Man coverage in football refers to defensive pass coverage that assigns defensive players a specific offensive player to cover throughout the play.
On the defensive side of the ball stopping the opponent from passing the ball is done in two ways, zone coverage and man coverage.
The main difference between zone and man coverage in a zone defense players will cover a specific portion of the field. While man coverage involves covering a specific receiver.
All defensive players can be assigned a player in this coverage style but the defensive lineman are almost always excluded. This means the majority of man coverage is played by cornerbacks, linebackers, and safeties.
Oftentimes these two styles will be used at the same time. One defender may be assigned man coverage on a receiver while another has a zone to cover.
This is especially common with safeties which often wait deep into the defensive backfield as they are assigned to cover the deep portion of the field.
These players will help out cornerbacks covering a specific player if their receiver works his way deep down field.
Pros and Cons
Now that you understand what this coverage is in football you may be wondering what the benefits are. Below we will break down the pros and the cons of using it on defense.
Elite Corners Can Shut Down Their Man
One of the best aspects of man coverage in football is that it allows talented corners to shut down receivers. If a defense has a talented cornerback on their roster they can get this to face off against one of the opponents top receivers.
This way one of your most talented defenders will be able to cover this receiver every single play.
If your corner is talented enough this could mean completely eliminating that receiver as an offensive threat for the game.
When a defensive player plays man coverage against a receiver no matter where they line up on the field this is referred to as shadowing a receiver.
Leaves No Holes In The Defense
With zone based defenses there will always be portions of the field that are left open. If a player positions himself right between two zones it can be difficult for the defenders to reach him.
These gaps between zones leave small holes in the coverage which can be taken advantage of by receivers and tight ends.
When playing in man coverage there is not going to be any holes in the defense. Since each potential receiver is going to have a defender on him he will have to beat his man one on one in order to generate separation.
Defenders Must Have Speed And Athleticism
One negative aspect of playing man coverage in football is that all of your players in this coverage need to keep up with their receiver.
Wide receivers tend to be the fastest players on the football field meaning that most cornerbacks need to have a lot of speed in order to keep up with them.
If the defensive backs on the defense are slower or less athletic than their opponents it can result in easy passing yards for an offense.
For this reason, safeties will often help out linebackers and cornerbacks while they play one on one coverage.
Potential For Mistmatches
Another negative aspect of playing this coverage style is that it can create mismatches between defenders and offensive players.
When the offense knows that the defense is going to play man coverage they will look to generate mismatches. A mismatch in football occurs when a offensive player is matched up with a defensive player that will struggle to cover them one on one.
In man coverage, the offense will look to create mismatches that will allow their receivers to consistently get open. Oftentimes the worst defensive back on the team will find himself getting picked on by the offense.
If one player is allowing their receiver to get open each play it does not matter how good the rest of your defensive backfield is. In other words, when playing man coverage you are only as strong as your weakest link.
What Is Off Man Coverage
The term off man coverage is a variation of the same man coverage we explained earlier in this post.
Off man coverage in football occurs when a defensive player covers a specific offensive player but lines up five or more yards back from the line of scrimmage.
This space between the cornerback and the line of scrimmage is referred to as a cushion.
By giving this space cornerbacks will have an easy job not allowing the receiver to get behind them. The downside is off man coverage does not allow you to jam the receiver at the line of scrimmage.
This makes it easier for the receiver to get off the line of scrimmage and run their route as no one is going to make contact with them as the play starts.