Good Receivers Feel Secondary Coverage

By FirstDown PlayBook on Dec 21, 2023
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Have you ever noticed how Travis Kelce rarely gets blown up after he makes a catch? Most of the time he creates yards after catch on his receptions. There’s a lot that goes into that, and yes, a good quarterback is part of it. A bigger reason for this is that Kelce not only understands defense but he also can feel secondary coverage. I’m not just talking about Y Stick either.

This 3×1 high low passing play was one of my favorites when I was coaching the Tight Ends with the Buffalo Bills. We ran it a lot with two Tight Ends in the game. One of the main reasons was that we had a Tight End out of Boise State named Derek Schouman who ran it so well from the F receiver position. He often ran it better than our receivers. Why? Because he could feel secondary coverage as he ran routes.

Kelce Understands Defenses But He Can Also “Feel” Secondary Coverage

The slot Tight End has to have a feel for the route to run it correctly. Derek was very good at detecting man or zone coverage based on the pre-snap alignment of the defense. As a receiver he was also good at reading how the Mike and Will LB’s reacted after the ball was snapped. This allowed him to produce YAC on most plays as well.

As the drawing indicates the F must stay on the move but a good player will understand staying on the move does not always mean to come screaming across the middle 100 MPH with your hair on fire. Vs man coverage staying on the move with speed is the correct thing but vs zone a good player will come across with a little pace so that he does not run out of the opening in the zone coverage.

This will also help the F receiver after the catch when it is time for him to put his foot in the ground and get north south to split the zone defenders. Schouman was particularly good at this in the red zone as he had a feel for secondary coverage and finding a way to get in the end zone.

Your F Receiver Must ID The Will Linebacker As They Cross

This is a relatively simple read for the QB if he also has a good feel for the coverage he is attacking. I have included a few coaching tips for this 3×1 passing game concept vs cover 2 below.

MOF Open (Cover 2)

Read: Y to F to Z

-If the QB sees bracket or in and out coverage on the Y, F or Z he can remove that receiver from the read and get to the H back on the swing route as #3.

-This is a high low on the MLB and SLB depending on who carries the the Y.

-The Y must get his depth and sell a vertical route so that there will be separation between him and the F.

-In the tight red zone the Y will run the crossing route two yards from the back of the end zone.

-The Y should also outside release to provide a possible rub vs man coverage and to sell the threat of a vertical route.

– There is a complimentary play to this that has the Y running a corner route. The Y must take advantage of this at the top of his route and do a good job with his head selling the corner route first before breaking inside on his crossing route.

-The Z must delay off of the ball to allow spacing between him and the F. 


Scott Criner