Double coverage in football refers to a situation in which two defensive players are covering a single receiver in pass coverage. This coverage in football can be an intentional strategy or a result of where the receiver is running his route on the field.
Double coverage in football is usually a result of zone coverage. In zone coverage, defensive players are assigned a specific area of the field they are supposed to cover for the play.
If a player is in an area that borders on two zones he may see double coverage. Defenders are expected to cover any player that enters their zone. If there are no players currently in their zone and a player is about to enter it then moving in that direction is a common strategy.
This can result in two players in zone coverage covering a single receiver for a period of time.
Additionally, some double coverages happen due to a combination of man coverage and zone coverage. Oftentimes cornerbacks are assigned man coverage to a specific receiver while the safeties will cover a deep zone in the defensive backfield.
Man coverage in football requires that the defender follows his assigned receiver throughout his route. If the receiver takes his route deep down the field it is likely he will be covered by two players.
The cornerback that has been assigned his man coverage and the safety that is sitting over the top of the route in a deep zone.
It is for this reason that the majority of times a player is double covered is going to be on deep routes.
On very rare occasions teams can double team a player in man coverage. This almost never happens but Calvin Johnson has an infamous play in which two Saints defenders lined up against him on the goal line in man coverage.
Why Do Teams Use Double Coverage?
Now that you understand what double coverage is in football you may be wondering why teams use this strategy, after all putting two players on one offensive player is going to leave the opposing team with a one-man advantage.
Stopping Long Passes
One of the main reasons that defenses utilize double coverage in football is because it can help deter teams from completing long passes.
The worst play that a defense can let up is a long touchdown run or pass. One of the most effective ways to stop long touchdown passes from occurring is by placing safeties in a deep zone.
Almost all defensive formations have at least one defensive back waiting deep in the backfield to cover deep passes.
When this zone is combined with man coverage from the cornerbacks it becomes double coverage. If the receivers run a short route they will not be double covered as only the cornerback is responsible for covering this part of the route.
But once the wide receiver starts to run deep the cornerback will follow him and the safety will often come downfield to cover him as well.
This makes it very hard for the quarterback to squeeze a pass between these two defenders to the wide receiver.
Eliminating Number One Receivers
One of the key reasons that a defense uses double coverage is to shut down elite receivers. In the NFL covering the top receivers in the league with single coverage almost never works.
Teams that try to leave a single defender on top receivers will find themselves getting beat routinely throughout the game. Instead, teams must use an extra defender to help in coverage whenever possible.
Using double coverage to take a team’s top receiver out of the game is a common strategy used by defenses.