Monte Kiffin, the Tampa 2 and the Dallas Cowboys. It's all the rage to talk about how this defense will be used with the player personnel currently residing in Dallas. Of course, by the time the 2013 season rolls around, the Cowboys defensive personnel will undergo changes through free agency and the draft. Regardless of who comes and who goes, the play of the free and strong safeties will be a crucial part of making the defense work. Archie covered some of the Cowboys issues on this topic.
Safeties in the Tampa 2 need to be guys who can cover, but at least one of them is expected to be a physical hitter. Think John Lynch in Tampa or Bob Sanders in Indy. When an unsuspecting receiver crosses the zones and gets his hands on a pass, the safety is expected to blow him up, hopefully separating him from the ball. The Tampa 2 defense needs turnovers to work at a maximum level. One tenet of the defense is to limit the big play and force an offense to run a high number of plays to score. If you're making the offense run a number of plays to score, the hope is that along the way they'll make a big mistake and cough up the football.
The problem in today's NFL is not necessarily the safety play in a Tampa 2 defense, but one of player safety. We're talking about a rule change in recent years that presents a huge problem for this aspect of the Tampa 2. Personal fouls for hits on a defenseless receiver or helmet-to-helmet hits.
The Tampa 2 as a base defense is really only run by a couple of teams in the NFL. Most teams incorporate it into their packages of defenses, but only a few like the Bears run it as their base. More than a few analysts of the league wonder if it can succeed as it was designed because of the new rules about contact with a receiver.
According to Stats Inc., however, the number of defensive personal foul calls in the NFL jumped from 250 in 2008 to 388 in 2011, a 55.2 percent spike. The uptick can be attributed to the introduction of launching and defenseless-player penalties, plus increased enforcement of helmet-to-helmet and unnecessary roughness calls. "You just can't afford to build your defense around guys who are going to always be getting 15-yard penalties, fined and suspended," an NFL scout says. "Those kinds of intimidating defensive players almost aren't worth the trouble now."
The trick for teams running the Tampa 2 now is to have the safeties be a deterrent, but not pick up 15-yard personal foul penalties that will crush a defense and lead to points. Maybe this isn't really an issue for Dallas, since neither Barry Church or Gerald Sensabaugh are recognized as big-hitter, intimidating safeties. Whoever Kiffin uses to man the safety position, he must now account for player safety. His charges will have to be smart about when to hit a receiver, and they might need to be more ball-hawk than enforcer.