The other day we discussed how coverages frequently are more complex than simple man or zone labels. The truth is many defensive calls have some players with man to man responsibilities and others in zone on the same play.
Most analysts will tell you that the most common man to man coverage called for NFL defenses is Cover 1. Five defenders are assigned man to man against a receiver. There also is one defender whose job is to defend the deep middle zone of the field. (He’s the “one” in Cover 1.)
So even the league’s go to man to man coverage has an element of zone in it.
Sometimes a predominantly zone coverage will also build in an element of man to man coverage.
Take this play. Here the defense offers a Cover 3 look. This would be straight zone with the deep part of the field split among the middle safety and two outside corners. There would also be four zones underneath with defenders in them.
However, while most of the defenders play this type of zone on the play, one outside corner actually plays man coverage.
There are plenty of reasons a defense might run this type of coverage. Some defenses build in a rule that when only one eligible receiver goes out for a pattern on that side of the field, the outside corner’s assignment changes to man coverage.
Playing man to man, that corner can cover that receiver up the seam.
He conversely would be useless dropping into his originally assigned deep zone since there is no threat of a receiver going into that area. Instead he can now defend an area of the field that would otherwise be vulnerable.
You can see where he actually is on this play vs. where he might be dropping into the originally assigned zone.
There are other reasons a defense might make this call.
In a Rex Ryan defense the coach might trust Darrelle Revis to cover an isolated receiver one on one. This would allow the defense to load the other side of the field with zone defenders clogging passing lanes.
It also is a complex coverage which can fool a quarterback who thinks he sees zone but might be fooled by the one defender who is playing man.
Now that you’ve read through that, please enjoy watching Sam Darnold beat this coverage.