We've all seen the past few seasons where the coaches have attempted to force players to fit their scheme rather than adjust the scheme to fit the players.
So, the real question is whether the new staff will scheme to the players strengths? We have all heard many different things this off-season about the new mystery offense and potential defense Lovie will use. And while we still have no real answers towards the mystery offense, I'm wondering if we are seeing more closely what the defense will be based on personnel? Let me explain in further detail.
We know that no team runs a specific defense all the time anymore. All teams run a form of cover 2, man, etc., especially with more nickel formations due to the amount of 3 WR sets in the NFL, but all teams have a "base defense". We can immediately separate into two categories, the 3-4 and 4-3 base. The Bucs are obviously still a 4-3 base defense. Then we can start to break down between base cover 2, Tampa 2, press man, etc. I differentiate the cover 2 and the Tampa 2 as there are some very distinct differences and Lovie has been known to use either or both depending on personnel. So, it would figure that we're looking at a base 4-3 zone defense using either cover 2 or the Tampa 2. And now is where we really need to look at the differences between those to base defenses.
Having read through many descriptions of both defense, there is one very good read from a few years back from Footballguys.com. And while there is some reference included for fantasy football purposes, the breakdown is fantastic. I will be using a few quotes and diagrams from the article to help make the point, but please go read the whole thing, it's very educational. So, I'll start with the Cover 2, looking something like this
Thing about the Cover 2 is that you need very talented Safeties with great range. There are weaknesses in the deep middle and the sidelines, and it is less effective against the run and not conducive for blitzing a LB (leaving an open zone or extending the range of the other 4 covering shorter zones). Lovie had success when using this in Chicago because of Urlacher at MLB. His ability to shut down the run, cover and blitz made it possible. So, a strong MLB and two rangey Safeties can make the Cover 2 effective. Do we have that? Let's look at the Tampa 2 and see if it's better suited.
In the Tampa 2, the MLB is more of a deep cover LB, helping the Safeties. The Safeties don't have to have the great range in the Tampa 2, simply cover the deep third. This minimizes the holes on the sidelines and middle "seam". Does this make the MLB job even more difficult? Actually, the way the Tampa 2 works is based on two key players and good tackling CBs. The two key players? WLB and UT (under tackle or 3 tech DT), which of course is Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David. This was by design when Dungy and Kiffin modified the Cover 2 defense. First off, they would align the DL in an "Under" formation shown here.
The under tackle is now give more opportunities one on one with a Guard. Having shifted away from the TE, the offense can't double team McCoy. Spence or McDonald may get eaten up by a double team or the DE to that side, but GMC is one on one and able to wreak havok, just like Sapp used to do. No need for stunting every other play (although we still run stunts, just not so often, or across multiple gaps). Perfect, we've just freed GMC up to disrupt the play (pass or run) in the backfield. Now, why the WLB?
If the nose tackle engages the center at all, the weak side backer is free to flow to the ball after ensuring that his gap (the weak side center-guard gap, or A gap) isn't threatened. With the SLB and MLB dealing with potential blocks from the TE, FB and an OL, the WLB will be in position to make a lot of plays.
So, this is how Derrick Brooks was so effective behind Sapp. But wait, there's more.
Dungy and Kiffin's philosophy preaches a turn back or spilling concept in run support. That is, a defender taking on a block knows where his most likely help will be and turns or spills the ballcarrier in that direction. Since the WLB is often free in an under front, he's frequently the teammate to whom the running back gets sent.
A few more points from the article, without exactly quoting, are that the WLB gets more coverage opportunities and the CBs play a yard or two further off the LOS at the snap. So, a CB like Verner or Banks would have a step to read the offense, better opportunity to avoid a run block by the WR (or screen block) and make a tackle, and possibly get a better jump on underneath routes (maybe that's how Ronde Barber got so many Pick 6's in his days?)
Based on the personnel we have, it seems that Lovie and Frazier may be looking to revive the Tampa 2 with the Bucs rather than the Cover 2 considering the key players we have in key positions. Our players naturally fit the Tampa 2. If McDonald lines up next to GMC and the TE goes in motion, McDonald has the quickness to become the UT, while GMC would have to take on the double team with only a slight alignment adjustment. McDonald gives us some flexibility that way as well. Verner and Banks (as well as Jenkins) are all well suited for Tampa 2. In nickel formations, the SLB would come out and we have a some real possibilities for slot CB with DJ Moore leading the way. I think we may still see some "Wolverine" or "Big Nickel" packages also, with Major Wright joining our 2 Safeties. Mason Foster has lost weight, which may be a sign he's prepping to cover the deep middle (which is another reason the "green dot" may have been returned to him this year, as the player with better visibility of the field pre-snap).
All signs are pointing to the base defense being the Tampa 2, not Cover 2, not some weird press-man, stunting, blitzing, square peg, round hole defense we've seen in the past. Also, the Tampa 2 was reliant upon speed, so maybe we misunderstood when the coaches were talking "speed in space" and thought about the offense, maybe they were talking defense. The offense, well that's another matter, and I wouldn't be disappointed if it was simply an up-tempo, 10 yards at a time, jump ball offense that consistently moved the chains until we can play jump ball in the end zone while our defense rests.