TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 03: Receiver Reggie Wayne #87 of the Indianapolis Colts catches the ball against E.J. Biggers #31 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium on October 3, 2011 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Once upon a time the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had the best defense in the league by playing one coverage on almost all downs: Tampa 2. A fundamentally sound coverage that relies on its front four to get to the quarterback and force mistakes. It's easy to move down the field a Tampa 2 defense: you just take the short routes they give you. But it's very hard to do this consistently, as players make mistakes on long drives and the Bucs were always there to take advantage.
The Tampa 2 was so successful that it spread around the league, and it was of course named after the area that made it famous: the Tampa Bay area. Even now several teams run a defense dominated by the Tampa 2: the Chicago Bears, the Indianapolis Colts and the Minnesota Vikings are the most obvious examples. Interesting, all of them are coached by Tony Dungy acolytes, the head coach who brought the Tampa 2 to Tampa.
But that has seemingly disappeared this season, as the Bucs have moved to a blitz-heavy, man coverage scheme.
This was obvious against the Indianapolis Colts, and it was pointed out by the production crew several times. But it didn't start against the Colts as the Buccaneers were frequently playing man coverage against the Atlanta Falcons as well, and have blitzed a lot throughout the season. Mason Foster specifically has been used extremely frequently as a blitzer.
And the weird thing is that this seems to be the right call. The Bucs have given up some big plays on defense, but none of them have come against man coverage, aside from the screen to Pierre Garcon. The earlier 87-yard touchdown to Pierre Garcon came on a play where the Bucs had Aqib Talib playing a deep safety-like role in what was clearly zone coverage.
And that has been a theme throughout the season so far. The long Calvin Johnson touchdown in week one happened against zone coverage, with Aqib Talib badly timing his jump and the safety being late over the top. The long pass play to Julio Jones happened because the Bucs were playing Cover 2, and Corey Lynch bit on a Matt Ryan pump fake.
I don't know if the Bucs are playing more man coverage and blitzing more often as a reaction to the current group of players, or because this is what Raheem Morris wants to do schematically. The fact that his current defensive personnel has mostly been handpicked by the current regime suggests this is a relatively permanent shift. And frankly, I like it. The Buccaneers are challenging receivers and quarterbacks to beat them, they are aggressively attacking opposing offenses instead waiting and employing a bend-but-don't-break philosophy, and they are doing this with some success as well.
The defense is a lot of fun to watch right now because of all the different moving parts, the aggressive nature of the players and the talent in the front seven. Hopefully this is something the team can build on. They don't need to move back to a Tampa 2-based scheme, and it doesn't seem like Raheem Morris wants to do that. The Buccaneer defense is entering a new era, and it looks good so far.