What Is Cover 0 Defense? Learn The Basics Of Man Coverage

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: February 12, 2024

Cover 0 is man coverage that’s often played by teams at all levels. It requires a high level of skill to play effectively. What is cover 0 defense?

Cover 0 is man coverage. It’s called cover 0 because there is 0 help deep. Players will play man-to-man coverage against the receivers while the other players blitz. It’s high-pressure coverage that forces the quarterback to quickly get rid of the ball.

In this article, we’re going to break down cover 0 man coverage and how it’s played across the landscape of football.

What Is Cover 0?

As the name states, cover 0 defense is a coverage with 0 deep defenders. If we’re looking at the other coverages, cover 1 has one deep defender, cover 2 has two deep defenders, cover 3 has three deep defenders, and so on.

cover 0 defense in football

Cover 0 has no deep defenders that act as a safety valve. Each player covering one of the five eligible receivers is simply on an island by themselves. They will have to mirror the receiver wherever he goes.

Typically defenses will have a free safety or deep safeties in deep coverage. Cover 0 defense has no deep safeties. All the defensive backs are in man coverage and their coverage responsibilities are just one offensive player they are assigned to cover.

Often when teams play cover 0, they are blitzing the quarterback. The reason for playing Cover 0 is to disrupt the quarterback’s timing, which we’ll explain later in the article.

Cover 0 is often played in longer down and distance situations, as it has a high risk and high reward outcome.

Teams must have good cover defenders to play man coverage successfully. It’s one of the hardest coverages in football to play, especially with the explosion of the spread offense. Teams have athletic players as receivers more than ever.

Why Teams Play Cover 0

Cover 0 is often paired with the blitz of 6 defenders. Teams will often elect to keep six blockers in to protect their quarterback if they run any spread system.

This allows for all of the defenders that are blitzing to have a one on one situation.

One-on-ones for a defensive lineman is ideal because it lets them worry about one player blocking them. It also puts a tremendous amount of pressure on every lineman to sustain their block.

When teams bring six players on a pass rush, they leave the running back to block either a defensive lineman or a blitzing linebacker. Running backs are rarely good blockers, so this puts the situation in favor of the defense from a pass rush standpoint.

Cover 0 is a lot more high risk than playing cover 1, cover 2, or cover 3.

Another reason teams will elect to play cover 0 is to force the quarterback to make mistakes. Especially at younger levels, the fear of seeing six defenders rush toward the quarterback is maximized.

Quarterbacks who are not trained in handling blitz situations will often panic and throw the ball up in the air to get rid of it.

Also, quarterbacks who aren’t trained will try to run away from the blitz, resulting in a major loss in yardage. This is a complete advantage for the defense if they face this type of quarterback.

Disadvantages Of Playing Cover 0

The lack of support deep can hurt cover 0. If a player happens to beat a player playing man-to-man football coverage, the quarterback can miss anywhere deep.

This is where we often see the ball being floated in the air, as the quarterback knows there’s no help or support in the deep middle.

cover 0 no safety help

It allows the quarterback to be free on his releases, as he doesn’t need to worry about fitting the ball away from the safety.

Another reason playing Cover 0 can be a match-up nightmare is for a defensive player that isn’t as skilled as the receiver. This is where the quarterback can take advantage.

Teams often have a wide receiver that can physically and mentally dominate defensive backs. Leaving this player alone with another defensive player is asking for bad things to happen.

Defensive coaches need to enforce that defensive linemen and linebackers must move at full speed to disrupt the quarterback. That way, the defensive backs aren’t left covering speedy receivers for too long.

Giving a quarterback time to throw the football in Cover 0 is a nightmare for defenses.

Teams have chosen to use robber coverage (also known as palms) to make it even harder for quarterbacks.

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How To Beat Cover 0

As with all of the coverages we teach, we also need to teach our players how the coverage is beat; that way, we can cover up the holes if we’re exploited.

There’s nothing worse for a defensive play-caller than consistently getting beat on coverage and not being able to fix it. If something is broken, immediately put a patch on the defense or show players how not to expose it.

Beating cover 0 requires two things, skill and patience.

The skill aspect comes from the receivers. Often cover 0 is successful for the defense because the wide receivers don’t know how to get off a jam. Players are jammed at the line of scrimmage and don’t get very far.

Pick plays are also very useful against cover 0. Tight ends running to the flats while wide receivers pick their linebackers in man coverage create an easy throw for the quarterback.

Cover 0 crossers
Quick crossing routes is one way to beat cover 0

This throws off the timing of the routes and leaves the quarterback in a bad position to throw the football. The average time to throw the football is 1-2 seconds, and time is extremely precious when a blitz is coming.

The second attribute is patience. The quarterback can’t panic when a blitz is happening. A scared quarterback will often make poor decisions and throw the ball to the other team if not careful.

Want To Learn More About Coverages? See Our Complete Defensive Coverage Guide Here

We recommend having an immediate action plan for the quarterback to go through pre-snap. This will help the quarterback think more clearly about where to deliver the football, so they don’t get confused when the ball is snapped.

If you’re unsure how to teach cover 0 and the progressions for the quarterback, Chris Johnston from Complete QB gave a great clinic on the different ways to approach man coverage here.

Once you understand how the offense will beat you playing cover 0, it’s much easier to defend against it.

Keep Learning

The offense is put under intense pressure when the defense runs cover 0. Six rushers will try to sack the quarterback, hoping to limit the big play.

The whole point of cover 0 is to make the quarterback make a poor decision and the throwing lane.

Zone coverage is effective for most defenses, but playing man coverage has it’s benefits if you have great athletes on defense.

Learn more about coverages in football below.

Defensive Coverages In Football – Complete Guide

What Are The Nickel Dime & Quarter Packages In Football?

What Is A Zone Blitz In Football? Explained

What Is Cover 5 In Football? 2-Man Explained

Cover 4 In Football: Coverage Guide

Learn The Basics Of Cover 1 In Football

Split Field Coverage In Football

What Is Cover 2 In Football? Explained

What Is Cover 3 In Football? Explained

Cover 0 is a high-risk, high reward coverage that can be used in any down situation, as long as the coach feels comfortable putting his players on an island to cover the other team’s receivers.

Last, if the coach feels as if the quarterback can’t handle the pressure of the blitz, this is the best time to blitz the opposing quarterback.

Let’s keep learning! Our learning center is packed with information regarding techniques, schemes, and more!

If you’re looking for more in-depth breakdowns & coaching resources, visit our coaching resource page here.

All teams should play cover 0 if they want to force the quarterback and offensive coordinator to get the ball out quickly.

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.