X's and O's.... Man Coverages...

In my last few posts we have looked at 2 basic zone coverages that are used by virtually every team on Sundays, and how an Offensive Coordinator can attack them. Today we will look at 3 different man coverages which you can be sure Rob Ryan will call most every week to stop the passing attacks of the Giants, Eagles, Redskins etc.

The reason we look at 3 coverages today is because when is comes to X's and O's, man coverages are really pretty simple as you will see. The changes from one coverage to another lies largely in small shifts in technique played by the defenders specifically on the outside.

X's and O's of 2-Man, Man-Free(Cover 1), and Blitz-Man (Cover 0) after the jump...

Each defense will be in base 3-4 personnel lined up against Base (2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR) offensive personnel in an offset I-Formation (Probably called either Near or Strong in the Cowboys playbook).

First up is 2-Man...


As you can tell, 2-Man is much simpler and easier to decifer on the chalkboard than some of the zones. Basically you have 2 deep safeties, just as you would in Cover 2 or Tampa 2, and they take the same drops they would in the zone coverage (gain width to the top of the #'s and drop to 18-20 yards). Underneath however, rather than playing 5 zones, each eligible receiver is covered by a certain defender.

As I said before the important thing to look at with man coverages is techniques. In 2-man, the man defenders (CB's specifically) will play whats called a "trail' technique. The play with inside leverage, to protect against inside breaking routes, and will also play about a step behind their man. Essentially they are trying to push their man up to the safety in his deep half. To get a good picture of this technique, think Darrell Revis on his 4Q interception of Tony Romo in Week 1 last season. Inside technique a step behind, with the safety coming over the top, it allowed him to be in position to make a play on the ball, without leaving the top of the defense naked to a big play.

Another thing to notice is the arithmetic of the defense. Remember, many times, Football is a numbers game. There are only so many things you can do with 11 guys on your defense, especially when there are 5 eligible recievers to cover. So if we have to man cover 5 guys, and we have 2 safeties in their deep half drops, that only leaves 4 to put pressure on the QB.

Many times in 2-man, as in any other man coverage, the LB's or Safeties who have responsibility for a RB or TE will convert to a pass rush if their man stays in to block, so you can end up with more than 4 rushers, but because it is reactive to the max protection by the offense, it doesn't usually provide the numbers advantage a straight blitz or rush might provide.

Now, on to Man-Free or Cover-1.


Here we have a single high safety, as in Cover 3, who takes his drop to his deep middle zone, to help over the top of any route, and as in 2-man, the rest of our defenders are either covering a specific eligible receiver or are rushing the passer.

The technique by the defenders especially the CB's is to play outside leverage, force and inside release, and play "in-phase" with the receiver. Basically you want to funnel the WR towards the safety and run shoulder to shoulder with him down the field.

Again look at the numbers, 1 deep safety, and 5 in man coverage, means 5 can go after the QB. Here I've gotten alittle creative in the scheme,showing the extra man as the Sam LB coming in a twist with the 5 technique DE, in this case the end goes through first, hopefully bringing the OT with him and the Sam can out quick the OG to get pressure.

A quick aside: Many times sending 5 guys at the QB is called a blitz, but many playbooks I have seen indicate that teams use different terminology to distinguish 5 man pressure from 6 man pressure. Many refer to 5 man pressure as a dog, and 6 man pressure as a blitz.

Now lets look at Blitz-Man, or Cover 0.


Here we see no deep safeties, hence the title Cover-0. Instead, we see the FS walked up closer to the box and 5 defenders in man coverage, and 6 players rushing the QB.

The CB's on the outside play with inside leverage and force an outside release, which does 2 things for them. First of all it limits the number of routes a WR can run. Most of the time, outside of the quick game, you will see only the 9(Go) route, or the comeback from a standard WR alignment with an outside release. If the WR's split is reduced the route tree is opened up alittle more (outs, corners, etc), but either way the WR has fewer options for the CB to react to. Secondly, this inside technique allows them to use the sideline as their help defender. If the QB has to avoid the CB, he's going to throw it outside, and if the CB can funnel the WR to the sideline it shrinks the window for the throw and makes the QB's life more difficult.

Here we have an actual blitz, hence the title "blitz-man", with 6 man pressure. I've drawn it up with the Weak ILB coming on a twist blitz with the NT, who is in a true nose 0 technique, and rushes to the weakside A gap. I've also included the Sam & DE twist, which when combined with the ILB/NT twist gives us 2 quick and powerful rushers coming in the strong side A & B gaps respectively.

If we look at this blitz from a Cowboys point of view, we have Lissemore driving out to the contain rush, and Ratliff pressing the weakside A gap, and then we have Spencer and either Carter or Conner wrapping around to attack the A and B gaps. This makes the OG make a decision on who to block, and if both back had free releases into their routes you've got a free runner at the QB. If a back does step up to protect against the blitz, as a Defensive Coordinator I feel pretty confident that with Ware, Hatcher and Ratliff all having 1 on 1 matchups on the weakside we should win atleast one of those matchups and get pressure from the backside.

Attacking Man Coverage:

Although there are some route combinations that work well against man coverage, beating man to man is more about finding the favorable matchup or the weakest defender and finding ways to isolate that player in space and get the ball to his man. This is why you saw guys like Alan Ball, and Terrance Newman giving up completion after completion in 2011.

The best way for a receiver to get separation against man is either a) be more talented than the DB covering you and run good routes, or b) run away from the DB's leverage (slants vs outside lev, Go's vs inside leverage etc).


Playing man coverage gives your defense a ton of flexibility concerning what you do with the defensive fronts, and pressure packages, but if your defense isn't full of talented guys on the back end who can disrupt timing of routes, and make plays on the ball, you're playing a dangerous game and leaving yourself exposed to big plays.

This is the biggest reason for the Cowboys DB shopping spree. Having better quality in the secondary will give more Ryan more freedom to get creative in his pressure game, and create opportunities for his playmakers to get the ball back and put up points.

Again please feel free to throw out questions, remember there are no stupid questions, and I promise not to ridicule anyone for any question. I feel as though trying to expand your knowledge of the game is one of the most admirable things a fan can do.

You can follow me on twitter @jickes1

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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