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WATCH: One-Word Pressures - "Cowboy" Coverage

Posted by Gavin Southworth on

In today’s offensive game, it’s becoming increasingly important for defensive play callers to have the speed to match the pace of the offense and communicate effectively across the field.

In this article: Dan Owen, the defensive coordinator of Presbyterian College, covers his one word coverage system that allows for easy communication amongst his players and translates to success on the football field.

Coach Owen uses the same terminology as Kirby Smart, who names his coverages after the mascots of teams in the Big 12 College football conference.

For example, if he wants to reference something relating to his safety unit, he will call “Sooner,” or if he wants to reference his cornerbacks, he will call “Cowboy,” which is what is being covered here. 

See more from Coach Owen's 3-Part video clinic series Advanced Coverage Concepts HERE

Watch this video below or scroll down to keep reading.


The Base Principles of Cowboy

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In general, Dan Owen’s Cowboy call is a 5 man pressure from the boundary, with some type of quarters rules on the backend. This is much different from the trap coverage rules we talked about in a previous post.

The corners play man coverage except shallow rules. What this means is that if the offense runs an under route, this route gets passed off from the corner into the players in the middle of the field.

This is able to happen because aside from the corners, the rest of the coverage players are zone droppers looking to pick up anything that shows across their face. 

For example, if the Sam linebacker hears an “under-under,” call, he will get his eyes back and look for the threat showing from the direction of the call.

In the Cowboy vs Detroit scenario, Coach Owen sends his team back to fire zone rip/liz match rules based on 2 removed. They do not blitz the boundary corner or boundary safety, they just check to their Will linebacker who takes over the blitz with the DB. 

The number one thing to stay aware of when playing with 2 open surfaces on each side is keying the tailback. If the back is a major passing threat, then coach Owen doesn’t favor playing 6-man coverage. 

You need to have an answer to the tailback in the passing game or they will out flank you to the sideline for 4 quarters. This answer can be pushing the Mike linebacker or another strategy, but in most cases, coach Owen would recommend not calling it. 

For similar reasons, 6 man coverage is not good in some other situations. For example, when your opponent likes to run motion plays with a shot down the sideline. This can kill you on the back end of your defense

Watch out for these plays coming out of timeouts or after the change in quarter mark. These situations where the offense has more time to prepare are extra dangerous against this coverage. 

The rush on this coverage is first generated from the outside B-gap player. He has a spill as he goes underneath and works across the line. 

The “R” wraps the offensive tackle and the Will takes a wide path as a shuffle squeeze player. 

Defensive Line Calls

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Coach Owen teaches his defensive lineman to work away from the side of the call. For example, if he wants his players to work to the right, he will call some type of “L” word because they are coming from the left. The same rules can be reversed for if the players are coming from the right. Some sort of “R” call will be made.

Different Ways to Play The Field Defensive End

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There are a couple of different ways to play the field side defensive end with these calls depending on how you choose to coach the players around him.

For example: if your team bases in a field-under, with a 5 technique, how will you play the end? There are two different options.

If your Sam linebacker is an apex player, you can play the DE as a squeeze player or you can use him as a wide contain player.

For example: if he gets a power read look, he becomes the tailback player. If he is instructed to play the spill technique, he would then be the QB player. Coach Owen uses this example because he thinks that these calls are especially effective against power read looks!

Coaching Points

First, in 2 removed to the boundary looks, coach Owen’s defense is going to go to their Will linebacker, and the Mike will always fall to the side of the pressure.

This is incredibly important because you NEED to send the ball back to your blitzes. Afterall, what’s the point of blitzing if you aren’t going to force the offense back into it? Every blitz has a purpose to defend a certain play.

Next, if the boundary corner is going to wide track, he will let the QB slightly out-flank him. He will still track the ball inside-to-out. This is because the C-gap becomes incredibly vulnerable.

Finally, the boundary safety will lock the number 1 receiver, and he has 3 routes that he needs to defend every play. These routes are: hitch, slant, and fade.

Seems unfair right? You’re essentially asking the safety to cover the entire field, but they can do this if they have proper technique. Their hips need to stay square to the receiver with their eyes locked on number 1’s hips. 

If the ball happens to be caught, the safety will force him to the sideline and out of bounds.

Motion Rules

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If the “Y” player motions back in from the 2 surface look, bump your Will back in and bring the boundary safety as a replacer of the blitzer.

The boundary corner should not come in because once his guy is swapped out of the blitz, he enters a coverage mindset. By leaving the boundary corner out of the defensive movement, it creates a simpler situation with only two players needing to have communication.

Want More?

Check out Coach Owen's 3-part video series on Advanced Coverage Concepts HERE.