The language of football is often confusing: play calls, alignments, techniques, and concepts litter the commentary and writing about the game. Inside the Pylon wants to aid in developing a deeper understanding of the game, so our glossary entries will offer clear explanations and video examples. We hope we can help you enrich your experience watching football.
Off Man Technique
Off man technique is a technique for pass defenders, most commonly employed by cornerbacks. In off man, the defender lines up away from the line of scrimmage, leaving a “cushion” between him and the receiver. The cushion might vary from a couple yards to nearly 10, depending on the situation. This separation makes off man less vulnerable to deep routes than press technique, but concedes some shorter routes. Once the play begins, the defensive back will generally backpedal (or perhaps shuffle-step if he has help inside) and react to cuts or movements by the receiver.
Wake Forest’s Kevin Johnson, the best off-man coverage corner in the 2015 draft, shows effective technique here:
Johnson (#9) shadows Virginia Tech’s leading receiver Isaiah Ford (#1) as he tries a jab step outside followed by a cut in. The cornerback stays balanced in his backpedal then swivels, showing fluid hips, and closes on the slant, forcing the quarterback to go elsewhere.
Off man coverage tests a cornerback’s reactive athleticism and change-of-direction skills. He has to stay balanced in his motions so he can move suddenly to match a receiver’s cut. Off man cornerbacks do not need to be as tall or physical as in press, as they do not rely on a jam at the line of scrimmage. But, long speed is still important as it can help the defensive back recover if he is slow responding to the initial move. Without closing speed, cornerbacks can give up big plays even with a large cushion. This clips highlights both concepts:
Washington’s DeSean Jackson (#11) just runs straight downfield, while the Eagles’ Bradley Fletcher (#24) backpedals, bails, and tries to run with his former Philadelphia teammate. However, Fletcher is slow to react and doesn’t have closing speed to match Jackson who is just too fast and easily creates separation. The throw drops for an easy 55 yard gain.
Off coverage is less vulnerable to pick or rub routes, as the offset defensive back is in position to see the congestion in front of him and avoid it. Consequently, defenses deploy off man coverage versus alignments that commonly feature pick routes, such as stacks or bunches.
Malcolm Butler’s (#21) famous Super Bowl interception is an example of avoiding traffic, as he plays off man to counter the wide receiver stack that Seattle shows. This allows him to bypass Jermaine Kearse’s (#15) attempted pick and make the interception:
The cushion may protect the cornerback deep, but that space is his enemy on comeback routes or quick slants and hitches. He must stay balanced while moving backwards so he can react and drive on short routes. Slow reactions can lead to easy completions and space for the receiver to gain additional yards after catch.
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White runs a hitch route, and Sylve cannot react quickly, stumbling as he attempts to drive out of his shuffle-step. Sylve is not only unable to break up the pass, he is unable to even lay a hand on White as he escapes for a long run after the catch.
Offenses will also attack off man coverage with wide receiver screens and try to pick up easy yardage, challenging the cornerbacks to close quickly and make tackles.
The ITP Glossary is curated by Mark Brown. Dave Archibald and Mark Schofield also contributed to this entry.
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All video and images courtesy the NFL and NFL Game Rewind.