Understanding the Cover 2 Zone Defense

Cover 2 Defense diagram
Andrew St. Clair

The Cover 2 Zone is a defensive scheme that is implemented by many high school, college, and NFL teams. The "2" in cover 2 comes from the two safeties that are responsible for the two deep zones, or "halves," starting at about 13 yards from the line of scrimmage. The philosophy behind the Cover 2 is to reduce the number of defenders that are needed to stop the deep pass threat, thus leaving more defenders closer to the line of scrimmage. This provides quicker run support and helps with the short pass and timing routes. 

Who Plays What in a Cover 2 Zone?

Here's a breakdown of the assignments of the safeties, corners, and linebackers on a pass read.

  • Safeties: The strong safety and free safety are assigned to the two-deep zones of the field. They need to be deeper than the deepest receiver and wider than the widest receiver. The Cover 2 zone frees them up to worry less about the run, but they have a lot more ground to cover, and they will face a unique challenge when their assigned zone has two or more receivers. 
  • Corners: they typically will play the flats in a Cover 2 zone. They will align close to their outside receiver, and try to jam him up at the line of scrimmage. Once they make contact, they will get their eyes towards the inside to look for any pass threats coming to the flat. 
  • Linebackers: the Will linebacker and Sam linebacker will drop towards the hash marks on their side, to cover their deep flat/curl zone. The Mike linebacker will drop to the short middle on a pass read. 

What Are the Strengths and Weaknesses of the Cover 2?

  • Strengths: Some strengths are that you have more support for the run and adequate coverage for the short passing game. By covering the 2 deep pass threats with 2 players, you have one more man as opposed to a cover 3 zone. Also, by having your corners jam the wide receivers, you can slow up the deep routes with support over the top.
  • Weaknesses: By dividing the field in half, you require two players to cover a lot of acreage. This opens the door to vulnerabilities that a smart offensive scheme will exploit. For example, if you put two receivers on either side of the deep zone, you can stretch that safety, and one of the two will likely be wide open. Also, there are natural pockets of weakness at the edges of each zone. If you're facing an accurate quarterback and smart receivers, you'll be in some trouble in those "soft" spots of the scheme. 

To play the cover 2 zone effectively, you need very athletic players at the defensive back and linebacker positions. They need to by physical and smart, able to read the quarterback and adjust to multiple threats in their assigned zone of coverage. You have to have physical corners that can jam up the release of the wide receivers, and you also need linebackers that can run and cover. In many situations, the cover 2 zone can be extremely effective.