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Understanding the Tampa 2 Scheme/Cover 2 Play Concept

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PostPosted: Wed Jan 16, 2013 7:51 pm    Post subject: Understanding the Tampa 2 Scheme/Cover 2 Play Concept Reply with quote

A lot is made of the defense known as the 'Cover 2' or 'Tampa 2' scheme, and with the Cowboys recently hiring the grandfather of the Tampa 2 scheme, I thought returning to the forums here to give a break down of the Xs and Os involved would be a welcomed treat.

First, one has to understand that the Tampa 2 is the schematic; Cover 2 is a play. Cover 2 is not a defensive type, but rather, a type of coverage in a called defensive play. Cover 2 itself is a term used to describe a defensive coverage utilizing 2 deep safeties. Tampa 2, however, is the nickname given to Kiffin's style of Cover 2 playcalling that relies heavily upon the middle linebacker covering the main gap in a cover 2 oriented playcall.

Secondly, a breakdown of specific zones needs to be understood before the actual concept of the cover 2 coverage, and tampa 2 defensive strategy, can be fully understood. While I do have a breakdown of coverages found in my Football FAQ (which can be found in the link in my signature), I'll give a brief run down here.

Hook zones - A hook zone is shallow zone directly behind (around 5 yards off) the line of scrimmage that spans about 5 yards deeper. A hook zone is best used to prevent a pass play from being completed at the first down marker, and funnels all pass receivers to a tackler to be stopped prior to reaching the marker. Usually played by linebackers and corners, but in some zone-blitz plays a lineman can be seen dropping back into this coverage.

Flat zones - A flat zone is named such for its design to stop running backs coming out of the flat with a pass catch, to shut down short throws, screens and flares from tight ends and running backs. The defender usually is up on the line of scrimmage in a flat zone, and is responsible for everything within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, from the defensive end to the sideline. Almost always played only by corners and defensive ends.

Funnel zone - A funnel zone is designed to funnel a pass completion to the inside of the field. A defender in funnel zone will usually stand guard at a designated spot on the field closer to the sideline, in an attempt to stop the play from heading out of bounds and prevent sideline completions that stop the clock.

Deep center zone - A deep center zone is designed to allow a safety to remain deep and keep the entirety of the play in front of them to be the last line of defense in an eight-man box. The player will line up about 15 yards off the line, between the hash marks; but is responsible for everything sideline to sideline that is behind the first down marker. This is a very difficult zone to play, but a safety capable of this zone regularly allows for a defense to stack the box against the run without worry of deep passes.

Deep halves/triples/quarters - A deep half, triple or quarter zone is when defenders, usually the secondary (safeties in the case of the deep halves) drop back deep, 12 to 18 yards off the line of scrimmage. Deep halves requires 2 defenders each watching one half of the deep field; deep triples/thirds requires 3 defenders each watching one-third of the deep field, and deep quarters requires 4 defenders each watching one-fourth (or one-quarter) of the deep field. Designed to prevent big plays, deep halves are used very frequently in the modern NFL. Deep thirds and quarters however, can be very risky as the coverage tends to give up large gains on shallow throws (Such as Ray Rice's 4th and forever conversion earlier this season, done against Deep quarters).

There are tons more zone types, but these are the main zones you'll see used. Others are more complex and require more detail than anyone will want to read about right now. So let's move on.

The next concept to understand, are the basic premises that a cover 2 playcall, and hence the Tampa 2 defense, are designed to make use of.

1. Zone heavy coverage, but man-to-man still a big role - Understand first, that zone coverage is when a defender guards a spot on the field, rather than running stride and stride with a specific receiver as is the case in man-to-man. Now while the basic talk of cover 2/tampa 2 is that you only use zone coverages, this is a misconception.

Man coverage is still deployed regularly, and in various ways. Suppose you have a guy like megatron at receiver - you don't let him run free in the secondary picking a whole in the zone coverages and waving for the throw. Instead, you play your zone coverages, but assign a specific corner to shadow that receiver in man coverage even as he runs through the various zones. Or, a playcaller can mix up the coverages, assigning full on man coverage across the board - but keep the safeties back in deep halves, and drop a linebacker into a hook zone to secure against slants and crossing patterns that are known to wreak havoc against man coverages. Or put all of the 'ahead of the marker' players in various zones, and bring the safeties into the box and assign them to man coverages on tight ends, running backs, or when against wildcat/option QBs, assign them to spy/man coverage the quarterback.

2. Aggressive secondary play - In the Cover 2 play concept, cornerbacks are usually only responsible for a very small amount of field, sharing coverage duties on areas of the field rather than a specific man allowing them to remain closer to the line of scrimmage. This, in turn, allows for physical bump and run at the line, jamming the receiver and attempting to not only break their timing of the route, but to force the receiver to the sideline (or inside, depending on the play call and play design, based on the situation).

3. bending, not breaking - Any zone heavy scheme has their eyes set on one goal and one goal only: Allow the short plays, prevent anything serious, and cause drives to take much longer. Every extra pass attempt is another chance for a turn over with zone heavy schemes, and preventing anything big shuts down the potential of big play offenses to make the big plays they thrive off of.

Now, the idea of course, is to prevent ANY completions - but the zone coverages often allow for a receiver to find a decent enough gap in the coverage and call for the ball. A good quarterback can carve up the zone if the defenders cannot close the gaps in the coverage quickly; so completions will always result. A stat line from a good quarterback against a solid zone heavy defense may read something like 36 of 44, for 210 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT - note that there is a fairly high completion percentage, but low yardage, one score, but also one pick (possibly for six?). The idea is to give up as little as possible, and make the offense stay out there longer, passing more often, and forcing the ball into gaps that, at any time, can close far faster than expected - which results in turnovers.

4. Don't forget the defensive line; cause interceptions, not sacks - The secondary in a cover 2 play style can often take most of the media attention, as they generate the picks and big hits that zone coverages are designed to maximize the potential for. But, as with any defensive concept, the defensive line plays a huge part in making everything else work.

A quarterback, given enough time against zone coverages, can easily identify the gaps between defenders (who, unlike in Madden video games, do not instantly close the distance - because they are actual people, not video game icons). And receivers can, too. A good Qb and Wr duo can shred a zone coverage every play if the defensive line isn't generating pressure.

The idea in a zone heavy scheme, unline a man heavy or blitzing scheme, is not to hit the quarterback. But rather, to rush the passer's ability to scan a defense and find the holes in the coverage. If he cannot identify the holes, or even the zones, due to having too little time to do so, turnovers result. Zone coverage heavy defenses live on these turnovers. While a sack is great, a QB can get up and complete a 2nd and 16 for a TD for all you know; an interception, however, gets their QB off the field and your quarterback on the field.

5. The base 43 or 34 front still works fine in a cover 2 playcall - Just ask Bill Belichick and Bill Parcells, who have used the cover 2 oriented zone heavy defense throughout their careers with 3-4 front alignments. The reason the Cowboys will likely change their front is not because of a shift to a cover 2 based defense, but because Kiffin prefers a 4-3 front.

6. Blitz to plug the run, sacks are just a bonus - While the famous Zone-blitz heavy schemes in Pittsburgh use zones and blitzes together to generate pressure on the QB, the real meat and potatoes of blitzing in a zone coverage playcall is to attack a specific running lane to allow a defensive linemen to run a different assignment - perhaps you want to play your end in a flat zone to watch the screen without giving up a big gain on an offtackle run? Simply bring a linebacker down into a blitz and let your end seal that flat.

Do note, however, that technically this would NOT be a blitz; 4 rushers is a typical defensive play, 5 or more is a blitz. Which makes the often used term 'zone blitz' actually be a misconception in terminology.

Now, utilizing what we know of zones and the basic concepts of a cover 2 defense, let's actually break down my personal favorite cover 2 playcall before moving on to understand how a Tampa 2 version of the same style differs.

My favorite cover 2 play call is often called a Sinker, but as I was taught the play in college, I knew it first as Quarter Hooks Center Weak Flat. Which is a basic explanation of the play in itself. A basic dime formation - 4 linemen, 1 linebacker, 4 corners, 2 safeties - with each corner in hook zones (hence the Quarter Hooks, each Corner watching 1/4 or one quarter of the field in front of the first down marker in hook zones), One safety back deep in Center field zone (hence the 'center' part of the playcall), and the other weak side safety (the free safety) coming down into a flat zone (hence the weak flat). The concept of this play is to shut down a team's run heavy side of a formation (which can be weak or strong, as determined by the offense) with a safety 'sinking' down into the box into that flat zone. While Corners watch the immediate passing area of the field in quarter-duty hook zones, and one safety back watching the deep area in a center field zone. The sole linebacker, automatically by playcall, i defaulted to man coverage on inside receivers, tight end, or a primary or secondary RB (depending on offensive formation).

However, there is a major difference in how this play would work in the inventively unique concept of the Tampa 2. It's major only in how radical the thinking was at the time the idea became popular and how successful the idea became on the field. It's not, however, a major change in coverage - merely in mentality.

In that same playcall I discussed above, the linebacker is automatically assigned to cover the 'left over' player of the formation, that all important 5th weapon of the offense. In the Tampa 2 concept of the same play, however, that linebacker is assigned to guard the gap between the hook zones, and the centerfield safety. Or, as an alternative, drop back into a deep half with the strong side safety who remained deep. This change allowed for the slants and ins and other intermediate range routes that once carved up zone defenses, to be eliminated/nearly eliminated.

That extra player devoting his time on field to watching the main gap in a specific zone coverage call modernized zone coverages to stop the onslaught of west coast offenses that were, in past turn, the product of offenses adjusting to the popularity of zone coverages.

Beyond this, the Tampa 2 style of a cover 2 playcall allows for a middle linebacker in a base 4-3 alignment to become a wildcard; you may recall Dat Nguyen under Mike Zimmer being one of the most underrated Middle Backer in the league when he played - this is heavily because Nguyen was often assigned to the Tampa 2 role of a linebacker, with other assignments thrown in to keep offenses guessing. Coupled with the 4-3 concept of filtering running plays to the middle linebacker, a middle backer in a Tampa 2 scheme can quickly become a star of the team.

You can also intensify the complexity of the Tampa 2 style cover 2 playcall by assigning varying "roll" assignments to specific zones. Rolling a coverage can be done to lean the zones outward to force plays to go inside; or this can be done to roll coverages over to the side of a dominant reciever; or this can be done simply to confuse a Quarterback. A quick example of each:

---You want to keep Megatron in check. So you roll the zones to his side, so that the defenders, while remaining in their zone, stand on the very edge of their zone - the edge closest to Megatron's side of the field.

---A minute left, the other team has no timeouts and is down by 4. You want to keep the play inbounds and keep the time ticking down. So you call for your zones to roll outward, where defenders remain in their zones but on the edges of the zone closest to the sideline, forcing passes to go to the middle of the field.

---You want to confuse a smart Quarterback who's been reading your zone assignments. So you call for a play that moves the strong side safety down into a hook zone to the side, while the cornerback on the strong side remains in a flat zone. The weak/free safety moves into a deep half zone where the strong safety was, while the weak side cornerback drops into a deep half zone where the free safety originally was. Almost gets confusing reading the typed words, imagine being a QB trying to read that as it plays out in the three or so seconds he gets to hold the ball before needing to throw it.

And, well, I suppose that is that. You should now be fully acquainted with the concepts and premises that compromise the new Dallas Cowboys defensive strategy. Very Happy

-D94W, Your Unofficial Spontaneously Disappearing and Reappearing FF Coach

Coaching football is just my way of staying close to the game.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 16, 2013 8:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good to see you pop in. This, and your insight in general, should probably be part of this thread:

Tony Romos Last pass was a TD against the EAGLES!
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 16, 2013 8:07 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I've been waiting for your post on this man, nice stuff.
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PostPosted: Wed Jan 16, 2013 8:16 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Matts4313 wrote:
Good to see you pop in. This, and your insight in general, should probably be part of this thread:

Yup, feel free to post this in that thread D94W

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