Fundamentals : Single High Safety

I have to tell you, I’m pretty excited about the next two weeks on the blog. There is a lot of great information coming your way! Today we’ll wrap up our defensive fundamentals (for now). Next week, since we’ve been talking about so many different formations, we’ll talk about how to identify who is on the field and what they are doing when a) the player’s position is unclear and/or b) the funky formation is unclear. It should help a TON.

For now, let’s finish up on defense and talk about an increasingly popular defensive look: deploying the single high safety.

Let’s turn to our new friend Coach Billick for a basic introduction to the single high safety concept:

Not too bad, right? The single high safety is usually the free safety. He plays zone up high, hence the name, “single high safety.” There are just a few nuances from last week’s lesson on zone coverage, so let’s go over them.

Here’s the formation that Coach Billick drew up:

football, basics, single high

There are a few interesting things to note in this formation. Take a look at the defensive line and the second level. From a numbers standpoint only, it looks like a fairly traditional 4-3 formation, right? Four guys on D-line, 3 backers behind. But when we look at the letters, we see that Coach Billick has actually drawn up something that looks like a variation of a 3-4 offense, in which there are 3 defensive linemen on the field and 4 linebackers.

So is this a 4-3 or a 3-4? Great question! I didn’t know the answer, so I started doing some research and Greg Cosell came to my rescue with this article. I would have originally been inclined to say that it depends on the lineman’s stance: if he’s in a 2-point stance as a rusher, it’s a 3-4; if he’s in a 3-point stance as a blocker, it’s a 4-3. But luckily Greg is smarter than me and called me out: stance has nothing to do with formation. It’s all about gaps. If it’s a 2-gap concept in which defensive linemen are responsible for 2 gaps each, therefore lining up over the tackles (ends) and center (nose), it’s a 3-4. If it’s a 1-gap concept in which defensive linemen are responsible for 1 gap each, it’s a 4-3. (The whole article is well worth a read if you have a few spare minutes!)

So what do we have above? According to Greg, it’s a 4-3. (I think.)

(What do you guys think?)

Ok: moving on. We didn’t talk about Cover 1 last week because it’s not strictly a zone coverage. Let’s take another look at the illustration to flesh it out:

Screen Shot 2013-05-16 at 11.23.46 AM

Cover 1 is a mixed coverage: the deep safety is playing zone, and all of the other defensive backs are playing man-to-man. We can see that the corners are covering the receivers and the strong safety is covering the tight end. It’s a single high safety concept because – you guessed it! – there’s a single safety up high in the formation.


But a single high safety doesn’t automatically equate Cover 1, as Coach explained next:

Screen Shot 2013-05-16 at 11.25.57 AM

There can be a single high safety look in a Cover 3, too. The corners can cover the outside zones while the deep safety covers the middle third up high. It’s a little bit challenging to see on the screen shot, so here’s another example:

Cover 3 Single High

In this look, we see one single high safety in the middle and two defensive backs deep outside. That makes this Cover 3 – 3 defensive backs playing zone deep – with a single high safety.


Isn’t this fun?

On Wednesday we’ll have even more fun in our Film Room post looking at how Seattle is effectively utilizing the single high safety look with the wonder that is Earl Thomas. Can’t wait!

Author: Beka