Anyone who has watched football has heard the terms: Man and Zone coverage. This article will try to explain what man and zone is and when/why one is used over the other.
Because Jacksonville’s base is a 4-3 defense (click here), that’s the formation below. Also, this is 101, so will keep it simple and focus more on what the DB’s do.
Zone vs Man.
Zone – The linebackers cover the intermediate zones, the safeties cover the deep zones and the Cornerbacks cover the flats. No matter the play or who comes into his zone, his job is to shut that guy(s) down.
Man is when a DB is to cover only one designated player. Jalen Ramsey mirroring Tyreek Hill could be a good example. Whether Hill lines up on the outside or slot, Ramsey is on him.
Zone takes smarts and good communication. If A.J. Bouye lets his receiver leave his zone, he has to trust that strong safety Barry Church knows to pick him up. We’ve all seen plays where the WR runs right by a CB and the safety is picking weeds. He wasn’t prepared to cover him.
When Ramsey and Bouye line up on the line of scrimmage across from the wide outs, and they stick to them white on rice, that’s man. Free safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. could be tasked with the slot (if there is one) or a third WR or a TE. Church could be assigned a running back or tight end. Sometimes two DB’s could be used on one guy (double coverage).
It’s important to know that once the ball is being carried or has been thrown, all assignments to go out the window and the DB/LB’s should go to the ball.
Teams can play both man and zone because they want the CB’s to play Man, but want the safeties in Zone. And in any play, the DB’s could show one look, but do another. But boy, they’ve got to be on the same page.
When to play man or zone
For teams with slow corners, it’s tough for them to play man against speedy WR’s, so they could be forced to play zone. Or a team doesn’t have two safeties good enough to cover a WR in their zone forcing the CB’s into man.
The play of the linebackers can also dictate. If the backers can shut down the center of the field, that can make the work of the DB’s easier and a coach has more choices.
If a team has decent DB’s and can pick, then they’ll decide on the play or the team. If a quarterback telegraphs, or doesn’t like to throw deep, or isn’t very accurate, they could choose man.
Say the team is KC who has speedy WRs and RB’s, and a QB with a great arm, it’ll have to be decided play by play. Needless to say, when a defense has to change back and forth, it can lead to mistakes and mental exhaustion. The DC and his assistants better be on full alert.
Above only addresses the secondary and not what happens with the linebackers in man and zone because this article would run 1500 words. Just know that how a team plays zone and/or man can be made easier if they have good linebackers.