What is Cover 2?
Cover 2 refers to a zone concept at the safety level where both safeties will be responsible for covering half the field deep. It can be implemented in many ways. Sometimes the corner will pull in a zone concept to the sidelines, sometimes both corners will play press man, sometimes one will open up and protect the sideline while the other plays press man. What you're looking for pre-snap is for the safeties to be approximately 12-15 yards off the LOS at about equal depth in proximity to each other. There are variations, sometimes the SS will end up being the "robber" who is free to read run and pass and make plays accordingly.
Why use Cover 2?
Cover 2 should keep all plays in front of the safety. A lot of teams last year would play Cover 2 against Manning and the Broncos. More specifically they would play Cover 2 press with the two deep safeties playing really deep. The thought process being, the corners could be more aggressive off the line of scrimmage knowing that the receiver was in fact double covered. It forced the Manning offense to work the flats and seams in the middle which become vulnerable. In fact that's the biggest advantage with a Cover 2 shell--the receivers are double covered and big plays are (in theory) taken away or limited.
How do you attack Cover 2?
The easiest way is by running the ball effectively. If the offense can run up and down the field against a 7 man front, it will make the defense start to creep that SS into the box in order to spy the RB. Once that happens, you can sneak that deep post behind the SS or even hit a vertical down the sideline against a one on one.
Now, if you are struggling to develop the run or you have a lot of weapons in the passing game, you can attack both safeties down the seams and to the outside with either a 2x2 formation or you can overload a safety (3x1) and run verticals to make him choose. Sometimes all it takes is the threat from a receiver to get a safety out of place. Let's take a look at how the Broncos and Peyton Manning used Julius Thomas to hit a deep post behind Cover 2 played by the Chiefs.
This is the very first play of the game. Broncos are in a two TE set with both TE's to the right side of the formation. Thomas and Sanders are split to opposite sides. The defense at the moment of the snap is showing Cover 2 with press man from their corners. There are a couple of things to know at this point, or a few things that Manning will know. First is that the MLB will almost NEVER be charged with one on one coverage against a TE. It's a mismatch. This player will play zone. The player that would be responsible for man coverage (Justin Houston the SAM) only drops about 15% of the time. Even when he does it is still a mismatch. What swings the tides in favor of the defense against this matchup is the fact that the SS will almost always have man responsibility against the TE down the seam EVEN if the call is Cover 2--you have to defend a man that gets in your zone.
This means that if Emmanuel Sanders can beat his one on one, he will be open for a big play down the sideline or on the post.
Notice that right before the snap that #31 opens up and backs off? This means he will be playing a trail technique designed to protect the sidelines. Remember, he thinks he has help over the top to the inside.
All-22, View 1
As suspected both the SAM and MIKE pass the Julius down the seam to Eric Berry. In fact both safties bite on the deep square in by Julius which is inexcusable. I didn't notice it until this frame but the short pivot route by DT up top also makes it easier for the backside safety to believe the right read is to take the TE over the middle. In the end, it's a miscommunication somewhere or the inability to "pass off" against certain route combinations.
Regardless Sanders puts on the burners and blows right past Comings to the post. Manning releases the ball at about his 15 and it travels approximately 45 yards in the air to Sanders before it hits him in stride.
All-22, View 2
Nice clean pocket for Manning to step up into and the throw is on target.
We will see a lot of this in 2015 especially if the Broncos can get the inside and outside zone plays going. I know I said these posts would be used to examine sacks, but that can get boring. If I see something I want to show to you about the offensive side of the ball I will do so.
I tried a few new things with the GIFS so hopefully they are the proper speed. Let me know if it worked, and thanks for reading!