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How To Read Defenses

american football defense football training Feb 15, 2024

Football is a chess match. Understanding and anticipating your opponent's next move critical to the success of your football team. In this post, we are going to look at some of the foundational ways your offense can start understanding and reading defenses to stay one step ahead of the competition.


This can be broken down into two sections:

  1. Pre-Snap Reads
  2. Post-Snap Reads


Pre Snap:

  1. Read Your Safeties and Secondary:

The first thing you want to do at the line of scrimmage is read the safeties and defensive backs. Oftentimes, the alignment of the safeties at the lower levels of football can give away what play the defense is running.


You want to look for how many deep safeties are on the field. There are three options:

  • Zero Safeties:
    • Cover 0 (Blitz)
  • Single High Safety:
    • Cover 1 (Man)
    • Cover 3 (Zone)
  • Two High Safety:
    • Cover 2 (Man)
    • Cover 2 (Zone)
    • Cover 4 (Zone)
    • Cover 6 (Zone)
    • Cover 8 (Zone)


Once you have identified the safeties, it can help to look at the cornerbacks or other defensive backs on the field to give us more clarity on what coverage the defense is in.


Two high safeties with CBs pressed off the line of scrimmage can mean something drastically different vs Two high safeties with CBs pressed up on the line of scrimmage.


  1. Man vs Zone Coverage:

Once you have established the alignment of the defensive backs, you have to try and determine if the offense is on man or zone coverage.


There are two ways you can tell:

  • Alignment of the players in the secondary
    • The easiest way is to look at the alignment of the players on the field. If there is a defender lined up directly above your receivers, it is an easy way to tell that the defense will be in man coverage.
  • Motions:
    • If the alignment of the defense is not obvious, the second way you can tell is by sending a player in motion. If you motion a player across the formation and a defensive player is trailing or following that player across the formation, it is another easy tell that the defense is in man coverage.


Post Snap Reads:

Once you snap the ball, it is important to continue reading the defense because as you progress through higher levels of football, the defense will start masking or hiding what they are doing pre-snap to make it harder for the offense to guess what play they are running. To accomplish this you first need:


Post - Snap Secondary Reads:

  • Since you know you are looking for 0, 1, or 2 high safeties, you must first glance at the safeties at the snap of the ball to see if they change their alignment once the ball is snapped. Sometimes, there may be one high safety pre-snap, but another player sinks into two high safetys once the ball is snapped. It is important that you read how those players in the secondary react to know what defense they are in.


Post Snap Underneath Reads:

  • Once you read the deep defenders, you need to drop your eyes down to the players in the box. It is important because you need to understand what kind of pressure the defense is sending at the quarterback.
    • If the defense is sending 4 rushers at the QB, every offense has 5 players blocking, thus you would have a numbers advantage on offense and you will have more time to make reads down field.
    • If the defense is sending 5+ rushers and you only blocked 5 players, you would need to get the ball out much quicker because the defense has even numbers or a numbers advantage which makes it much easier for them to sack the quarterback.

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