Cover 2 is a very common zone coverage that is used to cover short breaking routes, while giving defenses 2 over the top safeties.
How does Cover 2 work?
Cover 2, is a zone coverage. In a 4-3 defense, there are 5 underneath players and two deep safeties. The two deep safeties divide the field in half and work over the top of the 5 underneath players. “Underneath” meaning that they cover short routes, which are run underneath the two safeties. In a 4-3 defense, your two corners, and three linebackers are the underneath players.
Why do defenses use Cover 2?
The purpose of Cover 2 is to cover underneath routes, or shorter routes, while still being able to protect against deep throws with two deep safeties. Zone coverage, like cover 2, allows players to read the routes of the opposing team's wide receivers while still being able to have eyes on the team's quarterback. This is a change from man coverage where defenders have more of an acute focus, being solely focused on the man they are covering
What are the Strengths of Cover 2?
Cover 2 provides a balanced coverage with a focus on shorter routes. Similar to man to man coverage, cover 2 protects against shorter routes like a hitch or a slant. Opposing offenses that want to get the ball out quickly will struggle against cover 2 because of the 5 underneath players. Cover 2 also works great against teams that want to run wide receiver screens, commonly known as “smoke screens” where a wide receiver takes a single step and is thrown the ball. In a Cover 2 coverage, the defense has “hard” corners, or corners that are not bailing at the snap of the ball. They are part of the 5 underneath players, whereas in a Cover 3 or 4, the corners are bailing to cover deeper routes.
Those hard corners also help against the run, especially offenses that want to run to the perimeter or to the outside. The hard corners sit closer to the line of scrimmage and are not bailing like in a cover 3 or 4 which allows them to play the run much quicker and more aggressively. The two safeties over the top allow the corners this ability, they do not have to worry about deep routes because of the safeties providing protection over the top.
What are the Weaknesses of Cover 2?
What are the weak spots, and what kinds of run and pass concepts does the coverage do poorly against?
The weak spots against Cover 2 are multiple deep routes. The most natural “Cover 2 beater” is 4 vertical routes. With only two high safeties, the smallest mistake by either one of them, can lead to a wide receiver running free down the field. Cover 2 is also vulnerable against a trips formation. Putting 3 players on one side of the field and running them all on vertical routes will really tax that safety who is playing half of the field by himself.
There are two ways cover 2 can be vulnerable against the run. Against a 2x2 formation, only 1 linebacker is left in the box. In a 4-3 defense, this leaves 5 defenders in the box for 5 offensive linemen. If all of the offensive linemen do their jobs, and block the 5 defenders the running back will almost certainly rip off a big run. This leaves a safety, hopefully two to make a tackle. If a good back makes them miss, it may be a touchdown.
Another way Cover 2 is vulnerable against the run is vs. a Trips formation. In a trips formation, what a cover 2 team will do is bump out the Sam linebacker out of the tackle box and insert the Will linebacker to go with the Mike. 6 in the box is good, but having no overhang player to your weak side is bad. If your weak defensive end gets hooked, the running back will have only a safety to beat.
See our list of some plays that beat cover 2.
Cover 2 Rules
Left Cornerback - Flat zone
Right Cornerback - Flat zone
Strong Safety - Deep Half zone
Free Safety - Deep Half zone
Sam Linebacker - Hook/Curl zone
Mike Linebacker - Middle Hole zone
Will Linebacker - Hook/Curl zone
Cover 2 Variations
Cover 2 “Switch” - In this version of Cover 2, that some coaches call “Switch,” your corners are bailing to the deep half, and your safeties are playing the flat from their high safety position. This of course would change the “hard corner” aspect of cover 2 that we discussed but gives you safety’s flying downhill.
Cover 2 from a 1 High shell - Giving the appearance of a 1 high shell but playing with 2 high is a great way to confuse a quarterback and an offensive coordinator. Your safety coming downhill and playing the middle hole, traditionally played by a Mike linebacker, gives a completely different look.