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Five Plays that Beat Quarters Coverage (Diagrams & Video)

Posted by Throw Deep Publishing Staff on

Quarters coverage and its variations are scattered all across football. Combining the ability for safeties to provide support on the back end, as well as in the run game is a big reason for the heavy usage of the coverage. 

Defensive coordinators possess the ability to easily tailor the coverage against a variety of threats an offense can present, allowing the defense to focus on alignment and assignment to play fast throughout the course of a game. 

As you may guess, offenses adapt and revolve just as defenses do, with plenty of answers and ideas centered around beating the coverage at their disposal. 

Continue reading below to understand how offenses specifically attack quarters coverage. 

How does Quarters Coverage Work?

Quarters coverage is a 4-deep, 3-underneath coverage that is good against pass-heavy offenses while also using their safeties to stop the run. 

Quarters Beaters - Quarters Coverage Diagram

Both CBs relate to the #1 WR, as both safeties have eyes on the #2 WR while being quick to react downhill to run action. Underneath, both outside LBs are responsible for the flats, while the MLB becomes the middle hook defender. 

With this understanding, this style of coverage at its base incorporates zone droppers with simplistic man-style coverage from the players on the back end, allowing the defense to play fast and responsive to what the offense presents. 

How to Beat Quarters Coverage

The two best ways to beat quarters coverage are throwing to the flats and to the deep middle of the field.

With the CBs responsible for their deep quarter, the flats are a weakness that is often exploited. Quarterbacks are able to read the movement of the outside linebackers post-snap and make decisions off of how quick they rally to cover their flat responsibility. 

An easy visual of this is a hitch route from both the #1 and #2 WR. As the CB pedals for depth, the flat defender is put in a bind. If he chooses to expand immediately to the flat, there should be a window for the #2 WR to settle in space. 

Aggressive safeties play into the favor of offenses, as play-action passes become a deadly weapon downfield. 3-level PAP schemes become a great way to read safeties, as their movement dictates the start of the high-low progression for the QB. If the safeties react as expected, receivers have the opportunity to win their 1-on-1 matchup downfield on home-run routes such as posts, double moves, etc. 

In quarters coverage, the MOF (middle of the field) is open for the offense to attack. With safeties typically attached to the #2 WR in coverage, running safeties off is a great way to manipulate the MOF open for WRs and TEs to replace the void left by the defense.  

Lastly, overload concepts are great to incorporate to stress the zone principles of quarters coverage. A visual of this from a 3x1 set would be a double post combination by the #1 and #2 WRs, followed by a wheel route from the #3 WR. The safety and CB are matched up 1-on-1 in a hurry downfield – while the outside LB is put in a bind to carry the wheel route vertically up the sideline. Creating 1-on-1s is the goal for any offensive coordinator, and quarters coverage allows that to happen with the right frame of play calling. 

Five Quarters Beaters

#1 PA Wide Zone Wk Dbl Verts X Sluggo 

This play was taken from 101 Plays from the BYU Offense

Quarters Beaters - PA Wide Zone Wk Dbl Verts X Sluggo

Aligning into the boundary is a cheap tool to analyze what the defense is taking away. With space out to the field, you can see the X WR has room to work his sluggo route. 

However, with aggressive safety play from the defense, BYU QB Zach Wilson takes advantage finding his TE for a score. 

Watch this play in the video below:

#2 Stick w/ Backside Option Route

This play was taken from 101 Plays from the Red Zone Offense

Quarters Beaters - Stick with Backside Option Route

With Texas aligning in a 2-high shell to Kansas State’s empty set, this means the LBs underneath are put in space to cover. 

Howard’s initial read is the MLB, if he drops with depth, Howard will drive the football to the stick runner. If the MLB expands as he does in this look, it gives the RB space to work his option route against the WLB. 

Watch this play in the video below:

#3 2x2 Shallow Sting

This play was taken from 101 Plays from the Ohio State Offense

Quarters Beaters - 2x2 Shallow Sting

Made popular by Lincoln Reilly a few years back, the shallow sting route is a great quarters beater. Here, both safeties latch on to the downfield routes of the #2 receivers. 

The Z WR sells a shallow crossing route before working to the MOF, gaining separation as Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud locates an accurate throw for a score.

Watch this play in the video below:


#4 2x2 Colt Y Leak

This play was taken from 101 Plays from the Georgia Offense

Quarters Beaters - 2x2 Colts Y Leak

The immediate read in this design from Georgia is the double post combination, from there, the TE leaking up the boundary side becomes Bennett’s next option. 

It’s good coverage from Auburn, and Bennett eventually checks the ball down to the RB in the flat. 

Watch this play in the video below:

#5 Trips Bunch Play Action Slot Cross

This play was taken from 101 Plays from the Wake Forest Offense

Quarters Beaters - Trips Bunch Play Action Slot Cross

Taking advantage of aggressive safeties with play action is a great tool to beat quarters. The FS is Hartman’s immediate read in this look, the post route serving as a home run shot over the top of the defense. 

With Norfolk State rotating to 1-high, Hartman finds the slot working across the field.

Watch this play in the video below:

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