Madden 20: Key tips for reading defensive coverage pre-snap

Learning the X’s and O’s of Madden can be intimidating, but it is a much-needed skill.

Tom Owen by Tom Owen

Everyone who plays Madden loves scoring points. It’s just fun that way. But the age old quote is that “Defense wins Championships”. And that’s because great defenses stop offenses. Simple as that. Football is as close to a game of chess as any other sport, and you can unlock huge potential in your team across all game modes by being able to read the defense and unpick it.

There are specific things you can do against defenses, and plenty more detail to come, however foremost you have to identify this in the pre-snap…

READ MORE: Most OP playbooks in Madden 20


Man or zone?

First thing to work out, is whether your opponent is playing man or zone coverage. As suggested by the name, man coverage is a where a defender has the direct responsibility for an offensive player. This is shown as a line on defense. This can open up match ups for dominant offensive players, particularly ones with good speed, route running, and release.

Zone coverage will guard parts of the field, and as receivers move across their zones, they will cover them before passing onto the next zone. These defenses require a QB to pick holes in the zones and time throws in between them.

One quick way to identify this, is to send a player in motion on offense. Press B/O until you get a receiver and press left or right to move them. If the player opposite on defense moves, this shows man, if they don’t – it’s likely zone. Although see later, the best players can hide these things.

READ MORE: Best Offensive and Defensive plays on Madden 20

What are the safeties doing?

The biggest clues to a defensive coverage comes from the safeties. How many there are on the field, and where they stand, can give a QB clues what play is coming from them. As you dig more into defensive coverages, you will start to see the following terms;

Cover 1 – This is a man coverage scheme which leaves the 1 safety in a zone in the middle of the field.

Cover 2 – You can have a man cover 2 or a zone cover 2, making it tricky to spot which coverage it is until after the snap. 

Cover 3 – This is a zone coverage scheme and leaves 3 defensive backs (usually 1 safety and 2 cornerbacks) across the field defending a deeper pass.

Cover 4 – This is a zone coverage and leaves both cornerbacks and safeties in deep zones defending the pass.

The more the defense expects a deep pass, the more deep zones they will utilize, and you will see more players off the line off scrimmage and immediately dropping off with the snap of the ball.

Based on trying to work out if it is a man or a zone defense, you can then try to guess the cover and then use certain plays to take advantage of this.

COVER 2 MAN: You’ll come up against this defense regularly

If you believe it to be a Cover 2 man defense because you can see 2 safeties high with each receiver covered up then this opens up the concept of drag or slant routes which are shorter, the passing plays that generate changes of directions to get open but without risking those zones.

SINGLE HIGH: 1 deep safety often means a blitz is coming

If you believe it to be a Cover 1 Man defense because you can see 1 safety in the middle of the field. This opens up the concept of out routes and post plays, where you still have to beat 1 man, but the sides of the field are now opened up.

4 DEEP: Off corners and two high safeties mean cover 4 is coming

If you think the opponent is playing zone and there are 2 safeties, then you know that a speedy player beating an individual man isn’t going to be enough. Here you need to use all the different types of route to pick holes between the zones, such as those between the pink and yellow zones above.

Is there a Blitz?

Madden 20 has improved the effectiveness of blitzing, and so there is more of it happening in all game modes. 

The first thing you do when taking over at QB is look at the body language of defenders. See the difference between the circled defenders and those outside. We can make a good guess the circled ones are blitzing and that we need to make sure we know of this.

If there are multiple players looking like they will blitz, change your play through audibles to be one of short passing. Play action passes usually lead to sacks, and runs will be stuffed. Try to get a screen pass as an option, this can punish excessive blitzing.

Some players will adjust their TE or RB into blocking and out of routes to give extra support. There is also a new ability to double team block a player on the offensive line.

BLITZERS: Aggressive body language is the key to spotting them

READ MORE: How to get MUT coins fast


Great players will confuse you

Everything mentioned above is in the offensive toolkit to beat an opponent. It wouldn’t be fair if the defense couldn’t do anything about it. There are lots of plays in Madden designed to pretend to be one thing but are something else.

There are Cover 1 coverages that show as Cover 2 until the ball is snapped (below). There are blitzes that look like non-blitzes, and vice versa. Take these as a percentage guess – you are trying to work your opponent out throughout the game. Take a pause after each play and look at the screen to see what the defense selected. This is an advantage the Madden developers have given the offense.

ROBBER: Be alert to post-snap safety rotations


Tom Owen