Using Cover 2 with the 3-4 Defense


Cover 2 is the base coverage for many 3-4 teams — your defense could learn something!

As an offensive lineman at Liberty University, I had the privilege to play against a two gap, 3-4 defense that based out of cover 2. Playing against a 3 – 4 defense that two – gapped the front and played a majority of cover 2 has shaped my philosophy as a defensive coordinator.

I can still hear our head coach, Danny Rocco, instructing us to “play with your face in the fan” and “never take a side” while blocking or taking on blocks. That hard – nosed approach helped to develop me as a player and as a young man.

It is not a stretch to correlate the style of play to the development of young men. Young men need to learn what it means to meet your opponent head on and not run around the opponent. At Liberty, we were a hard – nosed football program that kept the schemes simple and strived to physically dominate our opponents by out – working them in the weight room and on the practice field.
3-4 defense cover 2
There are five reasons why I believe in cover 2 as the base zone coverage of the 3-4 defense.

  1. Eliminates potential personnel mismatches which can be created vs. man coverage
  2. Allows for defenders to have better vision on the QB/ball.
  3. Dictates where you want the ball to be thrown. Cover 2 = force the ball to be thrown underneath
  4. Eliminate potential for long runs
  5. Defenders can speed up reaction time by reading their keys
    1. Pre – snap read
    2. QB eyes
    3. QB shoulders
    4. Hand off the ball

3-4 cover 2 speed kills

3-4, Cover 2 Philosophy

In order to be excellent at cover 2, you must have a philosophy on how you are going to play cover 2. My philosophy is as follows:

  1. Take the WR’s out of the game
  2. Eliminate cupcake throws
  3. Stop vertical entry = RE – ROUTE
  4. Prevent vertical stretch
  5. Do not defend the no cover zone
  6. Once vertical entry is secured – pattern read

The force call in cover 2 is “Cloud” to both sides, but I do not like my outside linebackers automatically spilling to a corner, so we use a “wreck it” technique at outside linebacker. Their job versus any kick – out block is to blow up the block with their shoulders square so the ball carrier has to make a drastic cut inside or outside. That allows the ILB’s to be fast flow players and stay on the inside hip of the ball carrier.

The corners will read the EMOL for run / pass and when they see “low hat” they will press the outside shoulder of the wide receiver and set the edge of the defense.

The defensive linemen two – gap then work to their pass rush, even when they have an OLB blitzing to their side. Two – gapping your defensive linemen frees them up to make plays in two gaps, which allows them to make plays! The ends must hold the B gap, but if they see the ball in the C gap, they are free to make the play in the C gap. The nose has both A gaps and the easiest concept to teach him is to “blow up” the center and constrict his gaps with penetration (just like the Oklahoma Drill).

We do not assign the inside linebackers a gap to fill, we tell them to read the guard to the near back and attack the play with the appropriate technique. If they see a drive block, they shock and lock the linemen, locate the football, and then they use a rip move to disengage. If they get a down block, they scrape to the next available gap unless the B gap opens up. If they see a reach block, they will scrape to the next open gap. If they see a pull, they scrape in the direction of the pull and locate the ball carrier and fill inside out. If they see a down block and an isolation block by the fullback, they spill the football to the safeties / outside linebackers who are folding.

I will detail 3 different versions of cover 2 in the 3-4 defense.

3-4, Stack 2

The first type of cover 2 I will discuss contains a weak – side reduction that is recalled versus motion or a shift that changes the strength of the formation. Below is an illustration of this concept (stack 2):

3-4 cover 2 stack 2

The corners are flat players that will jam #1 and then gain depth and width to the base of the fade, and the safeties are deep 1/ 2 players that relate to #2. If #2 is removed weak the Will can make a “Swap” call to the Jack and the Jack becomes the edge rusher after he recognizes it is a pass.

Versus a single receiver, the Safety can make a “MEG” call to the corner to put him in man coverage and the FS / WS can play a robber technique in the middle of the field. The “Meg” call is also used versus 3×1 so the FS / WS can play the deep portion of #3 vertical. Stack 2 can be tagged with an empty check or you can have a built in empty check. When I get empty I like to make a “Cowboy” call and play a true zone quarters to trips and cover 2 to the two receiver side.

3-4, Okie Tony

The second type of cover 2 I will discuss is “Okie Tony”, which is a 3 man rush with a low hole player and a run – thru linebacker. This concept is illustrated below:

=3-4 cover 2 okie 2

The defensive linemen are two gap players and the ends are your contain rushers versus pass. The Jack is the run thru that settles up at 18 – 22 yards if there is no vertical threat. He opens to #3 or the field if the ball is on the hash.

The safeties can play off of the hash because they have MOF help in this coverage. The Mike linebacker is a hook / low hole player that is always aware of the OTB route by the tailback or the tailback screen. If your Jack and Mike are similar players you can play them as left and right inside linebacker, but they both must be able to run!! The run – thru linebacker can be a little smaller because the defensive linemen are two – gapping, so he can take more depth in his alignment (up to 7 yards).

The Sam and Will take a vertical drop and they must hold the seam to buy time for the run – thru linebacker. The corners are flat players that will jam #1 and then gain depth and width to the base of the fade.

3-4, Tilt 2

The final type of cover 2 I will discuss is a great change – up to the traditional “Okie” look. This concept is called “Tilt” and it is very simple, but it provides a different look for an offense. The concept is illustrated below:

3-4 cover 2 tilt 2

This adjustment gives the defense a 4 man rush with Tampa 2 behind it. This is a great short yardage change up, or it could also be a good third down call if your Mike linebacker has the ability to rush the passer.

The Mike and both ends are two – gapping but the nose is a single gap player. You can run your twist game from this look as well. The Sam and Will are “Lane” droppers where they defend the hash, and they disrupt #2 but do not chase him. The corners are flat players that will jam #1 and then gain depth and width to the base of the fade.

Cover 2 is a simple and sound coverage that forces an offense to execute at a high level. It is also an adaptable coverage that can be tweaked to give an offense a different look, so the defense keeps the advantage. In the era of spread offenses a defense must be simple, but multiple enough to keep an offense guessing.

These three types of cover 2 give you a simple coverage that appears complex to an offense. If you have any questions feel free to email me at or send a Tweet to my Twitter handle (@zachdavis24).