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"Tampa 2" Defense Explained


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."