Madden Sunday School Episode 2: Flat Zones
What is up everyone, episode 2 of Madden Sunday School is going to cover the three different types of flat zones: Cloud Flats, Hard Flats, and Soft Squats. These three zones each have unique behavior that both abide by general rules as well as the offensive concept being run by the offense. It is crucial to know how these zones will react post-snap in order to diagnose your opponents coverage and throw to the corresponding receiver who will be open. These zones are typically seen throughout the game in Cover 2 style coverages but can also be found in specific Cover 3 plays as well.
If you guys would rather watch a video on this write-up rather than read it, feel free to check out that video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xYDrVSuH0Uo&t=81s
So the first flat zone is going to be the Cloud Flat. Cloud Flat zones are responsible for the deep outside area of the field and are generally seen in standard Tampa 2 style coverages. Cloud Flats are great zones to take away different out breaking routes such as corner routes, C-routes, and deep out routes. You can also get these on the field by using the “Over the Top” coverage adjustment pre-snap on defense, which will turn all Hard Flat and Soft Squat zones into Cloud Flats. This can be done by pressing Y/Triangle (Xbox, PS4) and then up on the right analog stick.
As you can see in the snapshot above, the Cloud Flats sink back and take away the outside C-routes from the Corner Strike concept. This does a great job of locking down the deep sideline areas and preventing your opponent from attacking that part of the defense. Something you can notice however from an offensive perspective is that since the Cloud Flats are sinking back so deep, the underneath flat routes become open. On the above play, both the HB out of the backfield as well as the TE on the flat route are both open for short gains. Cloud Flats are fantastic at forcing your opponent to nickel and dime their way down field by making them consistently check the ball down to shallow routes.
The second type of flat zone that you will come across is the Hard Flat. The Hard Flats job is to shut down the shallow outside part of the field, and as such is the most aggressive of the three flat zones. Hard Flat zones are built into different plays throughout the game, most of which will carry the “Hard Flat” tag at the end of the play name such as “Cover 2 Hard Flat” or “Cover 3 Hard Flat”. You are also able to get Hard Flats on the field by using the “Underneath” coverage adjustment on defense pre-snap. You do this by pressing Y/Triangle (Xbox, PS4) and then pushing the right analog stick down. By doing this, any Cloud Flat, Soft Squat, Curl Flat, Seam Flat, and Quarter Flat zones you have on the field will become Hard Flats. Curl, Seam, and Quarter Flat zones are considered “Purple” zones that you normally see in Cover 3 and Cover 4 style coverages and I will be going over them in a future post.
As you can see above, the Hard Flat zones play much more aggressively and take away the routes that were previously open: the HB out of the backfield and the TE on the flat route. Hard Flats are great at taking away your opponents quick reads and checkdown routes while forcing them to stay patient in the pocket and make a throw down the field. In the play above, the correct decision for the offense would be to stay in the pocket and throw the C-routes that will break into the vacant area behind the Hard Flats.
The third and final of the flat zones is the Soft Squat. Soft Squat zones are found throughout the game mainly in Cover 2 style zone blitzes as well as “Cover 2 Sink” coverages. They are considered a “trap” style of coverage as they have the ability to alter their behavior depending on the route concept being used by the offense. In general and in most cases they will behave similarly to Cloud Flat zones in the sense that they will drop back and defend against the same types of deep outside routes and then rally to the shorter ones. However, in some cases, the Soft Squat will convert to a “match” style of coverage in which the defender will play a man-to-man style of defense on the receiver.
So the snapshot above was taken during a play in which the offense was running a Four Verticals concept while the defense was in a Cover 2 Sink style of defense with Soft Squat zones on the outsides. As you can see, the Soft Squat on the left side of the field turned and ran with the solo receiver who was located on his side of the field and is currently 30 yard downfield while the Soft Squat on the right side of the field was also pushed vertically downfield but has now begun breaking down on the HB leaking out of the backfield. Essentially Soft Squat behavior in terms of whether or not it converts to match coverage boils down to two conditions: if it is guarding a receiver on the weak side of the formation AND if there are no other routes that impose an immediate threat to the area of the field in which the Soft Squat was in coverage. So in the case of the photo above, there were no other routes that were threatening the left flat, so the Soft Squat matched the receivers route and ran vertically with him. On the right side however, the HB leaking out the backfield threatened the short flat and as such the Soft Squat peeled off and clamped down on it.
Now contrast the picture above to the initial Four Verticals photo and you can see the difference in the Soft Squat behavior. By adjusting the TE, who is normally on a deep crossing route in a trips Four Verticals concept, to a drag route that threatens the left flat it forces the Soft Squat to clamp down on him once he crosses the formation. The Soft Squat on the right will act the same as in the photo above where it initially sinks back and then clamps down on the HB coming out of the backfield.
That wraps up the details of the three different types of flat zones! The next write up will be on the three “Purple” zones: Curl Flat, Seam Flat, and Quarter Flat zones. I hope this write-up was helpful and thank you guys for reading!