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Defensive Back Techniques: Cover 2 Pattern Read Examples

This is the last group of examples we'll showcase for Cover 2 pattern reads, and over the summer we plan to touch on pattern reading a little more and for specific plays and examples. I think in the next series of articles we'll go into substituted pass coverage (nickel or dime packages) when applied to the spread offense, and some discussion on defensive fronts. In the example diagrams I've created here, I've assumed a standard Cover 2 zone scheme where the FS and SS (or a nickel back) play the 2 deep halves of the field. I've also diagrammed most of it as a usual 4-3, but that doesn't matter. Note that Cover 2 is not Tampa 2, a Tampa 2 scheme is closer to Cover 3 zone.

Whether an underneath player is a LB or a Safety doesnt matter from an X's and O's standpoint. The only thing that matters is the technique the player uses. Most coaches will change up the specific assignment depending on the skills of a player in particular, but this really only amounts to changing his assignment in pass coverage. There are of course many adjustments in the coverage with specific calls or checks but we won't go into that here.


Cover 2 Zones

Flat - Usually a Cornerback has the assignment, and he's aligned on the outside shoulder of the #1 receiver, with the usual goal of jamming him and trying to force him towards the inside (funnel technique) and away from one of the holes in Cover 2: the boundary deep. He may be told to play soft or press/jam, or mix up the two based on his own instincts and the man he's playing against. As a general rule, if #1 releases to the outside and he can't funnel him, he must run with him.

Hook/Curl - Similar to C3, he'll be aligned on the inside of the #2, and must never let someone go up the seam undefended.

Hook - Principal job will be the #2/3 usually, and his main job is to protect the middle of the field from crossers. Most C2 teams don't function well without a LB who can cover this zone, though I wouldnt say the MLB is as important as the WILL linebacker. He'll open up to the strong side, which is why he is moving in that direction in the above diagram.

Deep Zones - the FS will have one and will be aligned about 12 yards deep up the field off the Weakside OT. He'll be alert for a "Sky" or "Cloud" call as to his run assignment. The SS or other deep defender will be aligned off the TE, to the outside shoulder, at between 7-10 yards depth. After the snap he's to drop to about 3 yards off the inside of the numbers, 17-20 yards deep.

Those deep coverage rules usually apply to Cover 2 Man as well.

Strengths of Cover 2 Zone:
  • Ability to jam outside receivers and direct them inwards (called funneling), disrupting their timing routes.
  • Coverage of the flat area. In Cover 3 usually a LB/SS has to get over to the flat, in C2, the Corner is already there. Ths helps take away "out" routes.
  • Better coverage of underneath zones, with 5 defenders. This can hold up the TE on his route and help on the weakside run containment.

Weaknesses of Cover 2 Zone:

  • Strongside Curl routes can pose issues for the Linebackers.
  • Run support off-tackle
  • Deep coverage in the very middle of the field and along the boundary.
How C2 is usually attacked:

Teams that show alot of Cover 2 are vulnerable to the spread formations because the wider splits create more seams in the defense. The 2 deep safeties still have to account for 5 WRs and you see alot of spread teams flooding the zone and making the safety choose poorly.

Though I said the flat zone is well covered by a Corner now, the offense will stretch him by having a back release late and sending the WR on a deeper route. The Corner has to go with the WR if he goes vertical, and when he sees the back come out, he has to break off to take the back. Basically he's caught between two men.

The Smash. Corner routes by the inside WR go right into the hole on the boundary that a C2 zone has. The CB has the flat so has to stay with the #1 WR running the hitch, and the Safety has alot of ground to cover to get over and stick the #2 receiver running a flag.

Safety Action in Cover 2


Pattern #1



Flat defender jams the receiver and cushions (follows the #1) until the RB breaks to the boundary, then has to get down to cover him. The SLB is assigned to the Hook/Curl zone, so he pushes beyond the #2 receiver when he goes up the seam, and gets underneath the Z receiver's route, with the SS covering the deep half over Y and Z.

The MLB has the Hook zone over the middle, but when he sees the RB block, and the HB (above) break out then he pushes through to the Y-receiver up the seam to his inside. The SS is over the top with outside leverage on Y.


WLB has the H/C zone to his side, so his first key is the RB. He stacks once he sees that he's blocking, and covers whichever threat is closest to him in his drop.

The Corner jams first, then cushions with #1, and once he notices that the RB is blocking, he continues to close up on the #1. Basically he keeps one arm length away from X until he sees the RB come out for a route.

The FS takes the deepest threat to his side, which is the Square-In route, and when he sees him break he breaks on the route.

Pattern #2



Flat jams and cushions, then takes the HB when he sees the QB make the throw. Notice this is a little different than before....the CB is watching #1 and #2 to his side, and he sees the #2 break inside immediately, so he would expect #1 to run over the top with a deeper Square-In, or break outside. When the back comes out he's the final #2, so the CB must pick him up and yet cannot leave his man because Y broke inside initially. He must wait for the QB to turn his shoulders towards the RB before he can leave the Z receiver.

The SS jumps on the Flag route from the outside-in, using the boundary as another defender.

Also the SLB initiates his drop up the seam while watching the RB, and waits on the Z to break inside behind him. When he sees no threat to the H/C zone he must find a threat over the middle: the weak spot in Cover 2.

Hook defender picks up the first crosser, the TE above.


H/C begins his drop and gains depth, and when the RB crosses his face goes deeper to cover the receiver behind him. The flat defender cushions and then breaks when the RB heads to the boundary, just like the other flat defender.

FS reads the drop of the QB (see video above) and looks for the deepest threat, and if he sees none (e.g., the TE breaking up the middle) then he closes up the Curl route. 

 Pattern #3



Corner cushions and keeps his eyes on the final #2 (HB) in case he breaks to the flat. If he doesnt, he tightens up coverage on Z.

H/C defender takes #2 when he goes up the seam.

SS plays between the two routes, waiting on the throw to break.

Hook defender starts with the first crosser but his primary key is the RB, and when he breaks out late over the middle he must release the TE and take the back. This involves a particular call between him and the WLB for who to take on the play. Thats the tricky part and the WLB has to be paying attention.

Notice in the last pattern the MLB took the crosser, but this is because the RB broke outside, making him someone elses man.


H/C defender stacks when he sees the RB block, and hunts for a crosser while he gets depth. When he sees the TE coming across and the RB coming out over the middle, he knows he must defend one of them, and so takes the one threatening his zone.

Flat defender cushions with the #1 while the FS hunts for the deepest threat.

 Pattern #4 - similar to a Levels play



Corner cushions and when he notices no threat, keeps going with Z. As above, the SS has to be between the #1 and #2 (RB) routes to break to either one. H/C defender must defend the seam, so he sticks on the final #2 when he sees the break of the TE.

Hook defender takes the first crosser, the TE.


H/C defender has a slot WR or H-back flexed outside the Tackle, so on his break upfield he picks him up man/man. He's not looking for a crosser into his zone here, just the #2 to his side. Theoretically a coordinator could flip the responsibility of the MLB and WLB here, but that creates a weakness if the Slot man is running a quick slant or short 3-step drop route. The MLB couldnt get over fast enough.

Flat defender cushions, then only breaks on the TE when he extends the route to the boundary. The FS must respect the post.

Pattern #5 - Basically a Smash pattern



The corner continues depth if #1 stops his route, and only comes up on the hitch if the ball goes there. He must protect the seam behind his zone first and prevent the deep ball. Basically in this example youre giving up the hitch.

Hook/Curl defender uses his body to deflect the TE out of the seam, but keeps his eyes on #1. When #1 stops his route, he runs to #1 whether the ball goes there or not.

Hook LB stacks when he sees the #3 block (RB). That means he takes his drop freely and reads the QB's shoulders for a throw. He still is charged with protecting a crosser into his area.

Deep defender immediately reads the smash and goes to the Corner


H/C lines up inside #2 to his side, and intends to again deflect him out of the seam. He's keeping his eyes on #1 and if he stops his route, H/C also stops the drop. However on this side he does not jump the throw, because he must wait to see what #2 is doing first. If its a hitch he will have to stay with him.

CB cushions the route watching for a Smash (smash is repped incessantly for C2 pattern read teams), and if he sees no threat headed behind him he will close up on #1.

Deep defender sees no deep threat, so he'll go to the #2 receiver (deepest threat).

 Pattern #6



Flat Corner attacks the flat route first, but must be alert to the 2nd man through his zone (Y above) and will have to break off Z if the throw is attempted. H/C defender is meant to pick up Z when he notices his inside break.

Hook LB stacks first, takes his drop and hunts a crosser. The Back comes out and he'll pick him up unless a crosser comes free uncovered first.

Deep defenders see the slants and is waiting for them to come free upfield or a throw made.


CB jams and sticks #1 until and unless he sees #2 cross his face, just like the strongside. He'll have to pick up the 2nd man in the zone always. H/C defender will pick up #1 when he sees his crossing route.

 Pattern #7 - Verticals


Although this is a verticals pattern, it could easily be a usual post-dig combination with Z running a post.


Flat defender jams and then cushions with #1 with his eyes on #2 as well. H/C carries #2 from the inside up the seam, watching #1 to see if he stops his route (remember they are always watching for a smash or smash-like pattern) and jumps him if that happens.

Hook LB covers #3 man/man, while the deep defender immediately gets depth and aligns himself between #1 and #2.


Flat jams and cushions, again watching #2. H/C does as his counterpart on the strongside. Deep defender initially gets between the two receivers, but if he sees #1 stop, he tries to get inside #2 to prevent a post pattern.

Pattern #8



Flat defender cushions first and then must prevent a receiver from crossing his face. It would be hard for him to get back under the TE in the above diagram but it is possible in this bunched-WR case to switch assignments with a SS or LB.

H/C runs hard with #2 (TE) when he breaks outside, if he has help or by gameplan (or the FB doesnt run a route) he can divert back inside to take away the outside from the Z (final #3 receiver).

Hook defender goes to #3, the Z. In some cases the Deep defender will be man/man with the Corner route.


H/C defender stacks when the RB blocks, so he takes his drop and hunts for crossers. He'll pick up the Square-In by #1 when he doesnt see the RB coming out.

The CB goes towards the formation with the route until he sees the RB coming out, in which case he must take him. The safety will come down on the In route.

Pattern #9 - Flow



Flat defender cushions and closes on #1 unless he sees an outside breaking back.

H/C gets to the final #2, which is the RB because of Flow, and comes down on him from above. The initial #2 is H, Y is #3. Once the pattern starts, Z stays #1 because he's the widest receiver, and both H and Y are breaking inside with the RB outside, so he's the final #2.

Hook defender takes the 2nd crosser in flow and the #3 receiver, so he passes off the H receiver and works to Y. The safety works to the post route.


H/C defender takes that 1st crosser he sees and the flat defender is removed, he has to stick on #1 and only comes off if he sees that crosser go free. He knows he has deep safety help on #1.

 Pattern #10



Flat defender jams and cushions, and if he sees no threat deep he closes up on #1. H/C defender closes up on final #2 (TE). He will need to be disciplined here with respect to the crosser. Hook defender picks up the final #3 because this is not a flow pattern (RB goes weak) and tries to wall-off.

Deep defender takes the deep threat, the high In route by Y.


Weakside Flat cushions and reacts to any throw, to either #1 or #2 (RB). Weakside H/C sees the outside release by the RB and gets underneath the In route (he's now going to be the final #2, RB is final #1).

The weakside H/C defender has the difficult job here, on the backside of a Trips (3WR) setup, he'll be slow to get to the #1 receiver and may also end up with crossers coming under him. Also, his key, the RB may block early so he'll stack.This is one of the reasons why a Weakside LB is so important to Cover 2 teams, not so much the MLB. He's got to play this type of play correctly.

Deep defender jumps the curl.

 Pattern #11 - Flow


This one is the familiar post-dig.


Flat defender cushions, reacts to any action in the flat. In this case he'll take the TE when he sees a throw being attempted or he crosses his face. H/C picks up #1 unless he sees him going deeper, in which case he turns back inside towards the formation and looks for another crosser. He can't defend the post.

Deep defender must always cover the post, preferably from the inside.


Flat defender cushions and works to the In route. He cannot let the low crosser cross his face, and comes down when he sees him coming free across the formation.

H/C defender stacks first and gets depth, hunting crossers. In the event a crosser comes free he must pick him up and not worry about the Cornerback helping him, he must know the CB has more ground to cover to get down there.

FS works to the In route first, but knows his help may be needed on the post. If the throw is made to the post he will peel off.

Handling Vertical patterns


[h/t brophy for the videos]