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Should NFL teams be playing more man or zone coverage?

Baltimore, Maryland, USA; Baltimore Ravens free safety Brandon Stephens (21) and cornerback Marlon Humphrey (44) react after breaking up a Minnesota Vikings pass during the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

• If a coverage unit has the advantage over the opponents' receivers, then it is more beneficial to play man coverage.

• As for the opposite scenario, these findings confirm that zone coverage limits the range of outcomes and likelihood of an offense creating a big play.

• For more insights on evaluating coverage in the NFL, read up on the “Adjusted Coverage Rate” metric.

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Which coverage should teams play more of: man or zone?

Let’s first outline what we know about man coverage and what we know about zone coverage. In their simplest forms, man coverage is when a player is guarding an opposing receiver and zone coverage is when a player is guarding an area of the field.

Using perfectly covered plays as a proxy, on the team level we can see that man coverage is more stable year-to-year than zone coverage.

Not only is man coverage more stable, but there is essentially no stability in how well a team performs in zone in Year N and how well they perform in Year N+1.


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