Scouting the Opponent: Miami's Base Defense

I'll let you sit and digest this stuff while I work on the 2nd Half of the Play-by-Play Review and the Report Card.  Expect both do be done by 10 EST.

Cover-2 Man Under

Why is it called Cover 2

When deciding the terminology of calling coverages, the number of deep zone pass defenders that are deployed will normally determine what a defensive coach calls a defense. In Cover 2 for example, there are two deep safeties that divide the field into halves. If the secondary played Cover 3, three deep defenders would divide the deep responsibility on the field into thirds. If they played Cover 4, four deep defenders divide the deep zone into fourths.Obviously, different teams use different terminology, but the most commonly used is simply identifying how many deep zone defenders are used.

Miami does run Cover Two as their primary defense.  Instead of running it as a full-zone look (Tampa-2, from Tony Dungy), however, they adopt a common variation as their base defense (2000 Baltimore Ravens, Miami Dolphins from 1999-2004)

Variations of Cover 2
Man under

is when the defense chooses to play two deep safeties but assign the five underneath defenders to play man-to-man on the offenses five eligible receivers.


The ESPN article talks about the Man-Under being a changeup for teams who run a cover-2 zone.  That is true, but Miami uses the Man-Under look as their base defense.  Most college teams don't play great Zone defense (though many do run it with some success).

Let's be Play-Station All-Americans!


Image Courtesy of

Obviously, you should disregard the video game controls.  This is a good photo, showing what a Man-Under/ Man-2/ Cover-2 Man/ Cover-2 5 defense looks like.  Yes, that is a lot of different names.

How does Miami implement this defense?  Miami will often press out of this look.  In the above photo, Miami would press the "X" and "B" receiver.  They can aggressively press the receiver because they have the deep safeties as a safety net, should they miss.  Miami's defensive linemen aggressively attack the line of scrimmage, specifically the ends.  Their Defensive Tackles play a bit more gap-responsibility than our guys.  The linebackers are responsible for covering the RB's and the TE.  Don't be fooled, however, their primary responsibility is the run.

What routes are unavailable or unwise against Miami's Cover-2 Man Under look?  Clearly, because of the de facto double team, the outside receivers are usually taken away.  Ever wonder why our famous "rainbow offense" failed miserably against Miami?  Yes, that's correct.  We tried to attack their strength.

Hitches, quick outs, and arrows are definitely out as primary routes because of the press.  Deep outs, deep posts, and corners are out as primary routes.  We will revisit those in a moment. 

What primary routes will work?  Assuming Miami plays press, slants, curls, comebacks, the skinny post, and digs should be open. 

Now, I said those will either or work or succeed as primary routes.  I didn't say we should run them.  Against Man Cover-2, some of those routes will be extremely important.  Why?  We need them to run off the primary corner and get the attention of the safety. 

You probably already realize what's going on here.  Preston Parker in the slot and Caz from the TE position are our keys to having a successful day throwing the ball.

In the above example, assume that Fortson is playing the "B" position, and Parker is playing the position occupied by the slot guy, Randel El.  Forston would allow the corner to press him and take him to the outside.  Fortson's goal will be to get off the press and scream down the field deep.  Parker will look to drive his defender off the ball (probably not playing press from the slot position), and then break to the outside, on a 10-15 yard out.  This should be open, because the slot defender ha s alot or area to respect, and Parker should be able to get to the area vacated by free safety.

It's all about route combo's.  We need to run pick routes, and route combination's that leave large areas of the field wide open.  Remember how the linebackers and underneath defenders (except the 2 outside corners) are concerned with the run first?  We must take advantage of that.  Preston, Caz, and Antone as a pass catcher are absolutely huge in this game.  Running from the inside to the flats with the interior offensive threats is extremely effective against this defense.  It's also a really easy read for Ponder.  We haven't thrown to the TE much in the last 15 years, but we need to now more than ever.

Note:  Ponder must be confident in this game and use his arm strength to fit the ball into some tighter spaces.  He also needs to lead his receivers when they run...

Crossing routes.  That's right, crossing routes are going to be important as well.  Why?  Crossing routes work really well against man coverage because you can lead the receiver by a considerable amount.  They are also effective because they cause a lot of traffic and often, a defender can get caught up in that traffic.  FSU fans see this often with their own defense.  I think Ponder would much prefer to see a primarily man defense, as opposed to a zone defense. 

We also have something Miami hasn't seen; something that they don't want to see; something that works really well against a man defense (safeties deep are irrelevant for purposes of this point). 

A fast, agile, mobile QB  Look at the graphics above.  Everyone is accounted for, and the safeties have blanketed deep field.  Who has the QB?  Nobody.  This is a huge weakness for the D.  Nobody is assigned to account for Ponder.  Miami's defense of Ponder's wheels will be completely reactionary, as opposed to a defense that accounts for him with a spy defender, or a zone defense, where the defenders all have their eyes on him at all times.  There will be multiple opportunities for Ponder to run in this game as Miami's underneath defenders turn and run with out receiving options.

What about pass protection?  Pass pro will be extremely important.  Typically, teams running cover-2 man under do not blitz.  We HAVE seen Miami blitz before, against Rix.  They rarely blitzed Drew though.  Interestingly enough, they did blitz Tebow quite frequently, and did not blitz much last week against Miami. 

I am going to say that Miami won't blitz much in this game.  Miami will be looking to get pressure with their front 4 defenders.  The line is going to have to block these guys.  If Miami can get pressure with their front 4 defenders, we are in a lot of trouble.  Luckily, the line has looked surprisingly good in pass protection so far, with a few exceptions.  I'd be lying to you if I said I knew exactly how they will do. 

When Miami does blitz, FSU needs to handle it better.  We struggled last week when Colorado did blitz.  This is pretty much on the receivers.  Two veteran receivers missed their hot-route responsibilities.  Ponder must know his hot reads, and the receivers must quickly break down into their "hots".  Miami will be blitzing for sacks, betting that Ponder can't hook up with his "hot".  I do not expect them to blitz to create interceptions.  They haven't shown many zone blitz looks.  Miami tends to let the blitzer's man run free when they do blitz, preferring to stay in their cover-2 shell.

Ideally, FSU wants to get Miami out of their cover-2 look.  Why?  Forcing Miami to run stuff that they'd prefer not to run is advantage FSU. 

We can do this in several ways.  The first is consistently shredding the underneath stuff, making Miami impatient.

The second is the running game.  Miami has been nothing short of great against the run, and they've been able to do it with only 7 men in the box.  Why?  Miami plays great assignment football, has good speed, maintains their gap responsibilities, and pursues inside-out, limiting cutback lanes. 

Can FSU run on Miami?  Yes, just don't expect to dominate.  FSU's zone scheme is different than the running styles Miami usually will see.  Expect us to cut our splits slightly, and try to get Miami to over pursue.

FSU will probably have to throw before they run.  If they can get Miami's underneath defenders to worry about Parker, Caz, and Antone, the Draw plays should open up, as Caz and Parker clear the middle with outside routes.

If FSU stays committed to the run,  it could draw a safety down into the box, opening up the PA game.  

Hopefully you learned something here.  Check back tonight for the 2nd Half Review and Report Card.

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