How to Beat Man Coverage

How to Beat Man Coverage

Hey guys, thanks again for reading my posts.  I really appreciate it! The next 4 blog posts will be about how to defeat certain coverages. Today we are going to look at how to beat man coverage. Next week, we will look at Cover 2, then Cover 3, and Cover 4.  Let’s get into it!!



There are, obviously, a ton of variations that fall under the umbrella of Man Coverage. So, before we move forward, we need to identify and define what I mean when I say “Man.”  Soft man can look and behave like zone, so it’s important to identify exactly what the defense is doing before you make a gameplan to attack it.  It’s also important to teach your WR’s and QB’s the keys to identifying coverage so they become good students of film and are able to make in game decisions, recognize blitzes, etc.

We teach our guys 3 keys to decipher man from zone:

  1. Initial defensive alignment.  If there are 4 guys lined up in press, it’s pretty obvious they are playing man. But, if everyone is lined up at 5 yards with 2 safeties over the top, it gets a little tough to decipher simply based on this key.
  2. Where are the CB’s looking?  If they are looking look at the WR, they are probably in zone.  If they look in the backfield, they are probably in zone.
  3. In-breaking routes.  If CB’s follow your WR’s on posts, digs, and crossing routes, they are playing man.  If I’m confused as I watch film, I always try to find an in-breaking route and watch the CB.

Again, I know that sounds simple.  But, remember, high school kids have very little experience deciphering coverage.  Give them a few keys that help them identify Man.



Every coverage has a hole.  There is always open grass.  When I think about plays that work against Man Coverage, I want to exploit the open grass that the defense is conceding.  So, as you look at your opponent, ask yourself: What grass are they not defending?  What grass are they giving me?  Then, call plays that put your best players in that open grass.

It sounds simple enough.  Calling the right play is not really the tough part.  The difficulty is coaching your guys up so that they actually win and show up in that open grass.  The difficulty is teaching your QB to throw on time so that the ball arrives when the grass is still open.  The difficulty is teaching your WR’s to get off jams so they don’t get rerouted.  The difficulty is teaching your QB to throw away from the safety, over the correct shoulder.  The difficulty is teaching your guys to catch the ball between two defenders when you know they are going to get hit.  You get the idea…it’s not the play as much as the execution.

With that being said, let’s try to look at the best plays against Man so that you can focus on what is really important…getting your guys to execute that play with great consistency.

Before we look at specific plays, if you are reading this and have not yet downloaded my version of the Air Raid, some of the terminology might not make sense to you.  The playbook are all free.  Click here to download the free playbook now. 



I am going to assume that if you see cover 0, they are playing press and sending 7.  That means you have about 1.5 seconds to get rid of the ball.  You won’t be able to throw crossing routes.  The goal should be to get the ball out to your guys and let them run after the catch.

Here are my favorite routes vs. Cover 0:

Ace Brown – The fade and the quick out are both great options.

Ace Red – If your guys can get off the jam, there is big play potential on the slant route.

Ace Yellow – I love the 6 yard corner route to the slot receiver.

Ace Orange – The natural crossing action of the arrow and the slant is great against press.

Ace Verticals – Pick your best match up and trust your guy to win.

Trips Black –  The fade and the arrow route are both good options.  The stick route can be good if you have a physical Y that can create space and post up.

The other way I would attack cover 0 is to get into trips and isolate various guys that you think have a match up advantage.  Throw slants and fades all night and turn the game into a 1 on 1 drill.  You only need to complete 1 out of 3 to keep the chains moving.  You have to like those odds

One note here: Cover 0 is usually a down and distance adjustment for the defense.  If you aren’t sure when they are going to be in Cover 0,  one option is to use a dummy snap count, assess the defense and signal in a new play from the sideline if the defense does line up in 0.



Much like cover 0, the majority of open grass is over the top of the defense.  But, because they can only bring 6 defenders, you will be able to pick up the blitz and have 3-3.5 seconds to deliver the ball.  This opens up your entire playbook.

Here’s how I attack Press Cover 1:

All Cover 0 routes are in.  If it worked against Cover 0, it is still a good call against Press Cover 1.  The only difference is ball placement, especially on vertical routes.  The other major difference is the advantage created by trips.  The safety will most likely cheat to the trips side and you will have a 1 on 1 match up on the backside. Because you have protection, you can run anything you want to that 1 on 1 side.

Here’s what else I like against Press Cover 1:

Ace Orange Wheels – If the safety jumps the slant you have a 1 on 1 matchup with your slot on a backer running up the sideline.  Throw it like a fade over the outside shoulder.

Ace Black – I love the RB out the backfield.  The stick route creates a natural pick on the ILB trying to get out to the flat.

Ace Mesh – Crossing routes are great vs. Press.

Ace Levels (all variations) – Again, crossing routes kill Man Coverage.  I especially like Z and X levels because the CB has to run all the way across the field to stay with the shallow cross.

Trips Right Mesh Z Post H Wheel – This is probably my favorite route against Press cover 1.  First of all, the mesh creates a natural pick and either your Y or your X will get open on the rub.  Second, the safety will stay home and cover the post and the wheel should be wide open up the sideline.  Call this play at least 5 times against Cover 1.

Trips Right Black X Post (or insert your favorite route…curl, comeback, dig, whatever!) – Make the defense declare.  If they play 3 on 3 on the trips side and the safety stays in the middle, throw Black all the way down the field.  If the safety cheats to the trips side, call 1 on 1 routes to your X.  Remember, you can mix up who lines up at X.  Keep your guys fresh and let everyone exploit the match up.

Ace H Option – If your H can shake their OLB, you should have the option route all night.  But, the big plays on this route will come to your Y on the crossing route. If the safety jumps the Y, the X should be open on the post over the top.



This is probably the variation Cover 1 that most of us see.  Most high school teams don’t have 4 guys that they trust to play press coverage and most D coordinators would rather keep everything front of them. Fine with me! Remember our premise…we want to exploit the open grass.  If your opponent likes to play 6-8 yards off and back pedal at the snap, take the grass in front of them all night long.  Do not get bored with 6-8 yard completions.

Here are my favorite routes vs Soft Cover 1:

Ace Blue – You should have the hitch all night long.  Teach your QB’s to move the safety with their eyes, and you will have the seam routes to your slots all night as well.

Trips Blue – Of course you still have the hitch on the outside, but the two inside verticals force the safety to declare.  He is either going to run with the bender, or stay home for the seam.  Either way, you get 1 on 1 to your slot.

Ace Black – Stick or arrow should both be open.

Ace Orange – The slant should be an easy completion against soft coverage

Ace Red – Again, the outside slant should be open

Ace White – You could probably call this play all the way down the field.  If they don’t adjust, keep taking the five yard hitches.  Don’t get bored.  When they adjust, come back with Verticals or Blue.

Ace Levels (all variations) – You might not get the natural picking that happens vs. Press, but you still force the defense to chase your guys all the way across the field.

Ace X Mesh – I like the corner route to the H.  If the safety jumps it, one of your guys will be open on the mesh. Remember – vs. Man Coverage teach your guys to keep running on mesh.

Ace Verticals or Ace Comebacks – This really depends on the skill set of your QB.  If he can throw the back shoulder fade, run Verticals and let him throw your guys open.  If not, run Comebacks.  You still get the same effect, taking advantage of the soft coverage.

Trips Right Curl – This is probably my favorite route vs Soft Cover 1.  All 5 guys have a chance for a 10-12 yard completion.  Go through your progression – Middle Curl, Outside Curl, Arrow.



Before we talk about routes, let’s make sure we are all on the same page.  When I say “Cover 2 Man” or “Man Under,” I am referring to Man Coverage with 2 safeties over the top.  If it is done well, this is probably the best coverage against our offense.  In true 2 Man, the CB’s will play a press and trail technique, almost inviting a throw over the top, where the safety is waiting for a big hit or a pick.  But, I doubt there are many teams on your schedule who have that technique in their arsenal.  It requires a ton of practice because it is a totally different technique than Cover 1 or Cover 0.  So, at least in my experience, 2 Man usually looks just like cover 1 with an extra safety over the top.  If you do see true 2 Man, the gameplan is still the same.  But your QB needs to be aware of how the safeties play so he doesn’t get suckered into a pick.

Ok, let’s start with what should be an obvious statement.  When I see a team that plays 2 Man, I know that my RB is going to have a big night on the ground and through the air.  If they have 6 guys in coverage, we have numbers in the run game.  The QB reads the backside lineman, so we almost always get a double team at the point of attack and the backside tackle can get up to a safety.  You have to be able to run the ball against a 5 man box.

In the passing game, I am not a huge fan of vertical throws vs 2 Man. Of course, you still need to watch film and assess the skill of the opponent’s safeties, but they will always have you outnumbered if you try to go over the top.  So, if you throw a fade, or a corner, or a post, you have to trust your guy to win a 2 on 1 match up.  Some of us have that guy.  Some of us don’t.  If you don’t want to mess with the 2 on 1, focus on the quick game and crossing routes.

Here is what I like against Cover 2 Man:

Ace Brown – The safety has to honor the fade, so the quick out should be open

Ace Black – The inside backer has to cover the RB.  That is your best athlete on their middle linebacker in the flat.

Trips Black – The safety should chase the fade route, which gives you 2 on 2 on the inside.

Trips Double Brown – Again, the safety should chase the fade route, and one of your quick outs will be open.

Ace Yellow – The quick corner route can outflank the safety, but your slot may have to make a catch in the middle of double coverage.  Still, it is a pretty safe throw away from coverage.

Ace Verticals – Of course, we still want to read the progression, but when I call this against 2 Man, I am thinking about throwing the Check Down to my RB.  Let him set up the Mike backer and break to open space.

Ace Levels (All Variations) – You might be picking up on a theme here.  Levels works against every coverage as long as you can protect.

Ace Mesh – The Corner route will be double covered, but one of the mesh routes should pop open.  If not, you always have your RB 1 on 1 in the flat.

Ace H/Y Option – Read the progression, buy most likely the Option route will be your bread and butter.

One more note, a lot of 2 Man teams teach their safeties to read the backfield, run the alley, and play very aggressively in the run game.  If this is the case, use play action if you want to take a deep shot.  My favorite routes to tag with play action are Ace Smash, Trips Smash Y Sail, Ace Y Option, and H levels.  In each case, teach your QB to look directly at the playside safety as soon as the fake is completed.  If the safety is running downhill, abandon the progression and throw the post or the corner.



So, hopefully that give you a jump start on your gameplan vs Man Coverage.

Remember, beating man coverage is not about being bigger or faster than the guy over you.  Teach your guys how to get off a jam and how to win at the line of scrimmage.  Run 1 on 1 drills every day and let them practice against press man so that when they see it, their eyes light up and they know they are going to win!

Ok, now it’s your turn to share.  What has worked for you guys against man?  What are some of your success stories?  How do you practice to beat man?

As always feel free to send me an email if you have questions or comments.  Next week we will look at Cover 2.  Thanks Guys, Keep Chucking It!