With the multiple coverages that are employed by defenses, there are various individual techniques that the coverage players must master and then employ versus specific routes, patterns, and concepts. What follows is a simple checklist to teach ANY form of ZONE coverage regardless of scheme or technique. Each building block is equally as important and are best mastered in succession; some players will always be naturally better at certain levels and will have an instinct and feel for zone pass defense. However, and to use the most extreme example, we can’t expect most players to consistently disrupt the BALL when they can’t even get a run-pass KEY from their designated surface. In coverage we are looking for PICKS in zone and BREAK-UPS in man. Here is the the zone pass defense checklist from BOTTOM (most basic) to TOP (most advanced):
In ZONE coverage, the pass defenders should be keying the best available surface in the core of the formation, NOT the detached receiving threats. People on two feet should never just move to move but upon receiving a pass key begin to depart toward their physical landmark on the field.
-PHYSICAL LANDMARK ON THE FIELD
This is the place on the field HORIZONTALLY and VERTICALLY that the defender should be able to get to with nothing else going on while drilling it on air versus a normal 5-step QB drop within each given coverage scheme.
In spite of the above building block, there are of course several different types of QB drops Both the TEMPO and ANGLE of departure of the defender must adjust based on knowledge of the QB drop.
–ELIGIBLE RECEIVER LANDMARK
For every zone coverage the defender must have an eligible receiver landmark. There is both a pre-snap and post-snap element to this, that is to say, “relate to #2 and then relate to who becomes your new #2”.
-SIDE OF FIELD PATTERN
Each defender must have a working knowledge of common offensive pattern concepts as they build on their base of understanding. At the very minimum they must know, after their eligible receiver landmark, who are the second and third most dangerous threats to the physical landmark on their side of the midline.
-NEAREST THREAT FROM ACROSS THE MIDLINE
Especially when facing the challenge of defending FULL-FIELD 5 MAN PATTERN CONCEPTS, each zone defender must know pre-snap who their nearest threat is from across the midline.
-QB SETUP ON HIS SPOT = THE POINT BETWEEN the “ZONE DROP” and the “ZONE BREAK” = “SETTLE and SINK”
When the QB gets to the top of his drop and on his spot, that is the point when the zone defender must “settle and sink” with his hips and shoulder square. The depth of an UNDERNEATH ZONE defender at this point for a normal 5-step drop should be 12 yards.
-QB MOVEMENT IN THE POCKET = “SHUFFLE”
If the QB moves laterally in the pocket, the defender should move laterally by shuffling NOT crossover running.
-QB SHOULDER = “COCKED”
When the QB’s shoulder turns to match the EYES of the direction he is looking, then the defender should be poised and COCKED and have all 3 major lower body joints loaded to POINT and BURST in that same direction.
-QB ELBOW = “FIRE” – “Key the Elbow”
When the QB’s FRONT ELBOW (GUIDE HAND ARM) moves is when the defender begins to BREAK and RUN in that same direction.
-BREAK = “BURST” – “He should be able to cover 1/3 the distance the ball is thrown”
The break is an all out SPRINT in that same direction transferring eyes from the elbow, to the flight of the ball, to the actual receiver the ball is traveling toward.
-BALL – Catch it and Score or violently disrupt the catch and the receiver
If the break is excellent then the finish is in front of the receiver for a pic. If the break is good, then the finish is through the receiver. If the break is poor then the finish is behind the receiver securing the tackle.