We've officially reached what I consider to be the worst time for fans in the NFL year. There are no potential free agent signings or upcoming draft picks to debate, and no games to look forward to on Sunday. The dominant news in the NFL now revolves around bounties and appeals,so I decided to start from the basics and work through some of the base coverages and route combinations we will see every Sunday this fall, both from our Cowboys, and their opponents.
We'll look at coverages discovering strengths and weaknesses as well as focus on situational ball and personnel, two extremely important aspects of today's NFL.
Let's start with good ole Tampa 2... We go to the X's and O's after the jump...
Here we see a base 4-3 front, lined up against Ace Personnel (1 RB 2 TE 2 WR) lined up in what the Cowboys would call Duece formation.
As many fans are aware based on position names like Sam LB, and Strong Safety, much of what the defense does is based on determining the strength of the offensive formation. In a balanced set like Duece, simply looking at the formation is not enough to determine the strength. Defenses will look to which TE is considered the Y, or the #1 TE, (Jason Witten in Dal) and use his side as the strong side. Based on the defense we see that this is Duece Right.
Now let's look at the coverage call. This coverage was made famous by the Tampa Bay Bucs in the late 90's featureing Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and John Lynch, and Coached by Tony Dungy, and the master of the Tampa 2, Monte Kiffen (now at USC). Tampa 2 is a variation of tradiional Cover 2 (2 deep, 5 under) zone coverage which eliminates the most glaring weakness in that coverage, the deep middle of the field by having the Mike LB drop to the deep middle between the 2 safeties. This with the 2 safeties puts a top on the defense and helps prevent the big play.
As you begin to look at Tampa 2, you begin with the safeties, and here it all starts with pre-snap alignment. You see each safety aligned just off the hash at 12 yards deep, this is a vital alignment to enable to get back to the top of the numbers at 18-20 yards, which is the landmark for their drop. You notice in the way I have drawn their drops the first motion of the safety is to widen out towards the sideline, and then gain depth. They guard against deep throws to the outside, and then react to inside vertical threats.
Now we look at the Corners on the outside, here we see them in press alignment, where their job is to redirect the WR, throw off the timing of the route, and force an inside release, giving the safety time to gain his width before the sideline is threatened. After their initial re-route, they drop at a 45 degree angle with their back to the sideline, and sit down at about 10 yards half way between the numbers and the boundary. They sink to this depth to protect the safety, and then rally to the ball on throws to the flat. This is why corners for a Cover 2 heavy defense are big physical CB's who don't necessarily run as well, but are very solid tacklers in space.
The outside LB's read run/pass and drop outside the hash to about 10 yards, their main objective is to watch for crossing routes and step in front and make a play. Here think Derrick Brooks, from Tampa in the 90's or Lance Briggs in Chicago, both Weakside backers who have made pro bowl careers out of making plays on TE's as they cross the formation.
The real key to this entire defense is the Mike LB. He has to be an elite athlete who can both step up and play big against the run, and turn his hips and run with an athletic TE down the middle of the field. As soon as the Mike reads pass, he turns his hips to face the strong side and runs to his deep middle alignment with his head back to the QB. This assignment essentially becomes man coverage if there is an immediate vertical threat by the #2, or inside reciever or TE on the strong side. Here think Brian Urlacher in Chicago a big athletic LB with speed.
As you notice in Tampa 2 we are dropping 7 and only rushing 4. This is why teams that want to play alot of Cover 2, go after elite pass rushers, again look to Chicago with Julius Peppers, or Indianapolis in the Manning Era with Freeney and Mathis or Minnesota with Jared Allen. Drop seven, make the QB go to his 2nd and 3rd read, and give your front four time to get home. This is why I hold the opinion the 4-3 defenses, especially those that play Tampa 2 win with personnel more than scheme, and 3-4 teams win with scheme more than personnel. In this D you have to have an elite MLB, an above average WLB, and atleast one elite DE.
When do you call it?
For teams who rely on this scheme, they feel comfortable calling it in almost any non short yardage situation. But you can almost guarantee, that on 3rd down and Mid to Long yardage you'll see Chicago and Minnesota in Tampa 2. The scheme allows them to put a top on the defense, prevent a big play, use their DLine to get pressure and force the ball out underneath, rally to the ball, and get off the field.
You'll also see it run regulary in the redzone by most NFL teams, again because when played properly it forces throws underneath where you can force your opponent to kick FG's, and you can win a lot of games holding the offense to FG's.
Of course this coverage, like every coverage, has it's weaknesses and is beatable when the proper route combinations are properly executed. But as I've said above it is designed to stop big plays and help your defense get off the field, which is the goal of most defenses.
My next post will look at this coverage from the offensive side of the ball, and look at how a Offensive Coordinator and play-caller would game plan to attack this type of defense.