Passing Concepts that Beat Cover 3

I want to start off by saying that I believe cover 3 is the best coverage in youth football. It gives you 3 deep defenders while allowing you to maintain a strong box against the run. It also allows your defenders to maintain discipline and not get beat on play-action or other combination routes.  We are a cover 3 zone defense and it’s been very good to us. However, there are some holes in the coverage and there are several plays that can exploit those coverage holes. Below we break down the passing concepts that beat cover 3.

These passing concepts will beat any type of zone coverage! 

Youth Football Online Coverage Beaters from Youth Football Online on Vimeo.

Passing Concepts that Beat Cover 3 in Youth Football:

Passing Concepts that Beat Cover 3

Play-action Passing

Play-action passing plays work very well against all types of coverage in youth football. It doesn’t matter if it is man to man coverage or zone, the kids will almost always bite on play-action. When you show run action youth football linebackers will automatically attack downhill taking themselves right out of position. When linebackers bite up for run, they will not be able to get to their zone in time. We love attacking with a TE pop pass and sneaking our running back or TE into the flat off of play-action.  The outside linebacker or safety (rolled down) will usually have the flat coverage. When they bite on run, they will take themselves out of position, leaving the flats wide open.

Play-action Passing Plays

Skinny Post-Corner Combination (Wing-back and Split-end)

Skinny Post

This post-corner concept is an excellent play against all types of coverage. This play fakes power to the right and has the split-end execute a post route. The wing-back executes a corner route, cutting off the butt of the split-end.  You can have the wing-back chip the DE to slow the rush down if needed.  It’s important that all receivers run crispy routes.

Power Pass

Power Pass

This play attacks zone coverage with a high-low route concept that works off of play-action. The play-action will hold the outside backer that is responsible for the flat. The TE will run a deep corner route to keep the cornerback deep in his third. This play also works very well vs. man to man coverage. This play puts a ton of pressure on the outside linebacker by executing a run fake right at him.  If the corner sits or doesn’t get into his third look to hit the corner route.

TE Pop Pass off of Jet Sweep Action

 TE Quck Pop

The tight-end quick pop pass is an excellent play that will hit the TE right in the seam of the zone. It’s important that the TE runs his route in the seam between the defenders. He may have to adjust his path as the defense reacts. This play is off of jet sweep action which will force the linebackers to chase jet sweep. The QB needs to execute a quick ride fake, plant his feet, then throw to the TE in the seam. You want this all to happen in one motion. You can have the TE delay for one second to create better timing. The timing of this play has to be adjusted based on your players.

Flooding the Zone

The concept behind flooding a zone is sending multiple threats into one zone to stretch the defense and to put pressure on a single zone defender. When you send three defenders in a zone that has only one defender, someone will be wide open. The best flood concepts are plays that work levels. Sending a player deep, sending a player mid-level, and sending a player underneath will stretch the coverage.

Flood the Zone (working levels) Plays

4 verticals

4 verticals


4 verticals is probably one of the most underrated passing concepts in football. This formation stretches the defense out horizontally and the 4 vertical routes stretch the defense out vertically. In cover 3, there are three defenders deep. With 4 verticals, you are sending 4 receiving threats deep. This leaves the defense to defend 4 receivers with only 3 defenders. This play is easy to install and really stretches the defense out. If you are concerned with edge pressure you can bring one of the inside receivers in and execute it with a half-back and a TE. You will still have the TE run a vertical route, but bringing him in will slow the edge rush down.

Here is an excellent breakdown of the 4 verticals passing concept. Game clips included! Check it out..

3 Level Flood

3 level flood play

The 3 level flood concept is an excellent way to stretch the defense out. When you run receivers in all 3 levels, there will be natural seams in the zone. It’s important that the spacing is good between the receivers. You do not want them to close to each because that will make it easy for the defense to cover. When executed properly, there will always be one receiver open. The 3 level flood is one of my favorite passing concepts that beat cover 3.

Quick Passing Concepts

Quick hitting routes tend to take advantage of youth football defenses that aren’t prepared or are scrambling. Youth football defensive backs and linebackers don’t understand help and aligning with proper leverage.  Action is faster than reaction, so when a receive runs a quick hitting route the defender will not be able to react in time to make a play. Especially, when the defender isn’t playing with the proper leverage or doesn’t understand where he is on the field.  Typically, coaches don’t coach up their defensive backs on receiver alignments. This play takes advantage of cornerbacks playing soft coverage.  The quick passing game makes the defenders tackle your athletes in space.

Quick Passing Concepts

Quick Screen

Quick Screen

This play takes advantage of soft cornerback coverage. When defenses are in cover 3, their cornerbacks will be playing with cushion. This cushion will give your receiver separation and will allow him to work in space. Throw a quick screen to the receiver and force the CB to tackle in space. Make the defense tackle fast and make them tackle in space! A tunnel screen would work very well against cover 3 as well.


Stick Arrow Passing Play

The stick-arrow concept is another excellent cover 3 beater. This play will have the outside receiver run the cornerback off deep and have the left inside receiver run a quick hitch or ‘stick’ route. This concept holds the outside backer, allowing the half-back to be wide open in the flat. The half-back out of the backfield has to run right into the flat. This is a quick hitting play.  You can have the QB look off to the right for a second and then throw to the half-back in the flat.  The slant and slant-arrow concept also work very well against cover 3 zone.


Play-action passing plays, flood concepts, and the quick passing game are passing concepts that beat cover 3. These plays work against cover 2, cover 3, cover 4, and man coverage as well. In youth football these passing plays will get your receivers open. It comes down to pass protection and executing the throw and catch.

(See also):  Cover 3 Zone in Youth Football


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