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Ins and outs of Personnel and Coverages



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A lot of people know the basics of football, like the positions and what they are supposed to do. There is a lot more to the game than just the basics. Today, I am defining personnel. There are various types of personnel and when to use that personnel. This pertains to both sides of the ball; teams have different packages or player combinations that they will use at different times to best suit the situation they are in.

Offensive Personnel

On offense, personnel is pretty basic and easy to understand. There are two numbers, the first of which is the number of running backs on the field. The second number is how many tight ends, and with basic math we know there are five offensive linemen and a QB. The remaining number left after adding all of those numbers together is the number of wide receivers. For example, 11 personnel would be one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers, and the other 6 players on the field.

Most Common in Bills Offense

11 personnel is better known as the spread offense, this is setting up for mainly passing plays and an occasional run to keep opponents honest. 11 has taken over the NFL in recent years, and the Bills ran it 71% of the time last year. The Bills had an air raid offense, so this is no surprise. Teams that like to throw the ball more will run more 11 personnel because it is more suited for the pass.  Another offense that the Bills ran a lot was 10. 10 personnel is just one running back and wide receivers with no tight ends. The Bills ran this 15% of the time, and this is another pass-heavy personnel package geared towards getting the ball downfield.

Defensive Coverages and Personnel

There are two different parts of the defense: the front seven and the secondary. The front seven includes down defensive linemen and the linebackers. The secondary is the corners and safeties. The front seven personnel is either 4-3 or 3-4. The only difference between them is where one player lines up. In a 4-3, a team will have four down linemen and three linebackers. In a 3-4 it’s just the opposite: three down linemen and 4 linebackers. Each has its strengths and weaknesses.

What is a 4-3?

A 4-3, which the Bills run, is more geared toward helping the linebackers make tackles in the run game. The expectation is that the down linemen will take up the blockers allowing the linebackers to read the play and make the tackles. To have a successful 4-3 defense, a team needs a good middle linebacker who is smart and has the ability to play sideline to sideline. In the passing game, the linemen are expected to be able to create pressure themselves; the linebackers are mostly in coverage or watching the QB. Teams need athletic defensive linemen that can create a rush and get to the QB.

Why use a 3-4?

3-4 defenses are more tailored toward the pass. Teams with a linebacker who is a good rusher will run this so they can mix that player in coverage or rush the passer. There is a lot more blitzing in a 3-4 because of the lack of players rushing the QB. In the run, this defense is weak. With only three down linemen, teams will struggle against the run because they are outnumbered at the line of scrimmage.


For secondary coverages, there are cover zero through four and cover 6. For covers 0-4, the only difference is how many players are plying over the top of the defense. In cover zero, there is no over-the-top help. This means that everyone is man to man, and there is probably a blitz coming. Cover one there is one safety over the top and so on. Cover six is a little different: on one half of the field, a defense will play cover four, and on the other, they will play cover two. This is used to get a QB out of rhythm and make them truly have to make a good read.

Knowing these personnel allows you to better understand what the team is planning for each play.  Football strategy is an important part of the game. If you have any questions, drop in the comments.