Demise of a defense: Rule changes, QB advances and repetition helped end Tampa 2 heyday

  • Article by: DAVE CAMPBELL , Associated Press
  • Updated: September 3, 2014 - 7:50 AM

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — True innovation in the NFL can be tough. Successful schemes breed imitations and force opponents to adjust. Eventually, even for the soundest of systems, the code is bound to be cracked.

Consider the case of the "Tampa 2" defense.

"You're not going to shock people when you throw out the Tampa 2: 'Oh, my gosh. How do we attack this?' Because that's all they've been doing for quite a few years now," said Dallas assistant coach Monte Kiffin, who directed and perfected the defense under Tony Dungy with Tampa Bay.

When Minnesota replaced Leslie Frazier with Mike Zimmer as head coach this season, yet another team discarded the Tampa 2 as its basic strategy. The Vikings gave up the most points in the league last year, and some veteran players complained about predictability.

"Sometimes we'd line up and Aaron Rodgers is calling out our defense as we're lining up," defensive end Brian Robison said.

The Vikings installed the Tampa 2 in 2006, when Detroit (Rod Marinelli) and Kansas City (Herm Edwards) were also getting it going with new head coaches. Chicago was playing it well under Lovie Smith, as was Tampa Bay with Kiffin, the defensive coordinator. During that pinnacle season, Dungy guided Indianapolis to a Super Bowl victory over Smith's Bears.

Kiffin and Marinelli still teach it with the Cowboys, and Smith and Frazier have returned it to the Buccaneers, but evidence of the Tampa 2's use around the NFL these days is scant.

Ten years ago, this was an ideal base defense.

Teams could rely on a four-man pass rush up front more than blitzing. In turn, outside linebackers and cornerbacks dropped into coverage zones, with the middle linebacker backpedaling into the crease between the safeties to make deep passes difficult. Sure tacklers from the back seven were assigned to gaps in the line for run support, freeing the front four to focus on one each. Scoring against a Tampa 2 was going to require patience.

"We did a lot of things that were simplistic. We never worried about the size. The defense was built on quickness," Kiffin said.

Smith, Marinelli and Edwards were Buccaneers assistants in the late 1990s under Dungy and Kiffin, who took the system south after developing it together in Minnesota. The catchy nickname for this derivative of the Cover 2 zone strategy, defined by two safeties splitting the deep halves of the field in pass coverage, stuck during Tampa Bay's time as an NFC power.

The roots, however, traced to Pittsburgh with head coach Chuck Noll and defensive coordinator Bud Carson two decades before that. Dungy was a young defensive back then for the Steelers.

"People identified it with Tampa, but there was nothing different. We didn't make any changes from the 1975 playbook," Dungy said. "There isn't too much new in the game of football that hasn't been done before."

With tackle Warren Sapp, linebacker Derrick Brooks and safety John Lynch, those Buccaneers teams had quite the backbone.

"You can have the blueprints, but if you don't have the parts they don't work," Brooks said. "Players play the game. Systems don't."

Seams in the coverage, though, were easier to exploit without Hall of Fame players like Sapp and Brooks defending. Dungy and Edwards moved from the sideline to the TV studio. The increase in three-wide receiver and two-tight end sets, plus elite quarterback play, minimized the effectiveness of the Tampa 2.

Then there was the rule changes designed to stem head and neck injuries, with stiffer penalties for hits on defenseless receivers. Opponents, thus, became more emboldened to run routes across the middle without an enforcer like Lynch waiting to punish them.

"Lynch would knock the hell out of you," Sapp said. "You can't do it anymore. That's the question I have for Lovie. How do you plan on doing what we did to take away the middle of that field?"

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Cleveland 4 Suspended
Kansas City 2
Baltimore - W. Chen 6:05 PM
NY Yankees - M. Pineda
Kansas City - D. Duffy 6:05 PM
Cleveland - C. Carrasco
Seattle - J. Paxton 6:07 PM
Toronto - J. Happ
Chicago WSox - C. Bassitt 6:08 PM
Detroit - K. Lobstein
Pittsburgh - F. Liriano 6:10 PM
Atlanta - A. Harang
Houston - N. Tropeano 7:05 PM
Texas - D. Holland
St. Louis - A. Wainwright 7:05 PM
Chicago Cubs - T. Wood
Arizona - J. Collmenter 7:10 PM
Minnesota - R. Nolasco
LA Angels - C. Wilson 9:05 PM
Oakland - J. Samardzija
San Francisco - J. Peavy 9:10 PM
Los Angeles - D. Haren
Colorado - T. Matzek 9:10 PM
San Diego - E. Stults
Chicago 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Buffalo 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Green Bay 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Tennessee 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Indianapolis
Carolina 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Baltimore
Detroit 9/28/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
Tampa Bay 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Miami 9/28/14 12:00 PM
Oakland
Jacksonville 9/28/14 3:05 PM
San Diego
Atlanta 9/28/14 3:25 PM
Minnesota
Philadelphia 9/28/14 3:25 PM
San Francisco
New Orleans 9/28/14 7:30 PM
Dallas
Ottawa 1 2nd Prd
NY Islanders 1
Ottawa 5:00 PM
NY Islanders
New Jersey 6:00 PM
NY Rangers
Detroit 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Toronto 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Washington 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Minnesota 7:00 PM
Winnipeg
St. Louis 7:30 PM
Dallas
Anaheim 8:00 PM
Colorado
Colorado 9:00 PM
Anaheim
Los Angeles 9:00 PM
Arizona
Arizona 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(24) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(11) UCLA 9/25/14 9:00 PM
(15) Arizona State
Middle Tennessee 9/26/14 7:00 PM
Old Dominion
Fresno State 9/26/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(25) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(12) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(9) Michigan State
Northwestern 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Penn State
TCU 9/27/14 11:00 AM
SMU
Iowa 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
Tulane 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Rutgers
So Florida 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(19) Wisconsin
Colorado State 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Boston College
Western Mich 9/27/14 11:30 AM
Virginia Tech
Maryland 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Indiana
Akron 9/27/14 12:30 PM
Pittsburgh
Bowling Green 9/27/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
Arkansas 9/27/14 2:30 PM
(6) Texas A&M
Kent State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Virginia
Western Ky 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Navy
Minnesota 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Michigan
Wake Forest 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Louisville
FIU 9/27/14 2:30 PM
UAB
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:30 PM
NC State
Miami-Ohio 9/27/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Colorado 9/27/14 3:00 PM
California
Louisiana Tech 9/27/14 3:00 PM
(5) Auburn
Texas 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Kansas
Temple 9/27/14 3:00 PM
Connecticut
(16) Stanford 9/27/14 3:15 PM
Washington
TX-San Antonio 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Fla Atlantic
South Alabama 9/27/14 4:00 PM
Idaho
Cincinnati 9/27/14 5:00 PM
(22) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(13) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
North Carolina 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Clemson
Central Mich 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Toledo
Troy 9/27/14 6:00 PM
ULM
New Mexico St 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(17) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Duke 9/27/14 6:30 PM
Miami-Florida
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(8) Notre Dame 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Syracuse
(7) Baylor 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Iowa State
UNLV 9/27/14 7:00 PM
San Diego St
Illinois 9/27/14 8:00 PM
(21) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(18) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 23 FINAL
Hamilton 25
Calgary 15 FINAL
Montreal 31
Ottawa 32 FINAL
Saskatchewan 35
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 preseason     
Aug 8 - vs. Oakland 7 pmX10-6
Aug 16 - vs. Arizona 7:30 pmX30-28
Aug 23 - at Kansas City 7 pmX30-12
Aug 28 - at Tennessee 7 pmX19-3
2014 regular season     
Sep 7 - at St. Louis NoonX34-6
Sep 14 - vs. New England NoonX30-7
Sep 21 - at New Orleans NoonX20-9
Sep 28 - vs. Atlanta 3:25 pm
Oct 2 - at Green Bay 7:25 pm
Oct 12 - vs. Detroit Noon
Oct 19 - at. Buffalo Noon
Oct 26 - at Tampa Bay Noon
Nov 2 - vs. Washington Noon
Nov 9 - Bye
Nov 16 - at Chicago Noon
Nov. 23 - vs. Green Bay Noon
Nov. 30 - vs. Carolina Noon
Dec 7 - vs. NY Jets Noon
Dec 14 - at Detroit Noon
Dec 21 - at Miami Noon
Dec 28 - vs. Chicago Noon

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