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Five Plays That Beat Cover 1

Posted by Throw Deep Publishing Staff on

Athletic, physical defenses looking to create tight-window throws for opposing quarterbacks use a heavy dosage of cover 1. 

As defensive backs are left on an island on the perimeter, defenses can manipulate their scheme to take away the run, blitz the quarterback, and ultimately dare offenses to throw the football vertically. 

Nevertheless, scheming against cover 1 is not overly complicated, as strong-armed quarterbacks and elite wide receivers can spring plays loose to make defenses pay throughout the course of a game.

Look further below to see how offenses successfully attack cover 1. 

How does Cover 1 Work?

Cover 1 is a defense that covers every receiver on offense in man-to-man coverage, with another player (usually the free safety) playing in a deep zone deep. 

It's often referred to as “man-free” coverage, as this is due to the free safety that roams the middle of the field.

Along with this, a linebacker or strong safety can sometimes become the “low hole” player, becoming an extra dropper looking to stop short-intermediate routes over the middle.

Cover 1 Defense Diagram


Depending on a defense’s philosophy, secondary players on the edge may align with either an inside or outside shade on their matchup. 

Versus a team with a below-average quarterback, this looks to dare offenses to throw it deep. Vice versa applies to outside leverage, as defenses will try to funnel every route into the MOF where they have help. 

Defenses are easily able to avoid confusion in their assignments, while also having the flexibility to bracket a receiver, add another player to the run fit, or blitz the QB within their cover 1 scheme. 

How to Beat Cover 1

The best place to attack a cover 1 defense is on the outside, away from where the deep safety can help knock down passes.

With an understanding that defenses have help in the middle from the free safety and low-hole player, offenses should attack their matchups on the perimeter and allow their skill players to win on the outside. 

A variety of answers appear for offenses, such as pick plays, double moves, and routes that get playmakers the ball on the move. 

Pick plays involve receivers crossing paths downfield, looking to create natural collisions between defenders that give extra separation to receivers to win their matchup. A common example would be a spot route from the #1 receiver, paired with a wheel route off of his hip from the #2 receiver. 

Double moves create a different way for receivers to burn their matchup, as their job is to sell a short-intermediate route before sticking their foot in the ground and taking their route deep.

Sluggo (Slant and Go) and Stutter (Hitch and Go) routes are two examples that allow receivers to work in space on the perimeter. 

Lastly, routes that get the ball to receivers on the move are favorable. In man coverage, it’s much easier for a CB to tackle a receiver catching the ball in a stationary position. Deep crossing routes, wheel routes, and out routes are a few examples that allow receivers to gather a reception and quickly transition to put a move on a defender to shake free and maximize YAC. 

#1 Trey Bunch Bubble Go - Ohio State

This play is taken from 101 Plays from the Ohio State Offense.

Cover 1 Beaters - Trey Bunch Bubble Wheel

Taking advantage of Penn State’s man principles, the X receiver’s bubble route draws the CB downhill, isolating both the Z and slot receiver with their matchups.

Working away from the free safety, Stroud’s throw to the slot receiver at the back pylon falls incomplete.

Watch the play below:

#2 Ace Flex Y Fade Z Quick Out - 2021 Oklahoma

This play was taken from 101 Plays from the Oklahoma Offense - 2021 Edition

Cover 1 Beaters - Slot Fade Z Quick Out

Slot fade is arguably the most well-known man beater across football. quarterbacks are able to hold the free safety with their eyes, allowing the inside receiver to work to open grass downfield.

While the pre-snap cover 1 look disappears post-snap, Caleb Williams still executes a scramble drill for a score. 

#3 Ace Compressed Out and Ups - Georgia

This play was taken from 101 Plays from the Georgia Offense

Cover 1 Beaters - Out and Ups

Defensive backs are quick to break on the ball in man coverage, meaning double moves are a great counter for offenses to have in play. 

These designs aren’t difficult to implement, as Georgia has every receiver run a double move off of a speed out cut. Missouri disguises their tampa-2 coverage well here, forcing an incompletion. 

#4 FIB Quads Unbalanced Z “Jerry Rice Motion” Sprint to Flat

This play was taken from 101 Plays from the Oklahoma Offense - 2021 Edition

Cover 1 Beaters - FIB Jerry Rice Motion Z Flat Sprint Out

Legendary receiver Jerry Rice used this motion often in his playing days – a great way to take advantage of man coverage on the goal line. 

(We talked about a similar play in our article on Cover 0 Beaters)

This use of formation gives Oklahoma’s Z receiver the task of winning the race to the pylon. He ends up shaking a tackle before being brought down inside of Tulane’s 1-yard line. 

#5 Scissors & Snag-Wheel Combination

This play was taken from 101 Red Zone Plays

Cover 1 Beaters - Post-Corner RB Wheel

The scissors combination (post-corner) looks to create a natural pick in the red zone against the Ole Miss defense. 

Both options are solid for QB Kyle Trask in this man look, and his throw to the slot receiver goes for an easy score. 

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