If you want to play like Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, you have to learn how to read and beat coverages in Madden 23. Long-time players should have a solid grasp on defensive formations already. Still, a few nuanced differences in this year’s game, especially with the new passing mechanics, warrant a refresher.
What’s the difference between Cover 2 and Cover 3? How can you tell when your opponent is in man or zone defense? What happens when they disguise the play, and how can you make quick post-snap reads? Madden players and pop-warner QBs have been asking these questions for years, so let’s dive into how to read coverages in Madden 23 and how to beat each one.
For the record, all of the following images and tips were developed while playing as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the Buffalo Bills on All-Pro difficulty, the standard for online play. Tom Brady’s Hot Route Master ability makes it significantly easier to beat any coverage in the game. Meanwhile, the Bills have one of the best secondaries in Madden 23.
We ran most offensive plays out of Gun Tight Y Off Weak, a popular formation found in most playbooks. On defense, we ran everything out of Nickel 3-3 Will.
Cover 2 Zone What is Cover 2 Zone
Tampa 2, Cover 2 Sink, and Cover 2 Hard Flat are all examples of a standard Cover 2 defense. Cover 2 (most of the time) features two deep Safeties (dark blue zones), three midfield defenders (yellow/green zones), and two flat defenders (light blue zones).
Cover 2 keeps your defensive corners closer to the line of scrimmage (LOS) while your linebackers hover over the middle, ready to pounce on any run plays. Cover 2 takes away the intermediate middle of the field, making it difficult to hit shallow crossers, in-breaking routes, and slants.
Cover 2 also takes away routes in the flat (five yards off the LOS on either side of the field). It depends on whether the light blue zones are set to cloud or hard flats.
Cloud Flat defenders backpedal, covering 5-10 yards off the line of scrimmage. Hard Flats play right on the line, taking away any swing routes from your RB or WR Smoke Screens (when your receiver doesn’t move off the line and waits for the ball).
How to read Cover 2 in Madden 23
Cover 2 Zone has obvious tells in Madden 23. You need to look at two things: the Safeties and the corners.
If you see two Safeties deep in the middle of the field, you know you might be looking at a Cover 2 defense. Next, look at where the CBs are standing relative to the LOS. If they’re about 5 yards off the line, you know you’ve got Cover 2 Zone. The only thing you won’t know pre-snap is if they’re playing Hard Flats or Cloud Flats.
Snap the ball and see what the flat defenders do. If they backpedal, you know they’re playing Cloud Flats. If they hold their ground, you know they’re playing Hard Flats. You can also keep an eye on the deep Safeties and the MLB. If all three backpedal in a straight line, you know you’re throwing into a Cover 2 Zone defense. That’ll make more sense once we explain Cover 3 and Single-High Man.
How to beat Cover 2 in Madden 23
To beat a Cover 2 defense (and any defense for that matter), you need to know where the holes in coverage are. With Cover 2, you’ll have shallow drags open behind the line, corner routes on the sideline, and deep posts in the middle. However, you must make the right post-snap reads to hit any of these throws.
The best play to run against a Cover 2 defense is a flood concept play, which involves a streak, corner, and flat route to one side of the field — preferably the wider side of the field — for more breathing room (i.e., throwing to the right when the ball is on the left hashmark and vice versa).
Some plays will literally be called “Flood.” Otherwise, you might have to hot route into a flood concept from plays like Z Spot (out of any bunch formation).
Post-snap, if the CB backpedals towards your corner route, you’ll have the flat defender wide open. On the other hand, if they run up on the flat route, you’ll have your corner route wide open.
You can also hit a WR streaking up the sideline if they’re far enough outside, either on a fade or wheel route, getting them near the chalk. But you have to hit them between the shallow corner and the deep Safety, and this only works when the CB plays a Hard Flat.
Regardless of the coverage, always think about how you can occupy or hold defenders long enough to get someone open. For example, sending two deep routes up each sideline will occupy each Safety in Cover 2. Then, you can hit a deep post over the middle for a 30+ yard gain.
Cover 3 Zone What is Cover 3 Zone
Plays like Cover 3 Sky, Cover 3 Seam, and most zone blitzes are examples of Cover 3 Zone. It’s the most common defensive scheme in online play, as it’s the easiest to hide. Cover 3 Zone puts three defenders (usually a Safety and two CBs) in deep zones. Two LBs will split the middle of the field, while a CB and Safety guard any intermediate sideline routes like corners, crossers, and out-routes.
Cover 3 Zone is meant to stop chunk plays and provide safety valves when you blitz an extra defender(s). Ideally, Cover 3 keeps everything in front of the defense — meaning you’re willing to give up short-yardage to protect against deep threats. Of course, you can’t let your opponent dink and dunk their way up the field, so you’ll have to come up eventually.
How to read Cover 3 in Madden 23
If you see one deep Safety at the line of scrimmage, you might be looking at a Cover 3 Zone. However, Cover 3 looks like Single-High Man, so your next read will come post-snap. This pre-snap read immediately tells you that your Cover 2 beater play might not work, at least not as intended.
Be careful in Bunch Formations. You’ll still see two deep Safeties even if they’re playing a Cover 3. But, if you motion someone from your bunch to the other side of the field, one of those Safeties should drop down, revealing a Cover 3.
After the snap, watch the defenders on either side of the field. If they backpedal, you know they’re in zone coverage. If they jam and chase a receiver, you know they’re in man coverage (Single-High Man). Basically, defenders with their backs or side profiles to the QB are in Man, and defenders looking at the QB are in Zone.
If your opponent Base Aligns their defense, you won’t be able to tell what kind of coverage they’re in pre-snap. Always watch the safties when you snap the ball. If one drops down towards the middle of the field, you know they’re running Cover 3 Zone or Single-High Man with a Robber.
How to beat Cover 3 in Madden 23
There are a few ways to beat Cover 3 in Madden 23. First, you can hot route a TE or WR to run a drag behind the LOS. Make sure your other receiver runs deep enough to occupy the other defenders. You can send your RB on a swing route or put one of your WRs on a smoke screen. Whatever you choose, short yardage plays will work against Cover 3.
Make sure you mix your routes up in case it’s Single-High Man. We’ll go over what beats Single-High later on.
Next, you can run a concept we call Flat-Go-Wheel. This concept works whenever your RB, TE, and WR line up on the right side of the field. Put your TE on a go-route, your WR on a flat route, and your RB on a wheel route, and then snap the ball. The right Safety should back into their deep zone, the CB should chase the flat route, and the LB should stay with your TE, leaving your RB wide open on the numbers.
When running Flat-Go-Wheel, your first read is the CB. Throw the ball as soon as they commit towards the flat. If they don’t commit, hit the flat route. If they’re in Single-High Man, either throw the ball away or make sure you’ve got someone on a Zig Route on the other side of the field.
Run Flat-Go-Wheel out of a bunch formation and motion your middle WR to the other side. If someone follows them, you know the defense is playing man, and you can change the play accordingly.
Cover 4 Zone What is Cover 4
Cover 4 Palms, Drop, Quarters, and Press are all examples of Cover 4 Zone defense. These concepts feature four deep Safeties, an MLB defending the middle, and two CBs guarding the sidelines. In previous games, Cover 4 concepts played Match, which is like a Zone/Man Hybrid. In Madden 23, you can turn Match principals on and off for every defense via coaching adjustments.
Cover 4 gives you the most coverage deep downfield but leaves underneath routes pretty open. You also leave yourself vulnerable to run plays, especially Draws, as four of your defenders will backpedal once you snap the ball and the QB looks like they’re passing.
How to read Cover 4 in Madden 23
Cover 4 looks like Cover 2 sinc