Football Terms – Man Coverage
Man-to-Man coverage is the simplest form of pass scheme in football. Often called “man coverage” or single coverage, this defensive scheme calls for pass defenders to take on pass receivers in a head-to-head fashion. Man coverage is one of two major pass coverages (with many sub-types and hybrids) in football, along with the zone defense.
Man-to-man coverage requires skilled cornerbacks, especially, because they are expected to singlehandedly cover the opposing teams best receivers. Because there are no other defenders to help, if the defensive back is beat by the receivers, a big play or touchdown is likely to occur. In this case, the cornerback or defensive back is said to be “on an island”.
Man Coverage – Advantages
Man coverage allows the defense to free up players to blitz the quarterback, though. If everything goes right with the blitz, then the passer should have less time to throw the ball. The pass play might be disrupted altogether, or the timing of the route thrown off.
With more men rushing the passer, a defense can play havoc with an offensive game plan and punish the quarterback. As the quarterback takes more hits, attrition begins to wear down his effectiveness for the latter stages of the game. Also, man coverage combined with blitz schemes force the passer to rush his throws, which can cause big plays and turnovers.
Man-To-Man Coverage – Drawbacks
If the blitz does not get to the quarterback, then the "man defender" might be in trouble. Because he’s alone in coverage, the defensive back is called upon to break up a pass play when the quarterback has plenty of time to deliver the ball and the receiver has plenty of time to run his route.
Man-to-man coverage has become more difficult for NFL defensive backs over time. Before the 1980′s, defensive backs could bump receivers off their routes anywhere on the field any time before the ball was in the air. In the eighties, this rule was changed, so the defensive back could not bump a receiver more than 5 yards downfield. If the wide receiver got 5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage, the defender could not deliberately shoulder or push the receiver off his route.
This created an era with many broken passing records and many great quarterbacks: Dan Marino, John Elway, Joe Montana, Warren Moon and Jim Kelly, just to name a few. For twenty years, the passing game had a decided advantage, especially in man coverage where a significant amount of bumping and hand checking was likely to occur.
In the 2005 offseason, even more restrictive rules where put in place. Since the rules of the 1980′s were put in place, blatant bumping was not allowed five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. But incidental contact and a certain amount of hand contact was allowed, so that defenders could keep their hands on an opponent and sometimes harry the receiver as he tried to run his route. In 2005, this rule was changed, so that NO touching is allowed beyond five yards downfield.
Since that rule was changed, it has become even harder to play man-to-man coverage, and the NFL single-season passing touchdown record has been broken twice (Peyton Manning in 2005, Tom Brady in 2008). Rules that had stood since the last rules change were now falling.
Today, very few “cover corners” are capable of man-to-man coverage for an extended period of time. The Cover-2 Defense, which focuses on pass coverage at the expense of run defense, has become a trendy defense to play. Man coverage is still used, placing a great premium on the acquisition of skilled cornerbacks.
That’s one reason that Champ Bailey, Charles Woodsen, Fred Smoot (for whatever reason) and Deangelo Hall have been traded in recent years. Also, cornerbacks are more likely to go high in drafts, such as Terrance Newman, Marcus Trufant and Adam “Pac-Man” Jones a few years back, and Antonio Cromartie and Darrelle Revis in the past couple of years (just to name a few who have been drafted high in the past few years, though there are many other examples).