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Man Versus Zone Coverage The Big Debate - Coverage Does Matter

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When it comes to coverage schemes many youth football coaches have very strong opinions. They are and always have been man coverage guys while others think it should be a capital offense if you don't run zone. Or maybe you like to run man free, man underneath a deep zone safety. What's the right answer?

Maybe it falls a little into the middle. No matter which approach I take in teaching coverage, I always team man first. Because once the ball is in the air, the defender is going to in essence be in man coverage.

Another reason I like man coverage in youth football is many youth coaches will try and overload a team by formation or with shifts and motion. When in man, you are not going to be the victim of formation overloads, shifts or motion. I've never had a problem teaching even my youngest age players the 7-9s to man up correctly on trips, twins, double slot, motion etc. Rapid rep team defensive recognition drills with 11 players in and 11 out every 15 seconds solve for that pretty easily.

Man also allows you to match up. Many spread teams think the spread helps them create mismatches. The problem with that is if they have a "dude" I can match my "dude" on his "dude." They can't just have their "dude" run to my weakest zone player and whamp us all day long. Now if the other team has many more "dudes" than you do and the matchups are overwhelming, you have a problem no defensive scheme is going to do very well with. But man allows you to match up where you want.

At the youth level MANY youth coaches will split out a weaker player to draw a defender out with him. They have no intention of throwing the ball to that Receiver. Many youth coaches use this approach to get players their required snaps in minimum play rule leagues. Better coached teams simply won't cover these kids and play 11 against your 10. We do this using our "Igor" call. It helped us win a semifinal game in 2013 when the other team lined up in double slot and had a minimum play player to both sides. We played 11 on 9 football most of that day.When you are in man you can do this, zone, you can't,
So you are thinking I'm a man guy now right? No, I'm a fan of winning, I bear no allegiance to any ethical approach that is suboptimal to my team winning games. I've played man, zone and both. As most of us know, when we are in man, sometimes it is difficult to play the run well. With eyes on the receivers to give cues to the Defensive Backs and Linebackers, run support is often times not as good as it could be as in zone. In zone the cues are usually first from the Quarterback, run support can be immediate. All eyes are usually downfield or into the backfield at the start. It's simply easier to play run support from zone.

In man, well coached teams will often times just run off a Linebacker or Defensive Back. They will take your defenders out of a play without even having to lay a finger on them. We've all seen teams go 5 wide, send everyone deep and then run the QB on a designed delayed run. I do this in my offense with our "Paul" calls, it's a very successful approach against man teams. There are other ways to gain advantages on man teams. We saw that a lot in the Oregon, Ohio State National Championship Game. OSU on the Jet Sweep Powers and Counters with the faked "smoke" screen to the edges which were holding 2 defenders. Man definitely has it's pluses and minuses.

Against man, well coached teams will run rubs (slant/arrows), slant/wheels, smoke screen/wheels and shallow crosses to rub off your man defenders. Are those play legal? They rarely get called, so they become an issue.

Sure the better coached teams are going to find soft spots in your zone or just flood the zone. But in youth football, those throwing windows and areas are a bit more compressed due to the fact most youth players can't throw the 20 yard out. Spacing isn't as wide, which makes zone a bit more palatable, especially at the younger age groups.

In the end it comes down to what you believe in, what you can teach, what you have for players and what you are up against as far as competition. Read up on my "Worst to First" coaching experience in Reno, Nevada this year and see why I went to zone. I lived in Reno 5 days a week and commuted from Nebraska. This team had won something like 6 games in 6 years. Our equation required we play zone.

Winning Youth Football

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