Oregon Analysis: Change of Flight in the Secondary

Coach Cameron Pettus Fish Reports

When the Ducks face a potent running game, how does the secondary adapt?  In my first analysis we discussed the Cover 2 Shell and the coverage strategies that Oregon’s Defensive Coordinator Nick Aliotti runs in the secondary.  Today, we will take a look at how Coach Aliotti injects the Single High Safety alignment into the secondary to stifle offenses with a strong running game.  This alignment allows the secondary to defend the middle of the field with the same look but two different schemes in the Cover 3 and Man Free alignments.  How does Oregon do this and what should fans look for in a defensive game strategy?  Settle in for another easy lesson of defense and how the Ducks fly in the secondary!

Single High Safety

Single High Safety

The Single High Safety alignment (red arrow above) requires the free safety to line up in the middle of the field.  The corners are aligned over the wide receivers, and the other safety, the strong safety, (standing just in front of the first down yellow line) is aligned over the tight end.

The Single High Safety alignment is an effective look that allows the Ducks to defend the middle of the field.  There are two main coverage’s that Oregon uses out of this alignment, and the first coverage we will be discussing is the Cover 3.  In a Cover 3, the free safety will have the middle deep third of the field, and the corners will have the outside deep thirds of the secondary. The underneath, or short zones beyond the line of scrimmage are then the responsibility of the linebackers and strong safety.

Cover 3 diagram Pettus2
Above you can see the responsibilities of the free safety (deep middle third), corners (outside deep thirds), strong safety (flat), outside line backer (flat), and the inside linebackers. (hook/curl).

The beauty of the Single High Safety alignment occurs when you have savvy corners like Oregon’s Mitchell, Mathis, and Ekpre-Olomu who disguise their coverage.  They will often play zone coverage from a tight in-your-face original alignment versus the wide receiver.  This technique allows the defensive coverage to be perceived as man coverage by the receiver and the quarterback when Oregon is actually converting into a Cover 3!

Drop into Cover 3!

Drop into Cover 3!

In the Cover 3 example above versus TE Trips, in pre-snap, it appears both corners are playing man coverage, the strong safety is also in man coverage, and both outside linebackers are blitzing. However at the snap both corners drop to the outside deep third, the strong safety covers the flats to his side, and the outside linebackers drop into curl areas with help from one inside backer as the other one blitzes.  That is a great disguise!
Man free diagram Pettus2
The next coverage (above) out of the Single High Safety alignment is the Man Free, which is a great coverage if you have lock-down corners such as Oregon.  This allows Coach Aliotti to bring consistent five-man pressure while keeping the free safety into the middle of the field helping the defense on both the deep pass and run support.  When Oregon faces a very good rushing team like Kansas State in the Fiesta Bowl, Man Free proves to be an excellent coverage because both outside linebackers can fly to the football!

Moving into Man Free Coverage!

Moving into Man Free Coverage!

The picture above is almost identical to the Cover 3 example versus TE Trips, but in this coverage, the Ducks are playing Man Free. The corners, strong safety, and inside linebacker are playing man-to-man, and the free safety has the middle of the field to roam and make plays. More confusion for Oregon’s opponent!

The video above about Oregon’s coverage is one of 51 instructional videos! Go to the “Video” tab above for more!

The Single High Safety alignment with Cover 3 and Man Free provides Oregon’s defense with more strategies to ruffle the offense’s feathers. Coach Aliotti’s defensive schemes in the secondary adjust to a variety of offensive attacks, just as a duck takes to water.  Oregon’s returning talent in the defensive secondary will provide plenty of turnovers with these coverages you just learned.  How fun it is to put knowledge such as this to work and enjoy the games that much more.  I hope you enjoy watching these schemes and talented players as much as I do!

Oh how we love to learn about your beloved Ducks here in Southern Illinois!

Cameron Pettus
Head Football Coach
Belleville West High School
Belleville, Illinois

Featured Photo at the top provided by Kevin Cline


*If you would like to join the other 80+ volunteers at FishDuck.com, and have five hours a week to donate… we have slots open for volunteer Editors, Writers, Analysts, Photo Archivists and Social Media Associates. Can you help us manage people? Consider our volunteer Sales Manager and HR Manager positions and give some time each week to help young associates learn! E-mail us at charles@fishduck.com

*Don’t miss our football analysis every Tuesday, our Recruiting Update every Wednesday and our new Chip Kelly updates every Friday!

New 2024 FishDuck Publishing Schedule….

During the off-season the FishDuck.com publishing schedule will consist of articles on Mondays and Tuesdays. Do keep checking as new articles could be published during the week when a writer has something to say.

In mid-August of 2024, we will go back to the seven-days-a-week of articles during the football season as we did in the football season of 2023.

The Our Beloved Ducks Forum (OBD) is where we we discuss the article above and many more topics, as it is so much easier in a message board format over there.  At the free OBD forum we will be posting Oregon Sports article links, the daily Press Releases from the Athletic Department and the news coming out every day.

Our 33 rules at the free OBD Forum can be summarized to this: 1) be polite and respectful, 2) do not tell anyone what to think, feel or write, and 3) no reference of any kind to politics. Easy-peasy!

OBD Forum members….we got your back.  No Trolls Allowed!