Cover 2 Defense

Position Roles, Types, and Weaknesses

Cover 2 Defense

Position Roles, Types, and Weaknesses

Written by: Connor Morris | 06/05/2019 - Co-Founder, CMO, Apex Sports

Written by: Connor Morris | 06/5/2019 - Co-Founder, CMO, Apex Sports

Cover 2 Defense: Position Roles, Types, and Weaknesses

The Cover 2 Defense is a zone defense variation that gets its name from the Free Safety and Strong Safety that play deep and each cover half of the field. The presence of these two safeties is what the entire Cover 2 defense is built around. By covering the deep zones with only 2 players, there are more players that are able to play the run and/or short passing game. The luxury of being able to rely on two players to cover the deep zones of the field allows for more dominant defensive play within 10 yards. In this blog, we’ll look at the roles of different players that play in the Cover 2 defense as well as how to exploit the cover 2 defense.

Roles of the Safety in Cover 2

As previously mentioned, the Safeties are where the term “Cover 2” originates and the safeties are responsible for taking away the entire deep zone of the field, allowing more players to cover the underneath zone. It is clear to see that with only 2 players in the deep zone, these safeties are required to cover a large part of the field. If a safety gets lost in coverage or is not able to cover the entire half zone, the defense can be exploited over the top in which the receiver beats the cornerback. This could prove fatal to a defense and can often result in the offense getting a lot of big, explosive plays.

One of the primary responsibilities of the safety is to read the #1 receiver. If the receiver goes vertical, the safety knows to drop back into pass coverage. If the receiver breaks in to block a defensive player you know it’s a run and must run in to play the run. This is a quick decision and late reactions could prove costly. Once the safety makes this read, if the play is a pass, the safety must quickly direct his eyes back to the Quarterback.

A safety must also be able to read the break of a receiver. If the receiver breaks outside, you know he is running either a fade or a comeback route. On an inside break, the receiver is can be running a skinny post, a dig, a curl, or a post corner. Almost all of these routes have 12-15 yards of depth before the break.

When playing Cover 2 against a run play, the safety is responsible for filling the alley between the cornerback and the core of the formation. If played correctly there should be a clear gap for the safety to shoot through to make the tackle. Safeties in the Cover 2 shouldn’t be focused on stopping the run at the line of scrimmage, as they are part of the second level of the defense.

Roles of the Cornerback in Cover 2

The cornerback’s top priority when playing the Cover 2 defense is to reroute the #1 receiver. The Cornerbacks will typically play 4-5 yards off of the receiver and then attempt to jam them at the line. Interfering with the receiver’s release is of benefit to the safeties who are given more time to create a cushion in the deep zones. If the receiver gets a free release off of the line of scrimmage, it is very possible for the receiver to get on top of the safety in the deep zone and beat them for a long play.

The cornerbacks are also assigned to force the receivers inside. If the receiver is allowed outside, the safeties are forced to widen, leaving room for the deep zone to be attacked on vertical routes. If the receivers are forced inside, the safeties can work off of their landmarks and be better prepared to cover the field.

One of the biggest holes of a Cover 2 defense is the gap between the deep zone safeties and the cornerbacks, along the sidelines. This hole can be exploited and attacked by good quarterbacks. For that reason, it is important for the cornerbacks to follow up a jam on the receivers with a drop into these holes. This protects the safety from being caught out of coverage and prevents quarterbacks from exploiting these holes.

Cornerbacks will use what is called a zone turn, which is when the cornerback sinks and gets their depth with their back to the sideline. This allows the cornerback to watch the Quarterback and react quickly to throws in the flat. Cornerbacks playing in the Cover 2 should be strong tacklers as they will be expected to make open field tackles in the underneath zone and the flats. If cornerbacks can’t properly tackle, they will be a liability that could result in 2nd-and-long as well as 3rd-and-long pickups from the offense due to missed tackles.

Linebacker Roles in the Cover 2 Defense

Linebackers will be expected to cover the underneath zone and drop into coverage. The outside linebackers will be tasked with the hook/curl zones. If a player is coming through their zone, the linebacker should reroute the player to throw off the timing of the play. The middle linebacker will play the hook/hole zones and drop a little further back into coverage.

Types of Cover 2 Defenses

Basic Cover 2

In the basic Cover 2, the safeties will drop into the deep zone splitting the deep part of the field in half. The 2 Cornerbacks will either play up on the receivers, trying to jam them at the line before dropping back into an underneath zone. The linebackers will also drop into the underneath zone so there will be 5 players manning the underneath zone. If all receiver routes go vertical, the cornerbacks will sink back and help protect the safeties in deep pass coverage.

Tampa 2

The Tampa 2 is one of the more common versions of the Cover 2 and involves dropping the middle linebacker further back into coverage. The middle linebacker will aim to cover the gap between where the safeties split the field and the underneath defenders. This is somewhat similar to a Cover 3 but the safeties must be aware that middle linebackers tend to not be as good in pass coverage as a safety. This allows the safeties to spread out wider in the deep zone, giving more help to the cornerbacks over the top. However, the 2 outside linebackers now must cover more ground in the underneath zone.

Cover 2 Trap

This version of the Cover 2 deals with the cornerback reading the #2 receiver off of the #1 receiver and pattern matching the route of the #2 receiver. In this defensive alignment, the cornerback will lag back. If the #2 receiver breaks out on his route, the cornerback will then jump the route. The result of this is a lot of pick-6’s you might see. The receiver is essentially running into the “trap” and has their route jumped by the cornerback.

Other variations of the Cover 2 include Green 2, Red 2, Cover 2 Robber, and Cover 2 Invert.

Weaknesses of the Cover 2 Defense

The Cover 2 Defense can be exploited by a good offensive coordinator and good quarterback. By putting two receivers in the same half of the deep zone, the safety can be stretched out. In addition, there are holes that appear in the Cover 2 Defense such as the hole between the linebackers and the safeties as well as the holes between the safeties and the cornerbacks. In order to combat this, you will want athletic linebackers and defensive backs that are capable of covering a lot of ground as well as making quick reads on the wide receivers to determine how to play off of them.


The Cover 2 Defense is one of the most common zone defenses and it is run at the high school, collegiate and pro level. By demonstrating athleticism as a secondary player, you can show that you fit into a Cover 2 Defensive scheme. For safeties, this means showing the ability to cover a lot of ground. For cornerbacks, this means showing good tackling ability, reaction time, and an ability to jam the receiver at the line of scrimmage. For linebackers, you need to show that you are adequate in coverage situations but can react quickly on a run play and shoot downhill to fill your gap. Just having athleticism is not enough, however. These players should be able to demonstrate a strong understanding of the cover 2 defense and be able to make quick reads based on the break of the receivers.

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