Cover What…Cover Me…Cover 2

Use your ← → (arrows) to browse

What is cover 2?

  • Commonly referred to as Tampa 2 (due to the emergence of the Tampa Bay Buc), cover 2 is having both safeties providing over the top help
  • Let’s take a step back and understand exactly what cover 2 is made of.  First of all Cover 2 is not just a schema in the backfield, it is now a valid defensive set, like a 3-4, or 4-3.  It’s the mentality and the tone of your defense.  This was introduced to us by Tony Dungy.
  • How it works
    • DL
      • In a 3-4 or 4-3, the tone of your defense is set within the interior of the line, specifically the Nose Tackle in a 3-4 or Defensive Tackle in 4-3.
        • In a cover 2 D you still have these players, but they are hybrids.  Perfect example is Warren Sapp.  Sapp is a DT, but can play like a DE.  The premise of your interior line is that you would want athletic hybrid players for all four spots to create mismatches
        • Why?
          • We will get to that in a bit.
  • LBs
    • For Cover 2 D, you wouldn’t want Karlos Dansby, or Ray Lewis as your MLB, they are amazing LBs but just not right for this type of defense, why? Once again hybrid MLBs are needed.  Think Derrik Brooks, young, fast, mobile LB, that could make the tackle.  Brooks doesn’t fit the mold of the Trifecta LBs, since he is short, and not built to their liking, but is perfect fit for cover 2.
  • CBs
    • One word – aggressive.  If they can’t jam the WR at the line, no point for them to be on the team.
  • SS/FS
    • Top end speed with range. Both positions play the robber technique

How Cover 2 Works:

  • With the hybrid DLs and LBs and aggressive CB, robber FS and SS, all these characteristics build the Tampa 2
    • Responsibilities
      • DL
        • The purpose of the DL is to attack.  Since all of your linemen are athletic players, their main responsibilities is to create mismatches on the line of scrimmage and use their athleticism to beat the Olinemen.
        • Constant pressure at the QB to ruin timing routes, draws, screens etc. Main objective get to the QB before the 4th read.
    • LBs
      • Almost play a spy on the QB.
        • Reading the QB eyes to see where the play develops and get there before the pass happens
    • CBs
      • 100% jam on the line for the WRs. This is the key. But interrupting the WR routes, you cause the QB to wait for the play to develop, thus allowing your DL to get to the QB.  This is the only type of defense that CB’s set the tone.
    • SS/FF
      • Over the top help.  If the WR breaks the jam, it is now on the SS or FS to make the play.

Let’s break this down

Bills call double 1 spread, zig Y fly
formation (2 WR, 1RB, 1FB, 1 TE)

Nolan calls tampa 2 base
DL (Odrick, Langford, Merling, Starks)* Notice no big NT
LBs (Crowder, Dansby, Wake)
CB (Davis and Smith)
FS (McDainels) SS (Bell)

Pre-snap read

Fitz call his pre-set cadence. As soon as this happen, Smith and Davis both creep up the line of scrimmage, no 5 yard respect, right in the WR grill

Ball is hiked.

D side of the ball
Davis and Smith both apply the jam on their WRs jamming and taking them off the route
Dansby has Spiller eying.
Crowder take the TE, and can even jam his routes
Wake is eyeing Fitz, playing the Spy

O side of the ball
Fitz looks for his first WR, jammed at the line
Fitz looks at his secondary option, jammed at the line route is off
Fitz looks for safety, RB, TE flare, nothing
Thinks run, notices Wake with the spy.

Time’s up (5 reads, here comes Odrick), sack for 5 yard loss.

Why we would we call cover 2?

  • We wouldn’t.  Nolan might use it in certain situations but our bread and butter is placed on the 3-4 D.  However, and this is just speculations, with AJ Edds coming back from injury could this be the roaming LB that is needed to play this type of D? Time will only tell.

What are the drawbacks of cover 2?

  • Cover 2 is main purpose is to interrupt the timing of the play.  What happens if the WR, breaks jam, big play.
  • Another key factor is that the middle of the field is always open.  If you run a skinny cut post, that could translate to huge yardage.  See play below:


As you can see, if this type of play is executed correctly the slot WR, is going to the house. This the biggest disadvantage of this formation.

Any questions?

Use your ← → (arrows) to browse
Dick's Sporting Goods presents "Hell Week":

  • Adam Spohn

    Pretty good write up about explaining the Cover 2 D. This is great stuff and I love it when people spend the time to educate on the NFL. Football can be a complicated and intimidating sport.

    There is one thing I would correct you on. Cover 2 isn’t Tampa 2. I think sometimes in the NFL it becomes a hybrid at times but the Cover 2 D is different from the Tampa 2. Which is why Tampa 2 is called something different. Your play draw up shows the traditional cover 2. Not the Tampa 2. The Tampa 2 asks the MLB to drop into cover the middle of the field if needed essentially turning it in to a hybrid cover2/cover 3 Defense. So the Tampa 2 D has that MLB dropping into safety range with the other 2. Its not a cover 3 because its a much bigger range and its a LBer not a DB playing that spot.

    I would also argue that Dansby is EXACTLY the fit of a Tampa 2 LB. I was shocked when you listed him as not a good option for the Tampa 2. This is exactly what he did in Arizona and played a lot of “safety” type coverage down the field. He is one of those rare athletic Linebacker’s. This is the reason Miami paid him so well when they couldn’t cover Tight Ends in the seam the year before.

    • bahamas

      First of all thanks my friend. Appreciate the feedback.

      As per the Tampa 2 vs Cover 2 you are right. I didnt get into the MLB position in depth, but as I stated it was a spy, which means a mild cover 1 responsibility.

      As per Dansby, I will agree to disagree. And the reason why i say that is due to his big feet, which translate to lateral movement. I agree he is amazing cover LB, but based on tampa 2 LBs, you think BRain Urlacher and Derrik Brooks.

  • Chinzo

    No offense, but you’re way off here. The Tampa 2 and cover two are different schemes, and your claim that Dansby and Ray Lewis wouldn’t fit this scheme is ridiculous. Ray Lewis? You might want to double check that. He’s probably the best MLB in the NFL, possibly of all time, and like most teams, the Ravens most definitely have a Cover 2 package in their formidable defensive playbook. Lastly, you named Derrick Brooks as an ideal MLB in a Cover 2 defense? Brooks didn’t even play in the middle! He played OLB, and mostly on the weak side because because if his pass rushing ability.

    I’m not trying to sound like a know-it-all, but I had to comment on this one.

    • bahamas

      No worries, everyone has a right to express their opinion.
      Regarding Ray Lewis, he is built for 3-4 or 4-6 D…not a Tampa 2 D.

      Yes he has is a type of player than can play in any D, but is more categored towards the formations listed above.

      Like the Patriots Coach stated, if Jason Taylor played in a 3-4 his entire career he would be a sure bet Hall of Famer…..

      If Ray Lewis didnt play in 3-4 or 4-6, would he have made the same impact on the game? You and I can’t answer that question.

      Now to correct you on a misunderstanding, Tampa 2 and cover 2 are have the same pressence in the formation, but you have different variations..
      Tampa 2 is a formation just like 3-4.
      Cover 2 is coverage responsibiliy.

      That is what i was trying to point out. Of course they are completely different. Tampa 2 consist of building a defensive front similar to what the Bears and Tampa ran.

      Cover 2 is a coverage used by CBs and FS/SS.

      My bad on Brooks, i thought he played a ROVER LB….which is once hybrid of OLB/MLB