Cover 2 Defense In Football Explained

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: February 12, 2024

Cover 2 in football is a popular coverage played by almost all teams that need to defend both the run and the pass. Teams will use this coverage to protect themselves against underneath coverage.

Cover 2 in football means the defense has two deep defenders and five underneath the defenders. This coverage is often played to stop underneath crossing routes.

This article will show you what cover 2 is in football and why it is effective.

Cover 2 Defense

Cover 2 defense

When dealing with coverages in football, paying attention to the last number is essential. The number will often indicate how many deep defenders there are. Cover 2 is an excellent complement to palms coverage and lives in the zone coverage family.

For example, cover 2 defense means there are two deep defenders. These two defenders (often called safeties) ensure that no deep throws are completed.

Defensive coordinators will play cover 2 defense, with two deep half defenders and five underneath defenders. The philosophy is they’re hoping to stop underneath crossing routes while sacrificing having fewer players to cover deeper routes.

Cover 2 Defense Underneath Zones

To understand cover 2, you must first understand all of the zones. The first zone, and most important, is the flats. The flats are outside the hash that extends to the sideline. The corner is responsible for covering any routes that run into the flats.

cover 2 zones in football

The next zone is the hook/curl area. It is called the hook/curl area because the offensive will run their hook or curl routes. This extends from the hash to the middle of the field. Outside linebackers are often responsible for this area, as they will cover any crossing routes or short routes from the slot receiver.

cover 2 zones in football

The true middle of the “hole” is the last zone that the middle linebacker will occupy. It’s his responsibility to drop in the middle and look for any crossing routes or throws that carry over the middle.

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Cover 2 Defense Deep Defenders

cover 2 defense zones in football

The last zones are the two deep safeties. These are the zones that the two safeties will play. Cover 2 means two safeties are splitting the field in half. This means that one safety is responsible for covering any deep routes to one half of the field, and the other safety is responsible for the other deep half.

This coverage is highly effective against teams like to run mesh or any other crossing concepts. This coverage can be taken advantage of on deeper routes that stress the safety of covering multiple routes.

Where the defense struggles is when they get four vertical routes. The deep safeties will have to make a decision if they should cover the wide receiver or the slot receiver to their side.

Cover 2 Vs. Tampa 2

The Tampa 2 defense is a variation of the Cover 2 defense. It got its name Tampa 2 because Tony Dungy, who coached at Tampa Bay, was responsible for creating and innovating the scheme.

The Tampa 2 is similar to Cover 2. However, it relies on the Mike linebacker to cover the field’s deep middle rather than the middle underneath zone.

Tony Dungy and his staff looked at how many footballs were completed in the underneath middle zone and soon learned that no teams were attacking that area of the field. Instead, teams brought their faster slot receivers through the deep middle of the field.

Cover 2 tampa defense

The deep middle is the weak spot in cover 2, and teams started to expose it by splitting the two safeties. Coach Dungy started to run his middle linebackers through the middle of the field and play deep coverage to counteract this. Now the safeties had support with deep routes through the middle, focusing more on outside breaking routes.

Tampa 2 has become a staple for most NFL teams, as it allows their athletic middle linebacker to carry any middle-of-the-field routes, especially from a 3×1 formation.

Teams also had to adjust their personnel to run the Tampa 2 defense. For instance, middle linebackers are no longer short and stalky players. Their body types need to be longer and more athletic to run with slot receivers through the middle of the field.

We recommend playing this coverage if you have the right players who can run the Tampa 2 effectively. However, if your personnel doesn’t fit the scheme, the traditional cover 2 will work effectively.

Teams also have found success running cover 2 in split field schemes.

How To Beat Cover 2

Cover 2 is unique because it has almost half of the defenders playing underneath zones. To play Cover 2 effectively, teams need to reroute wide receivers to slow them down. That way, they can’t get to the safeties at a full sprint.

how to beat cover 2 Tampa defense

The way to beat Cover 2 is to pressure the safeties by running vertical routes. If the corners are playing press coverage or below 5 yards, it’s an excellent opportunity to throw the ball over their heads.

Teams will often use all go’s or some vertical package to stress the safeties. This is the best way to beat Cover 2 and stress the defense to either change their coverage or change their rules within the coverage.

Keep Learning

Defensive linemen typically have the same base rules in a cover 2 defense. Coaches will decide to play regular Cover 2 defense or Tampa 2 defense, based on their philosophies or defensive scheme.

The five underneath zones are occupied by the three linebackers and two cornerbacks. The underneath zone defenders will play the quick passes or short throws in their zone.

The safeties play zone defense, which includes covering their deep halves. They are responsible for any ball that is thrown deep downfield.

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

What Is Cover 0? Learn The Basics Of Man Coverage

Learn The Basics Of Cover 1 In Football

Split Field Coverage In Football

What Is Cover 3 In Football? Explained

Cover 2 is an effective coverage against underneath crossing and stick routes. Teams who play primarily cover 2 also get seven players to the football in the run game, as they will all be near the box.

The weakness in cover 2 covers the deep pass, as the space behind the corners and the middle of the field can be exposed. Teams who play cover 2 rely on their athletic safety to cover deep routes and corners to play the underneath routes.

If you’re looking for a prevent defense, we do not recommend running cover 2. There are better options to run prevent here.

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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.