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The "Tampa 2" is a defensive strategy that was popularized by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers football team

in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It was designed by then head coach Tony Dungy, defensive
coordinator Monte Kiffin, and then linebackers coach Lovie Smith. Dungy first learned the Cover 2 while
playing for the Steelers in the late 70s and eventually developed this new form of the Cover 2 in Tampa.
The Tampa 2 scheme relies heavily on extremely speedy defensive players and a hard hitting
secondary that loves to gang tackle. Further, the Tampa 2 expects everyone to tackle in the run game; th
safeties, the cornerbacks, and everyone in between. The Tampa 2 is run out of the usual 4-3 defense, but
every player is responsible for his own gap up on the line and drops a middle linebacker into deeper
coverage. The design behind the Tampa 2 was to stop the West Coast Offense that became popular and
was spreading around the league.
Of course it helps when you have a defensive lineman named Warren Sapp, a defensive end
named Simeon Rice, a cornerback named Donnie Abraham, and a safety named John Lynch. These
players were extremely fast and reacted quickly to the ball. Eventually these names would be replaced by
Ronde Barber, Derrick Brooks, and others, but the system did not change. The secondary always played
in a zone defense as you will see below. The Tampa 2 was a very easy scheme and easy to learn and
teach. The only requirement was that the players be fast. As long as they were fast, teh scheme worked.
In a standard 43 defense, the middle LB stays underneath the safeties and covers short underneath
routes and helps in run defense. In the Tampa 2, the middle LB is expected to drop into deep coverage in
the middle essentially converting a Cover 2 into a Cover 3. This protects against the deep pass very well
and changes the assignments. Every player is now responsible for less field, and the deep routes are
covered better. Only the other two LBs and the two CBs have to cover slightly more ground.
Below is the standard 43 Cover 2 defense. The safeties are responsible for 1/2 of the field deep. The
corners and linebackers are each responsible for about 1/5 of the field in the shorter distances. This
poses a problem, see the next figure.
This type of Cover 2 scheme leaves a lot of soft zones open. These soft spots in the defense can be
exploited by teams that have accurate QBs. While there are very few weaknesses to the Cover 2, all zone
coverages have weak spots or soft spots. The Cover 2 leaves defenses wide open to deep post patterns,
seam routes, medium range hooks, and teams that like to flood a zone. Because of how much ground the
safety has to cover, deep passes can easily overload his zone. It's very difficult for a safety to cover an
entire half of a field. Offenses like to run a Stop or Out pattern to the sidelines. Once the receiver leaves
the zone where the cornerback is covering, he will be open in one of the soft zones below. For the WR,
its about an 8 yard run, while the safety may have to run about 20 yards to tackle him. It's also a
mismatch as most safeties in the NFL can not cover a receiver effectively. That's why Tamp Bay relied
heavily on speedy defensive players and gang tackling. Everyone has to run to the ball and make a
tackle. See the soft spots below:
Cover 2 has each LB and CB covering about 1/5 of the field, as you saw above, and the safeties covering
1/2 the field deep, the Tampa 2 pulls the middle LB into a middle deep zone coverage as well, making it
a a Cover 3. What this does is allows the safeties to have to cover less ground, so they can cover the
traditional soft zone past the corners more effectively.
Since the middle LB drops into coverage, the other two LBs and CBs each have to cover about 1/4 of the
field. Speed at every position is extremely important, because the LBs have to cover more ground than
LBs are used to covering.
Back to 43 basics:
The four Xs are your four defensive linemen. The three LBs are your linebackers. LBs are usually named
for the position they play. There are 3 main positions; middle LB, weak side LB, and strong side LB.
Weak, strong, and middle are also referred to as Will, Mike, and Sam. So a Sam blitz, is when the strong
side LB moves up into a gap and blitzes. The strong side is the side where the TE is lined up on.
The CBs are the cornerbacks and the Ss are the safeties. Every player has a specific role based on how
the offense lines up and what the defense is doing. The above configuration shows a Cover 2 type of
defense. What is Cover 2? You have two safeties covering the deep routes. When you bring a safety up
to blitz, or cover a WR man to man, you will end up with Cover 1.
Coverage assignments:
CBs:
The CBs play a short zone in the purple zone as above. They do not follow the receivers if they go too
deep or too far to the middle. They stay put in their zones.
Ss:
The safeties cover any WRs that go deep and down field past the zone that is covered by the CBs.
LBs:
The LBs are crucial. They cover the RBs, the TE and anyone else that comes at them. If it is a running
play, they go up and make the tackles. If the TE goes out on a pattern, they cover him as long as he is in
their zone. Once he goes too deep or too far to the sidelines, they can leave him. Some defenses will
chose to cover the TE man with a LB. Find out what your coach wants to do.
Xs:
The defensive line attacks the QB. Each X is responsible for a single gap. There responsibility is to go
after the QB and tackle the RBs on run plays. Very simple.
Tampa 2 Coverage assignments:
Very little changes except for the middle LB drops into a deep middle coverage, creating a Cover 3.
In the Tampa 2 each X is responsible for a single gap.
Blitzes:
The Tampa 2 system relies heavily on the pressure generated up front by the defensive line and does not
usually blitz.
Exposing the Tampa 2:
A team with a strong running game or a great play-action game can seriously stress the Tampa 2
defensive scheme. If the safety has to stop and think for a split second about a run, the soft spots behind
the CBs have opened up again. The Tampa 2 was designed to work against teams that ran a West Coast
Offense. Short passes, lots of zone exploitation, and the deep posts, corners, flags, and outs. The Tampa
2 was successful against the West Coast Offense, because West Coast teams don't run as much as they
pass. Hence, the Tampa 2 made more sense. The newer types of West Coast Offenses being used by
teams like the Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons, and Carolina Panthers take full advantage of the run
game and play very well against Tampa's defense.
The Tampa 2 Defense is the heart of the Buccaneers championship run, what keeps getting Lane Kiffin jobs (Thanks
Dad) and is making a comeback per Raheem Morris. Monte Kiffen and Tony Dungy modified the original Cover 2
in response to the West Coast Offense. The WCO (West Coast Offense) was notorious for getting receivers behind
the linebackers, thus creating spots on the field that simply left people uncovered or didn't put players in a position
to make a tackle. However, do we really understand what a Tampa 2 is? What kind of players does it require, and
what does it require of those players? After the jump we will examine this in great detail.

Before we start, it is my assertion that the Tampa 2 is no longer strictly a coverage scheme. I believe in its inception
that's what it was created for. Now, it has become a base defense. Every team has a core defensive philosophy, but
in the NFL you have to be flexible. Running the same coverage scheme every time is a recipe for utter failure. Thus
the Tampa2 has evolved (at different rates in different places) to become a defensive philosophy or a starting point,
if you will.
This first image is pulled from MileHighReport which occasionally does excellent work with what they call
"Football University." It is what the base defense looks like.

This one is from Shakin the Southland. This is a cover 2 (not a Tampa 2). The biggest difference (which we will
discuss is the MLB).

In the T2, the MLB's "hook" is a much deeper drop (to about 11-13 yards deep, see above). I posted this one so you
can understand the OLB curls and the defensive techniques. The T2 is closer to a Cover 3 deep with CB's covering
the flats, because of the MIke's LB drop.
As you can see, they drop the Mike LB into coverage. While Will and Sam are still in coverage, they remain close to
the LOS. One DT is almost always lined up in a 3 Technique while the other can be anywhere from a 0-3. It started
out that both DT's would be 1-Gap guys, but after getting gashed up the middle too often, they modified to have
more of a nose-tackle type (Brian Price, Roy Miller) and a speed rusher (McCoy). The other gaps remain filled by
the OLB's and occasionally by the Mike. The Defensive Ends are almost always in a 5 or higher. They are edge
rushers, but still have assignment football when it comes to the run game. Where an excellent pass-rusher will stand
out in a T2, they often fall short in their run-stop capabilities. Below is how defensive techniques are determined.


While it may be designed to stop the WCO it is a misconception that it doesn't scheme against the run. It does. At
their best the Bucs allowed only 8 Rushing Touchdowns (2002) and the fewest amount of points in the league. It is a
bend, don't break defense. It is designed to ALLOW underneath stuff. We'll talk about the Mike LB responsibilities
in a minute, but essentially everything is funneled underneath him and behind the OLB's creating a very small
window. While they may not blow anyone away in yards allowed in a T2, touchdown rates, turnover rates and 3rd
down stops are overwhelmingly in favor of this defense.
Let's discuss the MLB or "Mike" in this defense. It was of recent debate whether or not Barrett Ruud was an
effective Mike linebacker. Some say he isn't quick enough to play Mike in a T2. I would disagree. Not only is he
about a 4.6 - 4.7 guy (which again is fairly irrelevant when discussing athletic abilities), not only did he run a 4.0
shuttle time (which would have been the best out of any LB this year, as is just insane in general) he has excellent
play recognition. The "Mike" in a T2 does not immediately drop into pass-coverage. He's not a DB. His first step, or
even first two steps is towards the LOS. This gives him the ability to react to the run play quickly. If he reads pass
he takes about 7 yard drop. This keeps him in the middle of the field, but takes away the possibility of crossing
routes getting behind him. Where the Mike lines up in approximation to the LOS is also situational. Clearly on a 3rd
and 1 you will not see Ruud 5 - 7 yards off the line. While the Mike does have to be quick, he is not running with
WRs 1 on 1. His responsibility is to cover what comes across the middle or to jump streaking TE's.
It is also a misconception that this defense is all the Buccaneers do. One of the great things about the Tampa 2 is that
there is so many coverage switches, blitzes, stunts, etc that you can run out of it without compromising your defense.
We can go into these at another time. There is also man coverages, man-unders, zone blitzes. Just about everything
that a normal defense runs, can be run out of a Tampa2 Base. Again, the Tampa 2 IS a coverage, but the concepts is
an entire defense.

What is a Cornerbacks responsibility in a Tampa 2? Your first inclination would be to say get a jam on the wide-
receiver. This is absolutely true. If the CB does not get a jam, it makes it more difficult for Safeties to cover the
field. However, maybe the most important task the cornerback has is forcing runs back inside. If the WR is able to
block the cornerback with his back to the sideline, you can COUNT on a 15 yard run. One of the reasons for the
success of the Tampa2 is the opportunistic approach. Corner backs are litterally sitting down in the zone and have
the freedom to use the sideline to jump routes. CB's in the T2 love to keep everything to the sideline. It benefits the
rest of the defense. Ronde Barber is also the most successful blitzing cornerback in the history of the NFL. He has
recorded 25 sacks (9.5 more than any other cornerback). He also is one of only 2 players to have 20 sacks and 30
interceptions, the other is Rodney Harrison. Ronde Barber is a future Hall of Famer and owes much credit to a
defense that highlights his strengths and a DC who was aggressive enough to blitz him.
Lastly, the safeties. Most defensive coaches will say the most athletic person on a football field at all times is the
safety. I'm a defensive minded guy, so I would probably agree with that statement. In a T2 it is no different. The
safeties responsibility is deep halves. They have to be able to see the entire field and know who is becoming their
responsibility. One of the easiest ways to beat a C2 or T2 is to overwhelm the safeties by flooding their zones.
Corners and LB's are expected to help when they recognize this, but it's not always the case. Safeties also are asked
to rotate on corner blitzes, walk up in the box (disguised as a Cover 2 initially) and the FS is often the on-field
coordinator of the coverages (I believe Lynch actually took coverage responsibilities when he was in Tampa). Here
is a video on how Safeties are often asked to play the 2.

Probably the most exhaustive article written on C2 techniques was recently published at "Shaking the
Southland." They analyze sample patterns, have a ton of great video and really have a good grasp on the
Cover 2. Remember, the T2 is slightly different, but most of the concepts are the same.
What are some of your questions or disagreements? Let's get everything cleared up in regards to the "Tampa 2."