Double coverage

What is the Definition of Double Coverage in American Football?

Double coverage in American Football is a defensive strategy where two defensive players are assigned to cover one offensive player. This tactic is commonly employed against standout wide receivers and running backs who pose a significant threat to the opposing team. By assigning extra coverage, the defense aims to mitigate the offensive player’s impact on the game and force the quarterback to target less dominant receivers.

There are various forms of double coverage, each tailor-made to contain specific offensive threats. The execution of double coverage typically involves defensive backs or linebackers working in tandem to restrict the movements and target areas of the offensive player. It is vital for defenders to maintain coordination and communication to effectively execute this strategy, as missteps can lead to vulnerabilities on the field.

Key Takeaways

  • Double coverage involves assigning two defensive players to cover one offensive player
  • Different double coverage strategies are utilized to defend against specific offensive threats
  • Effective coordination and communication between defenders is crucial for successful implementation

What is Double Coverage?

Definition and Purpose

Double coverage in American football refers to a defensive tactic where two players are assigned to guard one offensive player. This is commonly applied against highly skilled offensive players, like standout wide receivers or running backs, to prevent them from making big plays or gaining a significant advantage over a single defender. By having two defenders on one offensive player, the defensive team aims to minimize the chances of the offensive player making a catch or breaking free for a big run.

Defensive Strategy

There are two primary ways a defensive team can implement double coverage: man-to-man coverage and zone coverage. In man-to-man coverage, two defenders are directly assigned to one offensive player. Each defender remains with the player throughout the play, regardless of the offensive player’s route. While this type of double coverage is rare, it can be effective against exceptionally talented wide receivers.

On the other hand, zone coverage involves a more complex defensive strategy. Defenders are assigned to specific areas on the field, and together they form a web of coverage zones. When an offensive player enters a zone, the defender responsible for that area will cover the player. As the offensive player moves through multiple zones, it is easy for two defenders to end up simultaneously covering the same player, creating double coverage.

By using double coverage, a defensive team can increase the likelihood of stopping the offensive team from making big plays. However, employing double coverage can also leave other areas of the field vulnerable, as one less defender is available to cover other offensive players. As a result, it is crucial for teams to carefully assess their opponent’s strengths and adjust their defensive tactics accordingly.

Types of Double Coverages

Zone Double Coverage

Zone double coverage occurs when two defensive players are tasked with covering one offensive player within a specific area on the field. In this strategy, the defensive players work together to ensure that the offensive player cannot make a catch or move freely. They do not follow the receiver across the field, but instead react to the receiver’s movements within their designated zone. This type of double coverage is typically a result of where the receiver is running their route on the field and can be an intentional strategy to minimize the impact of a standout offensive player.

Man-to-Man Double Coverage

Man-to-Man double coverage, also known as man coverage, involves two defensive players, usually a cornerback and a safety, directly covering a single offensive receiver. In this scenario, the cornerback covers the wide receiver closely while the safety plays “over the top,” trying to stay in front of the wide receiver’s route for deep ball assistance. This coverage strategy is frequently employed against elite receivers who pose a significant threat to the defense. Man-to-Man double coverage is effective at limiting the receiver’s ability to make big plays, but may leave other areas of the field more vulnerable due to the extra resources allocated to cover one player.

Execution of Double Coverage

Defensive Backs’ Roles

In double coverage, the roles of defensive backs are crucial in successfully shutting down an offensive player. The defensive backs are primarily responsible for covering wide receivers, who are often the main targets of double coverage due to their skill and speed. Two defensive backs will work together to cover a single receiver, with each taking different responsibilities. One defensive back, usually the cornerback, will play tight coverage on the receiver, attempting to disrupt the route and prevent easy catches. The other defensive back, typically the safety, will provide help over the top by reading the quarterback’s intentions and positioning themselves to break up deep passes.

Linebackers’ Roles

While linebackers are not the primary players providing double coverage on a single receiver, their role is still essential in maintaining the overall defensive structure. Linebackers are responsible for covering running backs and tight ends in the passing game, who can also become targets for double coverage. In this context, linebackers will focus on limiting short and intermediate routes, forcing the quarterback to look for other options or throw into a well-defended area. Additionally, they may be tasked with applying pressure on the quarterback or containing the run, ensuring the defensive backs can focus on their coverage responsibilities.

Double coverage relies on effective communication and teamwork between defensive players to successfully cover an offensive player. The coordination between defensive backs and linebackers ensures that potential targets are sufficiently covered, preventing the offensive team from exploiting any defensive weaknesses.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Pros of Double Coverage

  • Increased coverage on key players: By assigning two defenders to cover a single offensive player, teams can better neutralize standout wide receivers and running backs, making it more difficult for them to make big plays.
  • Forcing the quarterback to make tougher decisions: With double coverage on a star player, the quarterback may be forced to throw to a less skilled or less experienced player, potentially leading to incomplete passes or turnovers.
  • Combating deep threats: Double coverage can be particularly effective against deep passing plays, as having two defenders on a single receiver can help prevent long completions and reduce the chances of opponents scoring quickly.

Cons of Double Coverage

  • Vulnerability to other offensive players: Allocating two defenders to one offensive player means that other offensive players may have an easier time getting open, potentially leading to more completions for the opposing team.
  • Weakened run defense: By committing extra resources to the passing game, double coverage can sometimes leave a defense more susceptible to running plays if the defensive line isn’t strong enough to pick up the slack.
  • Greater risk of big plays: If one defender in double coverage gets beaten or fails to execute their assignment, the other defender may be out of position to recover, leading to big plays against the defense.
  • Difficult adjustments: Implementing double coverage can require quick adjustments from a defense, and if not executed well, can cause confusion among defensive backs, potentially leading to blown coverages and advantageous mismatches for the offense.

Double Coverage versus Single Coverage


In American football, coverage refers to how defensive players defend against the offensive team’s passing game. There are two main types of coverage: single coverage and double coverage.

Single Coverage is when one defensive player, usually a cornerback, is assigned to cover an offensive player, such as a wide receiver, on a man-to-man basis. This is a common coverage setup, where the defensive player aims to prevent the offensive player from getting open and catching a pass.

Double Coverage occurs when two defensive players, typically a cornerback and a safety, are assigned to cover a single offensive player (often in pass coverage). This type of coverage is usually employed against high-performing offensive players who may overpower a single defender.


  • Number of Defenders: The primary difference between single and double coverage is the number of defenders assigned to cover an offensive player. In single coverage, it’s one defender, while in double coverage, two defenders work together to cover a single player.
  • Strategy: Employing double coverage usually means the defense is giving extra attention to an offensive player they see as a significant threat. Single coverage is a more standard approach to defending against the pass.
  • Zone vs. Man-to-Man: While both single and double coverage can occur in man-to-man or zone coverage, double coverage is more commonly associated with zone coverage schemes. In man-to-man coverage, a single defender is responsible for covering a specific offensive player.
  • Risks: Double coverage can be a high-risk, high-reward strategy. It may help shut down a high-performing offensive player but can leave other areas of the field more vulnerable, as the defense commits extra resources to cover one player.

In summary, double coverage is used to neutralize high-performing offensive players, while single coverage is employed as a standard defensive approach. Understanding the differences between single and double coverage can help teams devise effective defensive strategies to counter their opponents’ passing game.

Noteworthy Examples

Historic Moments

One of the most memorable examples of double coverage in American Football history occurred during Super Bowl XLII, when the New York Giants faced the New England Patriots. With just over a minute remaining in the game, Giants quarterback Eli Manning managed to avoid a sack and threw a deep pass to wide receiver David Tyree. Despite being double-covered by Patriots defenders Rodney Harrison and Asante Samuel, Tyree made an improbable catch by pinning the ball against his helmet. This catch, known as the “Helmet Catch,” set up the game-winning touchdown and helped the Giants hand the Patriots their only loss of the season.

Another historic moment involving double coverage took place during the 1988 NFL season, specifically in the AFC Championship game between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Buffalo Bills. Bengals wide receiver Cris Collinsworth, who was double-covered by Bills defenders, made a game-changing catch that set up the Bengals’ game-winning field goal. This catch not only sealed the victory for the Bengals but also secured their place in Super Bowl XXIII.

In the 2015 NFL season, during a game between the Green Bay Packers and the Arizona Cardinals, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw a Hail Mary pass on the final play of regulation. Wide receiver Jeff Janis, who was under double coverage by the Cardinals’ defensive backs, made an incredible catch in the end zone to send the game into overtime. Although the Packers eventually lost the game, this moment serves as a testament to the unpredictability and excitement that double coverage can bring to the sport.


Double coverage in American Football refers to a defensive strategy where two defenders are assigned to cover a single offensive player, typically a wide receiver. This tactic is employed when the defense believes that the offensive player has a significant advantage over a single defender, posing a threat to the defensive team.

Incorporating double coverage effectively requires good communication among the defenders and understanding various defensive schemes, such as zone coverage or man coverage. Defensive players must adapt their positioning and assignments in reaction to offensive threats, ensuring they cover the targeted player from multiple angles, limiting their opportunities to catch the ball.

It is crucial for defenses to exploit their strengths and minimize vulnerabilities by employing double coverage on key offensive threats. Coaches must train their players to identify when to apply double coverage and how to execute it seamlessly. This tactic contributes to a stronger defensive unit capable of mitigating the impact of elite offensive players and achieving success on the field.