Quarters, which is also known as Cover 4, is one of the most used coverages in all of football because it effectively puts a lid on the vertical passing game, something that other coverages such as Cover 2 and 3 have an issue with. It is often installed as a ‘base’ coverage by defensive coordinators because of its ability to change to any of the previously detailed coverages with a simple rotation of a defensive back.
So what is Quarters coverage?
There are many variations to this coverage, with it originally being a zone coverage that assigned landmarks for defenders to spot up at, a concept known as “spot dropping.” The deep levels of the field where two safeties and cornerbacks roam are divided into quarters (hence the name), while the underneath coverage is divided into three zones consisting of the MIKE (middle) linebacker covering the seam while two outside linebackers are responsible for covering the curl to flat areas.
This was initially used by many teams as a late-game situation coverage, but that has since changed with many using it as their base coverage in recent years. Teams like the Patriots have also made adjustments to the coverage, changing it from a pure zone coverage to a combination of man and zone as seen below.
With this tweak of the coverage, the three underneath defenders’ responsibilities remained the same for the most part, with a slight change sometimes occurring when they execute a technique known as “carrying,” which is applied to a #2 pass catcher (tight end or slot receiver) who is threatening the flats with an Out route. The responsibilities of the four deep defenders have also changed.
The two cornerbacks on the outside are now responsible for covering the #1 receiver in man coverage from an outside, inside, or head-up alignment. The leverage and depth of the cornerback’s alignment can vary based off of teachings. The cornerbacks are expected to be aggressive downhill in attacking shorter routes while they have help from the safeties.
In Quarters, the safeties are often seen aligning deep across the #2 vertical threat or aligning between his alignment and the end of the line of scrimmage, which is called “splitting the difference.”
Post-snap, the safety is expected to read the #2 vertical threat (often a tight end or slot receiver) and play off of their actions. If the #2 threat goes down to block, the safety is expected to come in and fill a role as a run defender, which he is first and foremost and then he becomes a pass defender, which occurs when the #2 takes aim for a vertical route.
The vertical route is something that causes confusion and leaves many asking, “what determines a vertical route?” And the answer is that it depends on the coach. There are some coaches who will teach defenders that routes over six yards are considered vertical, while others will say eight or ten yards. Regardless, safeties are responsible for the #2 when he runs past the route depth that his coaches deems vertical.
However, if the #2 threat doesn’t run past the depth, he is now property of the aforementioned linebackers, who are to carry the route and release it to the safeties once the receiver or tight end turns up-field.
As you can see, there are many aspects of Quarters coverage, but it’s one of my favorites because of its flexibility, with it easily becoming Cover 1 or Cover 3 with a drop of the strong safety into the box, or becoming Cover 2 with a simple call made by the safety.
This coverage allows defenses to disguise their intentions, which causes confusion for quarterbacks and receivers who are reading as they drop back and run. Against the run, it’s also a favorite of mine because when the two deep safeties read run, they become defenders in the box, which places nine in the box.