A lack of football has me going through withdrawals. Enough that I was up late one night and decided to watch the NFL Network. It's one of my favorite channels during the NFL season, and especially when I'm bored. It's perhaps my favorite channel when they air America's Game, the show narrated by representatives from past Super Bowl Championship teams. Like it was fate, the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers team was on. The Bucs went on to beat the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XXXVII led by Derrick Brooks and the rest of that historic defense. The mastermind behind that defense was of course, Monte Kiffin. Can Kiffin help another read headed head coach reach the pinnacle of football greatness?
The answer to that question will be answered as the season unfolds. For now I'll get back on track with my story. So now I'm sitting in bed watching this documentary on the Bucs Super Bowl team and the events leading up to their eventual glory. Which brings me to week 14, Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons came to Tampa Bay in a game for first place in the NFC South. The Falcons were on a tear of streak, led by Mike Vick and his video game like skills. Vick however, did not have an easy day at all against Monte Kiffin's defense. In fact, Vick was completely off his game due to the Bucs strategy. The key of the game was simple in retrospect. It was to have Derrick Brooks spy Vick all game and it worked masterfully.
Michael Vick passed for only 125 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. He then only accumulated 15 rush yards on six attempts. That's not only containment, that's stifling defensive play from the Bucs defense. It resulted in a 34-10 victory for Tampa Bay, and an inside track to the NFC South crown.
(Go 8 minutes 20 seconds in.)
So you're all probably wondering why I am sharing all of this information with you. Well, it has to do with stopping Robert Griffin III. RGIII is a very talented young quarterback that is a lot like Michael Vick. I know they have their differences, but they do have similarities in their game.
For instance, they have similar speeds and both are very elusive. One might say Vick is faster than RGIII based on past 40 times. RGIII ran a 4.41, but Vick ran a 4.38 in 2010 for ESPN Sports Science. Vick avoids pass rushers better than Griffin in my opinion. Yet, Griffin is bigger than Vick, making it more difficult to take him down. So it's a push in that category of skill and size. Both throw a nice ball now, but RGIII definitely throws a better ball than Vick did at RGIII's age in 2002. Which might make him even more difficult to defend. We also have to take the read option into consideration when assessing this scheme.
Speaking of Kiffin's scheme, here is some information from our very own rabblerousr about the Tampa-2. Then we have a video and article from Bryan Broaddus explaining the Tampa-2 with the roles of the players and the different variations that can be run out of it. What Broaddus explains in his article beneath the video is that the defense ran smoothly due to Tampa Bay's great players. Does Dallas have the personal on defense to make it work? I believe they do. They have two really good linebackers in Sean Lee and Bruce Carter. Then they have excellent edge rushers in Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. The corners are also very talented in Carr and Claiborne. Maybe Barry Church could step in and play like he was before his injury, and the Dallas Cowboys Tampa-2 is one of the better defenses in the league. As Broaddus states...
In terms of the Tampa Bay personnel compared to this current Cowboys squad, think of DeMarcus Ware as Simeon Rice, Bruce Carter as Derrick Brooks, Sean Lee as Shelton Quarles and Barry Church as John Lynch, with Jay Ratliff as Warren Sapp. I don’t believe the coverage part will be a problem for Carr and Claiborne, but how physical they can be trying to do those things I spoke of in funneling runs inside or playing the run when he gets to the outside will be important. This defense will not have all the bells and whistle that Rob Ryan had, but scheme-wise it is much simpler and gives the defenders a chance to make plays.
To me it sounds like a good scheme for this group of players. While Ryan's defense did decent enough with all the injuries involved, it was just a really confusing playbook that took years to master. If you want to have success from year to year you need something simple, but it also has to be effective, obviously. The Tampa-2 looks like the answer to our problem.
So back to Vick and RGIII. How do all these things relate? Well, the Tampa-2 is going to stop RGIII and his read option like it helped the Bucs stop Vick. Here's a quick view of the Redskins read option formations from The Sideline View combined with some notes.
In games reviewed (weeks 9-17), Washington ran the read-option an average of 11.4 times per game
Running backs averaged 4.9 yds/rush
RG3 kept the ball 44% of the time (averaged 9.5 yds/rush)
I've did my best to draw the Tampa-2 in paint and adjust the players roles on defense based off the Redskins most used side, the left.
Key- Orange = Safeties, Yellow = Spy Linebacker
1. Tampa 2 Base
2. Reactions to read option number one.
Okay, so here's the explaining. The Cowboys are going to have to counter the Redskins deception with patience and discipline play. The four men up front are going to rush, but the two on the inside are going up the middle, while the guys on the edge, well, rush the edges. The corners will want to get to the inside of the wide receivers on the block so that if RGIII gets by the rushers or linebackers, they can grab attempt to tackle him. The safeties are going to stand pat in a zone, and wait for something to form because intially moving into the mess. The linebackers are the most important part. If there is an extra receiver on the field the Cowboys may have to add a third cornerback, or perhaps if there is a TE they can still use the 4-3 base. In that case one linebacker is going to want to play man on that person and then rush once he figures out that the play is a run. Next the middle linebacker wants to be a spy on the quarterback. Just like Brooks did to Vick. In this case, it could be Sean Lee or Bruce Carter. Both are very athletic and either can play the LB position that is going to be lined up on the TE because they both drop back in coverage well. While one LB is going to rush the play.
Once the rush gets into the backfield though it's crucial to wait out RGIII's first movements. Essentially, the defense has to read the read option. So if Ware, Spencer, or the rushing OLB gets into the backfield they have to wait for the movements of RGIII.
RGIII will either hand it off or run with it. So here's the first scenario.
3. A. The Hand Off
The front four are already rushing. The offensive line probably has the edge rushers trapped in the backfield by now, but since the safeties stood pat, they're ready to pounce on anyone coming up the open seem. Along with the spy who's patiently waiting in the background of all the chaos.
Okay, so most commonly RGIII keeps the ball. If that happens and the edge rushers have committed already RGIII is probably gone by now. But wait, the spy has been patiently watching RGIII and has tackled him for only a gain of a two yards. If the spy truly spies on Griffin, then the Redskins will have a tough time stopping the Tampa-2 base. From what I learned the defense is not just a bunch of zones and man-to-man coverages.
Just like Brooks did with Vick, the Cowboys can do with RGIII. This obviously isn't as easy as I made it seem, and I may have some flaws in my line of thinking. If so just comment. But I think I have a general idea of how this defense can stop guys like RGIII and help contain the read option with QB spies mixed with zone and man.
(Thanks to The Sideline View's photos of the Redskins read option which I used to make my diagrams in paint.)