Football 101: Learn more about Denver’s Cover 2, plus the Tampa 2

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Because Cover 2 was talked about in very broad terms, here, we held off delving into it deeper until Cover 6 was explained. Now you can read a more in depth accounting below.

Denver’s base defense after Wade Phillips took over is a 3-4 Defense. It uses three guys on the line and four linebackers. Because of that, how the Broncos plays Cover 2  is different from a 4-3 team in some key ways.


The most important thing to know is Cover 2 is predominately Man and you need, must have, good defensive backs. The corners line up on the line of scrimmage, each across from a WR against a basic offense formation. The corners will shadow their man wherever he goes. It means they need to be fast and quick, plus be really smart to know when they’re on a dummy route, so they can release and get to where the ball is really going.

Our  CBs (Talib & Harris) are out wide, while Free Safety/FS (Stewart) lines up deep and Strong Safety/SS (Ward) lines up beside him. The safeties are responsible for their two Deep 1/2 sections of the field, but also are assigned a player to watch, such as the SS is tasked with the RB and the FS a third WR.

At times, they will play a Full Under Zone Variation where players have responsibilities based on areas of the field.

Some Analysts will disagree on which formation is best; however, most teams have been forced into drafting/using corners who can cover (play man). Based on Denver’s defense being tops, a Cover 2, 3-4 is the Mack Daddy.

However, talent is key. Finding four good linebackers on one team, is tougher than finding four defensive linemen. Not to mention the best corners, hence more 4-3, than 3-4 teams.

Cover 2 is for the big boys. Talent dictates if you can run what Denver does. These cats can play Zone and Man. They can play hybrids of it, they can play any formation out there, including a quasi 4-3.

There are scenarios where it’s still the 2-deep zone with the 2 CB’s locking up Man to Man with the three linebackers (outside of Mike) who will take on zone responsibilities.

The beauty of this formation is you have five guys spread out along the LOS, then you have a layer of four guys curved around/behind them and finally, two safety nets behind.

The linebackers fill the holes between the defensive ends and the CBs, and also the gaps behind the DL. This covers all three depths, so they’re able to handle any pass/run play surprise.

The one drawback is the DL. If your front three aren’t great at stopping the run, RBs can march down the field with 3.5 yards all the way to a TD. Sure the linebackers will swarm to the ball, but not before they get enough to keep moving the chains. If LBs start creeping up to help, a good QB will pass behind them.

Tampa 2 is a variation that Chuck Noll actually created in Pittsburgh that Tony Dungy (former Steeler DB) borrowed and tweaked in Tampa. Other teams have used it since the 70’s as well, but the “Tampa 2” made the defense a bit more popular. He continued running it when he was fired in Tampa and hired in Indianapolis. The key change in it, is that the Middle Linebacker drops into a deep 1/3rd zone. The seam in between the two deep 1/2 zones was susceptible to deep passes, so the MLB dropping back there gives the area more help. The thing with a zone defense though is that there are always open holes and the better QB’s tend to find them.

With everything said above, Denver does not stay in a Cover 2 every play. It is their base defense. As we’ve discussed in the entire Cover series, they will change into different formations based on down and distance situations. They have the talent to play anything.

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