Skip to Content

What Is Cover 3 In Football (Explained)

Cover 3 in football is one of the most balanced coverages to play against the run and the pass. Teams will use cover 3 to cover both short and deep routes. There are two types of cover 3 that you should know.

Cover 3 in football is when the defense has 3 deep defenders and 4 underneath defenders. It’s a balanced coverage that helps against both the run and the pass.

In this article, we will show you the two types of coverages in cover 3 and how you can implement them into your team.

Cover 3 In Football

Cover 3 is also known as “base” for some defensive schemes – as it has three deep defenders and four underneath defenders. The “3” in cover 3 means that there are 3 deep defenders will cover the deep passing routes.

Cover 3 in football

The 3 deep defenders in cover 3 are referred to as the “three-deep,” “four-under,” or “cover 3” defenders. The three corners usually play outside 1/3 of the field, while the free safety plays far away from the other two, with both linebackers underneath them.

Cover 3 is a very balanced coverage that can be used effectively against both pass and run.

It’s terrific against strong-running teams because it allows the defensive team to play 8 men at the line of scrimmage against the run – which helps stop opposing teams from getting past your defenses and into your secondary.

As mentioned, the reason teams will elect to play cover 3 is that they can stop the run and be well balanced in the pass game.

The Two Types Of Cover 3

There are two types of cover 3. The first is what’s referred to as “regular” cover 3, where all defenders are responsible for defending three particular zones.

In the diagram above, you can see the field divided into thirds using the hash marks. Now, pay attention to the shaded area: this is where the three deep defenders play.

Their job is to drop back and defend any passes that come to their part of the field. The other 4 underneath defenders have different responsibilities: they’re in charge of stopping runs between those white lines.

Spot Drop Cover 3

The first type of Cover 3 is what is known as spot drop.

The term “spot drop” is exactly what it sounds like. The players will all have an area of the field to cover, in which they will drop in a spot. This means whatever area they are assigned to, they will have to drop into that area.

These defensive players will drop into the area and then cover any offensive player that enters it. This type of coverage is super easy to teach, but it does have some weaknesses.

Pattern Matching Cover 3

The second type of cover 3 is pattern matching.

Pattern matching is exactly how it sounds. It means the player will match the route pattern of the receiver based on the set of rules set by the coach.

For instance, the outside linebacker in the picture below is responsible for anything out-breaking and vertical. So they will run with the #2 receiver if he runs any routes that follow those rules.

Pattern matching cover 3 in football

If the receiver runs any in-breaking routes, they will pass them off and fade into their zone.

This concept was made popular by Bill Belichick and Nick Saban when they coached for the Cleveland Browns. They took a look at all of the route concepts that were being run against them, and they created a set of rules that their outside linebackers would follow.

This helped protect the weaknesses of Cover 3 and ensure that every player was covered rather than covering a patch of grass.

Pattern matching cover 3 is common among high school and college teams, as quarterbacks sometimes have difficulty deciphering if it’s a zone or man coverage.

This can confuse younger quarterbacks who anticipate certain parts of the field being open when really they’re not.

Want To Learn More About Coverages? See Our Complete Defensive Coverage Guide Here

The Strengths Of Cover 3 In Football

The strengths of cover 3 are its spacing and the ability to stop the run.

It’s very balanced and good against both the pass and the run. It allows you to get pressure with only 4 defensive linemen and get excellent coverage on short and deep routes.

Cover 3 is good against strong running teams because it allows you to play 8 men at the line of scrimmage. These players can space out the field properly while still committing to any run in between the tackles.

The Weaknesses Of Cover 3 In Football

The weaknesses of Cover 3 in football are to the flats and right up the seams. Seams are the vertical track up the hash marks.

The seam route puts stress on a cover 3 because it requires 3 defensive players to cover 4 offensive players. This is tough for any player to do, as they must react quickly to the player who is running the route.

weakness of cover 3 in football

Teams can also manipulate cover 3 by flooding a zone and putting defensive players in conflict on who they should cover. This includes flood concepts, snag concepts, and more!

Keep Learning

Cover 3 is a great coverage scheme that can be run down or distance to wrap this all up. It’s perfect in the nickel and dime packages because it allows you to play more defensive backs and uses players to their strengths.

The most important thing about cover 3 in football is that there are two main variations: pattern matching cover 3 and spot drop cover 3.

Pattern matching is a great option for high school and collegiate teams and younger quarterbacks, while spot drop is sought after by teams with coaches who are aware of the system and players who can execute. It’s up to you as the coach to choose which best suits your team.

Let’s keep learning! Our learning center is packed with information regarding technique, scheme, and more!

If you’re looking for more in-depth breakdowns & coaching resources, visit our coaching resource page here.

What kind of Cover 3 do you play? Tweet at us on Twitter and let us know what version you play to best put your players in a position to play fast.