Football 101 (Cover 2)

It’s Sunday. You pop some popcorn, sit down on the couch, and flip on the TV. Of course, you turn on the game. The national anthem just finished. All that’s left between you and your weekly dose of football is one unreasonably long commercial break. After the break, you take one long exhale, ready to feast your eyes on some quality NFL action. You’re enjoying the game (the Browns are losing, no surprise there), but as the afternoon continues, you keep hearing Phil Simms throw out terms like “Cover 2”, “Y Stick”, and “Blitzing the A Gap”.

Who on earth has any idea what any of those terms mean? *Cough* *Cough*. I do. Football terms can be a bit complex, but with the season getting into full swing, it seems like a good time to start a series like this – with a goal to cover some seemingly complex, but really very simple terms. Today, we are going over the Cover 2 defense. Let’s get into it.

Cover 2

Cover 2 is the most basic defensive lineup in football. It is a zone scheme, where each defensive player, with the exception of the defensive line, is given a specific area of the field to cover. While there are variations of this scheme, for now, we are going to stick to the basic set. Let’s break this down into four separate player groupings:

Safeties: The two safeties form the “2” portion of the Cover 2 defense – they are positioned into two deep zones, hence the name. The primary goal of the safeties in this set up is to stop every long pass.

Cornerbacks: Usually both cornerbacks will line up in a flat zone. Now, what’s a flat zone? A flat zone is a zone near the line of scrimmage on the outside of the field. These zones are perfect for stopping short passes on the outside thirds of the field.

Linebackers: In Cover 2, the linebackers’ responsibility lies in the middle of the field. The middle linebacker takes the very center of the field, and the two outside linebackers cover to his left and right.

Defensive Line: Like in most other basic zone schemes, the line rushes in this set.

So, now that we have gone through the set up for each position, what will this defense actually look like?43

As you can see, the safeties are up high, while the cornerbacks and linebackers are set up through the middle and outside portions of the field. Now that we have a visual reference point, let’s go through and look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of this defense.

Strengths:

  • Cover 2 generally provides decent run support, because of the overall spacing of the players.
  • Cover 2 is excellent against weaker receivers. The cornerbacks can line up on the outside of the field and “jam” those receivers at the line, not allowing them to get any separation.
  • Cover 2 is very good against the short pass because of the saturation of defenders near the line of scrimmage.

Weaknesses:

  • Cover 2, like any other defense has open points between player zones. These zones can be exploited by the use of clever route combinations. An example might be a deep in route coupled with a corner route on the same side of the field.
  • Cover 2 often is susceptible to allowing large chunks of yardage on deep passes. With only two players in deep zones, it can be very difficult to cover the amount of ground necessary to maintain success.
  • Teams that consistently run a Cover 2 defense need defensive lineman who can generate pressure on the QB. Without that pressure, teams are forced to blitz other players, creating larger holes between zones.

Variations:

  • 2 Man Under

With 2 Man Under, cornerbacks and linebackers line up man-to-man instead of being assigned a to a specific zone. There are however still two safeties up top.

3-4_defense_cover_2_man_medium

  • Tampa 2

Mainly developed by former Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Tony Dungy, the main variation between the Tampa 2 and the regular Cover 2 is very small. Instead of the middle linebacker staying in the middle of the field, he drops back to cover the deep middle of the field, allowing for more coverage against the deep pass.

tampa-2

While it’s apparent that this defense has upsides and downsides, it is a popular one in the NFL. No team uses any one defense exclusively. However, most if not every NFL team uses their fair share of Cover 2. Even a basic understanding of this defense puts you well on your way to becoming a well versed football fan.