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Defensive pass coverage terms explained

What are all those different coverages you hear about?

NFC Divisional Playoffs - New York Giants v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The New York Giants ran more Cover-0 than any other team in the NFL last season, but what does that mean? What do any of the coverages actually mean? Here is a simple breakdown of coverage terminology that is used frequently:

Man coverage

Cover-0: Man-to-man coverage with no safety help over the top. Is frequently paired with a heavy-pressure package.

(from vIQtory Sports)

Cover-1: Man-to-man coverage with one safety deep. This would be considered a middle-of-the-field-closed (MOFC) type of defense.

Cover-5: Also known as 2-Man Under, a two-deep coverage with five underneath defenders playing man-coverage. This would be classified as middle-of-the-field-open (MOFO).

(from Pro Style Spread Offense)

Zone coverage

Zone: There are several types of zone coverage with different styles of executing the coverage. The traditional zone coverage is usually called Spot Drop or Country zone, which means certain players are assigned to certain areas of the field. This is not to be confused with pattern or zone match - that’s a post for another day.

Cover-2: A two-deep zone coverage with five underneath zone defenders. This is a middle-of-the-field open (MOFO) coverage.

(from Pro Style Spread Offense)

Tampa-2: A two-deep zone coverage with five underneath zone defenders - sort of. The MIKE linebacker drops to a deeper depth to remove the open vulnerability between the split safeties.

(from National Football Post)

Cover-3: A three-deep zone coverage with four underneath zone defenders. This is a MOFC coverage. This coverage can be accessed in several different ways:

  • Cover-3-Sky: Two cornerbacks and a safety take the deep thirds with the other safety assuming the curl/flat
  • Cover-3-Cloud: Two safeties and a cornerback assume the deep thirds. This is typically used to Cloud a dominant wide receiver. The cornerback with jam and sink at the line of scrimmage and is responsible for the receiver underneath, while the safety assumes the deep outside third (right side of the picture). In theory, the defense should have the receiver covered underneath and over the top with two defenders.

(from Bleacher Report)

  • Cover-3-Buzz: A coverage with two cornerbacks (they’re aligned in press below) and one safety assume deep third responsibilities with the strong side safety buzzing to a middle hook, acting like a robber while assisting in run support.

(from Bleacher Report)

  • Cover-3-Mable: A zone and man mixture coverage with Cover-3 to one side and man coverage on the other side. The backside cornerback is in MEG (Man Everywhere he Goes).

(from Pats Pulpit)

  • Cover-4: A zone coverage with four players assuming deep fourths - two safeties and both outside cornerbacks - with three defenders underneath. There are many match variations based on the framework of Cover-4 (Palms, Quarters). These coverages essentially evolve into man coverage based on the distribution of routes run by the receivers. They also allow for more natural double teams and bracket coverage to develop.

(from Inside the Pylon)

  • Cover-6: Also known as Quarter, Quarter, Half. This coverage is a mixture of Cover-4 and Cover-2. Half the field plays Cover-4 (the quarter, quarter half), and the other half plays Cover-2 (the half with one defender deep).

(from Weekly Spiril)