American Football Cover Two Defense: Everything You Should Learn About

John Rizzo

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American Football Cover Two Defense

Delving into the intricate world of American football, one defensive strategy stands out for its balance and effectiveness: the Cover Two defence. 

In this comprehensive exploration, we unravel the essence of Cover Two, a tactical masterpiece that aims to thwart deep passes and limit big plays. 

From the alignment of safeties to the roles of cornerbacks and linebackers, we navigate the anatomy of this defence, shedding light on its strengths and potential vulnerabilities. 

As we dissect the strategies employed to execute Cover Two effectively, enthusiasts and newcomers alike will gain a deeper understanding of how this defensive scheme shapes the game’s dynamics.

What Is the American Football Cover Two Defense?

The Cover 2 defence is a popular defensive strategy in American football, and it is characterized by two deep safeties splitting the deep part of the field into two halves. 

The primary objective of the Cover 2 defense is to prevent deep passes and limit big plays. Here’s a breakdown of key elements in the Cover 2 defense:


In Cover 2, two deep safeties are responsible for covering the deep halves of the field. They align themselves approximately 12-15 yards off the line of scrimmage at the snap of the ball.


The two cornerbacks typically play a zone defense and cover the short to intermediate areas along the sidelines. They aim to reroute receivers and disrupt the timing of short passes.


The middle linebackers drop into coverage to cover the middle of the field. They help defend against passes over the middle and also play a role in stopping the run.

Defensive Line

The defensive line’s primary responsibility is to rush the quarterback. However, in Cover 2, they must also be mindful of screens and short passes and may drop into shallow zones to disrupt these plays.

Coverage Responsibilities

The defenders work together to cover different field areas in a zone defense. The idea is to create a “two-deep, five-under” coverage scheme, meaning two safeties are deep and five defenders are in the underneath zones.

The Cover 2 defense effectively against deep passes and provides good run support. However, it can be vulnerable to intermediate routes and quick passes in the seams between zones.

To counter this, defenses might employ variations such as Tampa 2, where the middle linebacker drops deeper to cover a more significant portion of the middle of the field.

Coaches often use a variety of defensive coverages based on the strengths of their personnel and the offensive schemes they face. The Cover 2 defense is just one example of the many strategies employed in American football.

The Anatomy of Cover Two Formation

The Cover 2 formation in American football involves specific player alignments and responsibilities. Here’s a breakdown of the critical components and positions in a basic Cover 2 defense:


  • Free Safety (FS): The free safety aligns in the deep middle of the field, typically about 12-15 yards from the line of scrimmage at the snap. The FS covers half of the deep field and supports both sides as needed.
  • Strong Safety (SS): The strong safety aligns on the opposite side of the free safety, also about 12-15 yards deep. The SS covers the other half of the deep field and provides run support.


  • Left Cornerback (LCB) and Right Cornerback (RCB): The cornerbacks line up at the line of scrimmage, across from the opposing wide receivers. They have responsibilities in both run support and pass coverage, usually playing a “cloud” technique where they jam the receiver at the line before dropping into their zones.


  • Middle Linebacker (MLB): The middle linebacker drops into coverage to cover the middle of the field, often responsible for deeper zones or reading the quarterback’s eyes to react to passes in the intermediate areas.
  • Outside Linebackers (OLB): The outside linebackers may drop into coverage to cover the flats or shallow zones and play a role in run support. In some variations, one of the outside linebackers may have more coverage responsibilities than the other.

Defensive Line

  • Defensive Ends (DE): The defensive ends are responsible for rushing the quarterback but may also drop into short zones to disrupt quick passes or screenplays.
  • Defensive Tackles (DT): The defensive tackles primarily focus on stopping the run and putting pressure on the quarterback. They may also drop into short zones when necessary.


The defensive backs (cornerbacks and safeties) align themselves to cover their designated zones, and the linebackers align based on their coverage responsibilities.

The defensive line lines up on the line of scrimmage, with the defensive ends positioned outside the offensive tackles and the defensive tackles aligned over the guards or centres.

The Cover 2 formation aims to create a balanced coverage scheme with two safeties deep, five defenders underneath in zone coverage, and a front four providing pass rush and support. 

Variations and adjustments may be based on specific offensive formations and game situations.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Cover Two Defense

The Cover 2 defense, like any defensive scheme in American football, has advantages and disadvantages. Here’s an overview:

Advantages of Cover 2 Defense

Advantages of Cover 2 Defense
  • Deep Coverage: Cover 2 excels at preventing deep passes. With two safeties splitting the deep part of the field, it becomes challenging for offenses to complete long passes.
  • Run Support: The safeties’ alignment and the linebackers’ responsibilities in Cover 2 provide solid run support. This can help contain the running game and stop ball carriers at or near the line of scrimmage.
  • Zone Coverage: Cover 2 is a zone defense that allows defenders to read the quarterback’s eyes and react to plays in front of them. This can lead to more opportunities for interceptions and turnovers.
  • Balanced Defense: Cover 2 provides a balanced coverage scheme, covering the field’s deep and short-to-intermediate areas. It can adapt well to various offensive formations.
  • Limiting Big Plays: The primary goal of Cover 2 is to limit big plays, making it a sound choice when protecting a lead or facing explosive passing offences.

Disadvantages of Cover 2 Defense

  • Vulnerability to Seam Routes: The seams between the safeties in Cover 2 can be vulnerable to well-timed seam routes by tight ends or slot receivers, exploiting the gap between the safeties.
  • Intermediate Routes: The defense may be susceptible to intermediate routes, such as crossing patterns, as the linebackers and safeties need to make quick reads and adjustments.
  • Pressure on Defensive Line: Cover 2 relies on the front four defenders to generate pressure on the quarterback. If the defensive line is ineffective in getting to the quarterback, it can put additional pressure on the secondary.
  • Limited Blitzing: Cover 2 typically involves fewer blitzes since the defence relies on the front four to generate pressure. This predictability can allow quarterbacks to get comfortable in the pocket.
  • Tough on Cornerbacks: Cornerbacks may be isolated in one-on-one situations against talented wide receivers, mainly if the opposing offence exploits the outside edges of the zone.
  • Adaptability Required: To counter the weaknesses of Cover 2, defensive coordinators often need to make adjustments and variations, such as rolling safeties or using hybrid coverages.

The effectiveness of the Cover 2 defense depends on the execution, personnel, and ability of the coaching staff to make in-game adjustments based on the opponent’s offensive strategy. 

While it has its strengths, it also has vulnerabilities that skilled offensive coordinators and quarterbacks can exploit.

Strategies for Executing Cover Two Effectively

Executing the Cover 2 defense effectively requires sound strategies, coordination among players, and adjustments based on the opposing offense. Here are key strategies for implementing Cover 2 successfully:

Communication and Coordination

Communication and Coordination

Effective communication is crucial in the Cover 2 defense. Players must communicate pre-snap and during the play to ensure everyone understands their assignments and responsibilities.

Proper Alignment

Players need to align themselves correctly before the snap. 

Safeties should position themselves deep and split the field evenly, cornerbacks should align across from receivers, and linebackers should be positioned to cover their assigned zones.

Run Support

Safeties and linebackers play a critical role in run support. They should quickly read run plays, shed blocks, and fill gaps to stop ball carriers. This helps maintain a balanced defense that can effectively defend both the run and the pass.

Quick Reads by Linebackers

Linebackers are responsible for covering the middle of the field. They must read the quarterback’s eyes, anticipate routes, and react quickly to passes in their zones.

Disguise and Variation

Defensive coordinators may incorporate variations or disguises to keep the offense guessing. This could involve pre-snap movement or occasionally transitioning into different coverages to create confusion for the quarterback.

Tight Coverage by Cornerbacks

Cornerbacks should disrupt the timing of short and intermediate passes by jamming receivers at the line of scrimmage. This disrupts the route and gives the pass rush more time to reach the quarterback.

Effective Pass Rush

The front four, consisting of defensive linemen, play a crucial role in the Cover 2 defense. They need to generate pressure on the quarterback without relying heavily on blitzing, allowing the rest of the defense to drop into coverage.


Coaches and players must be willing to make in-game adjustments based on the opponent’s tendencies and the success or failure of the defense. 

This could involve tweaking coverage responsibilities, adjusting alignments, or incorporating different coverage schemes.

Recognition of Offensive Formations

Defenders should be able to recognize offensive formations and adjust their coverage accordingly. This includes understanding how to adapt to spread formations, bunch formations, and other offensive strategies.

Training and Repetition

Repetition in practice is crucial for players to become comfortable with their roles and responsibilities in the Cover 2 defense. 

This includes recognizing offensive formations, reacting to play-action, and making quick decisions based on the game’s flow.

Film Study

Players should study film to understand the tendencies of their opponents. This helps recognize patterns, predict plays, and make informed decisions on the field.

By combining these strategies and emphasizing disciplined execution, a team can effectively implement the Cover 2 defense and create a solid defensive unit.


What is the primary objective of the Cover Two defense in American football?

The primary goal of the Cover Two defense is to limit deep passes and big plays. 

It achieves this by employing two deep safeties who split the deep part of the field, providing coverage over the top and allowing defenders underneath to focus on shorter routes.

How do cornerbacks contribute to the Cover Two defense?

Cornerbacks in Cover Two play a crucial role in disrupting short and intermediate passes. They align at the line of scrimmage, jam receivers to disrupt timing and drop into their assigned zones. 

This helps create a balanced coverage scheme that defends against both the run and the pass.

What makes the Cover Two defense effective against the run?

The Cover Two defense is effective against the run due to the alignment and responsibilities of the safeties and linebackers. 

The two-deep safeties provide run support, and linebackers read run plays, quickly fill gaps, and tackle ball carriers, creating a balanced defensive approach.

How does the Cover Two defense handle pressure on the quarterback?

The Cover Two defense relies on the front four defensive linemen to generate pressure on the quarterback. 

This approach allows the remaining seven defenders to drop into coverage, limiting the need for additional blitzing. An effective pass rush from the defensive line is crucial for the success of the Cover Two.

What are the potential weaknesses of the Cover Two defense?

While effective in many aspects, the Cover Two defense can be vulnerable to seam routes, quick intermediate passes, and situations where cornerbacks are left in one-on-one coverage. 

Recognition of offensive formations, quick adjustments, and occasional variations are necessary to counter these potential weaknesses.

Wrapping Up

In the intricate chess match of American football, the Cover Two defense emerges as a dynamic force. Its emphasis on balanced coverage, run support, and effective pass rush showcases its versatility. 

As we conclude our exploration, it becomes evident that mastering Cover Two involves a symphony of communication, alignment, and adaptability. 

Whether you’re a player, coach, or an avid fan, this journey through the heart of defensive strategy illuminates the significance of Cover Two in shaping the outcome of gridiron battles. 

The legacy of this tactical masterpiece continues to unfold on the field, leaving an indelible mark on the rich tapestry of American football strategies.

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John Rizzo

I am a professional rugby player in the Washington DC-Baltimore area. I have been playing rugby for over 10 years and have had the opportunity to play in many different countries. I am also a coach for both youth and adult rugby teams. I graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a degree in Sports Management and Marketing. I am currently working on my MPA from American University and plan to pursue this career path after graduating next year. LinkedIn