How to Defeat Man-to-Man Coverage in Football


Man-to-man defense features football at its most basic level. If wide receivers can beat their defenders and the quarterback gets them the ball, the offense dominates. If each defender shuts down his assigned receiver, however, it’s tough to move the football down the field. To defeat man-to-man coverage, exploit defenders’ over aggressiveness and create confusion. Any hesitation on the defensive side of the ball can be just what the offense needs to succeed.

Run Precise Routes

  • A key advantage for receivers in one-on-one battles is both the wide out and the quarterback know where they’re supposed to be going, while the defender has to guess. It’s essential for the receiver to make sharp cuts when executing the pass pattern, which put the defender on his heels. A slant pattern that takes a receiver from the outside to the middle has a better chance of success if the receiver cuts sharply and darts to the middle than if he simply drifts there, as the latter is a slower maneuver that allows the defender to anticipate better where the play will go.

Exploit Matchups

  • Assess which defenders on the other team are having trouble with their assigned men. This might be a cornerback who can’t hang with your speedy outside receiver on deep passes, or a linebacker who can’t match the quickness of the running back out of the backfield. Get the ball to those players to maximize your offensive potential. Size differences also can be exploitable. If another team has short defensive backs and your team has a tall receiver, throw the ball up high where the defenders won’t be able to adjust.

Confuse the Defense

  • The more chaos your team causes defenders, the greater likelihood that someone will be open. One pattern that’s easy for players to pick up is a crossing pattern, where receivers start on opposite sides of the line and cross in the middle of the field. That can lead to defenders colliding, or bumping each other in a way that leaves one or both of your receivers open. Bunching multiple receivers on one side of the field also can wreak havoc. Lining three wide outs up next to each other and having them cross paths and scatter after the snap leaves defenders scrambling to catch up.

Make Your Moves

  • Using the defense’s aggressiveness against it can lead to big plays against man coverage. A stop-and-go route, for example, may cause the defensive back to jump in front of the receiver when he stops, only to be left flat-footed when the wide out then sprints down the field. Double moves can leave a defender overcommitted to the first cut behind. Play-action passes can lure defenders worried about a running play into shifting their weight forward, leaving receivers valuable time to race past them.

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