By Aaron Hancock
Zone pressures are a great way to confuse and disrupt quarterbacks at every level of football. This article outlines some effective 4, 5, and 6 man schemes out of the popular 3-5 defense.
Wyoming High School (OH)
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Editor’s Note: Aaron Hancock is currently the Head Football Coach at Wyoming High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. Last season was Coach Hancock’s first season as the Head Football Coach at Wyoming High School. Previously, he was the Defensive Coordinator at Wyoming High School where he has been for the last twelve years. Aaron Hancock is an alumnus of The College of Mount Saint Joseph where he played linebacker.
A defense must be able to effectively pressure the QB in today’s offenses. The quarterbacks of today are the best athletes on the field and can make big plays in an instance. That is why we like to be the aggressor on defense, set the tone and never let the quarterback feel comfortable. In 2008, I began to look at various concepts of pressure defenses; man, zone, matchup zone, and fire zones. I wanted to bring the pressure but not risk giving up a big play over the top of the defense by playing man coverage. I wanted a system that was easy to remember and the players could recall the rules very easily in the action of a game. The fire zone concept is what I believed gave us the best advantage to be successful in the 3-5 defense.
Advantages of using fire zone coverage:
Once you have decided that the benefits of using a zone coverage behind a blitz is a safe yet effective way to apply pressure and uncertainty to the offense, the next step is terminology. Terminology is key for your athletes to understand your pressure package. When we want to play base defense, we call a base coverage. For example, base cover 3. (diagram 1)
When we want to bring pressure, we call a blitz then the matching fire zone coverage. Players go to their rules and know what zone they are responsible for when they hear the specific fire zone coverage call. You can use categories of colors, animals, cars, NFL teams, etc. Be creative and give them terms that will be special to the kids. Let them be involved with the naming process because this will be the most important part of your fire zone pressure package, make it simple and easy for them to recall in a split second.
We use our cover 3 principles in our fire zone coverage, so it is not another technique to teach when we are blitzing. All pass defenders want to have their head on a swivel, meaning our eyes go from the QB to our key receiver until the ball is thrown. In cover 3, we don’t cover anything fewer than five yards. We want to see the ball thrown under and rally to any short throws. Our goal in cover 3 is not to give up the deep ball over the top. The general landmarks for the underneath zones in our base cover 3 is the flats are 6-7 yards over the #1 receiver, the hook/curl zone is 10-12 yards over the #2 receiver, and the middle zone is 8-10 yards over the #3 receiver.
We have complied four different fire zones that lead to an extensive amount of blitzes and a very adaptable pressure coverage. We can rush 4, 5, or 6 and play zone coverage behind it without vacating a zone.
The first fire zone coverage when tagged with a +1 blitz becomes a 4-4-3 (diagram 2) at the snap of the ball. A +1 blitz means one of the five linebackers will come on a blitz ($, S, M, W, D). Underneath coverage will consist of two flat zones, and two hook/curl zones. And as with all of our 3-5 fire zone coverage concepts, we will have deep coverage that consists of three deep third defenders.
The rules for the 4-4-3 fire zone coverage are the $trong Safety and Dog Safety is responsible for the flats unless blitzing, the Mike Linebacker has the hook/curl zone to the side of the blitz, the Sam and Will Linebackers will have the hook/curl zone away from the blitz and flats when an edge stunt is on their side of the field. The Corners and Free Safety will play their regular cover 3 technique.
The flat defender in our 4-4-3 fire zone coverage needs to follow these steps to effectively cover their zone. Do not allow the #2 receiver to have a clean vertical release, the $trong Safety and Dog Safety will align on the #2 receiver, in a 2x2 set, start with their inside foot forward and key the last man on the line of scrimmage. They will shade the inside of the #2 receiver, which will help prevent a clean vertical release and effectively defend any WR quick screen game. The flat defender may also be the Sam or the Will Linebacker if there is an edge blitz on their side, the same rules apply, do not allow the #2 receiver to get a free vertical release down the field. The flat defender will go through the #2 receiver to get to the flats at 6-7 yards and get under the #1 receiver. Again we want to continue to have our head on a swivel and rally to anything thrown under five yards.
The hook/curl defender in the 4-4-3 fire zone coverage has the following guidelines to effectively defend in the passing game. Once pass is read, they will look up the #2 receiver and based on that receiver’s release will determine his next step. If the receiver releases vertical, the hook/curl defender wants to gain width and depth, collision the vertical route at 10 yards and wall off the dig route. If the receiver releases in and across the field, he will not chase, but yell “cross, cross” to alert his team mate that a route is coming across the field to him, immediately his eyes go to the #1 receiver and he will get under him. If the receiver goes on an outside release, he wants to get depth and get under the #1 receiver. We always tell our hook/curl defender that if the #2 receiver goes outside the #1receiver is coming in and get underneath the slant. If the hook/curl defender has a trips formation on his side of the defense, he wants to go through #3 to get to #2 and never go through a vertical route without a collision.
The deep third defenders will stay deeper than the deepest receiver, play a divider technique versus two vertical routes and break on the ball.
The second fire zone coverage uses a +3 blitz and becomes a 6-2-3 (diagram 6) at the snap of the ball. A +3 blitz means that all three of the inside linebackers will blitz on the pressure (S, M, W). Underneath coverage will consist of two seam/curl/flat zones (SCF), and three deep third defenders.
The rules for the 6-2-3 fire zone coverage are the $trong Safety and Dog Safety will have the seam/curl/flat zone (SCF). The inside linebackers (M,W,S) will be blitzing on the pressure called. The Corners will tighten up their cover 3 technique and should expect a very quick throw by the QB.
The seam/curl/flat defender in the 6-2-3 fire zone coverage needs to deepen up on their base alignment and must prevent an inside seam release. They do not want to press on the line of scrimmage. The SCF defender wants to look up the #3 receiver for a flow read then to the #2 receiver. If the #2 receiver goes vertical he wants to collision, carry and pass off to the free safety before going to the flats. If the #2 receiver goes in, he wants to squeeze the inside route, sit in the hook/curl zone, and break on the ball. If the #2 receiver goes out get depth and get under the #1 receiver who is coming in. The SCF defender in the 6-2-3 fire zone coverage must get to the flats late and must protect the seam first.
The three deep third defenders in the 6-2-3 fire zone coverage must tighten up their cover 3 technique and expect a very quick throw by the QB. The free safety should help protect the seam and catch any vertical route that is passed off by the SCF defender. The most important job of the three deep third defenders is to prevent the big play over the top of them. The pressure will get there so the ball will be thrown quick and most likely will be thrown up in desperation.
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In conclusion, since installing this fire zone coverage system in our defense in 2008, we have compiled an overall record of 42-13, an undefeated regular season and a state semi-finals appearance. We are extremely hard to game plan for on defensive because of our ability to bring pressures from various angles and levels. Our simple rule orientated pressure package has been exciting for the players to implement, helped us prevent giving up big plays in the passing game and has put our team in a position to be successful on Friday nights.