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Whiteboard Wednesday: Split Field Coverage

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Split it up.

Tomahawk Nation is bringing you more and more analysis about what the Florida State Seminoles will do under their new staff, breaking it down to each of the important coaches and their philosophies. We discussed basic coverages in an early Whiteboard Wednesday.

As we delve into the nitty gritty, we know there are some concepts that bear explanation. Coaches install defenses in steps, and we’ll do the same. After reading up on the basic coverages, come back here to learn more about Split Field Coverage.


Split Field Coverage, also called combination coverage, gives the defense an opportunity to run different concepts on either side of the field. TCU is well known for doing this, and Gary Patterson made his career helping stymie the wide open offenses of the Big 12 using split field coverages and pattern matching principles. But we’ll get to those pattern matching concepts in a future installment.

The split field coverages usually are based out of open coverages, as it’s simply easier to have basic coverages used on either side when there isn’t a safety in the middle of the field.

For now, let’s dive into the most common split field coverage:

Cover 6

Cover 6, like nearly all coverages numbered above Cover 4, is not a very intuitive name.

Cover 6 is also commonly called quarter-quarter-half or 42. These names all refer to how the deep coverages are deployed: with two defenders (usually a corner and safety) each playing a deep quarter, and the third defender (usually a safety) covering a deep half. Cover 4 + Cover 2 = Cover 6!

Cover 6
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Quite often the quarters side will be deployed as a method to defend three receivers to a side. These trips formations can stress coverages in many ways, and the split field formation help to address this:

Cover 6 vs Trips
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We will discuss the intricacies of defending trips in a future article, so stay tuned for that.

Cover 6 is usually aligned with the Cover 4 side to the passing strength or to the field side. The passing strength is the side of the offensive formation that features the most receivers (as in the trips example above). If the offense overloads the boundary, then the quarters side would switch to boundary.

Getting Exotic

Cover 6 may be the most ubiquitous split field coverage, but there are more options out there - and they usually feature more exotic formations and coverages.

The 4-2-5 system employed by Patterson at TCU is a good example. Having five defensive backs allows you to get more creative. Patterson uses 3 safeties, the traditional Strong and Free safety roles, along with a third who is named Weak safety. Weak and Free often operate as the deeper two safeties, with the Strong playing a more in the box or manned up role closer to the line of scrimmage.

The extra defensive back allows Weak and Free to operate as quarterbacks for their side of the field:

TCU 425
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Each “quarterback” can make calls for their side of the field. This allows the defense to adjust for any potential outcome without having to organize the entire eleven under one strict call. This also allows each QB to set up his side of the field for the pattern-matching that helps the defense adjust on the fly to any passing concept.


Split Field Coverages, and the flexibility they offer, present a great example of defenses dividing the responsibilities and being able to adjust and attack on the fly. The next step of installing defenses like this is pattern-matching.

Cover 6, along with its open coverage cousins Cover 2 and Cover 4, often is paired with Two Read - a common pattern matching system run out of these open coverages. Our next defensive Whiteboard Wednesday will explore pattern-matching.