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!
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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Coach Pettus (Football Analyst) is the head coach and offensive coordinator of the Belleville West Maroons from Belleville, IL. He is a graduate of Millikin University and has coached previously at McKendree University and Paulding County High School. Coach Pettus’ goal is is to inspire his players to be successful by building the skills of hard work, dedication and strong character. He enjoys working the grind, practicing on the grass and building a new team each year. You can follow him on twitter @cameronpettus.
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