The NFL’s best quarterbacks against every type of coverage:

Complexity of coverage has expanded exponentially throughout the NFL’s history, and specifically in the NFL’s recent history. The days of Tom Landry “umbrella” base defense are long-gone, though those concepts led the way in pro football for decades. The implementation of the defense zone in the 1960s and 1970s, the acceptance of the slot defender as starter in the early days of the new millennium, spin-offs and iterations of single-high ahd two-deep concepts in recent years, and the addition of match coverage as s staple from the 1990s to now have all expanded the picture regarding what defenses can throw at quarterbacks and their targets.

Just as offenses have never been more diverse and efficiently explosive than they are now, there have never been more different ways to deal with a passing game from a coverage perspective than their are now.

In line with that, we also have more and better metrics when it’s time to analyze which quarterbacks are the best and most effective against every type of coverage. And with that in mind, here’s Touchdown Wire’s list of the best NFL quarterbacks against every type of coverage.

(All metrics courtesy of Sports Info Solutions unless otherwise indicated).

Cover-0: Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills:

(Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports)

There were many reasons for Allen’s impressive season in 2021, when he completed 457 of 708 passes for 5,044 yards, 45 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions, adding 897 rushing yards and six touchdowns on the ground. One of those reasons was Allen’s effectiveness against Cover-0 – man coverage across the board with no deep safeties. Against Cover-0 in 2021, Allen completed 10 of 16 passes for 114 yards, 89 air yards, five touchdowns, no interceptions, a passer rating of 123.4, and an Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt of 13.4.

One reason Allen is so good at exploiting aggressive this kind of man coverage? His ability to stick throws into tight windows with anticipation. This 19-yard touchdown pass to Gabriel Davis in the Bills’ wild-card win over the Patriots is proof of concept.

Cover-1: Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers:

(Syndication: Green Bay Press-Gazette)

We move now to Cover-1 – man coverage with a single-high safety – and Mr. Rodgers’ dominance of that particular brand of defense. In 2021, Rodgers carved it up to the tune of 79 completions in 121 attempts for 1,166 yards, 698 air yards, 10 touchdowns, one interception, a passer rating of 120.7, and an ANY / A of 10.2. A handful of quarterbacks had more touchdown passes against Cover-1 – Joe Burrow, Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford, and Derek Carr – but nobody was more efficient. As Davante Adams was the terror of Cover-1 last season, and Adams is now with Carr and the Raiders, let’s look at another Packers receiver having success in this particular endeavor.

Vikings cornerback Kris Boyd has three problems on this 20-yard Rodgers touchdown pass to Allen Lazard. First, Lazard breaks his ankles on the route. Second, Rodgers makes a ridiculous throw off his back foot, under pressure. Third, Lazard posters Boyd in the end zone, and that’s that.

Cover-2: Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams:

(Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Cover-2 – zone with two deep safeties – isn’t the ubiquitous coverage it was in the early part of the new millennium, but as defenses are trying to foil opposing quarterbacks with more two-high concepts, you’ll still see a lot of it. Defenses using it against Stafford, however, may want to think twice. Against Cover-2 last season, Stafford completed 61 of 85 passes for 841 yards, 517 air yards, six touchdowns, no interceptions, a passer rating of 126.6. and an ANY / A of 11.1. The commination of Stafford’s arm talent and Sean McVay’s passing concepts factors badly for any defense trying to get over with Cover-2.

Stafford’s 70-yard touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp against the Buccaneers in the divisional round of the playoffs came against Cover-2, and it was not a great result for the Bucs. Kupp is the outside receiver in trips right, and while linebacker Devin White and safety Mike Edwards cover Van Jefferson up the chute, cornerback Carlton Davis is left one-on-one with Kupp. With all due respect to Mr. Davis, you can guess how that went. Especially since Davis appeared to be exhorting Edwards to deepen his drop, and looked like he was expecting deep help as Kupp ran his route.

2-Man: Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos:

(Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Two-man coverage – man coverage with two deep safeties – is increasing in frequency and effectiveness in the NFL. One exception: When you throw 2-Man coverage against Russell Wilson. When defenses did that, Wilson responded with eight completions in 14 attempts for 186 yards, 135 air yards, three touchdowns, one interception, a passer rating of 111.6, and an ANY / A of 10.5. Wilson did not see as much 2-Man as some other starters did – Patrick Mahomes led the league with 78 attempts against it – but when it happened, Wilson was certainly ready for it.

This is Wilson throwing a 23-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Lockett against the Colts’ two-deep man coverage, and a blitz factored in. Had top-tier slot man Kenny Moore not been blitzing on this play, he was likely aligned to take Tyler Lockett as the inside slot man, Instead, Lockett only had safety Khari Willis to deal with, and that was not a fair fight for the Colts. Lockett is simply too much in that instance.

Cover-3: Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals:

(Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports)

It should come as no surprise that Burrow showed up frequently in our list of the best quarterbacks against every type of throw, and his presence here should be equally unsurprising. Throwing a single deep safety in zone coverage against Burrow and the Bengals was generally a fool’s errand in 2021 – against Cover-3, he completed 123 of 165 passes for 1,471 yards, 826 air yards, 10 touchdowns, three interceptions, a passer rating of 114.0, and an ANY / A of 8.0. Burrow’s touchdowns and passer rating against Cover-3 led the league.

The Bengals are a heavy 3 × 1 team, but they also like to befuddle defenses in 2 × 2 sets – and creating openings against zone defenses out of those sets. They also have receivers – such as Tee Higgins in this case – who can blow up double coverage. On this 29-yard touchdown pass against the Chargers in Week 13, cornerback Michael Davis breaks late on Higgins’ vertical route, safety Nasir Adderley is a step late to the ball, and that’s all Burrow and Higgins need.

Cover-4: Josh Allen, Buffalo Bills:

(Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

Mr. Allen is back on the list, and this time it’s against Cover-4 or “Quarters” coverage. This is another coverage concept that is gaining steam at all levels of football, As our good friend Matt Bowen of ESPN explained for Bleacher Report in 2014, Cover-4 is “a four-deep, three-under zone defense that uses man-to -man principles while creating opportunities for both the free and strong safety to double (or “bracket”) the No. 1 wide receivers. ”

When facing Cover-4 in 2021, Allen completed 62 of 90 passes for 699 yards, 472 air yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions, a passer rating of 97.4, and an ANY / A of 7.8. Justin Herbert was the most explosive quarterback against Cover-4 in 2021, throwing seven touchdowns against it, but he also threw four interceptions.

On this 15-yard Allen touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs against the Titans in Week 6, safety Amani Hooker drops down to take care of the run fit, but the ball’s not going to run back Devin Singletary. That leaves cornerback Jackrabbit Jenkins one-on-one with Diggs on the slant, and that’s bad math, no matter who you are. This was easy pickings for Allen in Brian Daboll’s fully-formed offense – now run by Ken Dorsey.

Cover-6: Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

(Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

Cover-6 (also known as “Quarter-quarter-half”) is an example of simple math – it’s Cover-2 to one side, and Cover-4 to the other. Ergo, 6. And against these iterations of coverage, Tom Brady was the black belt in 2021. He completed 16 of 23 passes for 261 yards, 182 air yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, a passer rating of 136.3, and an ANY / A of 11.3.

Of course, Brady can slice and dice any coverage you give him, and this Cover-6 example from the Jets in Week 17 is less than optimal. Tight end Cameron Brate’s quick out takes cornerback Bryce Hall down, leaving safety Elijah Riley to deal with Grayson. Hall appears to be confused about what happened after Brady’s 33-yard touchdown pass to receiver Cyril Grayson.

Goal-line: Tua Tagovailoa, Miami Dolphins:

(Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

The 2022 offseason has seen more than its share of off theories when it comes to Tua Tagovailoa’s effectiveness and explosiveness, and further proof that if you’re into that sort of thing, you can bend metrics to buttress any argument you choose.

One set of metrics that actually bends in Tagovailoa’s favor? His performance against goal-line defenses. In those situations, Tagovailoa completed six of seven passes for 25 yards, 12 air yards, six touchdowns, no interceptions, a passer rating of 121.1, and an ANY / A of 20.7. Not that Tagovailoa had a ton of complex stuff to work through in these red zone situations, but he certainly got the job done.

Tagovailoa had two touchdown passes against the Jaguars in Week 6 out of goal-line situations, both to receiver Jaylen Waddle, and both in quick-timing routes in which Waddle’s job was to get open in a hurry, with Tagovailoa hitting his target on time . Not that we’re going all Tyreek Hill here, but at least on the quick stuff, Tua was just fine in 2021.

Red-2: Davis Mills, Houston Texans:

(Syndication: USA TODAY)

In certain goal-line situations, defenses will play “Red-2” coverage, in which a five-across look is presented to the quarterback. In Red-2, the cornerbacks squat and cover instead of playing press, the safeties run reads in which they drop down for any pass in their areas, the inside linebacker will play to the passing strength, and the seam / hook defenders read the quarterback and give the safeties support underneath. Matt Bowen has a great explanation here.

Who was the best quarterback against Red-2 coverage in 2021? Rookie Davis Mills of the Texans has an excellent case – he completed four of five passes for 34 yards, 28 air yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, a passer rating of 134.6, and an ANY / A of 14.2.

This seven-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola against the Titans in Week 18 is pretty nifty. Mills gets knocked off his spot, rolls left, sees nothing there, and has the presence of mind to hit Amendola to the other side of the end zone. Not bad for a rookie, and that acumen is one reason I had Mills as the NFL’s most underrated quarterback in 2021.

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