cover 0 defense

Football’s Ultimate Guide To Cover 0 Defense

Teams that often use cover 0 defenses are looking to generate a quick turnover or sack. Cover 0 can be a super effective way to pressure the quarterback into making a mistake. But it also leaves the defense vulnerable to a big play if the quarterback finds an open receiver.

You may also know it as the zero blitz or all-out blitz. But what does it entail?

A cover 0 defense is an aggressive, all-out defense in which the defensive backs don’t drop back into coverage. They instead come up to the line of scrimmage to defend the pass, leaving no deep help.

This guide teaches you everything you need to know about cover 0 defense, including key concepts and best use cases. By the end, you’ll have a thorough understanding of this complex yet highly profitable strategy.

So let’s get started.

What is the Cover 0 Defense in Football?

Cover 0 is a defensive scheme in football involving no deep defenders. Instead, a team relies on a solid pass rush to pressure the quarterback into making a mistake.

There are limitless amounts of cover 0 blitz packages. The most typical coverage variant is to drop 1st and 2nd level defenders to zone cover. These players move to the center of the field to clog up the passing opportunities for the offense’s hot paths. The name of this coverage is the “cover 0 plug.”

Any member of the front seven can get dropped by the “cover 0 plug” to keep the offense from making a quick throw.

The defense frequently plays off-man defense outside. This way, they help prevent the offense from making a quick deep shot across the field without any safety help. Therefore, there’s room underneath. This variant makes an effort to fill this space, but as a result, fewer people join the blitz.

Advantages of Cover 0 Defense

The cover 0 defense can force the quarterback to make quick decisions with the ball. This pressure can lead to turnovers if the quarterback isn’t careful. 

The terror of witnessing six defenders attack the quarterback, especially at lower levels, is enormous. Quarterbacks untrained in these cases frequently panic and toss the ball into the air to rid themselves of it in blitz scenarios.

Often, untrained quarterbacks attempt to flee the blitz, which costs them a significant amount of yards. When facing this kind of quarterback, the defense has the upper hand.

The Defense Advantage on Pass Rush

Another benefit is that a cover 0 can put pressure on the offensive line and force them to make mistakes. It can disrupt the offense’s timing and make it difficult for them to execute their plays.

football teams in position

The blitz of six defenders is frequently used with cover zero. If a team uses a spread offense, they often keep six blockers to safeguard their quarterback. This formation makes it possible for each blitzing defender to face one opponent.

For defensive linemen, one-on-one situations are superb since they relieve them of the worry of one opponent blocking them. Additionally, it significantly increases the burden on each lineman to maintain their block.

Teams leave the running back to impede a blitzing linebacker or defensive lineman when they send six members on a pass rush. Running backs are seldom effective blockers, which favors the defense based on a pass-rush perspective.

Disadvantages Cover 0 Defense

A cover 0 defense is exceptionally aggressive. Hence, it can lead to big plays being given up if the defense doesn’t get to the quarterback or ball carrier in time. Timing can be a problem against quick offenses that have many playmakers. 

Another disadvantage is that cover 0 leaves the middle of the field wide open. Good quarterbacks and receivers can exploit this loophole to earn their team points. 

A defensive player who isn’t as competent as the receiver may find themselves in a match-up disaster when playing cover 0. Teams frequently have wide receivers that can overwhelm defensive backs emotionally and physically. It’s asking for trouble to leave such receivers alone with less-skilled defensive players.

Defense coaches must insist that linebackers and defensive linemen run at full speed to impede the quarterback. Swiftness prevents the defensive backs from spending too much time covering quick receivers.

Finally, cover 0 can be super tiring for the defense. They have to be constantly on the move and ready to make a play.

Positions Needed In Cover 0 Defense

Cover 0 is a defensive scheme in which there’s no free safety. All defensive players are responsible for covering an area of the field. This technique allows the defense to be more aggressive, as there are no players deep to help prevent big plays.

Each team has its own set of specialized guidelines and methods for playing cover 0. Typically, the defensive backs and secondary stay engaged in coverage. Meanwhile, the linebackers exert pressure from the box and push the quarterback into making a split-second decision.

athlete wearing red and black football jersey

Here’s what each player deals with during a cover 0.

  • Left and right cornerbacks – Man-to-man coverage on the end receivers. Prepare for anything short and don’t count on any safety assistance.
  • Free Safety: Covering the slot receiver man-to-man. Prepare to break on any short distance.
  • Strong Safety: Covering the tight end man-to-man. Prepare to break on any short distance.
  • Weakside inside linebacker: Rush through the left gap. Use the late pre-snap blitz.
  • Middle linebacker: Rush through the right gap. Use the late pre-snap blitz.
  • Strongside linebacker: Cover the running back man-to-man. If the back is capable of providing protection, apply pressure.

Who Should Use the Cover 0 Defense?

The cover 0 defense can be excellent for any team when executed right. This defense is superb when facing an offense that’s unable to establish a consistent running game.

The cover 0 defense allows the defense to put extra defenders in the box to stop the run. This pressure can force the offense to throw the ball more than they want to.

The cover 0 defense can also be effective against a quarterback who isn’t able to make quick decisions. This defense can pressurize the quarterback and force him to make mistakes. The cover 0 is also good against mobile quarterbacks who may take off and run with the ball instead of passing.

There’s no need for intricate zone defensive strategies in a cover 0. Simply specify which offensive player each defense is in charge of defending. Every defender not assigned to man coverage can blitz the QB.

However, quick players, particularly defensive backs able to keep up with speedy wide receivers, are necessary for a cover 0. At least one linebacker must keep up with running backs and tight ends that can go into coverage. All defenders must complete their tasks without any more assistance.

However, if the offense can establish a consistent running game, the cover 0 defense spells trouble. Moreover, an offensive quarterback with quick, superb decisions makes this defense ineffective.

How to Run the Cover 0 Defense

Executing the cover 0 defense is an all-around effort. The defensive linemen, the linebackers, and the secondary unit should all be in proper positions.

Defensive Linemen

Let’s assume that the offense lines up with the QB out of the shotgun, four wide receivers, a running back, and no tight ends. The defense responds with sam and mike linebackers, free plus strong safeties, a nickel back, two cornerbacks, and four defensive linemen.

football teams in a match wearing white and maroon jersey uniforms

The defensive linemen should enter the backfield as soon as they can on nearly all plays. They all get one-gap coverage and must use every effort to cross that gap and reach the QB.

The defensive ends position themselves on the outer shoulders of the offensive tackle to stretch the offensive line a little. They need to sprint through the C gap. They also need to keep the outer area under control in case the offense executes a quick screen or pitch to the running back.

The field’s weak defensive tackle queues in the offensive tackle’s direction on the offensive guard’s outer shoulder. The defensive tackle is in charge of the B gap. The defensive tackle getting a small chip on the offensive tackle helps make space for the defensive end.

The nose tackle positions themselves on the center’s outer shoulder. He’ll handle the gap on his part of the field. His responsibility is to destroy the offensive line’s interior.

It would be best if he makes contact with the opposing offensive guard. That allows a blitzing linebacker to move into the open field.


Let’s have Sam and Mike linebackers and sub Will for the nickel back. You may also use Will instead of Sam if the former is better at blitz.

The Mike linebacker should be between the offensive guard on his left and the center.  He must quickly move through the A gap on that end of the field.  He won’t handle any coverage. So, his only concern is moving beyond the scrimmage line as swiftly as he can.

On the opposing side of the field, the Sam linebacker should stand between the offensive tackle and the offensive guard.  He’ll deal with the B gap. He won’t handle pass coverage as well. So, he can focus on moving as rapidly as possible beyond the scrimmage line.

The Secondary

All pass coverage matches occur in the secondary, which in this instance, consists of five players. Each of the offense’s five eligible receivers will align against one defender in the secondary in a man-to-man matchup.

The extreme-end wide receivers should organize themselves on the scrimmage line. Meanwhile, the two cornerbacks should be out wide in opposition to them.

The two cornerbacks should play an inside shade to compel their receivers to take paths toward the edge.  Their available running space on the field reduces due to this.

opposing football players blocking each other

The coverage duties for the wide receivers second-closest to the edges on either side fall on the nickel back and free safety. Both receivers will queue up off the scrimmage line about midway between the offensive tackles and outside wide receivers, from one side of the field to the other.

The wide receiver second-closest to the left sideline is typically the offense’s “third best” receiver. Hence, the nickel back should be responsible for his coverage. In man coverage, the nickel back should be a little closer to the scrimmage line than the free safety. This formation makes it a little more difficult for the above receiver to cross the line.

The two linebackers and the nickel back should be at roughly the same depth. The free safety should position himself a yard behind the linebackers.

The strong safety will cover the running back. Like the free safety, he should give himself some more depth. He must also position himself between the defensive end and Sam to have constant sight of the running back.

The strong safety must scan the field pre and post-snap to keep tabs on his coverage duty.

How To Beat Cover 0 Defense

For a better chance to beat a cover 0 defense, identify it in time and plan for it. Only then can you execute your move right and exploit the defense’s vulnerable deep position.

Determining a Cover 0 Defense

There are a few ways to tell if a defense is in cover 0. First, look at the alignment of the defensive backs. If they are all lined up close to the line of scrimmage, that is a good indication that they are in man coverage.

Should you put your running back on a route, one of their six to seven defenders splits off during a cover 0. The defensive backs cover the remaining space. Because of this, your attack lacks sufficient blockers to effectively neutralize every defense.

Even if you don’t instantly detect seven defenders displaying aggressiveness at the scrimmage line, you’re likely receiving cover 0.

There are several pre-snap orientations that give away a cover 0. Sometimes you’ll see all defenders in press-man. Some can be in the press and some of. If all are within five yards, but there’s no safety, you’re up against the cover 0.

Planning for a Cover 0 Defense

Because it’s challenging for a wide receiver to escape a jam, the defense frequently succeeds with a cover 0 scheme. Players can’t move too far because of crowding at the scrimmage line.

This jamming alters the timing of the courses and places the quarterback in an undesirable throwing situation. The time needed to toss the ball is often between one to two seconds, and when a blitz is approaching, every second counts.

athlete tackles football carrier

Train your skilled players to adapt their approaches on passing downs and to recognize cover 0 defenses in the pre-snap. If several of your plays include cover 0 adaptations, run those plays against defenses that are using zero coverage. Only execute those until you pull them out of it.

Since every failed tackle results in an exciting play, there is an equal probability that you’ll score if you obtain the ball against cover 0.

Attacking a Cover 0 Defense

One way to beat a cover 0 defense is to properly train the quarterback to stay calm during the blitz. The quarterback needs to make quick, yet sound, decisions under pressure and be accurate with his passes. If the QB stays collected and makes good decisions, the offense can move the ball down the field and score.

Another way to beat a cover 0 defense is to have an excellent running game. If the offense can run the ball effectively, it’ll take some of the pressure off of the quarterback and make it easier for him to make plays.

The offense needs to have good playmakers who can make plays when the quarterback gets them the ball. If the offense has receivers who can make plays after the catch, they can pick up yardage even if the quarterback is under pressure.

Football Cover 0 Defense FAQs

Is Cover 0 a Zone Coverage?

Cover 0 isn’t zone coverage. Defenders in the zone focus on the QB. In cover 0, players check the running back, tight end, and wide receivers.

What’s Better Zone or Man Coverage?

None is better between zone or man coverage as choices depend on a team’s skill and opponents. Each of these two has subcategories, which further have specific merits and cons.

When Should I Use Cover 0?

Use cover 0 during longer down and distance scenarios. Also, ensure your cover defenders are superb, as this technique is high-risk.


When it comes to defensive football, there’s no more feared strategy than cover 0. This aggressive style of defense leaves no margin for error, as it relies on a complete offense shut down by the defensive backs. Even if one player is beaten, it can often result in a touchdown.

If you’re looking to add some excitement to your defense, then the cover 0 defense is worth a try. But get prepared to give up some big plays if the quarterback is able to find an open receiver.

Need more tips on defenses? Check out our guides on cover 2, cover 3, and cover 4 defenses.

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