What Is A Prevent Defense In Football?

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: February 12, 2024

Football is a game of strategy. To counteract the offensive attack, the defense must put themselves in the best position possible. What is prevent defense in football?

Prevent defense in football is when the defense lines up their linebackers and defensive backs near the goal line to prevent a long pass. This type of defense is typically used before halftime or the last play of the game.

In this article, we will look at why teams play a prevent defense and its benefits.

Prevent Defense In Football

The prevent defense can often be seen before halftime or the game’s last play.

Defensive coordinators will call a prevent the defense from counteracting the offense’s deep passing attack.

In situations like these, it’s not probable for teams to cover 0, cover 1, cover 2, or cover 3.

Teams may elect to cover 5, which is a bit safer than running the coverages above.

When time expires before the half, teams will often throw a last-second effort to steal some points from the defense. The offense will throw a “Hail Mary” down the field.

A Hail Mary is when the quarterback drops back and throws the football as far as possible to try to catch the ball in the end zone.

The offense will send 4 or sometimes 5 receivers to the end zone while the quarterback tries to run around to buy some time to let his receivers get downfield.

Hail Mary cbssports.com
via cbssports.com

To stop this, the defense will run what is called “prevent.” Prevent is when the defense lines up 7 or 8 players near the end zone to knock the ball away from the receivers.

Lining Up In Prevent Defense

Teams typically line up 7 or 8 defenders near the goal line to knock the ball down.

To sack the quarterback, teams typically have two defensive ends that will rush from the outside and a nose tackle to pressure the quarterback in the middle.

To defend against the Hail Mary, the defensive line must pressure the quarterback not to throw the football down the field.

Teams will ensure the quarterback is throwing on the run or not throwing off both of his feet. If the quarterback is rolling to his throwing arm, he will not throw as far as his feet are set.

This is why the defensive line pressuring the quarterback in a prevent defense will help disrupt the Hail Mary as a whole.

Putting Best Athletes On The Field For The Prevent Defense

When defensive coordinators call a prevent defense, they will often switch their personnel, different from the personnel they typically use.

This includes putting wide receivers in and substituting for defensive backs. Defensive backs are often smaller and faster players who can attack the football and play in the run game.

In a Hail Mary situation, smaller, faster players are disadvantaged. The reason is they need to compete in 50/50 balls, meaning both offensive and defensive players will contest the throw.

If the offense has taller and more athletic players, this puts the defensive players at an instant disadvantage. This is why the defense will sub in taller players to play the Hail Mary.

A perfect example of this is when players like Calvin Johnson and Rob Gronkowski will be the last to prevent formation.

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How To Defend Against A Hail Mary

Knock the football down.

Interceptions are almost worthless in a prevent situation. Knocking the football to the ground will have the same amount of impact as getting an interception.

Players who try to catch the football to get stats will more often than not tip the ball to an offensive player. It’s more beneficial to have the defensive players knock the ball down, end the game or the half and finish the drive.

Defenses who try to catch the football in a Hail Mary situation will often tip the football in the air, and it can be caught by an offensive player who is looking for a tip.

Tell the defensive players to knock the football to the ground and end the play when in doubt. A Hail Mary loss is one of the worst ways to end a football game.

How To Beat A Prevent Defense

The prevent defense is one of the hardest defenses to score against, as it usually has 7 or 8 defenders that are viscously defending the goal line.

For teams to score against a prevent defense, teams will use a Hail Mary to throw the ball as far as possible, hoping they can catch the ball.

The most successful Hail Marys are caught when there’s a taller player ready to catch the football in the end zone.

The other way to beat a prevent defense is to have a player waiting for a tipped ball in the end zone. This player is trying to catch the defense out of position to catch the ball due to a bad defensive angle.

Defenses who don’t have good ball skills or shorter players as safeties can beat on a 50/50 throw from the offense. The tallest players must be on the field on both sides in a prevent defense. This is so they can equally compete for the football.

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Keep Learning

Prevent defense is used in defenses all around the world. Prevent defenses are used to counteract the offense’s Hail Mary attack.

The prevent defense is typically used in the last couple of seconds before halftime and the game’s last play. Defensive coordinators will use this defense to protect the goal line from the offense scoring.

To beat the prevent, offenses must deploy a Hail Mary to catch a tipped ball or outjump a defensive player, hopefully.

Teams will use wide receivers and specialists to catch or knock the football down to counter the Hail Mary attack.

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About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.