Hey there BTB. I'm a writer for Windy City Gridiron, and i've been thinking in my spare time a few things about the Tampa 2's current state. Since I don't think many of us in Chicago have any idea what Mel Tucker is actually doing defensively, I have plenty of time to consider what Kiffin and Marinelli are doing in Dallas.
When you're looking at the Tampa 2, and especially the Kiffin-Smith-Marinelli brand (moreso than the Carolina/Rivera, Minnesota/Fraizer, Giants/Perry Fewell, Indy/Tony Dungy brands of Tampa 2), there's a few key parts that I'd like to share.
You can never have enough solid pass rushing talent. You expect 3/4ths of the defensive linemen to be able to penetrate the offensive line effectively. Which is something that the Cowboys actually have in place... Ratliff may not be the perfect 3-Technique in a Tampa 2 , but he absolutely does enough damage with his quickness and penetration and still be effective as long as he remains healthy. One of the lesser mentioned parts of the defense though is: the line stunts a lot. Especially under Marinelli, there's a proclivity for stunting, and Ratliff has the strength and leverage to be able to pull holes open. Obviously there's nothing to worry about from Demarcus Ware. Nothing at all. He's going to be as effective with his hand on the ground as he would be with his hand off the ground, and be able to penetrate very well. I think really it'll be a good test of his ability to play the run as well. Anthony Spencer is a fine complementary DE to Ware...
But what really interests me is Tyrone Crawford. I was pretty high on him as he was coming out of Boise State with Shea McClellin... What Crawford brings isn't that pass rushing ability that Spencer has, but, an ideal rotational body for Spencer in obvious run situations... Crawford probably won't ever be able to supplant either starting DE's but, he's the perfect complement to the pair of Defensive End as is. I think I want to circle back to Ratliff as you normally don't think of NT's suddenly becoming 3 Techniques, but, just to be clear: Tommie Harris was 6'3, 295. Warren Sapp was 6'2, 300. Ratliff has always been the 'outside edge' of traditional NT's in 3-4 defences, but, as a one gap DT, like he was with Wade Phillips, I feel that physically he's able to assume the role of 3 Tech if there's no better options. But then you're looking at who's the under tackle, which is likely Jason Hatcher... The UT is probably the least glamorous position on the line, but probably the most effective against the run game because of how they interact with the flow to the linebackers. If Hatcher can control his gap effectively, it should open up a lot of easy tackles for the linebackers.
Which Sean Lee is probably going to have a field day with all the work he's going to have to do. Probably one of the most efficient pass coverage linebackers in the game is going to be extraordinary effective as a MLB, and Bruce Carter's speed will be a great help as the WLB... and Ernie Sims, once the scourge of Detroit, is exactly what you'd expect from a Tampa 2 SLB. One of my concerns though is: is how well Carter adjusts to his new responsibilities and ability to read and react to the play? Because of how a lot of the line calls work, it requires a lot of just pure reactive speed from Carter at WLB, and is something that takes a while to acquire. Sean Lee at MLB seems natural, but I'm just concerned about his body and how well will it hold up being the point of attack and acquiring the lions share of tackles. His ability to play the run really is going to be the difference maker at holding down Alfred Morris twice a year.
The last part, is obviously the secondaries... Kiffin runs his secondaries differently than what I'm primarily used to seeing in how Lovie Smith runs his. But the message always remains the same: the secondary has to tackle. There's no slouches allowed. That's one thing that Morris Claiborne has going for him, and by reducing his workload playing the short zone, it'll allow some of his more natural abilities to come out with his agility in short spaces. But he's not big, he's not physical, and that's something that we've seen out of a lot of Tampa 2 cornerbacks is their ability to stick their hands out and be aggressive at the line of scrimmage. But, as I've had to reiterate almost six hundred thousand times (and you'll all know intimately in the future): you're only in the base scheme around 30% of the time. That gives Claiborne some room to shine in playing some of the cover three and man under variants that Tampa-2 teams like to play. There's plenty of room for him to play man in the Tampa-2, don't let anyone fool you otherwise. Playing the short zones more often and the base scheme can be used as a crutch in times of mediocre talent, but as the Bears did this past year, when you have cornerbacks that you feel comfortable letting them man up against their receivers, it opens up a lot of defensive opportunities. Carr and Scandrick should have equal ability as well.
Safeties are usually the wildcard in a lot of different variations on the Tampa-2 and all of which are predicated by how much they sit in the base formation. When you're attacking the Tampa 2, as an offence and as a quarterback, the first thing you look at is the safeties, always. You gain a lot of knowledge just by evaluating the safety depth and position... What that means though is, your safeties have to have the following traits in order to disguise coverage (which is a must these days at putting the fear of god in Eli Manning and RGIII): speed, tackling ability, pass/run instincts. Those are the primary skills that you'd look for in a safety in most Tampa-2 implementations. Sure, hands are nice, and the ability to man up vs 3rd receivers and tight ends is a plus... but being able to play center field and tackle well is critical to the success of the safety position... That said, none of the current safeties you have stick out to me as being that guy. Matt Johnson makes a lot of sense, but... does Barry Church or Will Allen have the ability to play the FS spot to the level it needs to be played?
So, summary: DL is in a good state. LB will be very effective next year if not later this year... and the DB's are probably in the worst shape.
The good news is: in the Tampa 2, a good defensive line covers a lot of flaws in the secondary. Having two outstanding pass rushers solves a lot of problems, shortens the clock for quarterbacks and reduces the responsibility for all defensive backs involved. You can scheme the Tampa 2 in a lot of ways that hides some of your weaknesses... but, moreso than a lot of other defences, the Tampa 2 is in an interconnective defensive unit. The play of one unit directly impacts the ability of the other unit to perform at peak level...
So. The bad news is: The Tampa 2 can be beaten in a few ways. Accurate, high percentage QB's that take shots in front of the LB's, Tight Ends (you all remember how Jason Witten rocked the Bears last year), Slants... and especially the slants. One of the big things I'd be concerned with is how well Claiborne can react to the slant and how Kiffin and Marinelli gameplan to stop it from ripping apart the Cowboys. Do I think that the Eagles, Giants, or Whiteskins are going to be able to consistently execute the slant in such a way that Claiborne will get torched every week? Probably not. I think that if I was Kiffin, I'd keep a neutral cushion on their WR and hope that Claiborne could get inside those inside breaking routes effectively instead of trying to play press against Hakeem Nicks... The good news is: unlike in the NFC North where not only do you have Megatron, you have Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, and they're all good sized physical receivers who have the ability to power weaker CB's like Claiborne out of slants. Why slants? Because that's what the base defence gives up in order to protect against the deep pass.
Overall. I feel that if Jason Garrett figures out how to run an offence effectively again (and finds people who are competent blockers... and to that, I felt your pain last year), Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli should be able to improve on last years defence, and turn it into a monster in 2014.
I'll probably be checking back reasonably if you have any questions you want to lob at me about the Tampa 2, how Dungy and Kiffin differ, how to adjust for certain teams, particular techniques that are central to defensive back play, how to attack heavy offensive sets, why the Bears were so effective in the red zone and why the Cowboys won't be as effective as the Bears have been, what prototypical players do, about mixing up and disguising schemes... basically anything at all.
(Thanks for letting me write 1600 words on your fine site. -kp)