cover 2 defense

The Ultimate Guide: Cover 2 Defense in Football

In a football game, the offensive players are always looking for ways to draw and create holes in the defense. Teams are always changing formations to match their opposition.

Defenses can do man-marking or zonal marking. Today, I’ll look at one classic defense formation that defenses use a lot is the cover 2 defense.

So, what is a cover 2 defense? This is a zone-based defense where players are not assigned a specific offensive player. Different levels of defense players are assigned a zone in the field to cover.

Let’s dig deep and understand the cover two defense and what it entails.

What is the Cover 2 Defense in Football

A cover 2 defense is a classic defense formation where a defender covers a specific zone in the field. As opposed to marking and covering certain offensive players, a defender is assigned a zone to mark.

Each defender on the field is responsible for marking and covering their zones. They will defend against any receiver that enters their zone.

In the 70s and 80s, teams started to improve their throwing abilities. This meant coaches had to employ formations that would create defense formations such as 4-3 defense, 3-3-5 defense, etc. that would cover long balls.

Two back safeties were assigned to cover the backfield to counter long ball advances.

Why Is it Called Cover 2 Defense?

A cover 2 defense is called so because of the two safeties that play deep, serving as the last man. The number of deep zonal pass defenders in these defense coverages decides the terminology used to call the defense.

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For example, the cover 2 defense comprises two safeties in football that divide the deep zone of the field into two halves. Each safety is then responsible for covering their half.

If three defenders played in the deep zone, the deep zone could be divided three times, giving us a cover 3 defense.

While different teams might use different terminologies, the common one is looking at the number of deep zone defenders.

Positions Needed In Cover 2 Defense

A cover 2 defense is a free-flowing formation with players assigned specific ath football positions. The formation works out only if every player takes the assigned position and performs his role accordingly.

So, what are the positions on the cover 2 defense? There are 7 positions to be covered. These are 5 underneath zones and 2 deep zones. This involves 7 defenders in total.

There are 2 linebackers, each covering their zone, and 5 secondaries covering their specific zones. Here are the specific players taking the 7 positions on the field.

  • Two safeties
  • Two corners
  • 3 linebackers
  • Defensive tackles
  • Defensive ends

Coaches can also have two defensive ends and two defensive tackles depending on the defensive formation.

Who Should Use the Cover 2 Defense?

The cover 2 defense is pretty common and can easily be used by any team. Furthermore, it’s relatively easy for any defender to understand. As opposed to following and covering a specific receiver all over the pitch, you get to cover a particular zone in the field.

The idea behind the cover 2 defense is quite simple. If each defensive player covers their zone, it becomes hard for offenses to gain any yardage. Teams defending against long balls and third down citations must employ this formation.

The defense formation works perfectly when the offense needs to gain close to 10 yards before they can score a touchdown. It’s an excellent formation for teams that create a lot of pressure using defenders.

You can have the 7 players covering the backfield while four linemen create pressure on the quarterbacks.

But what are its strengths and weaknesses?


Quite easy: This formation is quite easy for any player to understand. You don’t have to remember the intricate patterns of receivers and the responsibilities you must fulfill. Instead, you need to cover a specific allocated zone in the backfield.

football coaching

Cover receivers perfectly: It’s a formation that makes it pretty hard for receivers to find holes. There are 7 defenders dropping to cover different zones in the backfield. Receivers find it quite hard to get an opening.

Helps keep the ball underneath: This formation keeps the ball underneath as receivers cannot gain big yardages. It is a formation designed to counter long passes from quarterbacks to receivers.

Gives linemen the freedom to attack: With a 7-man defense, linemen are left with a lot of freedom to do what they do best. They can attack easily and put as much pressure on the offense knowing the backfield is well covered.


Cannot be used at all times: While this formation is quite effective, it’s not reliable in every play. In a few cases, underneath passes can work.

The only way it can work in most plays is to have serious pressure up front from the defensive line. Well, this is not the case as it sometimes doesn’t work with some runs.

Sometimes it is susceptible to runs: As shown, the formation can be susceptible to running plays. With defenders away from the line of scrimmage, there can be holes along the line leading to running plays.

Underneath passes can work: It is easy for short crossing routes to find space in the cover 2 defense. This is because safeties drop too deep, and linebackers are deep in their zones.

When Should You Use Cover 2?

You should use cover 2 when playing against teams that make long passes. It’s a formation that works when the opposition wants to score a touchdown but needs to cover at least 10 yards. In such cases, such teams opt to make long throws. 

football yard

A cover 2 should be used when the opposition team is in their third down and looking to secure their next plays.

They usually do this by throwing the ball at least 10 yards. It is a great formation that should be used when teams want to launch the ball into your end zone by throwing it over your quarterbacks.

3 Steps How To Run The Cover 2 Defense

So, how do you run a cover 2 defense? The formation can be run by dividing the backfield into zones and allocating responsibilities for every player. You can run it as shown in the steps below.

Step 1: Setting the Defensive Line

The defensive line is the first stage of the cover 2 defense. It is tasked with putting pressure in the backfield.

This is the most straightforward task in the cover 2 defense, with players tasked with applying pressure in the backfield. You’ll often see the defensive line running forward and trying to disrupt offensive linemen.

They need to be on alert and ensure they blow up every play from the offensive linemen.

In the cover 2 defense, two defensive tackles can line up anywhere between the center and the offensive tackle. Between the center and the guard, the nose tackle, who is the big player, can line up there. This can be close to the center’s shoulder or guard’s shoulder.

You can have the other defensive tackles between the offensive tackle’s shoulder and the offensive guard’s shoulder.

In the 2 cover defense, there are usually two ends on the field. Their primary duty is to disrupt the line of scrimmage. 

You’ll occasionally see them use stunts and curls between the defensive end and the defensive tackle. The aim is to cause confusion and create as much disruption as possible.

Step 2: Linebackers

With the defensive line ready, you need to run the linebackers. Here, you need three linebackers. One in the middle, one on the stronger side, and one on the weak side.


Linebackers must have good lateral movement and be able to read runs by receivers. They create zone coverage in two ways:

  • The first is to keep the three linebackers 5 to 7 yards from the defensive linemen to where they line up at snap. In defending, the linebackers divide the width of the field three times. Each linebacker is allocated a third of the field.
  • The second option sees the middle linebacker drop back, acting as a safety. It is a formation that works when the offense needs to cover a long distance, like 15 yards for a first down. The middle linebacker that moved to the back then splits the back into three with the two safeties.

Overall, linebackers are responsible for covering their zones no matter the formation used.

Their main role is to cover against ball carriers or receivers that enter their zone. If they don’t cover their zones well, big openings will occur, giving the offensive yardage.

Step 3: The Secondary

Lastly, we have the secondary, where two cornerbacks and two safeties.

We have strong safety and a free safety that lines up about 5 yards away from the linebackers. The two safeties divide the deep end into two halves and cover their specific zones. However, this can change depending on whether the middle linebacker drops further.

Essential for the safeties to remember is that they are the last line of defense. They need to ensure no one gets behind them at all times. If they let anyone pass, then a big play is guaranteed for the offense.

As for the cornerbacks, they line up to start to play directly wide to the receivers. Both cornerbacks are tasked with covering their zones from the last offensive lineman on the outside area when play starts.

Cornerbacks provide depth and cover backfield players from the running backs from 5 to 7 yards. Anything beyond that is covered by either a safety or a linebacker.

Overall, linebackers need to be aggressive and cover defenders behind them. They can attack ball carriers and receivers in front of them. 

What Is Tampa 2 Defense?

A Tampa 2 defense is a formation employed from the 4-3 defense alignment. It is a formation with three linebackers, two safeties, four linemen, and two cornerbacks.

football defense

The formation is pretty similar to a cover 2 defense with one exception. In the Tampa 2 defense, one linebacker drops deep for added coverage when he reads a pass.

It’s a pretty simple formation to learn and one to consider teaching kids. It’s also effective against passes and runs.

How To Beat Cover 2 Defense?

The offense can beat a cover 2 defense by running four vertical receivers. Four vertical receivers will stretch the two safeties. 

You can also attack it by running a high-low stretch vertically on the corner. This is the most common way to beat a cover 2 defense. An outside receiver will run a post-corner route and then fake a deep run to freeze the safety before breaking back outside.

Lastly, you can beat the cover 2 defense by running an in-out stretch horizontally. This stretches the corner and creates a void. It happens by releasing the wide receiver from the outside to stretch the safety.

What is the Difference Between Cover 2 and Cover 3 Defense?

The difference between a cover 2 defense and a cover 3 defense is that a cover 2 uses two safeties while a cover 3 uses 3 safeties.

Which NFL Team Uses Cover 2 The Most?

Big Teams like Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Cleveland Browns have used the cover 2 defense the most. However, statistics on the team using the defense varies from year to year.

NFL football

Who Created Cover 2 Defense?

A cover 2 defense was created in the 70s but rose in fame when defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin and Tony Dungy of the Buccaneers in the 90s used it by adding a wrinkle to it. The wrinkle was the Tampa 2 defense.


Well, that’s it from me! A cover 2 defense is one of the easiest to learn and employ. It is an effective defense formation that defends nicely against passing and running plays. 

Most teams will use a cover 2 defense in situations where offenses need to gain big yardages before they can make a first down.

It is widely used in all playing levels since it’s simple to use in various situations. However, it’s not always effective on every play as good offenses can take advantage with shorter passing and effective ball running.

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