ITP Glossary: Cover 2

Football is littered with specialized terminology. From 12 personnel to press man coverage, 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.

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Cover 2 is a zone defense where two deep safeties each occupy one deep half of the field’s width. With a four-man pass rush, that leaves five defenders, typically cornerbacks and linebackers, to divide the underneath area into zones. In this coverage, safeties don’t need as much range as in one-deep safety sets (such as Cover 1), since each only covers his half of the deep zone. The corners don’t need as much speed either, since they aren’t responsible for the deep part of the field. However, they do have to be strong tacklers, re-routers, and stout run defenders given that both safeties play deep and are subsequently not well positioned to help against the run.

Cover 2 Diagram

Since the Cover 2 defense has five underneath defenders, there is almost always someone in good position to drive on short routes and disrupt the pass or make a quick tackle.Cover 2 Giants force Saints fumble returned for touchdown markup

The New York Giants line up in Cover 2 in the above gif, with the Saints attacking the underneath area with slot receiver Willie Snead (#83) running an option route. Snead cuts the route outside to the area between cornerbacks Trumaine McBride (#38) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (#41). He catches the pass, but Rodgers-Cromartie drills him before he can secure it and the ball pops right to McBride, who scampers for a 63-yard touchdown.

The Cover 2 defense has fallen out of favor in recent years, as modern offenses are savvy enough to attack the “seams” between the zones or overload the deep safeties by sending multiple receivers into one zone, as in the play below.

The Minnesota Vikings attack the seams of the San Francisco Cover 2 defense on this play action pass. Mike Wallace (#11) runs a straight vertical route, which occupies the cornerback (who sinks under the vertical route in Cover 2) and safety to that side of the field. On the other side, Charles Johnson (#12) releases vertically ‒ causing safety Eric Reid (#35) to retreat in response to the deep threat. But Johnson quickly breaks off this route:

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The receiver settles down in that soft spot in the coverage, behind the linebackers and in front of Reid. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater hits him with the pass and Minnesota has a nice gain on first down.

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Dave Archibald contributed to this entry;you can find his primer on identifying pass defensese here.

All video and images courtesy of the NFL and NFL Game Pass.

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