and defending any deep route. His primary focus is the #1 receiver. If #1 goes past the landmark (this should be the same for #2 and #1) the cornerback will guard him man to man unless #2 threatens him deep.

Defending 4 verticals
Diagram 5

Diagram 5: If #1 stays under the landmark then the CB will immediately get his eyes to #2 to make sure he is not threatening his deep quarter. If #2 is coming into his deep quarter he will rob him on any out breaking routes.

Defending Smash Concept in Cover 4
Diagram 6

Diagram 6: If the CB reads run he will continue to get depth to make sure there is no play action pass that gets behind the defense. In Cover 4 the cornerback is the Deep Defender so it’s important that he does not come forward on any fakes.

Cover 4 Zone Defense is an excellent coverage in youth football because it will give you 4 deep defenders. This coverage works very well when you are protecting a lead in the last minutes/seconds of the game.

Cover 4 Zone Defense Weaknesses

  • Flat coverage, or flooding underneath zones.
  • Safeties run/pass conflict.
  • Underneath drag concepts off of play-action.

(See Also) Cover 2 Zone in Youth Football

(See Also) Cover 3 Zone in Youth Football