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Monte Kiffin vs Jim Bates: Is the reign of the Cover 2 over in Tampa?

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Raheem on Bates control of the defense:

"It's got to be him. It's got to be his character," he said. "You can't ask that guy to duplicate another guy. He has to go out and do what he does best." Head Coach Raheem Morris on Jim Bates taking over the Bucs Defense - Tampa Tribune.

A question a lot of us have on the brain heading into next season is: With the departure of Monte Kiffin have we seen the end of the Cover 2 Defensive Scheme in Tampa? With the addition of Jim Bates as the team's Defensive Coordinator it would appear so, but is his Run Contain System that much different than the defense Tony Dungy, Monte Kiffin, Lovie Smith, and Herm Edwards implemented to perfection here in Tampa? Yes and No.

Jim Bate's Defensive philosophy:

Contain is a system that is based on the idea of "vectoring" an opposing player into an area of the defense's choosing. The OLBs are responsible for herding running plays to the center of the field, where the MLB makes the tackles. It's a pretty complex concept, but one that is deadly when performed well.

The theory behind the system goes like this. No runner is allowed to go out of bounds. This means that he can only take a finite number of approaches towards the endzone. In zone or man coverages, we take chances with one-on-one tackles, but what if we could change the dynamics so that the lane the opposing player takes always leads towards the center of the field? In other words, back towards ten other defensive players?

The DTs must be big, and able to hold the center of the line (not penetrate). Because the opposition will be forced to run the center as the game goes on, the DTs are critical for stopping the run. They are also responsible for protecting the MLB, who will take out any runners being vectored from the edges. For this reason, the DTs ignore most pass situations and simply hold the center.

The OLBs have the strangest job. It involves not tackling an opposing player unless that player takes a cut back towards the center of the field. This means that the OLB must run alongside the runner as the runner heads towards a sideline to keep him from reaching the edge and tearing down the field along that sideline. When the runner realizes he can't get past the defender, he'll have to cut back. When he does so, he faces the other ten defenders (heading towards him) as well as the "container", who is now allowed to make the tackle. - Jim Bates Defensive philosophy brought to you by the good folks at Mile High Report

From my interpretation the biggest difference in our current system and Bates involves the defensive tackles. In Bate's scheme the defensive tackles are big, strong, and ignore the pass rush. Their primary purpose is to clog the gaps (stop the run) and open up lanes for the linebackers to enter. In the Cover 2, the nose guard is quick, agile, and a sure tackler and one of the three technique tackle’s primary responsibilities is to rush the Quarterback. The good news? It shouldn't be tough for Hovan (1 sack in ‘08) and Haye (0 sacks in ‘08) to ignore the pass rush as they were pretty inept in that department last season. They are a bit undersized so I can't imagine them being able to hold their own over the course of a season. This presents a problem for the Bucs in that Bate's defense is predicated on the Defensive Tackles and Outside Linebackers play. Derrick Brooks lack of speed worries me, but he's very patient and extremely intelligent, so I feel he could be very serviceable and even thrive in Bates system. Cato June has the necessary speed, but I don't know that patience is his virtue considering his tendency to fight with opposing teams throughout the season. Our Defensive Tackles leave a lot to be desired. Of course there's two beefy defensive tackles in Free Agency that could solve that problem in Tank Johnson (300+ pounds) and Albert Haynesworth (over 6’6 in height), but neither are a given to don the Pewter and Red next season. The NFL Draft also presents some potential answers as well.

Denver fans, believing in his schemes, were excited to be a part of Jim Bates defense early on, but in the end they were exhausted because they didn’t have the right personnel in place on the field. I'm not saying we have the perfect personnel to succeed in Bates defense, but I like the fact that Raheem Morris is a product of the Cover 2 and I would think he and Bates could at some point gel the two philosophies together in the event that Bates system proves unsuccessful. We would be naïve as a fan base to expect nine or more wins from our team next season, as the schedule got considerably tougher and the players have to learn new systems/terminology on both sides of the ball. With that comes mistakes, losses, and aggravation, but it’s a necessary evil when completely retooling coaching staffs.

What we can do is hope this staff learns from Denver’s mistakes: "The DTs and OLBs (the hearts of the system) failed. The DTs weren't capable of holding the line (though MLB D.J. Williams compensated well), and the OLBs were caught overpursuing and failing to anticipate the cutbacks. The tackling was poor all around." - Mile High Report. It’s obvious the Glazers are going to have to invest in this team in order to make this defense work (e.g. Albert Haynesworth), but like I said with a young and smart Raheem Morris at the helm, the Bucs shouldn’t suffer in the event that our personnel can’t handle Bates system. Hopefully he learned from Gruden’s mistakes (aka stubbornness) and can adapt to the adversities he will inevitably face. Taking a look at Mile High Report’s System advantages/disadvantages for Bates defense below; I would say our current personnel matches up well:

System Advantages:

  • Takes away the outside run. (We’ve had success with this in the past, it’s the run up the middle that has hurt us over the years).
  • Meets the inside run with DTs and a MLB dedicated to run stopping assignments on most every play. (I don’t know that our current DT’s are up to the task, although Haye was a bit banged up last season. I do know Barrett Ruud is very capable as our MLB).
  • Swarm type defense creates multiple fumble recovery possibilities. (This has been our M.O. for the past decade…)
  • Speed is the emphasis for the DEs and OLBs, and this allows for effective blitzing in the pass game. (We have speed in Gaines and Cato. We actually have a vacancy at one end position with the departure of Kevin Carter, maybe Styles White will step up? Our defensive line is the huge question mark at this point).
  • In general, takes away the run and forces teams to pass. (up until the end of last season we were great at this, as the defense shut down several elite RB’s).
  • System Disadvantages:

  • If the runner beats the defender to the sideline and turns upfield, it's a bad, bad day. (Again we didn’t have this issue until the fourth quarter of the season from Carolina on).
  • Requires the DTs to be above average 2 gappers, big, and patient. (They’re patient, almost too patient. They also lack size… We have to upgrade the d-line).
  • Requires the OLBs to be fast, but also very intelligent and patient. (We have this in Derrick Brooks and Cato June, Brooks is on the downside, but teams would still kill to have his production. Quincy Black/Geno Hayes possess speed as back-ups as well).
  • Sacrifices the thought of using the DTs in a pass rush. (We already do this, so nothing would change despite the obvious disadvantages).
  • Steep learning curve for the players. (This along with our d-line will prove to be the most difficult to overcome. This is where Raheem and the players familiarity in his system should negate some of the learning curve).
  • In general, requires a perfect set of player types for the system to run well. (Our personnel isn’t perfect by any means, but they have been the only reason this team has remained relevant for the past 10-12 years and so I’m confident that success will continue next season).

    Hat tip to UNFNOLE for the Mile High Report link.