Cowboys Hire Monte Kiffin: Do They Have What It Takes To Run Tampa 2?

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The co-founder of the Tampa 2 defense thinks that Dallas will need some personnel changes in order to succeed in the defense the way it is intended.

There's not much that you can take away from Tony Dungy's storied career as a head coach in the NFL. Dungy helped start this whole Tampa 2 thing that is on it's way to Dallas now that the official announcement has been made that Monte Kiffin will be the Cowboys new defensive coordinator.

Kiffin was Dungy's coordinator during the years in Tampa Bay when that franchise escaped the doldrums and became an NFL defensive powerhouse. That journey started in 1996. After Dungy left the Bucs in 2001 and moved on to the Indianapolis Colts, Kiffin actually remained in place as the coordinator in Tampa under new head coach John Gruden. Gruden and Kiffin won a Super Bowl together the very next year, with Dungy orchestrating one in Indianapolis a few years later.

Suffice to say, Dungy knows as much as anyone else in the world what kind of personnel will be needed to be successful in the scheme. In his opinion, he does not think the current Dallas roster is where it needs to be in order to have that success immediately.

Here's a great snippet on how the two took the time-honored Cover-2 scheme and tweaked it a bit. From Footballguys.com:

With two tweaks to the Cover-2 schemes of the 1970s and some shrewd talent assessment, Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin greatly increased the success rate of the Cover-2. The Tampa-2 was born.

You can almost hear the discussion in the Vikings' coaching offices.

Monte Kiffin had previously collaborated with Floyd Peters in Minnesota and helped make the "Under-Over" 4-3 a great success for Chris Doleman and Keith Millard. Tony Dungy was a Bud Carson Cover-2 disciple, and saw the successes of the Steel Curtain's speedy linebackers, disruptive defensive line and physical corners firsthand as a defensive back for the Steel Curtain in the late 1970s. When Dennis Green brought them together in Minnesota in 1992, a new defensive philosophy was born.

Dungy knew that he needed to bring pressure from the front four to run an effective Cover-2. Kiffin had great success using the under front a few years back with Millard and Doleman totaling nearly 40 sacks between them. Dungy watched Joe Greene destroy interior offensive lines. Pairing the under front with the Cover-2 made sense.

They knew that the downfield offenses of the day could put enormous pressure on the soft spots in the Cover-2 zone. But Dungy had the privilege of watching two enormously talented linebackers - Jack Ham and Jack Lambert - range all over the field in coverage and run support. Those two may have provided the inspiration for the simple, but major tweak in the Cover-2 - sending the "Mike down the pipe."

In an interview with the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Dungy spoke to the Cowboys situation.

Dungy, though, said the Cowboys lack the personnel the Bucs had in running a successful Tampa 2 defense. Tampa Bay had stars in defensive tackle Warren Sapp, linebacker Derrick Brooks, safety John Lynch, cornerback Ronde Barber and defensive end Simeon Rice, among others. The Cowboys' strength, Dungy said, is in pass-rushing outside linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer and cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr. Spencer is scheduled to become a free agent this off-season.

"I just think their personnel is set up differently," Dungy said. "But again, I don't know if they're just saying, 'You know what, we just want to get the best coach available, and Monte, you make this thing work with the people we have' and maybe they are going to do that and do something a little bit differently that utilizes these guys."

Far be it for me to pretend to know anything about football more than Tony Dungy. I just don't completely agree with him here. The main reason I think he is not considering some vital pieces of the Cowboys team that would never be left out by someone that truly knows the talent base of the team. Dungy failed to mention that Sean Lee will be manning the Mike Linebacker position; the one that makes the Tampa 2 "tick". As seen in the below visual aid, the Mike's ability to drop back in coverage and also play the run is key to allowing the safeties to keep big plays down and guard the deep and the sidelines. Sean Lee should be one of the best to ever play this role should his previous experience be any indication.

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via subscribers.footballguys.com

Looking at the rest of the comparisons, I'd like to think that Dallas does have some of the parts necessary to make the switch successfully. Here's a tweet I wrote yesterday when word first started leaking about the Kiffin hire.

Personally, I think Jay Ratliff will be an above-average under tackle. Bruce Carter starring as Derrick Brooks? I'm intrigued. To me, those are three major personnel comparisons that Dungy didn't pick up on because none of the three ended the year on the playing field.

Pending Matt Johnson being what the Cowboys hope he should be, he could be very comfortable playing this brand of safety moving forward. Now, health is a big if for the Cowboys defense, obviously. Church could also play the role of a poor man's John Lynch, but there is no doubt that the safety play will be a bit of a concern for Dallas.

Also, there's a common misconception that press corners don't have a home in the Tampa 2. That's just not true. Press and bail technique can and will be used to utilize the strengths of the Dallas corners. The question isn't about man vs zone, it's more about how stout will they be tackling.

I also think that when you switch to a new scheme, you never quite know which players that haven't "excelled" to that point, will now thrive with new responsibilities and tweaks in techniques. You have a laundry list of players that just might surprise int their performances.

Overall, is it an ideal swap? Probably not initially, but I don't agree that the Cowboys are two offseasons away from getting it right. Maybe exactly right, but not to the point that they can't be very successful in the scheme with the right draft picks and the right free agent moves.

We'll have more analysis of how Dallas will play this scheme over the next few articles, but for now, what do you think? How difficult of a transition do you see this being for a team that's been built on the 1-gap, 3-4 base defense.

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