BWTB: Explaining coverages


I learned a long time ago that football fans were getting smarter by the minute. More and more people wanted to grasp the intricacies of football, such that they could watch the game and recognize certain aspects of a fast moving professional sport. Yet, the game changes rapidly and it's hard to keep with changes in a complex chess match.

As such, my twitter timeline often gets jammed with football questions, ones that are somewhat tough to answer in 140 characters. So, I figured with my Friday BWTB article, I'd  wake you up with some Football 101, by answering questions that I've gotten from followers throughout the season. I'll focus on one per week and this week's comes from Fernando.


*Fernando - I am a new NFL lover. Still don't know cover 1 2 3 & on & on!! Who & how becomes an ineligible receiver #SoccerLover2

*Although I have a love/hate relationship with soccer, I appreciate soccer fans wanting to broaden their horizons.

So, what's cover 1, 2, 3, etc…What Fernando is referring to is secondary coverage, defending the pass. Here's a quick breakdown and then I'll explain…

Cover 0 - man coverage, EVERYONE has a man!
Cover 1 - man coverage, WITH a free safety roaming in the middle of the field
Cover 2 - two DB covering two halves of the field
Cover 3 - three DB covering three thirds of the field
Cover 4 - four DB covering four quarters of the field.
Cover 5 - (typically) mix of cover 0 and cover 2 - "Man under zone"
Cover 6 - (typically) mix of cover 2 and cover 4

Each coverage has nuances but the genesis of each is that the number 2, 3 or 4 tells you how many defensive backs are protecting that many portions of the field. Two covering halves, Three covering thirds. Four covering quarters. Those are zone coverages but nowadays, zone coverages have matching principles that make them a lot of times look like man coverage after the snap. That's a whole different animal we'll save for later.

My favorite is cover 1 which you'll see a bunch with teams that want to bring pressure but don't want the middle of the field completely exposed. So, they'll play man on each receiver but allow the free safety to "roam" in the middle to help on the most dangerous receiver, a safety net, if you will. No pun intended.

The eligible/ineligible receiver part is relatively straight forward. There are five eligible receivers, not counting the quarterback. Seven men must align on the line of scrimmage and the furthest outside two on the LOS (what we call "end man on the LOS") are eligible.

Those two along with three others not aligned on the LOS (not including the quarterback), are all eligible to receive a pass. If one of those end men doesn't have an eligible receiver number (1-49, 80-89), he has to report to the referee as JJ Watt has to do every time he aligns at tight end down on the goal line.

I'll handle more questions over the next few weeks, in fact, I started a file with all of your questions, so my old age and memory don't get in the way of me forgetting them.

But, if you buy Sunday's Texans Gameday magazine, you'll see some extra special questions I got last week as well. I was honored to receive them, but you'll have to get the Magazine to see who sent me a query.

Happy Friday everyone!

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