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Inside the playbook: the Tampa 2

Breaking down the Tampa 2 coverage on the chalkboard. Matt Bowen

Print This May 13, 2010, 06:39 AM EST

Throughout May and heading into training camp, the NFP’s Matt Bowen will take you inside the playbooks of the NFL -- basic defenses, the running game, red-zone passing, fire zones, etc. -- to give you a better understanding of what your favorite teams are doing on Sundays.

Today: The Tampa 2

Think of this as the first day of meetings during minicamp or the night before training camp opens in a small college lecture hall. Your basic install. We will get into some more exotic blitzes and combination coverages, but for now, we have to start with core coverages.

For teams such as Chicago, Indy, Minnesota and the New York Giants with new defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, the Tampa 2 is the base defense that’s always taught first.

Cover 2 is your classic 2-deep, 5-under defense with a four-man rush. But in the NFL today, the Tampa 2 essentially turns into a 3-deep, 4-under defense with the Mike (or middle linebacker) running with any inside vertical seam to create a 3-deep look that we would see in Cover 3.

Let’s take a look at the diagram. We stayed basic with a base 4-3 look of defense (with a "TEX" stunt along the D-Line) vs. base pro personnel (2WR, 2RB, 1TE) on offense.

‚ÄĚTampa

The base idea is simple. Drop seven into coverage and let your four man rush force the ball to come out with pressure — allowing the defense to rally to the football, make a tackle and get off the field. That’s why Chicago paid big money for DE Julius Peppers, the Colts rely on Dwight Freeney and the Vikings can play coverage with the pressure of Jared Allen.

It looks like a lot going on, but let’s simplify it by position…

DE: Rush with contain principles. Force the QB to step up into the pocket.
N: Rush A-gap weak with a two-way go on the offensive guard.
T: TEX (Tackle/End stunt) with the DE. Contain Rush. Tackle stunts first.
DE: TEX (Tackle/End stunt) with T. Scoop to strong side “B gap."
WLB: Read run/pass. Drop to weak hook, a depth of 10-12 yards between numbers and hash marks. Slide with the eyes of the QB.
MLB: Read run/pass. Open strong and run with any inside vertical route by No. 2. If no vertical by No. 2, drop to a depth of 15 yards and react to any underneath throw.
SLB: Read run/pass. Drop to strong hook, a depth of 10-12 yards between the numbers and the hash. Slide with the eyes of the QB.
C: Jam and re-route No. 1 to force an inside release. Drop to a depth of 12 yards with zone technique (back to the sideline) to protect the deep 7 (or flag) route. Rally to any ball thrown to the flat.
SS: Read release of No. 1 for run/pass key. Drop to a depth of 15-18 yards at your landmark — top of the numbers. Protect the 9 (or fade) route and react to any inside vertical. Verses two verticals, get depth and break downhill on the throw.
C: Jam and re-route No. 1 to force an inside release. Drop to a depth of 12 yards with zone technique (back to the sideline) to protect the deep 7 (or flag) route. Rally to any ball thrown to the flat.
FS: Read release of No. 1 for run/pass key. Drop to a depth of 15-18 yards at your landmark — top of the numbers. Protect the 9 (or fade) route by No.1 and react to any inside vertical.

A couple of keys to look at…

The Mike Backer is the key to this defense and the reason I highlighted his drop in red. He has to be able to run with that inside vertical throughout the route and only at the throw will he get safety help. Think of Chicago and Brian Urlacher — fast, athletic linebackers who can run. A necessity for this defense.

The corners must force an inside release by No. 1 or the safeties will have to widen off their landmarks (top of the numbers), which opens holes in the deep half. Plus, they have to sink deep enough to protect the safety on the 7-route that can hit the hole in the defense.

The Will and Sam Backers move their zones based on the eyes of the QB. This is key for the Will Backer, who can jump routes coming from the strong side based on the QBs read. Think of Derrick Brooks during his time in Tampa. He made a living intercepting underneath routes in the Tampa 2.

Is it beatable? Of course, and as we continue on we will examine some of the routes that are specifically designed to beat the Tampa 2.

Up next: Cover 3

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