Dallas Cowboys fans can expect some major changes on defense this first season under new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, today we take a look at one of those changes: 2-Man Coverage
For years the Dallas Cowboys have done the same dang thing every down. Following Pete Carroll’s model in Seattle, the Cowboys have used a single high safety look to run a Cover 1/Cover 3 scheme on defense.
Over the years we’ve spoken incessantly about this coverage, so we won’t waste any time rehashing it again today. To catch up on some previous explanations check out Single High and Finding the Single High, and Understanding the coverage (It’s probably still worth knowing because the Dallas Cowboys are sure to use it from time to time).
Things are changing here in 2020, though. Mike Nolan is known for a variety of schemes that make him a very tough coach to pigeonhole. Not only is he known for both 3-4 and 4-3 concepts but he’s also known for mixing man and zone coverages. As such, Dallas Cowboys fans should be ready for everything in 2020.
But looking at some of his past work and the words and actions the team has taken this offseason, it’s beginning to appear like the Cowboys will be offering large doses of 2-Man coverage. What is 2-man? We break it down today
Dallas Cowboys: 2-Man Coverage
In a nutshell, 2-man coverage is a type of 2-Deep in that it deploys two safeties over the top in zone coverage. As the name suggests, 2-Man also calls for man coverage from everyone else. Deployed in base defense, nickel defense or even dime, it’s designed to take away the big plays and also act aggressively on inside plays.
Cornerbacks line up with inside leverage. They want to force plays outside and aggressively eliminate inside breaking plays like slants, digs, curl ins, and post routes. Again, they can act aggressively because they know they have safety help. This lets them gamble without dire consequences.
All defenses are susceptible in one way or another and the 2-man in certainly no different. Running three deep routes is a good way to mess up any Cover-2 like coverage. But we need to keep in mind the cornerbacks are playing man and not zone, therefore they don’t abandon their receiver for someone else once he gets deep on a go route.
Inside players, like an extra DB or LB, play trail technique to box out would-be seam runners. Unlike the MIKE in the Tampa-2 (which is really a Cover-3) or in a traditional Cover – 2 (which uses zone throughout), the inside player is supposed trail in the inside hip pocket to keep windows small.
Seeing Dallas roll out “trail technique” is going to conjure up some bad feelings from Dallas Cowboys fans, but without deep-third responsibilities (like they often had in the Single High Cover-3), boundary corners will play with a level of aggression rarely see ‘round these parts.
Visually everything will change at both the snap of the ball and at the break-point of routes. Pre-snap, we’ll see safeties all over the field, but once that ball rocks back the safeties will retreat deep to their respective spots. As mentioned before, CBs will man up shading inside. They will actively work to sit on and jump inside breaking routes at the break point. If the route goes deep, they’ll jump into the receiver’s hip pocket and escort him to the deep zone where a safety is there to make a play.
There are holes, yes, but all coverages have holes. This scheme allows CBs to play the ball aggressively without the worry of giving up the big play. That’s why it’s particularly attractive to the Dallas Cowboys who have young and aggressive CBs whose ball skills need to be nurtured (and encouraged). 2-man also disguises itself well and can be tough to differentiate from many other coverages, pre-snap.
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Dallas Cowboys fans are still going to see their CBs playing with their backs to the ball in 2020. That’s unavoidable when you play a lot of man coverage. But fans will see a much more aggressive brand of shallow-to-intermediate coverage that plays to the strengths of the players, and promises more interceptions.