Football is littered with specialized terminology. From NASCAR front to Landry Shift, 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.
Related: Check out the primer on reading defensive coverages.
Cover 2 Man
Sometimes called “Cover 2 Man Under” or “Cover 5,” this is a coverage where the two safeties split the deep part of the field (as in Cover 2), but the five underneath defenders (typically linebackers and cornerbacks) match up in man coverage. The man defenders usually play “trail” technique in this set (following behind the receivers, since they have help in front), facing away from the line of scrimmage with their backs turned.
The Cover 2 Man look is a sound defense for passing situations, especially 3rd-and-7+. Tight man-to-man coverage makes for small throwing windows, and the two deep safeties provide help to defend against deep attacks.
On 3rd-and-12, the New York Giants line up with two deep safeties against Washington’s 11 personnel. The underneath personnel match up man-to-man at the snap. Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins can’t find anyone open and winds up scrambling and throwing the ball away. This is a common result when teams run 2 Man successfully.
While Cover 2 Man gives man defenders more deep help than Cover 1, it provides less flexibility. A Cover 1 shell has an extra defender to blitz or use in a robber role. Since 2 Man features no robber, offenses will often attack it with routes breaking to the middle of the field, such as slants, in-cuts, crosses, or Texas routes.
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The San Francisco 49ers defense employs Cover 2 Man for this play. Shane Vereen (#34) executes a Texas route on against rookie dimeback Jaquiski Tartt (#29). Vereen angles to the outside before cutting diagonally to the inside. As the RB releases to the outside, Tartt slides with him, maintaining outside leverage. When the running back cuts back to the inside, Tartt’s feet are moving toward the sideline, preventing him from cutting back and closing down on the route. Vereen sticks his left foot in the turf and accelerates toward the middle of the field and away from Tartt, and Giants quarterback Eli Manning hits the RB in stride for a 16-yard gain.
2 Man can also be vulnerable to the running game, as the safeties are far off the line of scrimmage and the cornerbacks play with their backs to the line of scrimmage in trail technique. Safeties must key quickly to provide run support. If running quarterbacks can break the pocket scrambling, they can run for a long gain since the CBs are usually in poor position to help with contain.
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All video and images courtesy of the NFL and NFL Game Pass.