Guest Column: The Cover 2 Explained

Guest Column by Chris Miraglia

The Cover 2 Defense is a coverage scheme that's become really popular in recent years. While it's not the newest invention (The 70's Steelers used a Cover 2 defense), teams are suddenly returning to using the Cover 2 more often. It's been thrown around a lot as a term by commentators, but very few of them ever explain what it is, though if you're at this web site you probably have some idea.

A lot of it has to do with Bill Walsh's West Coast offense that became so popular in the 80's. The entire theory of the West Coast offense is the quick drop and hit the nearest open receiver. It's a dink and dunk system designed to counter blitzes, designed to move the chains, and burn time on high-accuracy, short-yardage passes. It also requires an accurate quarterback, but you don't need a quarterback with a great arm.

The Cover 2 stops a West coast offense extremely well, for a variety of reasons. In a true Cover 2, defensive linemen provide all the pressure. Blitzing should be unnecessary. Defensive lineman line up in gaps to slow the run, and make it more difficult for holes to open up. If the front 4 play their gaps correctly, they'll clog up the running lanes and force the running backs to run outside, where the corners, linebackers, and safeties (the overall speed of the team) can all help.

The entire concept of the Cover 2 is to make it hard to pass on you. The name comes from the position of the safeties, who both play deep zone coverage. In this normally 4-3 coverage scheme (the Rams run it often out of their nickel package), your safeties play further back, while your linebackers and cornerbacks play zone coverage underneath the safeties. Each person underneath covers about 1/5th the width of the field for about 7 yards deep. The two safeties split the field and each cover half against the deep pass. The Cover 2
There are a few weaknesses to the Cover 2. All zone coverage has holes in it, and teams that run the Cover 2 are heavily exposed to deep post patterns, seam routes, medium range hooks, flooding the zone. Because of how much ground the safety has to cover, deep passes can easily overload his zone. A common play that teams run to stop it is a quick fly or out to the far sides. Once the receiver breaks the zone where the corner plays, he'll be in a soft zone. Realistically, it's about 8 yards for him to run, while the safety might have to cover 20 yards to run over there and provide help over the top. Its also a mismatch as most safeties in the NFL can not cover a receiver effectively. Weaknesses in the Cover 2
The Tampa 2 is a coverage scheme out of the 4-3 that was pioneered by (now Indianapolis head coach) Tony Dungy. Its emphasis is on speed and a quick pass-rush. While the normal Cover 2 has each Linebacker or Cornerback covering about 1/5th the width of the safeties, who each cover half, the Tampa 2 pulls the middle linebacker into deep zone coverage as well, similiar to a Cover 3. What this does is allows the safeties to have to cover less ground, so they can cover the traditional soft zone past the corners more effectively. Since the middle linebacker drops into coverage to watch the center of the field, the four men underneath each cover about 25% the width of the field each. Speed at linebacker is so important here because they need to cover more ground than linebackers are normally used to covering. The Tampa 2

What generally hurts Dungy's system is its emphasis on speed. Faster is always better because his system is based entirely around the pass. The speed works well for passing and outside runs where the linebackers and corners can quickly converge on the runner. However, the Tampa 2 suffers from power runners. Big, bruising running backs can normally run over the smaller linebackers and a lot of times won't be stopped until they reach the safety. A good running game cheats the safety out of the coverage he wants to run and makes him hesitate since he has to watch the run. When play-action passes can get involved and the safety has to respect the team's running game, a lot of times it can spell a long completion or a touchdown. The Panthers are good at demonstrating this and exposing it, since they possess a power-running, play-action pass offense. A vast majority of their passes come off the play-action, and when the safety has to watch out for the run, it really opens up holes in the coverage.

Chris Miraglia is a journalism student at University of Central Florida, former home of Daunte Culpepper and Asante Samuel (who scored a 10 on the Wonderlic).  As a Patriots fan, he wishes the Orlando CBS affiliate would show fewer Jacksonville games and more Miami games.  If you are interested in writing a guest column, something that takes a new angle on the NFL, please email us your idea at info <at>


6 comments, Last at 06 Jul 2011, 5:51am

1 Re: Guest Column: The Cover 2 Explained

The top two defenses of 2005, Tampa and Chicago, both ran the "obsolete" cover two.

And no love for Monte Kiffin? He was just as responsible for instituting the Tampa 2 as Dungy was and argueably more so.

2 Re: Guest Column: The Cover 2 Explained

this is the type of article we football fans would love to see more of...explanaions like this of different plays and offensive sets and defences

3 Re: Guest Column: The Cover 2 Explained

Great column, well written and very clear. This is exactly the type of piece, that fills in the blanks left by football commentators that use the buzzwords, but rarely explain them in depth. Thanks much.

5 Re: Guest Column: The Cover 2 Explained

Wow, what a great explanation! Still relevant in 2010! Now if I can just find an explanation of Nickel and Dime packages...

Awesome website!

6 Houston Rockets

Thanks for sharing!it's great!I like this article, nice!