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Revenge Of The Birds Football 101: Defensive Coverages

I know it's been a while since I've done one of these, but I wanted to cover more football terms and schemes before the season begins (I know, we're not that far away!). Some of the previous football 101s that we've done covered the 3-4 defense, the Tampa 2 defense, and common knee injuries in the NFL. Today, we'll be discussing some of the coverages you'll often see and hear about on gameday.

There are several types of coverages a football team can run in their secondary, widely depending what the offense presents. One of the most popular terms you'll hear about is the "Zone Defense."

Zone Defense

The zone defense is primarily used to defend against the pass. The zones refers to the spaces on the field that the linebackers and defensive backs cover. Generally, the linebackers cover the short to mid-range portion of the field, the corners cover behind them, and the safeties will cover the deep portion of the field. Picture each zone as a circle, if you will, with the diameter ranging anywhere from 5-15 yards wide. The idea behind the zone is to cover every space on the field, making it difficult for the quarterback to find an open man.

If the defensive coordinator wants to be tricky, they'll blitz a number of defenders, disguising the scheme in hopes to force a sack or turnover. An offense can generally beat the zone defense by effectively running the football or targeting fast wide receivers.

Cover 1

The cover 1 defensive scheme refers to one safety that is used to defend the deep portion of the field. The rest of the defense is in man-to-man coverage while the additional safety can be used to cover an extra man, blitz the quarterback, or drop into a disguised zone. The cover 1 works well defending the run, but the bread and butter is the disguises that can be used. The extra safety can cover an offensive player while the corner blitzes and vice versa.

The major weakness of the cover 1 defense is the lone safety covering the entire deep field. If the quarterback has a quick release, he can exploit the lack of coverage and beat the defense deep. Offenses can also send two wide receivers on deep routes, forcing the safety to commit coverage. Quick and short throws also pose problems for the cover 1.

The Cardinals run their own version of the cover 1, by keeping the free safety (Rhodes) deep, and bringing the strong safety (Wilson) down in the box . This scheme is also a direct result of some of the deep plays given up by the Cardinals' defense the last two seasons.

Next up we'll go over the cover 2, 3, and 4 defenses...

Cover 2

Ah, the cover 2... the best defense to run in Madden. It's also a common defense in today's NFL. Cover 2 means that both safeties split the deep portion of the field, and the rest of the defense is free to run a zone coverage or a man-to-man coverage. The idea of the cover 2 is to prevent any big plays from the offense by keeping both safeties over the middle, but also keeping enough defenders in the box. That does mean, however, that the offense can progress down the field by completing short gains and running the football.

Since the safeties must separate quickly to cover each side of the field, a quick tight end is free to roam in between the seams. This is the biggest weakness of the cover 2, and is a large reason the Tampa 2 was invented (a fast linebacker covers the middle of the field). Teams running the cover 2 can also send a corner to cover the deep range of the field and bring the safety up to blitz.

Cover 3

Cover 3 is a modification of cover 2 to fix its biggest weakness - the exposure in the middle of the field. Instead of two deep safeties, only one is used to defend the deep-middle. The two cornerbacks employ a quick drop in their backpedal to cover the deep sidelines. The strong safety has the ability to assist in coverage in the flats or blitz the quarterback. This scheme ideally defends against the big play while also covering the middle of the field.

Since the cornerbacks must backpedal quickly, teams can target the mid-range sidelines. This also puts the linebackers in difficult situations since they have to cover a much quicker wide receiver. Experienced quarterbacks can also identify the cover 3 much easier than other defensive schemes. As a result, some defenses will swing the safeties, rotate the corners, or pretend to run a zone defense to fool the offense.

Cover 4

The last scheme we'll look at is the cover 4. If you've paid attention so far, then this one should come easily. The deep portion of the field is covered by two backpedaling corners and both safeties. It's similar to the cover 3, but adds the extra deep defender. This defense is run to prevent the deep pass, and is very similar to the "prevent defense."

The obvious weakness is the space that the cornerbacks surrender by backpedaling so deep. Offenses can isolate the defenders much easier, as well.

If there's one thing that the NFL is all about, it's variety and innovation. All 32 teams implement their own flavors and finishing touches on their schemes in an attempt to throw off opposing offenses. Are any of these defenses impossible to penetrate? No, but some teams master them to a tee and usually wind up a top ten defense. Which defense would you prefer/which defense is the best to run?