Skip to Content

What Is Cover 2 In Football? (Explained)

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 2 deep defenders and 5 underneath the defenders. This coverage is often played to stop underneath crossing routes.

In this article, we’re going to show you what cover 2 is in football and why it is effective.

Why Is It Called Cover 2?

When dealing with coverages in football, it’s important to pay attention to the last number. The number will often indicate how many deep defenders there are.

For example, cover 2 means there are 2 deep defenders. These 2 defenders (often referred to as safeties) are responsible for ensuring that no deep throws are completed.

Defensive coordinators will play cover 2, with 2 deep defenders and 5 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

Cover 2 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 the area outside of the hash that extends all the way to the sideline. The corner is responsible for covering any routes that run into the flats.

The next zone is the hook/curl area. It is called the hook/curl area because that’s where 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.

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.

The last zones are the deep halves. These are the zones that the two safeties will play. Cover 2 means 2 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 half.

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

What Is The Tampa 2 Defense?

The Tampa 2 defense is a version of the cover 2 defense. It got its name Tampa 2 because Tony Dungy, who coached at Tampa Bay at the time, 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 underneath zone.

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

The deep middle is the weak spot in a 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, and they could focus more of their efforts 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 long and athletic to run with slot receivers through the middle of the field.

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

How To Beat Cover 2

Cover 2 is a unique coverage 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.

The way to beat cover 2 is to put pressure on the safeties by running vertical routes. If the corners are playing press coverage or are below 5 yards, it’s a great opportunity to try to throw the ball over their heads.

Teams will often use all go’s or some vertical package to try to stress the safeties. In our opinion, this is the best way to beat a cover 2 and stress the defense to either changing their coverage or changing their rules within the coverage.


Cover 2 is an effective coverage against underneath crossing and stick routes. Teams who play primarily cover 2 also get 7 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.

We’d love to hear your version of cover 2. If you play a different version, let us know by sending us a message on Twitter, @vIQtorySports.

Lorenzo Alexander talks NFL Career and Life Afterwards
Davone Bess talks NFL Career and Mental Health Journey