In my previous post on the Tampa 2 Defense, we covered the assignments, technique and philosophy of the Tampa 2 zone coverage from the defensive perspective. Today I want to take a look at the offensive side of the ball, and discuss route combinations and schemes.
But first I want to look at the structure of how route schemes are put together and what coaches are trying to do to defenses through their game plans.
As an offensive coordinator, when you draw up the play book it is built around a collection of base concepts or route combinations. These combinations are largely the same throughout football, just as the run schemes we saw in our Andrew Luck Play Action post, and the DeMarco Murray big run we've looked at previously. The major differences are which schemes are emphasized in the play calling from city to city, and how the offense lines up pre-snap to get the match ups they are seeking.
Let's go ahead and dive in...
Route schemes on all levels of football are designed to attack certain areas of specific coverages in certain ways. The basic way of attacking a zone defense is to stretch the defense and attack areas away from the zone defenders. There are 3 ways that teams attempt to stretch the defense. The 2 basic stretches are horizontal stretches and vertical stretches. Horizontal stretches use 2 or more routes run at similar depths, which force the defense to react left or right, allowing the offense to attack the vacated area. The other basic stretch is the vertical stretch which features routes run at varying depths either to one sideline or across the middle of the field forcing the defenders to react north or south to cover a receiver allowing the offense to attack the vacated area. The third way route combinations attack defenses is to combine a vertical stretch and a horizontal stretch into a triangle stretch. These combinations allow you to have an option no matter how the defense reacts.
Let's take a look at a couple of concepts you can guarantee will appear on Jason Garrett's play call sheet on Sundays when the Cowboys line up against a Tampa 2 team like the New York Giants or Chicago Bears in 2012.
I have chosen to diagram the offense from a balanced set and the defense from a base 4-3 front because I want you to look at the field as 2 halves. If you look at the left half of the field you see a route combination called the "Flat-7" concept. The idea here is that its a flat route run by the #2(inside) receiver to that side combined with a Corner(7) route. So how is it that this attacks the Tampa 2 defense?
When a team plays Tampa 2, it is asking a lot out of its safeties. They have to be able to get off the hash and cover all the way to the sideline from an inside position. By running a 7 route with your #1 outside man you have a distinct leverage advantage on the safety. We have a receiver with outside leverage on the safety from his alignment and then you have him run an outside breaking route that will result in a throw that allows the WR to use his body to prevent the safety from coming over and making a play. Then we have the flat route run by the TE or #2. This is the route that creates the stretch on the defense. In this case its a vertical stretch which is placed on the CB. By running this route you are forcing that CB to play proper technique. Part of his job is to drop to a depth to be able to get under neath the 7 route run by #2, if he executes this properly he will prevent the QB from taking the shot down the field. His job is then to rally to the flat throw and make a tackle. If he either, plays the wrong technique and tries to jump down to the flat to early, or he misses a tackle, you're looking at a big play.
If you look at the right side of the field we have a very similar route combination, this is known as either the Smash or the Smash-7 combination. You get the idea here with the name. It's a 7 route by the #2, with a smash route underneath by the #1. Different coaches teach the smash route different ways. Some teach to take an outside release and push up the field for three steps and then retrace your steps back to the LOS and the QB like you would on a WR screen, others teach and inside release and a simple hitch route which is what I've drawn up here (easier to put on a PC). But the idea is the same, put pressure on the CB, and allow the TE to use his big body to box out the safety on a throw that leads him away from the coverage.
Now we'll look at my personal favorite scheme used to attack Tampa 2 and that is a concept called 4 verticals, or All Go's.
When the Cowboys run this concept, the play call would sound something like "Duece Rt, Scat Rt, 999 All go." Duece right being formation and strength, Scat right being a 6 man protection with the back going left, 999 telling the X, Y & Z they are running 9 or Go routes, and All go, letting the F know he is running the 9 as well. This concept is the perfect example of a horizontal stretch on the defense. Looking at it drawn up and thinking what most people think about 9 or Go routes, you might think this is a deep bomb type of throw, that's actually not the case, this concept is most effective when the ball is thrown on a line to a depth of about 18-22 yards.
Now why is it effective against Tampa 2? Again here it comes down to numbers, you have 4 receivers running down the field, and only 3 defenders covering that area. So someone will be open. Also remember the technique played by the Mike backer in Tampa 2. He opens his hips to the strong side, and runs with any immediate vertical threat by the #2 to the strong side. So he turns his back to the #2 on the back side, which makes it an extremely easy throw to that man in many cases. This concept also puts pressure on the safeties to get to the outside, to cover the WR's at the sidelines, and gives your #2's plenty of room to work with against the Mike inside.
One thing to notice when you look at the diagrams above. Look at the alignment of the #1's on each side in each diagram, also note the releases. One of the most important parts of being a DB on the NFL level is route recognition. In the flat-7 combo in the first diagram, the WR lines up on the numbers, allowing room to work to the outside on his corner route. But the WR's in the Second Diagram line up outside the numbers to give space in the middle for the TE's to take an outside release and work the mike.
In the NFL, excluding the quick passes (quick out, slant, hitch, and smoke screen) all routes break at a distance of about 12-15 yards and the releases are directly related to the routes run. More on this in later posts. But I think we have a pretty good understanding of some basic ways Coach Garrett might try to attack that pesky Tampa 2 defense.
Next up: Cover 3