In today's video we explore passing defenses. We look one by one through the most popular man and zone defenses and discuss their pros and cons.
Normally, this is where I would do an X's and O's breakdown of the Bucs and talk about some of the intricate things they do. However, today I want to talk about how great the defensive personnel is. While watching tape for this article, I didn't see anything out of the ordinary, special, or all that interesting. I wouldn't even be able to tell you who the team was if the jersey colors and numbers were taken away.
What I did see on tape is that the Bucs are changing coverages and personnel constantly. From play to play they are in press and then they play off, they show no pressure and then they show blitz, they run 2 deep safeties and then run 1 deep safety, and the list goes on. While none of this is unique or even surprising when looking at a professional team, what is surprising is that we run a lot of different looks really, really well.
A few years ago I broke down every defensive play for the Bucs over half a season under Schiano. What I saw was about the same thing. A lot of looks and a lot of variation. Back then, however, we ran everything pretty awfully. Just about every coverage we ran was laden with mistakes and mediocre play. On the contrary, last years Bucs showed they could get stops and make plays from just about any look. In addition, all levels of the defense contributed to their success. The Buc's athletic linebackers made plays deep, their corners made plays when isolated, and their overlooked safeties stepped up and made plays down the stretch.
Now, lets look at some of this versatility on tape.
On the first play, the Bucs are playing Tampa 2. We have two safeties deep, our corners are playing press with a situational adjustment that looks like they might be in man, and Kwon Alexander is dropping to a deep middle zone. It is 3rd and 5 and the Bucs are going to be playing Tampa 2 more often than not and the Falcons know this. If we pause the play when Matt Ryan starts to throw, we can see that he has the right read. He has a tight end curling in the hole that Kwon is vacating and the other two short defenders are outside the hash marks. However, the Bucs end up with three defenders making a play on the ball with Kwon making the interception. I'd mark that interception to our athletic linebackers.
On the next play, the Bucs are playing what looks to me like Cover 3. The corners are vacating to a deep zone, our slot defenders are immediately breaking underneath the seam routes to the flats, and one of our safeties will be jumping underneath routes. It is 2nd and 9 and the Bucs may have been expecting a second down run. However, the Saints come out in an empty formation (no running back in the back field). This allows the short defenders to immediately get into their backpedal and get depth on the snap. In addition to that, the Saints run 4 verticals. When the short defenders see this many receivers going deep, they are going to get even more depth and help out the deep zones. In this case, the Bucs need to help their deep middle of the field safety from getting horizontally stretched between the two seam routes.
What ends up happening is that Kwon does an amazing job chasing the Saint's tight end Coby Fleener, who runs a 4.51, up the seam. Kwon is just athletic enough to get a finger on the ball to tip it up for Vernon Hargreaves’s to get his first career interception. Not many linebackers in the league can make that play and even fewer middle linebackers can. This is definitely a case where the Bucs favoring smaller and more athletic linebackers has payed off.
On the last play, the Bucs are playing cover 1 man. In the video I talk about how teams don't normally press out of cover 1. It can be a risky thing to do. However, the Bucs have no fear on this play and are playing press on every receiver on the field. It is also 3rd and 2. Without seeing the Bear's formation, I would never expect Tampa 2 in this situation. We can expect something like cover 3, cover 1 man, or a zone blitz. Like the Saints, however, the Bears go empty. I have no idea why they would do this. They have a struggling passing game, a very cold Jay Cutler, and a down and distance that screams run the ball. While it can be okay to pass here, its mind boggling that they wouldn't leave a running back in the backfield to at least threaten to run.
On the play, the Bears run a slant-out concept to the top of the field. The Bears manage to run this concept just about as bad as I've ever seen it run. Against man, the outside slant should normally be looking to run a pick for the out route. However, they run this concept from trips and leave no space for the out route to get separation. With the out route being useless, Cutler looks to the slant where Brent Grimes absolutely man handles Alshon Jeffery and Cutler throws an awful interception.
The main point I wanted to convey with these three plays is that they are all from different coverages and techniques. Our team has a bunch of success through their versatility and that comes from the defense's talent and athleticism.