ITP Glossary: Roll Coverage

Football is littered with specialized terminology. From fire zone blitz to tosser concept, 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.

Roll Coverage

To roll coverage is to show one coverage look before the snap and then shift to a different coverage after the ball has been snapped. Most commonly, that means lining up in a look with one safety (Cover 1 or Cover 3) before the snap and rolling to a look with two high safeties (Cover 2 or Cover 4) ‒ or vice versa, showing two high safeties and then rolling to a one-high look. This affects the quarterback’s ability to audible or read keys pre-snap. It can also cause confusion or hesitation post-snap for the quarterback or receivers who must make sight adjustments based on the coverage.

The Carolina Panthers rarely use the coverage scheme they show pre-snap; they routinely show two high safeties and then shift into one-high at the snap, or show press man and then roll into zone:


On 3rd and 9 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Panthers align their cornerbacks on the line of scrimmage in press coverage with one high safety, displaying a Cover 1 look. However, just before the snap safety Kurt Coleman (#20) backpedals out of the box and into the deep part of the field. The corners jam but quickly release and drop into underneath zones. The Panthers, showing Cover 1 pre-snap, have shifted to Cover 2. Jacksonville’s quarterback, perhaps a bit confused, throws the ball out of bounds and the Jaguars have to punt.

Rolling coverage requires excellent coordination and communication among the defensive players. One player out of position can lead to a big play against the defense.

Initially, the Seattle Seahawks deploy Cover 3 on this play. Based on reports after the game, the defense was supposed to roll into Cover 2 ‒ which safety Kam Chancellor (#31) and cornerback Richard Sherman (#25) execute. However, it appears that safety Earl Thomas (#29) never receives the message and stays as the buzz (underneath) defender, expecting Sherman to grab the deep third of the field behind him. After the game, Thomas admitted he was in Cover 3 for the play. The result of this confusion is disastrous for Seattle:

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With no one guarding the area behind Thomas, and Chancellor shaded toward the trips side of the field, Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (#88) runs right up the seam and into the end zone, where Cam Newton (#1) connects with him for a 26-yard touchdown. From the end zone angle, you can actually see Thomas immediately gesture to Sherman after the catch, wondering why he wasn’t covering deep and Sherman gesturing back wondering the same thing.

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Dave Archibald and Philip Kibbey wrote this entry. Follow Dave on Twitter @davearchie and Philip at @ITPPhilip.

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