How to protect the cornerback on an island

By Seth Galina | Posted 9/10/2018

Without a doubt, the most heart wrenching thing a defensive coordinator can watch is his cornerback get roasted by a single receiver to the boundary after he spun his safeties to a 1-high look and left that cornerback island side with a stud receiver. It’s happened to me so many times and has definitely contributed to my advanced hair loss for my age.

The first solution is to just stay in a two-high safety look and effectively double the isolated receiver. This might put more stress on the Mike linebacker in pass coverage. Depending on what the coverage called, the Mike might have to get out to the No. 3 receiver to the strong side and which may not be desirable. The question becomes how to stay with one safety and not get burned by a bad boy receiver who the offense lines up weak.

Watching the Detroit Lions (under the tutelage of now Bengals defensive coordinator Teryl Austin) play their Cover 3 sets can illuminate how to attempt to get the best of both worlds and not allow the offense to have a field day with 1v1 versus the boundary cornerback.

The Lions would often start in a 2-high look and spin down to 1-high. The field safety comes down as the hook to curl player and the weak side safety trots out to the middle of the field to become the post player.


The first technique they use is to keep that new post safety to the weak side as long as possible before getting to the middle of the field. The idea here is that if the quarterback looks weak, he’ll see two defenders even though that safety is going to be making his move and essentially robbing any post routes from the field.

We can see in this clip against the Cardinals that even though the field safety is spinning down, the weak safety doesn’t cross his hashmark until way late.



He stays in his backpedal for almost 10 steps before breaking to the middle of the field. Even though the quarterback is looking strong side, the safety knows that could be just bait so he stays outside the hash marks for as long as possible before essentially robbing any deep crossing routes or posts.

Against the Browns here, the weak safety lingers about on the weak side for as long as possible. When the quarterback looks to his left, he sees three Lions defenders.



The next technique, which may dissuade weakside throws, is to have the weakside flat player get out and sprint to take away the slant throw. This will allow the cornerback the ability to stay over top of the route and not have to play the slant and the fade at the same time.

In the same clip from above, the flat defender crosses over and finds the near hip of the tight end in an effort to get to the receiver but not cross his face. When he feels the receiver is not running the slant or quick in route, he squares his shoulders back to the line of scrimmage while continuing to get depth. An added technique to teach the flat defender is that when he feels the receiver running vertically and he loses sight of him, he needs to square up and shuffle back inside for a step or two to defend wraps or curls and help his cornerback drive on the route from over top.

Finally, coverage can be rolled in the opposite direction to help the weak corner. With the field side safety staying in the middle of the field, the weak safety can slow play it from the weak side down to either the hole or the flat.

This clip shows the safety coming down into the hole.



Against the Falcons Trips Nub set, he comes down as the flat defender.



Having a multitude of options to deal with a pesky trips set while still staying true to a 1-high system can allow the defensive coordinator to breathe easy.