Inside the playbook: Cover 7 breakdown

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Now that we are settling in for more of the NFL lockout this month, let’s take some time to look at some playbook examples from around the league. Today, a glimpse of Cover 7—as taught by Gregg Williams down in New Orleans with the Saints.

With Cover 7, think Cover 1 (man-free) to start. Similar principles, however, in Cover 7 the defensive players will use a series of calls to put themselves in the best position to make a play on the football. Let’s set this up. I put the defense in their base Nickel personnel (4DL, 2 LB, 5 DB) vs. Posse (311) personnel aligned in “Doubles.” Check out the chalkboard drawing and then we will get into some coaching points to break it down.


Coaching Points

You will see some calls on the chalkboard (i.e., “solo”), so what do they mean? Here is a quick definition of what we are looking at, plus some other calls that are a part of the defense.

Fist: 2-Man technique. Drop the deep half with underneath defenders playing an underneath trail-man technique. Used vs. a two or three wide receiver side or vs. a top tier No.1 WR (we used to call it vs. Randy Moss).

Gregg Williams' Cover 7 scheme will put his defenders in a position to make a play on the ball.

Slice: Two on one (think double-team). The outside defender (Nickel on the chalkboard) will play any outside breaking route (7, out, comeback), with the inside defender (FS on the chalkboard) playing the inside breaking routes (slant, china, dig, post). Used when a No.1 aligns out of position or vs. a slot receiver that will work the middle of the field (Wes Welker in New England).

Solo: Man-to-man with no help. The defender may get some help over the top from a CB or S dropping to the deep half in the “Fist” technique, but when we look at this chalkboard drawing, one player stand out: the open side CB (highlighted in orange). He is on his own, and will play with inside leverage—using the sideline as his only help. Need a CB that can win outside of the numbers to pull this off.

Thumbs: Show pressure (or Cover 3 as a curl-to-flat defender) and play underneath No.1 (Z in our example). The defender will play to the inside hip of the WR and cut underneath the dig or the out. We used this exclusively vs. Dallas during my career to take away the 12-yard out to WR Keyshawn Johnson.

Additional calls

Box: Four on three. Run this vs. a bunch or cluster look. One player will be free to “cut” or jump and underneath route scheme.

Trainagle: Three on two. You will see this across the league with the amount of “stacked” WR looks on offense. Two underneath defenders with a point man (usually a safety) playing over the top. A great spot to be in to drive downhill on the short underneath crossers that come out of the stack look.

Setting the “traps”

Two techniques that come into play for a specific reason—to attack the football. Look at the “slice” and “thumbs” technique. Both are called to put the defensive backs in a position where they can “steal” a route scheme (highlighted in yellow). And that is the major goal when you hear this called in the huddle. Go make a play.


You can take Cover 7 to another level by running it out of different personnel and adding a blitz scheme to it.


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