In my last post, I covered how to run a base 3-4 defense, but I only covered the responsibilities of the front 7. I couldn’t really explain the entire secondaries job because obviously their responsibilities will change based on the play call. So now I am going to go over one of the most popular coverages in football, the Cover 2. NFL teams have been running it for forever, it really gained a lot of fame with Tampa Bay when Tony Dungy was there. The Bears have also been running the Cover 2 for years (they had more success with it a few years back than they are having now).

I want to explain what the Cover 2 does a little bit before I go on, because it’s important to understand it’s purpose so you know when to run it. The Cover 2 is really designed to cover short passes. You only have 2 players deep (which is why it’s called the Cover 2) so you are leaving yourself more susceptible to deep passes. You’re most vulnerable deep over the middle and in the intermediate yardage range (10-15 yards) on the sideline. But it does do a really good job of taking away the flats and short over the middle routes. An added bonus is it’s easy to disguise the Cover 2 as a man defense. In conclusion, the cover 2 is more of a 2nd and 6 call rather than a 3rd and 20 call. Now let’s get to the actual coverages.

Here is a diagram showing every players coverage responsibility.

34 Defense Cover 2

Now I’ll try to explain what’s going on in this picture and each positions job.

Responsibilities for Cover 2:

  • Cornerbacks (CB)- The corners will be lined up right on the line of scrimmage across from the outside wide receiver. They will be using a press technique to force the outside WR to go inside. The Cover 2 defense doesn’t have much sideline coverage so they need to force the WR to take an inside release. After they force the WR, the Cornerbacks are responsible for the flats. The flats are that area on the side of field from the line of scrimmage to about 8 yards down the field. So after they force the WR all they need to do is take a few back pedal or shuffle steps to get in their zone. They need to be looking for quick hitches, out routes, and bubble screens. They should have their eyes moving looking for receivers coming into their zone, while always keeping the quarterback in their peripherals. It is absolutely necessary that they see the quarterback at all times in order to make a play on the ball.
  • Safeties (FS and SS)- Both the FS and SS have a deep half of the field.  Their number one priority is to not let anyone get behind them. They both have a lot of ground to cover so it is very important that they don’t waste any steps and get deep quickly. At the snap of the ball, they can take a few back pedal read steps and once they see pass they need to open up their hips at a 45 degree angle to get back to their zone. While they are running they should have their eyes back seeing the WR’s and the QB. #1 priority is making sure they stay over the top of the WR’s and the #2 priority is reading the quarterback to anticipate where he’s going with the ball.
  • Outside Linebackers (OLB)- In the diagram I have them covering a slant/curl/dig zone but you could keep them up to contain the quarterback, or you could have a rule where they automatically blitz when they read pass. Really, what you want them to do would probably come down to scouting and the types of teams you are playing. But if you want extra coverage then you can have them drop straight back when they read pass to get to that 7-9 yard zone looking for slants and curls.
  • Inside Linebackers (ILB)- The ILB’s are backpedaling straight back when they read pass, and trying to get to the 7-8 yard range. They are looking for anything coming across the middle as well as keeping an eye on the quarterback. They are also responsible for draws and screens. Really, I would say their #1 priority are screens and draws, because a well executed screen play can be a huge play if your whole team reads pass and drops back into coverage. Then their #2 priority would be slants and drags.

Okay, so there’s your basic Cover 2, but I want to give you a different option in case you really like this scheme but are afraid of those post routes. Here’s another way to run it just a little different:

34 Defense alternate cover 2

This is commonly called the Tampa 2 since Tony Dungy kind of patented this coverage. You can see in this one, you have one of the ILB’s covering a deeper middle zone to take away the post routes. If you want to do it this way, I would designate that the ILB on the weak side of the formation is the one that gets deep. As soon as he reads pass he needs to turn and run and try to get at least 20 yards deep as soon as possible. As he’s running back he needs to be looking for receivers coming over the middle. That leaves the strong side ILB as the only one in that short 7-8 yard middle zone so he is solely responsible for screens and draws while also looking for slants and drags coming over the middle.

So there you have it. I just want to remind you that it’s not the play call itself that stops the offense, it’s the right play call at the right time. Consider the situation and the strengths of each coverage before calling your defense.