What Is Cover Three Defense In American Football?

cover three

What Is Cover Three Defense?

If you’ve ever watched an American football game, you may have heard the commentators talking about “Cover Three” defense. But what exactly is it? Cover Three defense, also known as the 3-deep zone defense, is defensive strategy teams use to defend against the pass.

It is designed to cover potential receivers deep down the field while providing support against runs and short passes. Let’s examine the strategy and how it works.

How Cover Three Defense Works 

In Cover Three defense, three defensive players drop back into deep coverage zones instead of man-to-man coverage. The idea behind this strategy is that with three players in deep coverage, there are fewer chances for a receiver to get open and make a play.

The deep defenders typically spread out across their designated zones, covering short and long routes. This allows the team to be prepared for any offense from their opponent. 

The Advantages of Using Cover Three Defense 

This strategy allows teams to defend against deep passing plays and running plays equally well. Due to its flexibility, it also allows teams to use multiple formations without adjusting their coverage scheme too much.

It can also help confuse the quarterback by making them think they have an open receiver when they do not because of how much ground three defenders can cover relative to five or six-man defenses. 

The Drawbacks of Using Cover Three Defense 

A potential drawback is that it can be susceptible to big plays, as there are typically only three defenders deep. If an offense can get one receiver open behind the coverage, they have a good chance of completing long passes.

Another drawback is that quick, short passes can beat it. This is because the defensive backs are focused on deep coverage and may not be able to react in time to defend against shorter routes.

Properly Executing Cover Three Defense

To execute cover three defenses, the defensive backs must first line up in their respective positions. The corners will line up outside the field, while the free safety will line up in the middle. The next step is for the defensive backs to drop back into their coverage areas.

The corners will each take one-third of the field, while the free safety will take the remaining third. The goal of this defense is to prevent any receiver from getting open by staying in their assigned areas and defending against the pass.

If the offense does manage to complete a pass, the defensive backs must be sure to tackle the receiver immediately to prevent a big gain. Cover three defense can be an effective way to stop the passing game, but it requires the defensive backs to be disciplined and stay in their coverage areas.


Cover Three defense in American football is an effective way for teams to defend against passing plays and running plays. By having three defenders drop back into deep coverage zones, teams can limit their opponents’ options while still being able to adjust formations quickly if necessary.

Although it may only sometimes be used depending on the situation or the opposing team’s offensive schemes, there’s no denying that Cover Three defense has been successful when appropriately implemented in football games over the years.