Quarterback Reads: Pure Man Coverage

GoBlueWolverine.com's NFL Analyst <b>Josh Turel</b> continues his series on quartback assignments. In this edition he discusses how a quarterback makes his reads against man-coverage. <br>

Type of coverage: Straight man coverage on all offensive receivers.

Strengths: Pass rush, defense can rush six, press coverage, safeties closer to the line of scrimmage, run support, eight-man front.

Weaknesses: Running quarterbacks, no over the top safety help, deep middle, inside slants, crossing routes, rub routes, one-on-one match-ups.

Man Coverage:

Man coverage differs significantly from zone coverage. In man coverage, the defense designates a defender to cover each receiver instead of defending areas of the field. Not only is the coverage different, but also the attack style is different. That is where an offensive coordinator earns his stripes, by solid pre-game scouting of defensive coverage tendencies to call the correct coverage beaters at the right times. For instance, a pass pattern that may work against zone could be covered up more easily in man coverage and vice versa. Instead of keying a zone to attack, the quarterback keys a match-up to attack. Whether it be with a quick running back matched up on a stiff middle linebacker, or a fast receiver lined up on a slower corner; the quarterback is looking for a mis-match. The offense can use motion to help create match-up problems as well, by motioning a back out of the backfield to stretch coverage and allow him to work the linebacker or safety in space. There were plenty of times when Braylon Edwards and Steve Breaston were used in motion, because both create athletic mismatches. Motion also forces a defense to change alignment and/or the man covering a particular receiver.

Defeating man coverage is predicated heavily on timing. The quarterback must throw the ball where the defender isn't and where the receiver can catch it in stride and make a play in the open field. Quarterbacks also must learn to throw on the receiver breaks (cuts in a route) because it is at that point he will have gained separation on the defender and it will be difficult for the defender to close in time to knock the ball away. In order to get correct timing, Michigan's receivers cannot be jammed at the line. It helps a great deal that Michigan constantly has bigger, more physical receivers at those positions so that timing can be maintained.


The defensive backfield will sometimes align in what is called "four across the board". What this means is that the four defensive backs are lined up about five yards deep straight across the backfield. The free safety will want to hug the line of scrimmage and align to the outside because he has the running back in man coverage. The free safety will want to jump the route if the running back runs a swing or out-route to the flat. When one or more defenders shows blitz, the quarterback must think man coverage is a possibility. The corners will sometimes line up in a press coverage, and will usually align to the inside of the receiver to deny an inside release. The safety aligning on the tight end is probably the best indicator of man coverage because it indicates a usual deep coverage defender is manned up on a receiver.

How to attack this coverage:

One of the best ways to exploit man coverage is with routes that work the receiver to any area that is vacated such as a deep post route because there is no safety to help deep. Double moves such help create separation and thus get the corner out of position. The problem with these long routes is that there isn't much time to execute them. With the possibility of six rushers coming at Chad Henne, the routes don't always have time to play out. That's why offenses will rely on short, timing routes such as the ones in figures 1, 2 and 3. As you can see with the slant route, there is no inside help if the other defenders are manned up on other receivers. If a corner rolls up (presses) a receiver and he has a speed advantage, the fade or fly route will help exploit it because again there is no deep help. Another timing route is the out cut in figure 3, when a corner has a significant cushion, the quick out cut gives the quarterback time and room to get the ball to the receiver in space. Routes also like the ones in figure 6 are also ideal because more cuts and moves will create more separation from the cornerback and that is ideal in man coverage. This is the identical route Purdue's Dorien Bryant ran on the Boilermakers' final drive that netted him big yardage before getting derailed by Michigan safety Ernest Shazor, and fumbling the football. The point being, those type routes in space can be very dangerous with man coverage.

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