Welcome to Football 101 presented by The Painted Lines! In this ongoing offseason series, I will be breaking down football concepts to help you better understand what you are watching on Sundays. Each article will take a deep dive into a specific component of the game. We will also be updating a cheat sheet throughout the series that you can bookmark or print out for quick reference on game days. You can also join our public discord to interact with our writers and podcasters and talk X’s and O’s.

If you have missed any of the previous articles of this series you can check them out below:

Without further adieu, let’s dive in!  Today we are going to take a look at 2 more variations of man coverage: Cover 1 and Cover 0

Cover 1 Basics

Cover 1 Diagram

Cover 1 man (sometimes called man free) is a man-to-man coverage that relies on 1 safety to provide deep protection while cornerbacks man up receivers and linebackers man up tight ends and running backs underneath. It is called man-free because it leaves 1 defensive player with no assignment (usually a strong safety or a linebacker). This free man can be used in a variety of roles and is part of what makes cover 1 man such a versatile defense. He can be used as an extra rusher, QB spy, or most frequently as a hole defender in the middle of the field. Because the free man can line up anywhere, cover 1 can use either a split field safety look or a single high safety look giving it versatility in pre-snap alignment to be good against either the run or the pass.

In cover 2 man the corners often line up with inside leverage to take away in-breaking routes. But in cover 1 corners often line up with outside leverage to force receivers into inside releases towards the hole defender in the middle of the field. The exception to this rule is if a receiver is in a plus alignment (lined up outside the numbers near the sideline). In that situation the corner will line up with inside leverage to force the receiver towards the sideline, thus using the sideline as an extra defender.

Just like in cover 2 man, corners can play up on the line in press coverage or they can give cushion and play off coverage while wait on the receiver to come to them.

What is the Weakness of Cover 1 Man?

The biggest weakness of cover 1 man is deep routes down the sideline. Unlike cover 2 man where a safety is deep on each half of the field, cover 1 man only assigns 1 safety to provide over the top help on the entire field. If there is a deep threat on both sides the safety will have to stay in the middle until the ball is in the air, making this defense much more vulnerable down the sidelines.

The other weaknesses of cover 1 man are nearly identical to Cover 2 Man and are really the same across all types of man coverages. Compressed sets, bunch sets, pre-snap motion, and athletic running backs and tight ends will always post a problem for teams that primarily base out of man coverage.

Cover 0 Basics

Cover 0 Diagram

Cover 0 man (also called zero blitz) is a man to man coverage that relies on quick pressure on the quarterback to protect a defense that has no safety help over the top. It is the ultimate boom/bust defense in the NFL and is very susceptible to big plays if the pressure doesn’t get to the quarterback.

In this concept 5 defenders are matched up on the 5 eligible receivers while the remaining 6 players rush the quarterback. If all 5 eligible receivers run routes then the defense is rushing 6 players against 5 offensive linemen and one of the defenders will have a free run at the quarterback.

Defenders nearly always line up with inside leverage on the receivers to take away the quick, in-breaking routes that offenses like to use to combat pressure while rallying to the sideline to tackle against any out-breaking routes.

What is the Weakness of Cover 0 Man?

The biggest weakness of cover 0 is that 1 misstep by any of the 5 defenders in coverage can translate into an automatic touchdown for the offense. If a defender slips, misses a tackle, gives up 2 yards of separation, etc. it is off to the races. That is what makes this defense so risky to play.

Because of this, it is often only called on 3rd and long situations when the corners can give up more cushion or near the goal line when there is no deep field to protect.

Green Dog

Green Dogging is a technique used primarily by linebackers in cover 0 situations (although it can also be used in cover 1 and cover 2 as well). Since cover 0 is designed around rushing 1 more person than the offense can block, the defense must have a plan to deal with a running back or tight end blocking instead of running a route. This is where the Green Dog technique comes into play.

If the person you are responsible for covering stays in to block you have 2 options: add to the rush or add to the coverage. The linebacker will make a read on the fly and decide if he has a path to the quarterback or not. If he does he will add to the rush and become the free rusher. If he does not, he will often add to the coverage by dropping into a zone over the middle of the field. This allows the defense to effectively deal with extra blockers on the offensive side of the ball.


Peel is another technique used by linebackers in man coverage situations. If you look back at the Cover 0 diagram above, you will see that the right of field LB is matched up in man coverage against the running back and the left of field LB is a blitzer. But what happens if the running back runs a route behind the line of scrimmage to the left of the field? Does it really make sense for the right-of-field LB to chase him across all of that traffic?

This is where linebackers can use a peel technique. Both linebackers line up with eyes on the running back and are responsible for covering him if he comes towards them. If he runs a route to the right the right LB will cover and the left LB will rush. If he runs left the right LB will rush while the left LB covers. And if he stays in to block then both LBs will rush since there is no one for them to cover.

That concludes our primer on cover 1 and cover 0 man defenses. Don’t forget to go back and check out our articles on Cover 2 Man and the various zone defenses we have already covered if you missed those and click on over to the cheat sheet if you want to review the strengths and weaknesses of different alignments. The links for both are at the top of the page.  Keep it tuned to the Painted Lines for our Football 101 series and let us know if there is something, in particular, you would like us to cover.  Next week we will be back with a primer on Cover 4 defense.