How to Master Reading and Outsmarting Defenses in Madden 23

If you aspire to play like the legendary quarterbacks Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers, understanding how to read and beat coverages in Madden 23 is essential. Even if you’re an experienced player, it’s worth refreshing your knowledge due to the new passing mechanics in this year’s game. So, let’s dive into the art of decoding coverages in Madden 23 and strategize ways to overcome each one.

Cover 2 Zone

Play art from Madden 23 shows a Cover 2 Zone defense.
Image used with permission by OnSpec Electronic, Inc.

What is Cover 2 Zone

Cover 2 Zone, exemplified by formations like Tampa 2, Cover 2 Sink, and Cover 2 Hard Flat, features two deep safeties, three midfield defenders, and two flat defenders. This formation keeps the cornerbacks closer to the line of scrimmage while linebackers patrol the middle, ready to counter any running plays. Cover 2 takes away the intermediate middle of the field, making it challenging to complete shallow crossers, in-breaking routes, and slants. Additionally, routes in the flat are also limited, depending on whether the light blue zones are set to cloud or hard flats.

How to read Cover 2 in Madden 23

To identify Cover 2 Zone in Madden 23, pay attention to the safeties and the cornerbacks. If you spot two safeties deep in the middle of the field, there’s a good chance it’s Cover 2. Next, observe the position of the cornerbacks in relation to the line of scrimmage. If they’re approximately 5 yards off the line, you’re likely facing Cover 2 Zone. However, you won’t know whether they’re playing with hard flats or cloud flats until after the snap.

Watch the flat defenders after the snap. If they backpedal, it means they’re in cloud flats. On the other hand, if they hold their ground, they’re playing with hard flats. Keep an eye on the deep safeties and middle linebacker as well. If they all backpedal in a straight line, it confirms a Cover 2 Zone defense.

How to beat Cover 2 in Madden 23

To overcome Cover 2 defense, you need to identify the gaps in coverage. Shallow drags behind the line, corner routes on the sideline, and deep posts in the middle can exploit these gaps. However, it’s crucial to make precise post-snap reads to connect with these throws.

The most effective play against Cover 2 is a flood concept. This play involves utilizing a combination of a streak, corner, and flat route, preferably on the wider side of the field. Some plays are already designed as “Flood,” or you can manually adjust plays like Z Spot to achieve a flood concept.

After the snap, if the cornerback backpedals toward your corner route, the flat defender will be wide open. Conversely, if the cornerback covers the flat route, your corner route will become open. You can also target a wide receiver streaking up the sideline, making sure they are positioned between the shallow corner and the deep safety. This approach works best when the cornerback plays with a hard flat.

Regardless of the coverage, focus on creating opportunities to occupy or hold defenders long enough to find open receivers. For example, sending two deep routes up each sideline can occupy both safeties in Cover 2, creating space for a deep post over the middle for a big gain.

Cover 3 Zone

Play art from Madden 23 shows a Cover 3 defense.
Image used with permission by OnSpec Electronic, Inc.

What is Cover 3 Zone

Cover 3 Zone, including formations like Cover 3 Sky, Cover 3 Seam, and various zone blitzes, is the most commonly used defensive scheme in online play due to its versatility. It places three defenders, usually a safety and two cornerbacks, in deep zones. Two linebackers cover the middle of the field, while a cornerback and safety guard intermediate sideline routes such as corners, crossers, and out-routes.

Cover 3 Zone aims to prevent big plays and provide safety valves when additional defenders blitz. It prioritizes keeping everything in front of the defense, conceding short yardage to protect against deep threats. However, the defense must eventually come up to halt the offense’s progress.

How to read Cover 3 in Madden 23

To recognize Cover 3 Zone, look for a single deep safety at the line of scrimmage. However, note that Cover 3 can resemble Single-High Man, so your confirmation comes post-snap. One useful pre-snap clue is to observe the behavior of the safeties when facing bunch formations. Even if the defense is playing Cover 3, two deep safeties will appear. Yet, if you motion a receiver from the bunch to the opposite side of the field, one of the safeties should drop down, revealing the Cover 3 alignment.

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After the snap, focus on the defenders on each side of the field. If they backpedal, it indicates zone coverage. On the other hand, if they jam and pursue a receiver, it confirms man-to-man coverage (Single-High Man). Specifically, defenders with their backs or side profiles to the quarterback signify man coverage, while those facing the quarterback suggest zone coverage.

If the defense base aligns, making it impossible to determine the coverage pre-snap, monitor the safety’s movement at the snap. If one safety drops toward the middle of the field, you know it’s a Cover 3 Zone or Single-High Man with a “Robber” concept.

How to beat Cover 3 in Madden 23

There are several strategies for beating Cover 3 in Madden 23. Firstly, you can use quick drag routes behind the line and ensure your other receivers run deep enough to occupy the remaining defenders. Additionally, consider sending your running back on a swing route or utilizing a smoke screen with one of your wide receivers. Short-yardage plays can be effective against Cover 3.

To keep the defense guessing between Cover 3 and Single-High Man, vary your route combinations. Implementing mesh concepts with crisscrossing drag routes can disrupt defenders’ paths, creating open spaces in the flats. Mix in corner routes as well, keeping in mind to occupy the deep safety with a streak or post route. If you identify a speed mismatch on the outside, send that receiver on a streak and throw a deep pass over the top, exploiting the mismatch.

Cover 4 Zone

Play art shows a Cover 4 Zone defense in Madden 23.
Image used with permission by OnSpec Electronic, Inc.

What is Cover 4 Zone

Cover 4 Zone defenses, such as Cover 4 Palms, Drop, Quarters, and Press, deploy four deep safeties, an MLB defending the middle, and two cornerbacks protecting the sidelines. In previous games, Cover 4 used “Match” principles, which combined zone and man coverage. However, in Madden 23, these principles can be toggled for each defense via coaching adjustments.

Cover 4 Zone provides extensive deep coverage but leaves the underneath routes more vulnerable. Furthermore, it can be susceptible to successful run plays, particularly draws, as defenders tend to backpedal upon recognizing a passing formation.

How to read Cover 4 in Madden 23

Cover 4 Zone displays similarities to Cover 2 since both employ two deep safeties. However, pay attention to the position of the cornerbacks. If they play 8-10 yards off the line of scrimmage, resembling Cover 3, it confirms a Cover 4 concept.

After the snap, most defenders will backpedal into their zones. However, if your opponent utilizes Match Defense, defenders will trail receivers as they cross into these zones. This aspect makes Cover 4 tricky to decipher, so it’s best to have a quick throw checkdown option ready. Running the football is also a viable choice against Cover 4.

How to beat Cover 4 in Madden 23

To exploit Cover 4, utilize underneath routes like drags and running back out-routes, similar to how you would against Cover 3. Cover 4 eliminates seam routes, so flood concepts become advantageous. With only two defenders covering the sides of the field, flood concepts can create opportunities. Make sure to send a receiver on a streak to clear the deep-right zone, and have a receiver in the flat to occupy the middle defender. Hold the ball for a moment to allow your corner route time to get open.

Motion can be effective in coordinating routes that cross over the middle. Since there’s only one middle defender, maneuvering that defender to jump one receiver will leave the other open. For instance, combining a deep post route with an intermediate in-route can create an opening for the intermediate in-route. Ensure your other routes engage the sideline defenders. Also, remember to have an RB available as a checkdown throw in the flat, regardless of the play.

Single-High Man

Play art shows Single-High Man defense in Madden 23.
Image used with permission by OnSpec Electronic, Inc.

What is Single-High Man

Single-High Man is a man coverage concept featuring one deep safety and either a middle-read or blitzing linebacker. Examples of Single-High Man defenses include Cover 1 Robber, Cover 1 Contain, and Cover 1 Press. In man coverage, cornerbacks and linebackers match up with receivers across the line of scrimmage and shadow their movements throughout the field.

Man coverage heavily relies on speed. If your wide receivers outpace the defense, incorporating man coverage into your game plan can be advantageous. Additionally, man coverage aids in stopping the run, as defenders consistently pursue their assigned targets, including blitzing the running back.

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How to read Single-High Man in Madden 23

Distinguishing Single-High Man from other coverages in Madden 23 requires observing both pre-snap and post-snap cues. Initially, Single-High Man looks identical to Cover 3. You’ll notice one safety in the deep middle and cornerbacks positioned approximately 8-10 yards off the line of scrimmage. To confirm whether it’s man coverage, motion a receiver across the field. If the defender covering them follows, it signifies man coverage. However, keep in mind that the defense may pass the receiver to another defender, making this read less reliable.

Single-High Man can also resemble Cover 4 if one of the deep safeties drops down to cover a yellow hook zone. In cases where you’re uncertain about the coverage, the safest course of action is to put your tight end on a drag route and your running back on an out route. Both options should be effective against man coverage, Cover 3, or Cover 4.

Always scan for mismatches at the line of scrimmage. If a linebacker is matched up against a speedy tight end like Travis Kelce, exploit the separation by putting your tight end on a corner or out-route.

How to beat Single-High Man in Madden 23

Single-High Man can be beaten with mesh concept plays that involve crisscrossing drag routes. Such plays disrupt defenders’ paths and create open spaces in the flats. Additionally, utilize corner routes and ensure that your deep routes occupy the deep safety with a streak or post route. If you have a significant speed advantage on the outside, send your receiver on a streak route and throw a deep pass over the top, capitalizing on the speed mismatch.

Cover 2 Man

Play art shows Cover 2 Man defense in Madden 23.
Image used with permission by OnSpec Electronic, Inc.

What is Cover 2 Man

Cover 2 Man retains two deep safeties to prevent receivers from getting behind the cornerbacks underneath. In this coverage, cornerbacks play underneath the receivers, ready to break on corner routes, in-routes, out-routes, and curls. Announcers often mention “safety help over the top” when referring to this defensive approach.

Cover 2 Man sacrifices some pass rush to provide coverage across a broader area, as it removes the middle zone defender or blitzing linebacker.

How to read Cover 2 Man in Madden 23

Identifying Cover 2 Man in Madden 23 is relatively straightforward. You’ll notice two deep safeties like in Cover 2 or Cover 4, but the cornerbacks will be pressing your receivers, usually from the inside. However, note that in certain situations, such as when running a bunch formation or tight receiver alignment, the cornerback’s behavior might differ. To verify whether it’s Cover 2 Man, motion a receiver out of the bunch and see if the cornerback follows and presses down.

Post-snap, read Cover 2 Man similarly to Single-High Man. If the defenders press and pursue your receivers, it indicates man coverage.

How to beat Cover 2 Man in Madden 23

To defeat Cover 2 Man, exploit quick routes such as drags, slants, ins, outs, and zigs. These routes with rapid cuts create a window of separation. Precise timing and understanding leverage are crucial. Avoid throwing the ball if you spot a defender positioned underneath an in or out-breaking route. However, if they’re situated outside and over the top, throw the ball as soon as the receiver makes their cut.

Mesh concepts are also effective against Cover 2 Man. Ensure that your running back runs a route instead of blocking, as this can create a speed advantage against the linebacker assigned to cover them. A wheel or out route from the running back can lead to open spaces.

Cover 0

Play art shows a screen pass in Madden 23.
Image used with permission by OnSpec Electronic, Inc.

What is Cover 0

Cover 0 is a Man Blitz concept that involves no deep safeties in the defensive backfield. Plays like Thunder Smoke, DBL Safety Blitz, and Free Fire 0 are examples of Cover 0. This aggressive approach aims to stop the run and sack the quarterback. The defense’s pass rush ideally reaches the quarterback before receivers can run their routes effectively.

Cover 0 poses a significant risk-reward scenario. If the pass rush doesn’t reach the quarterback in time, big plays can be exploited. Likewise, the defense becomes susceptible to successful run plays if defenders are held at the line of scrimmage, leaving the second level unclogged.

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How to read Cover 0 in Madden 23

Cover 0 appears distinct from other coverages, with a safety placed closer to the line of scrimmage. Furthermore, linebackers crowding the line of scrimmage are a telltale sign of a potential blitz. However, some defenses cleverly disguise Cover 0 as Cover 2 Zone or Man. To reveal the blitz, use motion to move an inside receiver, such as a tight end on the line of scrimmage, to the outside. If the safety follows and drops down, it confirms the imminent blitz.

At the snap, blitz intentions become evident as multiple linebackers or cornerbacks rush toward the quarterback. Remain calm and avoid rolling out, especially if you don’t have a mobile quarterback. If you anticipate a blitz, audible out of a play-action pass, as you won’t have sufficient time to look downfield before getting sacked.

How to beat Cover 0 in Madden 23

To counter Cover 0, quick throws and screen passes are highly effective. Ensure you have an RB screen pass among your offensive audibles. While WR screens can be less successful due to the presence of a cornerback near the receiver, an RB screen pass provides a reliable option when facing the blitz.

Don’t wait for plays to develop downfield against Cover 0. Instead, assume there’s no help over the top, which means cornerbacks won’t play underneath their assignments. Slants, drags, out, and in routes should create separation as soon as receivers make their cuts.

Cover 6

Play art shows a Cover 6 defense in Madden 23.
Image used with permission by OnSpec Electronic, Inc.

What is Cover 6

Cover 6 blends concepts from Cover 2 Zone and Cover 4 Zone. One side of the field plays Cover 2 (consisting of flat, hook, and deep-half zones) while the other side plays Cover 4 (featuring purple, hook, and two deep quarter zones). Cover 6 used to default to “Match” principles, which combined zone and man coverage. However, in Madden 23, these principles can be altered via coaching adjustments.

How to read Cover 6 in Madden 23

Reading Cover 6 requires attention to both sides of the field. In all cases, two deep safeties will be present. One side of the field exhibits Cover 2 characteristics with a shallow cornerback, while the other side displays Cover 4 attributes with the cornerback positioned 8-10 yards off the line of scrimmage.

Post-snap reads remain consistent. Observe the cornerback on the Cover 2 side. If they move towards the flat, throw to the corner route.

How to beat Cover 6 in Madden 23

To overcome Cover 6, design plays that exploit Cover 2 on one side and Cover 3 or 4 on the other. Utilize Cover 2 beaters (floods) on the Cover 2 side and Cover 3 beaters (flats, RB outs, and smokes) on the Cover 4 side. Cover 6 spreads the defense, so don’t hesitate to run the ball up the middle. A delayed fade to the tight end can also be effective, especially if the other receivers occupy the curl flat and mid-read defender.

How to practice reading coverage in Madden 23

To sharpen your ability to read coverages in Madden 23, practice mode is invaluable. Select your favorite team and face a formidable secondary like the Buffalo Bills for optimal results. Customize your audibles to include plays that counter every coverage.

Simulate passing situations in practice mode by instructing the defense to run random Nickel plays. Before the snap, go through your reads and adjust the play based on what you observe. Unfortunately, the game won’t indicate the defense’s play like it would in a real game.

To work around this limitation, use a second controller. Once you believe you’ve identified the defense’s play, press R2 on the second controller to reveal the play art. Don’t be discouraged if you make incorrect reads; even the likes of Tom Brady can be deceived from time to time.


Mastering the art of reading coverages in Madden 23 is a crucial skill for any quarterback or Madden player. By familiarizing yourself with the various defensive formations, understanding pre-snap tells, and making accurate post-snap reads, you can consistently outsmart and exploit any coverage. So, hit the virtual gridiron, sharpen your skills, and dominate the game. Good luck!

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