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Revenge Of The Birds Football 101: The Tampa 2 Defense

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Every week at Revenge of the Birds, I'll go over a different football term/scheme/position in an effort to provide the community with a better understanding of the game we all know and love.  Last week the draft landed on a Friday so I decided to push this segment back one week. By demand, this week we'll discuss a popular defensive scheme known as the Tampa 2 defense. Every year we hear sportscasters talk about the Tampa 2 but rarely do we hear what exactly it is. It originated in 1975 by the Pittsburgh Steelerswhen Jack Lambert was the inside linebacker for the Steelers defense. The name however, originated some 20 years later.

The phrase "Tampa 2" obviously originated from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers when Tony Dungy was the head coach from the mid 1990's through the early 2000's. Monte Kiffen was the defensive coordinator through that time as well, and helped master the formation. Tony Dungy admittedly said he used the 1975 Steelers scheme, and brought it with him to the Bucs when he was hired. Fortunately for Dungy, he had the defensive personel to run such a defense.

Before discussing the Tampa 2 defense, we should explain the Cover 2 defense first. The Cover 2 defense features two cornerbacks and two safeties. The cornerbacks' job is to jam their receivers coming off the line, and slow them before they can reach the safety. Instead of staying stride-for-stride with the receiver like the Man defense, the cornerback will sit tight in their zone, generally 10 yards off the line of scrimmage. The safeties are responsible for anything that gets past the linebackers or corners. The outside linebackers  also have zones, covering the field in between the line of scrimmage and the cornerbacks. One of the biggest weaknesses to the Cover 2 defense is the middle of the field. Since the middle linebackers'(MIKE) duty is to stop the run, the middle of the field can be exploited and thus allow big plays and yardage. That's where the Tampa 2 defense comes into effect.

The Tampa 2 modified the Cover 2 by inserting a fast inside linebacker or MIKE, in the middle of the defense. Their job was to quickly back pedal and cover up to 11 yards of ground to cover the middle of the field. This change vastly eliminated the weakness of the Cover 2 and was extremely difficult to stop when Dungy brought it back in 1996. Why don't more teams use this great defense you ask? Without the right personnel, the defense will fail.

The Tampa 2 requires very quick defensive ends that will pressure the quarterback by winning their one on one battles off the edge. The defensive tackles must also be fast but are depended on to stop the run as well. The defensive line must work very well together and are the primary source for generating pressure to the quarterback. If they fail to do that, the defense will not work. One common misconception of the Tampa 2 is that defenses cannot blitz to avoid leaving holes in the defense. This is not true as every NFL defense MUST blitz. If they don't, quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Tom Bradywill eat them alive. In Tampa Bay, Dungy had Simeon Rice on the outside and Warren Sapp as the defensive tackle - two prototypical defensive lineman for that defense.

The linebackers in the Tampa 2 must also be very athletic and possess great quickness. The outside linebackers should be built for coverage and solid tackling also. The most important part of the scheme however, is the inside linebacker. They are usually undersized and very fast. Typically, the Tampa 2's biggest weakness remains the middle of the field because most teams don't have the ideal MIKE linebacker. Dungy had Derrick Brooks. He was small but fast and provided great tackling for the Bucs.

The secondary is generally physical with receivers. The cornerbacks should be built to stop the run since they will receive more runs heading in their direction. The Tampa 2 also needs a hard-hitting strong safety for an intimidation factor. They are responsible for laying the wood on receivers and running backs streaking over the middle. John Lynch was the perfect strong safety for Tampa Bay, and Ronde Barber was the ideal tackling cornerback as well.

The purpose of the Tampa 2 is to eliminate big plays from opposing offenses and force them into short dump-off passes. The defense particularly excelled in late-game situations when the opposing team needed to score quickly, but struggled to do so. As you can see from the chart above(courtesy of ESPN), there is little room for the quarterback to throw to due to the amount of zones that were occupied. Obviously one of the biggest factors for a successful Tampa 2 is the speed of the defense. The entire defense must be fast and very good at tackling. Teams can exploit this defense however, by running up the middle effectively.  A very good slot receiver or fast tight end will also have big games against the Tampa 2 since the linebackers are generally not quick enough to cover them. More and more the Tampa 2 defense is being used by the NFL with most teams adding their own twists.

Football Term of the Week: Check off

A check off, or audible, is used by the quarterback of the offense. The check off is usually called when the quarterback has the chance to study the opposing defense's formation. The result is a new play being called at the line of scrimmage in order to catch the defense off guard.

If there are any specific schemes, formations, positions, terms, or plays that you'd like explained, list them in the comment section below.