What is pass coverage in football?

Pass coverage in football refers to the action of stopping the opposing team from completing forward passes. Pass coverage is an assignment given to most defensive positions but is especially important for cornerbacks and safeties.

There are two main ways in which players can play pass coverage in football. Man coverage and zone coverage.

Pass coverage responsibilities are given out before the play. Based on the play the defense called the defensive players will know what their responsibilities are in pass coverage.

Man coverage

Man coverage in football refers to a defensive player having a specific offensive player to cover for the play.

On these plays, the defender will start the play close to the receiver they are meant to cover. They will then follow them around the field as they run their route.

The goal is to stay close enough to the wide receiver so that the quarterback feels he cannot throw the ball.

If the ball is thrown to the receiver the player in pass coverage will look to break up the pass or catch it themselves for an interception.

Zone defense

The other style of pass coverage that can be played by a defense is zone defense. Zone defense is different from man defense in that it asks a defensive player to cover a specific area of the field as opposed to a specific player.

If any receiver enters a defender’s zone he must make sure they are not able to receive a pass. Oftentimes teams will play a combination of both man and zone defense which can result in a receiver being double covered.

Who covers who in pass coverage

Now that you know what pass coverage is in football you may be wondering which positions are responsible for covering one another on the field. Below we will break down the players each defensive position tends to cover.


Cornerback is one of the most important positions in pass coverage largely due to the fact they are tasked with covering wide receivers.

Wide receivers tend to be the most productive players on the offense when it comes to catching passes.

Cornerbacks need to cover these players near the sideline far from the formation. This is a difficult job because it often means they must cover these players one on one in open space.

When more receivers come onto the field it is common for a defense to bring on an extra cornerback called a nickel corner.

These players will play cornerback in the middle of the formation and can cover slot receivers or tight ends.


Safety is another key position when it comes to stopping the opponent’s passing offense.

Safeties are the players which line up the furthest back from the line of scrimmage and often act as the last line of defense.

In zone coverage, these players tend to stop the opponents from completing deep passes. These players will often wait deep into the defensive backfield and will help out any cornerbacks whose receiver has run a deep route.

In man coverage safeties can be expected to cover running backs, tight ends, and receivers on some occasions.


Linebacker is a position that also plays a fairly large role in pass coverage. When in zone defense it is common for linebackers to cover the area close to the line of scrimmage.

Linebackers will often play five to ten yards off the line of scrimmage and pick up any potential receiver that runs through that area of the field.

On man coverage downs linebackers will generally match up with the running back or tight end. Oftentimes linebackers will not have the speed to keep up with these players which can make them a potential mismatch in favour of the offense.

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