The 4-3 Cover 2 (and where my last post went wrong) - long

The 4-3 Cover 2 (and where my last post went wrong) - long

ghost2
I was able to dig up my post from a couple years back regarding the hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense and how it could work at Miami under Mark D'Nofrio - if you want a good laugh you can read it here if you like: https://www.canesinsight.com/thread/recruiting/54877

Now obviously I was WAY off base as to what D'No wanted to run here. I figured he'd use the various 3-4 and 4-3 Under looks to create pressure from multiple areas and be disruptive. Rather, his philosophy turned out to be "let's give up everything between the 20s and hope they make a mistake somewhere along the line." Yeah. My bad everybody.

With the recent comments from Richt proclaiming his love of the old Miami 4-3/Cover 2 base defense, I thought I'd create another similar thread outlining the concepts, potential personnel, advantages, and disadvantages of that defense. So here we go again:


Alignment

As you would expect, a basic 4-3 defense utilizes four down linemen and three linebackers as the "front 7." You'll see 2 DEs, 2 DTs, a SAM (Strongside) LB, a MIKE (middle) LB, and a WILL (Weakside) LB. Usually the MIKE is the captain of the defense and responsible for line calls and adjustments. The "Cover 2" aspect of the 4-3 involves the secondary. You'll have two deep safeties responsible for the deep halves of the field (hence "Cover 2") while the CBs play either underneath zone or man-to-man. Randy Shannon ran the "Cover 2/Man Under" concept almost into the ground as DC at Miami. We'll talk about the pluses and minuses of that in a minute.

Variations on the 4-3/Cover 2 are numerous. There's the so-called "Tampa 2" which is almost a Cover 3, in which the MIKE backer drops into the deep middle zone. There's the aforementioned "Cover 2/Man Under" in which the safeties play deep and the LBs and CBs play man-to-man. There's also "Quarters" coverage in which the CBs and safeties each take 1/4 of the deep coverage, with the LBs responsible for the underneath coverage. Many other wrinkles exist (Cover 1, Cover 0, etc), but I'm trying to keep this relatively concise.

In the 4-3 base scheme, the DL are primarily "1-gapping" - in other words, they are each responsible for a single gap between the opposing OL. This is in opposition to a "2-gap" philosophy, in which some or all of the DL man-up on an OL and have to control both gaps on either side. As you might expect, a 1-gap look is much easier to learn and execute.


Blitzing from a 4-3 defense

Getting pressure from the 4-3 is really the same as getting pressure from the 3-4 - you want to disrupt timing, fill gaps, disguise coverage, and bring pressure form multiple areas. You'll see "double-A" blitzes in which two LBs blitz over the "A" gap (basically running right up the middle). Michigan State runs the double-A gap blitz to perfection. Check out this article on the different ways it can be used: Better Know A Blitz Package - Double A-Gap - The Only Colors

You'll also see CB and safety blitzes (Shannon ran a lot of these IIRC) as well as zone blitzes in which a DL drops into coverage to allow space for blitzing LBs and DBs (yeah I know, but zone blitzes CAN be successful as long as you don't have your best pass rusher drop into zone 70% of the time...)

One of the best things about a base 4-3 look is that you can bring pressure from multiple areas without adjusting your personnel every play - you can stick with the "see-ball-get-ball" base package and add wrinkles as the game progresses based on what you're seeing from the opposing offense.


Personnel

There's already a thread on what our defense might look like in a 4-3 so I won't rehash it all here. Suffice it to say we have most of the guys to run it well right now. One of the constants of Richt's various defensive coordinators is an aggressive DL, particularly disruptive DTs (think Geno Atkins.) If Gerald Willis has his head on straight he could make a LOT of money in this defense. I fully expect a revitalized Chad Thomas to make noise as well, not to mention AQM... LBs in this scheme have to be aggressive but also "rangy". Closing speed and pursuit is very important. We're still thin at LB beyond our starting 3 but help is on the way. Look for Jermaine Grace to continue to flourish, as he can cover a lot of ground in a hurry. If Elder stays, we're "okay" at CB (though wafer-thin). What honestly worries me is the safety position. If we play a straight Cover 2 as our base (in which the safeties are virtually interchangeable) I worry about Carter/Jenkins' ability to cover ground and diagnose plays. If we play more Cover 1/Cover 0 with one or both closer to the box that may help as well, but right now I feel we lack a proven "centerfielder" to play the deep zone (though Jaquan Johnson could grow into that guy.)


Advantages/Disadvantages

The single biggest advantage of the base 4-3/Cover 2 is it's ease of use, especially for the front 4. It's a "North-South" defensive philosophy as I've described before. DL have to be big, physical, and aggressive, and their primary responsibility is to get into the backfield as fast as possible (most of the time.) With a simplified, consistent defensive scheme, it's much easier to implement variations and wrinkles as well. And as I mentioned, you don't need to switch out personnel every other down if the offense comes out in a different formation...

Like any defensive philosophy, this one has some drawbacks as well. Overpursuit from the DL and LBs can make it susceptible to misdirection. And as we found out in the Randy Shannon era, simple crossing routes and QB draws can defeat Man-Under looks fairly easily. That's where a savvy DC earns his paycheck. Keep it simple, but know when and from where to bring the heat.


Summary

I feel, with the possible exception of DB, we have the guys to win with a 4-3 base defense right now. Our front 7 (though thin at LB) is tailor-made for this defense. I'd like to see another true MIKE emerge going forward to help Young with those in-game line calls. Also, the secondary without Burns scares me a bit, but if we recruit this area like we should, there should never be a lack of DB talent on a Miami football team. Getting CONSISTENT pressure from the front 4 will also help out the secondary significantly.

One side note on recruiting - both Mark Richt and Randy Shannon share a philosophy about bigger CBs. They are indeed more well-suited to this defensive philosophy. Hopefully however, we won't recruit DBs with as much "absolutism" as Shannon did.

All that said, I think we will see an immediate impact on the defensive side of the ball next year.

One more caveat - Richt has said a couple times that he'll leave the "4-3/3-4" decision up to his coordinator, and that both have strengths and flaws. He did say that he wants his defense to play downhill and aggressive regardless of whether three or four guys have their hand down. Just wanted to pass that along.


As always, I welcome any insight from those that have played in or coached this system before to help me out!
 

Comments (47)

I was able to dig up my post from a couple years back regarding the hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense and how it could work at Miami under Mark D'Nofrio - if you want a good laugh you can read it here if you like: https://www.canesinsight.com/thread/recruiting/54877

Now obviously I was WAY off base as to what D'No wanted to run here. I figured he'd use the various 3-4 and 4-3 Under looks to create pressure from multiple areas and be disruptive. Rather, his philosophy turned out to be "let's give up everything between the 20s and hope they make a mistake somewhere along the line." Yeah. My bad everybody.

With the recent comments from Richt proclaiming his love of the old Miami 4-3/Cover 2 base defense, I thought I'd create another similar thread outlining the concepts, potential personnel, advantages, and disadvantages of that defense. So here we go again:


Alignment

As you would expect, a basic 4-3 defense utilizes four down linemen and three linebackers as the "front 7." You'll see 2 DEs, 2 DTs, a SAM (Strongside) LB, a MIKE (middle) LB, and a WILL (Weakside) LB. Usually the MIKE is the captain of the defense and responsible for line calls and adjustments. The "Cover 2" aspect of the 4-3 involves the secondary. You'll have two deep safeties responsible for the deep halves of the field (hence "Cover 2") while the CBs play either underneath zone or man-to-man. Randy Shannon ran the "Cover 2/Man Under" concept almost into the ground as DC at Miami. We'll talk about the pluses and minuses of that in a minute.

Variations on the 4-3/Cover 2 are numerous. There's the so-called "Tampa 2" which is almost a Cover 3, in which the MIKE backer drops into the deep middle zone. There's the aforementioned "Cover 2/Man Under" in which the safeties play deep and the LBs and CBs play man-to-man. There's also "Quarters" coverage in which the CBs and safeties each take 1/4 of the deep coverage, with the LBs responsible for the underneath coverage. Many other wrinkles exist (Cover 1, Cover 0, etc), but I'm trying to keep this relatively concise.

In the 4-3 base scheme, the DL are primarily "1-gapping" - in other words, they are each responsible for a single gap between the opposing OL. This is in opposition to a "2-gap" philosophy, in which some or all of the DL man-up on an OL and have to control both gaps on either side. As you might expect, a 1-gap look is much easier to learn and execute.


Blitzing from a 4-3 defense

Getting pressure from the 4-3 is really the same as getting pressure from the 3-4 - you want to disrupt timing, fill gaps, disguise coverage, and bring pressure form multiple areas. You'll see "double-A" blitzes in which two LBs blitz over the "A" gap (basically running right up the middle). Michigan State runs the double-A gap blitz to perfection. Check out this article on the different ways it can be used: Better Know A Blitz Package - Double A-Gap - The Only Colors

You'll also see CB and safety blitzes (Shannon ran a lot of these IIRC) as well as zone blitzes in which a DL drops into coverage to allow space for blitzing LBs and DBs (yeah I know, but zone blitzes CAN be successful as long as you don't have your best pass rusher drop into zone 70% of the time...)

One of the best things about a base 4-3 look is that you can bring pressure from multiple areas without adjusting your personnel every play - you can stick with the "see-ball-get-ball" base package and add wrinkles as the game progresses based on what you're seeing from the opposing offense.


Personnel

There's already a thread on what our defense might look like in a 4-3 so I won't rehash it all here. Suffice it to say we have most of the guys to run it well right now. One of the constants of Richt's various defensive coordinators is an aggressive DL, particularly disruptive DTs (think Geno Atkins.) If Gerald Willis has his head on straight he could make a LOT of money in this defense. I fully expect a revitalized Chad Thomas to make noise as well, not to mention AQM... LBs in this scheme have to be aggressive but also "rangy". Closing speed and pursuit is very important. We're still thin at LB beyond our starting 3 but help is on the way. Look for Jermaine Grace to continue to flourish, as he can cover a lot of ground in a hurry. If Elder stays, we're "okay" at CB (though wafer-thin). What honestly worries me is the safety position. If we play a straight Cover 2 as our base (in which the safeties are virtually interchangeable) I worry about Carter/Jenkins' ability to cover ground and diagnose plays. If we play more Cover 1/Cover 0 with one or both closer to the box that may help as well, but right now I feel we lack a proven "centerfielder" to play the deep zone (though Jaquan Johnson could grow into that guy.)


Advantages/Disadvantages

The single biggest advantage of the base 4-3/Cover 2 is it's ease of use, especially for the front 4. It's a "North-South" defensive philosophy as I've described before. DL have to be big, physical, and aggressive, and their primary responsibility is to get into the backfield as fast as possible (most of the time.) With a simplified, consistent defensive scheme, it's much easier to implement variations and wrinkles as well. And as I mentioned, you don't need to switch out personnel every other down if the offense comes out in a different formation...

Like any defensive philosophy, this one has some drawbacks as well. Overpursuit from the DL and LBs can make it susceptible to misdirection. And as we found out in the Randy Shannon era, simple crossing routes and QB draws can defeat Man-Under looks fairly easily. That's where a savvy DC earns his paycheck. Keep it simple, but know when and from where to bring the heat.


Summary

I feel, with the possible exception of DB, we have the guys to win with a 4-3 base defense right now. Our front 7 (though thin at LB) is tailor-made for this defense. I'd like to see another true MIKE emerge going forward to help Young with those in-game line calls. Also, the secondary without Burns scares me a bit, but if we recruit this area like we should, there should never be a lack of DB talent on a Miami football team. Getting CONSISTENT pressure from the front 4 will also help out the secondary significantly.

One side note on recruiting - both Mark Richt and Randy Shannon share a philosophy about bigger CBs. They are indeed more well-suited to this defensive philosophy. Hopefully however, we won't recruit DBs with as much "absolutism" as Shannon did.

All that said, I think we will see an immediate impact on the defensive side of the ball next year.

One more caveat - Richt has said a couple times that he'll leave the "4-3/3-4" decision up to his coordinator, and that both have strengths and flaws. He did say that he wants his defense to play downhill and aggressive regardless of whether three or four guys have their hand down. Just wanted to pass that along.


As always, I welcome any insight from those that have played in or coached this system before to help me out!

+1, appreciate ghost, thanks
 
Great post ghost2. Thank you for that. Also your post on the 3-4 hybrid front defense didn't go wrong. Those two idiots Golden and Dorito went wrong.
 
Last edited:
Great stuff ghost. Thanks.

I'd love it if you or someone else here could elaborate on how one would adjust a base 4-3 cover 2 to spread attacks and also the shallow cross concept - Richt is a big proponent of the latter so if he says he likes this defense he clearly knows how he would deal with his own offensive ideas within it.
 
What are we, like 77th in defense or something like that. Does anyone thinks it's really a stretch to think we could move into the top 50 or even top 40 next year with a competent DC which we should be getting?
 
When Monte Kiffin coached at USC, one of the radio guys (Petros) said the Tampa 2 wouldnt work in college because the hash marks are different than the pros. I am pretty sure we played this defense when Randy was our DC but it was a disaster at USC with one of the guys who helped invent the defense running it. Thoughts?
 
That original thread is the reason i joined this site... To actually talk football
 
I don't think you're the one who should apologize for the ridiculous defense we ran not matching up with the perfectly legitimate defense you envisioned.
 
Nice write up. I agree with most of it, although I don't recall the latter years of the Shannon defense (especially against teams with a good tight end or spread concepts) fondly so I'd hope we have a new take on the scheme.

One thing about small vs tall corners re: Richt. I think ALL coaches would prefer a guy who is 6'1" with long arms at corner, the question is whether you can be flexible for certain kids. To that end: one of the best corners Richt ever had was Brandon Boykin, who is probably 5'8".
 
Good stuff, ghost.

As Lu always says, philosophy, implementation, and playcallling are more important than alignment. You can run an aggressive 3-4 defense that one-gaps, and you can run a 4-3 that two-gaps (Saban did at LSU).

It's just harder to two-gap in college. Pete Carroll tried to install it at USC, and quickly scrapped it.

The encouraging thing is Richt seems to want an aggressive scheme.

I'll also add that the zone blitz is about creating confusion in blocking assignments and tricking the QB into thinking a throwing window has been vacated by a blitzer.
 
When Monte Kiffin coached at USC, one of the radio guys (Petros) said the Tampa 2 wouldnt work in college because the hash marks are different than the pros. I am pretty sure we played this defense when Randy was our DC but it was a disaster at USC with one of the guys who helped invent the defense running it. Thoughts?

Different defenses. Shannon used mostly man coverage with two safeties over top. Kiffin used the the tampa 2 which is mostly zone coverage.
 
Nice. Thanks. Hopefully the new DC will understand that our local talent is better suited for the 4-3 because it is best for the speedy UM type LBs in abundance. The 3-4 just seems to always need bigger LBs and we will back to the fed farm growing slower lbs.
 
So your saying there's a chance we learn to defend the speed option?
 
And as we found out in the Randy Shannon era, simple crossing routes and QB draws can defeat Man-Under looks fairly easily. That's where a savvy DC earns his paycheck.


I thought Randy's best coaching job was '05. He mixed in zone and man-switch to combat crossers. The main issue with Randy was he was slow to adapt. I wonder how much he's changed and learned over the years. Stubbornness was a trademark of his.
 
And as we found out in the Randy Shannon era, simple crossing routes and QB draws can defeat Man-Under looks fairly easily. That's where a savvy DC earns his paycheck.


I thought Randy's best coaching job was '05. He mixed in zone and man-switch to combat crossers. The main issue with Randy was he was slow to adapt. I wonder how much he's changed and learned over the years. Stubbornness was a trademark of his.

I remember that Louisville game when Meriweather destroyed that dude coming across the middle on a crossing route.
 
When Monte Kiffin coached at USC, one of the radio guys (Petros) said the Tampa 2 wouldnt work in college because the hash marks are different than the pros. I am pretty sure we played this defense when Randy was our DC but it was a disaster at USC with one of the guys who helped invent the defense running it. Thoughts?

We did not play it at all. In fact the Tampa-2 and the "Miami" 4-3 have a lot less in common than you would think.

Randy's base was 4-3 Cover 2 man under. There are differences with that defense as well.
 
You are clearly a coach because that is exactly how we describe the defense when coaching as well. Maybe you are available for team Richt!!!!!! Great point regarding personnel and in particular Linebackers. You absolutely like to play with a combination of tough and rangy. Of the guys on the filed this year, Grace would do well in this defense. Also Gordinier is an ideal SAM. Huge wingspan/vertical and a ball hawk. Has "game" speed.
 
You are clearly a coach because that is exactly how we describe the defense when coaching as well. Maybe you are available for team Richt!!!!!! Great point regarding personnel and in particular Linebackers. You absolutely like to play with a combination of tough and rangy. Of the guys on the filed this year, Grace would do well in this defense. Also Gordinier is an ideal SAM. Huge wingspan/vertical and a ball hawk. Has "game" speed.

Lol not a coach but I'd be happy to serve on Richt's support staff as a consultant for a couple hundred grand...

Good insight on Gorinier as well. I think Quarterman, Pinckney and McCloud will kill it here!
 
Nice write up. I agree with most of it, although I don't recall the latter years of the Shannon defense (especially against teams with a good tight end or spread concepts) fondly so I'd hope we have a new take on the scheme.

One thing about small vs tall corners re: Richt. I think ALL coaches would prefer a guy who is 6'1" with long arms at corner, the question is whether you can be flexible for certain kids. To that end: one of the best corners Richt ever had was Brandon Boykin, who is probably 5'8".

Excellent point on Boykin. Hopefully Richt and his DC recognize the need for a certain degree of flexibility when looking for "prototype" players.
 

2021 Commits

S
6'5"
220
Fort Lauderdale, FL
DT
6'4"
255
Miami, FL
OG
6'2"
295
Miami, FL
DT
6'4"
290
Miami, FL
DE
6'5"
210
Miami, FL
WR
6'2"
180
Miami, FL
RB
6'0"
225
Hollywood, FL
TE
6'4"
210
Frisco, TX
STR
6'3"
190
Melbourne, FL
S
5'11"
200
Miami, FL

Latest Predictions

by whoopingcane
Certain
by under67ty
Medium
by whoopingcane
Certain
by Matthew_Suero
High
by SmoovEth
High

2020 Schedule

09/10
UAB
Miami Gardens, FL
W 31 - 14
09/19
Louisville
Louisville, KY
W 47 - 34
09/26
Florida State
Miami Gardens, FL
W 52 - 10
10/10
Clemson
Clemson, SC
10/17
Pittsburgh
Miami Gardens, FL
10/24
Virginia
Miami Gardens, FL
11/06
NC State
Raleigh, NC
11/14
Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, VA
11/21
Georgia Tech
Miami Gardens, FL
11/28
Wake Forest
Winston-Salem, NC
12/05
North Carolina
Miami Gardens, FL
Top