cover 6 defense

Understanding The Cover 6 Defense In Football

Defenses in American football can mark specific players or zones on the field. In defensive zone schemes in football, most defensive zone coverages are labeled in numbers.

One such common defensive coverage is the cover 6 defense in football. You’ve probably heard of the cover 2 and cover 4 defenses in football.

When referring to zones, these are areas in the field where players occupy and protect against passing plays. When players cover certain zones, they make it difficult for quarterbacks to make complete passes.

Looking to learn more on the cover 6 defense in football? Keep reading below.

What is Cover 6 Defense in Football

Cover 6 defense in football is a blend of two other cover defenses; cover 4 and cover 2. So we can’t truly describe a cover 6 defense without looking at cover 2 and other cover defenses.

A cover 4 defense comprises four secondary members, splitting the backfield into four quarters.

A cover 2 defense, on the other hand, features two safeties lying deep and covering deep routes.

Cover 6 combines the two defenses, with the backfield split into halves. One half runs the over 2 defense while the other half runs the cover 4 defense.

Simply call it a 2+4 = 6 cover defense.

The combinations provide wrinkles to the defense keeping the offense guessing. It can confuse the offense while remaining strong. 

This is a more complicated defense formation and one that will take some bit of learning.

Let’s dig deep and break down the cover 6 defense even more.

When Should You Run Cover 6 Defense

Any team can use a cover 6 defense. The defense formation can be used in different wrinkles to provide zone coverage.

Most offenses are used to the cover 2 and cover 4 defense. A cover 6 defense looks more like a counter to offenses familiar to cover 2 and cover 4 defenses.

It’s a versatile defense that confuses defenses. The defense makes offenses think they’re running one coverage while they’re running two defense coverages.

However, teams that use a cover 6 defense must first learn and use a cover 2 and cover 4 defense. As I mentioned earlier, this defense combines a cover 2 and a cover 4 defense.

defense running after ball carrier

Simply put, only advanced teams that have installed and mastered the cover 2 defense and cover 4 defense can apply the cover 6 defense.

While few youth teams can try a cover 6 defense, it’s not one that they can easily grasp.

Strengths Of The Cover 6 Defense

The cover 6 defense is superior in many ways. It combines cover 2 and covers 4 defense strengths.

First, the cover six defense gives you the best combo of the cover 4 and cover 2 defenses. The defense provides extra deep coverage and strong run support. The stronger safety provides good run coverage, while deep coverage is provided on one side of the field.

It’s a very strong defense against the run. The cover 2 and cover 4 defenses are so weak at run defenses. However, the cover-six defense deals with the running play by having both safeties provide support against runs. 

This is because safeties don’t have to go too deep when providing pass coverage. The deep areas are already covered.

Lastly, the defense is complicated and keeps the offensive players guessing. It’s pretty hard for the quarterbacks to look on both sides and identify the coverage.

The defense is confusing as one part is a cover 2, and the other is a cover 4. Quarterbacks are left to guess the defense scheme based on each reaction. The quarterback can misjudge and make an ill-intentional pass.

Weakness Of The Cover 6 Defense

Just like most defense coverages, the cover 6 defense does have some holes that the offense can use to make runs. The Commanders playing the Washington are examples of teams that have become vulnerable with more men forward.

Runs to get the quarterback under pressure can create holes making the defense susceptible to short routes.

The defense offers short passing opportunities making it vulnerable to passes in a flat. It’s a defense that relies on linebackers running far to cover the flat as cornerbacks drop.

The defense is also weak and can fall to combo routes. Common routes that work against the defense are the flats/curls and corners/streaks.

How To Run The Cover 6 Defense

You can run a cover 6 defense by setting the defensive line, linebackers, and the secondary. Here are the stages of running a cover 6 defense.

Stage 1: Set up the Defensive Line

The first step to running a cover 6 defense is putting up the defensive line in place. On the defensive line, you need two defensive ends and two defensive tackles.

One defensive ends lines on the weaker side of the offense while the defensive tackle lines direct over the stronger offense side. A defensive tackle on the weaker side is the nose tackle.

ball carrier tackled

On the defensive line, players take different roles depending on the play the offensive is running. On running plays, defensive tackles are responsible for shedding blockers.

They can also tackle the ball carrier and force him out of play. At the line of scrimmage, defensive tackles need to clog and seal possible holes.

Stage 2: Set up the Linebackers

The formation requires three linebackers that align three yards from the line of scrimmage.

We have the middle linebacker Mike who lines between the defensive tackle and nose tackle. Next is Mike, the strong side linebacker who lines on the shoulder of the tight end to the outside.

Lastly, we have the weak side linebacker Will who sheds to the shoulder of the tight end to the outside.

Linebackers need to approach the ball carrier pretty fast during running plays. However, their roles change in passing plays where they need to read the offensive and drop back to provide coverage.

Stage 3: Set up the secondaries

Lastly, you need to set up the secondary to have the cover 6 defense ready to run. In the secondary, four players from cover 6 run two coverages.

A cornerback to the side provides the same coverage as safety. Safeties line on the weak side and provide cover for the weak side linebacker and cornerback.

You also need to cornerback lining up outside and towards the X receiver. You need the free safety covering deep in the field.

Cornerbacks and safety on the strong side provide a cover 4 defense. Combining these two covers at the back makes a cover 6 defense.

You must have the safety and cornerback read the tight ends at the snap and make the right decisions.

Will and Mike are responsible for covering the shorter routes.

How Do You Beat Cover 6 Defense

To beat a cover 6 defense, you need cover 4 and cover 2 beaters in your team. The first is to use a 2-by-2 concept that teams use to beat a cover 2 defense. At the same time, you need a cover 4 beater.

However, clearly reading the game is important to make the right play. The concept works when you know the team will play a cover 2 on the short and a cover 4 to the side.

You can also beat a cover 6 defense by loading one side of the field. Team with heavy 2 by 2 beaters, you can run boundaries across the field.

people watching an american football game match

Generally, you need to try and read the defense as much as possible to beat cover 6. However, if you find reading the defense hard, try running the ball more.

This can beat the cover 6 defense as teams don’t want to have their safeties backpedaling.

Football Cover 6 Defense FAQs

How To Identify Cover 6 Defense

Teams can identify a cover 6 defense in two ways. The first is in pre-snap, while the second is post-snap.

In pre-snap, quarterbacks can identify a cover 6 defense by reading the corner who has the same role in the cover 2 and cover 4 defense. Their body language is usually the same.

But this differs in the cover 6 defense and playing two separate coverages. You can even notice the side playing a cover 2 and the one playing a cover 4.

You can also identify a cover 6 in post-snap by looking at the safeties for backpedaling. Safeties get off the hash mark and can be seen backpedaling.

Why is it called cover 6?

It’s called a cover 6 defense because it combines cover 2 and covers 4 defenses. The 2+4 combo gives 6 hence, the name is a cover 6 defense.

Is there a cover 5 in football?

There’s a cover-5 defense in football with 5 representing 5 underneath defenders that provide coverage. Each underneath defender of the 5 accounts for a receiver on the offensive side.


A cover 6 defense is a combination of cover 2 and covers 4 defense. It’s considered a little wrinkle to common zone coverages run by most defenses. The name arises from the combination of cover 2 and covers 4 (2+4=6) defenses.

It’s a great defense for most teams as it gives offenses a hard time understanding the defense formation you’re running. The defense is a great way to confuse the offensive line and present them with a defense formation they aren’t used to.

Most teams know the cover 2 and cover 4 defenses and can easily read them. But a cover 6 defense is a more advanced defense that few advanced teams play. To effectively run a cover 6 defense, teams must have played and mastered the cover 4 and cover 2 defenses.

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