Inside the Playbook - A Look at MSU's Unique Cover 3 Package Part 2

Last time I showed how MSU played a cover 3 look on 3rd and long against ND. This time, we'll look at how they can give that same look, still play cover 3, but manage to confuse the offense nonetheless.

The Set Up
Just a reminder of the set-up: it's third and long and here is the defensive formation.

Same Coverage, Different Look
This is something that MSU didn't run, but may in the future. The initial look is the same and it will still be a cover 3. However, now MSU will only bring 5 man pressure and will adjust the coverage behind the play to take away any routes.

Now MSU has built in the adjustment to any route concepts into their coverage. Both defenders are playing soft near the first down marker. If the #2 receiver decides to attack the seam on a vertical route, the seam defender will check #1 and have time to determine if he needs to carry the #2 deep or break off to his sideline curl/hook underneath zone. This allows, theoretically, for the defense to maintain 5 deep defenders.

Meanwhile, if one of the receivers doesn't run a vertical route, then the coverage will become a typical cover 3 as soon as one of them breaks or the QB's eyes take the underneath defenders to the play (essentially, the backside zone will be vacated in this concept).

Alright, so let’s look specifically how this coverage will adjust to different schemes.

4 Verticals

#2 breaking Short

#1 Breaking Short

Same Coverage, Different Look: Part 2
Obviously, the weakness of the last concept is the seam defender  holding the vertical route from the #2 and breaking on the #1 hitch, so now MSU can invert their deep third defenders and allow the outside CBs to make the read adjustment. The worry here is that the QB will fit a quick pass into the seam, so to adjust, MSU will give the initial pressure look, but will back off their OLBs. The perceived pressure from the OL is 6, but MSU actually only brings 4.

With slight adjustments to the look, you can run a safe cover 3 look with varying pressures and confuse the QB, offensive line, and WRs. By having these three variants in your back pocket, you can ensure that you are not giving up the big play, and force the offense not only to work for first downs, but be careful that they aren't falling into a trap placed by Pat Narduzzi.


  1. Well written and insightful.

    The assumption can probably be made that a decent coach would identify this as well, correct? So how much of game planning for MSU is spent on current defensive packages versus potential?

    Conversely, if Duzzi knows this is the logical next step, would he preemptively alter it to stay one step ahead?

  2. One thing that MSU has to its advantage to a degree, is the fact that they lean so heavily on cover 4 in early downs and situations. That gives them room to add to the playbook in other spots.

    Now, as far as if these are always in the playbook or not, I'm not sure. MSU will likely have a core set of plays that they bring into every game, then they'll have a set of plays that are new, whether it's to mix it up, or it's specifically schemed for the opponent, or whatever. It's difficult to say what portion of the playbook this would be a part of.

    But, if I had to guess, I would assume something like these would be in base playbook that Narduzzi goes to on third down. The nice thing about this set of plays is that really not a whole lot changes for the defense. In the end, it's cover 3 across the back and really the underneath defenders aren't doing a whole lot different than they normally would in cover 3, it's just presented differently to the other team. If this play would have been successful against ND, it wouldn't be far fetched, say if ND came out in the same personnel package, for Narduzzi to make one of these calls instead of the one seen in Part 1, because it has similar advantages, and the OL will know a 6 man pass rush is an option, but now you can mix it up a bit. But it all depends on what the DC is seeing from the opposing team and if they feel comfortable running different defenses.

    So, to actually answer your questions, I think the majority of plays are in the current package, then they probably have 10-15 other plays that they could possibly run that will be installed during the week (some of these plays will be as simple as variations and things of that nature). I think this step is a preemptive move if Narduzzi goes there, because it's just adding to the things that the offense sees. It's not like running Power O and then play action off Power O, they each work in their own right, so maybe "preemptive" isn't the best word, but that's the basic idea.


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