ITP Glossary: Zone Turn

Football is littered with specialized terminology. From punt gunner to climbing the pocket, commentators rarely get to explain everything you need to know before the next play. Inside The Pylon’s glossary was developed to give fans a deeper understanding of the game through clear explanations, as well as image and video examples. Please contact us with any terms or phrases you’d like to know more about.

Zone Turn

A zone turn or, “zone flip”, is a defensive back maneuver where the defender turns his hips to the field with his back toward the sideline. This allows him to see the quarterback, route concepts, and backfield action, making it easier to click and close on underneath throws or a handoff. However, with no direct vision on  the receiver, the defender must use peripheral vision and route recognition to react to cuts. Accordingly, the zone turn is not generally taught for man-to-man defense but it is ideal for zone defenses such as Cover 2 and Cover 3. In man-to-man defense, a defensive back will execute a “man turn” and pivot to face the receiver, generally leaving his back to the quarterback.

This two-play sequence featuring Alabama cornerback Cyrus Jones (#5) illustrates the difference between a man turn and a zone turn:

Jones lines up in press technique against Michigan State wideout Aaron Burbridge (#15). He sticks with Burbridge as the receiver releases to the outside and runs upfield, but Spartans quarterback Connor Cook (#18) places the throw over and behind Jones. Had the cornerback looked back, he might have been able to play the ball, but his man turn to the outside left him facing the sideline. Man defenders in this situation are coached to watch the receiver’s eyes and hands to know when to make a play on the ball, but that can be a tricky proposition – as this play shows.

On the very next play, Cook attacks the same matchup with a similar vertical route. This time, Jones lines up in off coverage and executes a zone turn as Burbridge approaches. He sees the throw all the way and intercepts the pass, preserving Alabama’s shutout.

Since the cornerback executing the zone turn faces the quarterback, not the receiver, he can be slow to react to a receiver’s cut:

On fourth-and-five, Northwestern cornerback Nick VanHoose (#23) lines up across from Stanford receiver Michael Rector (#3), four yards off. He executes a zone turn at the snap and retreats. Rector runs a hard vertical stem and then sits down past the first down marker. Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan (#8) targets Rector and VanHoose can’t close nearly in time to prevent the completion and the first down.

For the viewer at home, the presence of the zone turn can help indicate what kind of coverage the defense is in, as it most likely signifies zone coverage. A man turn is not as clear an indicator, as some zone coverages like Cover 4 or the press Cover 3 that the Seattle Seahawks run may utilize man-to-man coverage techniques.

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Dave Archibald wrote this entry. Follow Dave on Twitter @davearchie.

All video is courtesy of DraftBreakdown.

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