Man To Man Coverage
Man to man (also shortened to "Man") in Football is a defensive coverage strategy wherein each defensive player is assigned to defend against a single offensive player. The defensive backs are paired against the wide receivers while the linebackers are matched against tight ends and running backs. Defensive linemen still perform the same role of rushing the quarterback and defending against the run.
This is different from a zone coverage, in which each defensive player occupies a specific section (or "zone") of the field.
Pros and Cons of Man Coverage
Pros of man coverage are that the defenders do not have to think as much. Each defender's task is simple: to cover the guy they're lined up against. If a defense is confident that they can do this, they can send more bodies at the quarterback instead of keeping them back in a safer coverage.
The flipside of this is that it is easier for a receiver to beat a defender one-on-one (in man coverage) than in a zone. Man coverage often results in more touchdowns for the offense because of this deep threat. It is also harder for defenders to read and react to a play if they are chasing their man around the field.
Types of Man Coverage
Cover 0, or "straight man" coverage, refers to a defense with no extra safety. While a straight man coverage is easiest to understand, it is also the easiest to exploit. Receiver patterns and offensive schemes will thwart even the best defenses in Cover 0, often having a receiver simply outrun a defensive back and catch a deep pass.
Because of the deep threat inherent to a Cover 0, many teams will leave an extra safety to make sure nothing goes behind the defense. This "man-free" coverage is much more common than a straight man coverage and allows less big plays for the offense.
Combo Man Coverages
Combo man coverage refers to a defensive strategy that is unique and independent of the label "man coverage." For example, when a defense double-teams (puts two defensive backs on one receiver), they aren't necessarily playing man or zone coverage-thus, the label of "combo man" is used.
Usages of Man to Man Coverage
Man to man coverage is used primarily when the defense has an advantage against the offense, such as stronger defenders than receivers on the field. Man to man defense also allows the defense to blitz the offense.
PRO TIP: Goal line defenses are almost always in man coverage because there is no overhead deep threat.
Overall, man coverage is more common at lower levels of competition because of its simplicity, but is less common than zone coverage at the highest level. Man coverage is a higher risk and reward than zone because man coverage is better at preventing short and medium passes and more susceptible to deep passes.
Man-to-man coverage puts a pressure on the offense that no other defensive formation does. It makes it much harder for offensive members to get breakaways and slip past their opponents. The defensive member stays with their man until a dead ball is declared or another formation is called. It can be easier for a defensive player to focus on one member of the other team instead of covering an entire zone.
The strategy for surviving a man coverage, regardless if you are a member on the offense or defense, is to have fast feet so you can either evade your opponent or keep up with your opponent. Running and changing directions can trip up the defender. Keeping your body square to the offensive member is key when you are on defense. Reading what your opponent's next move could be can help you prepare for the play.