A strategy on defense that matches defensive players one-on-one against potential offensive receivers. The defensive players will attempt to cover their assigned receivers as closely as possible to prevent them from receiving a pass. Man-to-man coverage requires athleticism and instincts from the defensive players, since they have to react quickly to the pass patterns being run by the receivers.
Man-to-man coverage is the basic form of pass coverage used by defenses. Generally, the cornerbacks will be paired up with the wide receivers in order to attempt to nullify the athleticism advantage of the receivers. Tight ends and running backs will generally draw linebackers and safeties in man-to-man coverage.
An effective man-to-man will be able to guard each potential receiver long enough to allow the pass rush to reach the quarterback and affect his throw or sack him. The weakness of man-to-man is that it requires each member of the team to be successful, since one breakdown allows an open option for the quarterback. Man-to-man can be combined with zone coverage in certain types of defense, with the cornerbacks playing man-to-man and other players assisting in various zones.