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?"

Even during the heyday, Tampa 2 teams didn't run it all the time. More like half of the plays, at most. Offenses are too sophisticated to stay the same every snap. Down, distance, time and score dictate calls as much as anything. Smith said he'd like to blitz about one-third of the time this season.

Still, Frazier, eager to work with Pro Bowl tackle Gerald McCoy and linebacker Lavonte David, said he has "no doubt" the Tampa 2 is still viable.

"We feel like we have the foundation on this defense to make it work," Frazier said.

That's the key, of course.

"It's not about the Xs and Os. It's about the Billys and the Joes. You put great players out there in any defense, it's going to look pretty good," said former Cincinnati wide receiver and current NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth, adding: "I think it all still has a place, but the longer guys get a chance to study the tapes and to see it, the more it has to evolve."

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Los Angeles - LP: B. Wilson 7 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - WP: J. Grimm 8
Detroit - WP: M. Scherzer 3 FINAL
Kansas City - LP: J. Shields 2
Philadelphia 3 Bottom 8th Inning
Oakland 0
Toronto 5 Bottom 8th Inning
NY Yankees 2
Arizona 1 Top 9th Inning
Colorado 5
Boston - R. De La Rosa 6:05 PM
Baltimore - C. Tillman
Milwaukee - M. Garza 6:05 PM
Pittsburgh - E. Volquez
Washington - J. Zimmermann 6:10 PM
Miami - J. Cosart
NY Mets - J. Niese 6:10 PM
Atlanta - M. Minor
Chicago WSox - H. Noesi 6:10 PM
Tampa Bay - C. Archer
Cleveland - T. House 6:10 PM
Minnesota - T. May
Seattle - C. Young 6:10 PM
Houston - D. Keuchel
Cincinnati - M. Leake 6:15 PM
St. Louis - M. Wacha
San Francisco - Y. Petit 7:40 PM
San Diego - A. Cashner
Texas - C. Lewis 8:05 PM
LA Angels - J. Weaver
San Diego 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Buffalo
Dallas 9/21/14 12:00 PM
St. Louis
Washington 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Philadelphia
Houston 9/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Giants
Minnesota 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Tennessee 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cincinnati
Baltimore 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Cleveland
Green Bay 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Detroit
Indianapolis 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Jacksonville
Oakland 9/21/14 12:00 PM
New England
San Francisco 9/21/14 3:05 PM
Arizona
Denver 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Seattle
Kansas City 9/21/14 3:25 PM
Miami
Pittsburgh 9/21/14 7:30 PM
Carolina
Chicago 9/22/14 7:30 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 9/25/14 7:25 PM
Washington
Connecticut 14 FINAL
So Florida 17
Old Dominion 45 FINAL
Rice 42
Troy 0 FINAL
(13) Georgia 66
Georgia Tech 27 FINAL
Virginia Tech 24
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
(11) Michigan State 73
Iowa 24 FINAL
Pittsburgh 20
Bowling Green 17 FINAL
(19) Wisconsin 68
Maryland 34 FINAL
Syracuse 20
Tulane 13 FINAL
Duke 47
Hawaii 12 FINAL
Colorado 21
Marshall 48 FINAL
Akron 17
Utah 26 Delayed 7:51
Michigan 10
Army 21 FINAL
Wake Forest 24
North Carolina 27 3rd Qtr 0:55
East Carolina 56
Virginia 26 4th Qtr 8:06
(21) BYU 34
(6) Texas A&M 58 4th Qtr 3:16
SMU 6
Rutgers 31 4th Qtr 4:23
Navy 24
Central Mich 10 4th Qtr 9:46
Kansas 17
Florida 21 4th Qtr 13:30
(3) Alabama 35
Louisville 28 3rd Qtr 14:15
FIU 3
San Jose St 7 Delayed 11:38
Minnesota 17
Texas State 14 Delayed 13:35
Illinois 6
Fla Atlantic 19 4th Qtr 4:44
Wyoming 17
Indiana 24 3rd Qtr 0:45
(18) Missouri 17
Massachusetts 7 4th Qtr 11:26
Penn State 48
Georgia State 0 2nd Qtr 14:07
Washington 0
Appalachian St 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
Miss State 6:00 PM
(8) LSU
Northern Ill 6:00 PM
Arkansas
Middle Tennessee 6:00 PM
Memphis
Utah State 6:00 PM
Arkansas State
Miami-Ohio 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Idaho 6:00 PM
Ohio U
Ball State 6:00 PM
Toledo
(14) So Carolina 6:30 PM
Vanderbilt
(4) Oklahoma 6:30 PM
West Virginia
Ga Southern 6:30 PM
South Alabama
UNLV 7:00 PM
Houston
(22) Clemson 7:00 PM
(1) Florida State
Miami-Florida 7:00 PM
(24) Nebraska
New Mexico 7:00 PM
New Mexico St
California 9:00 PM
Arizona
Louisiana 9:30 PM
Boise State
(2) Oregon 9:30 PM
Washington St
San Diego St 9:30 PM
Oregon State
Texas Tech 9/25/14 6:30 PM
(25) Oklahoma State
Appalachian St 9/25/14 6:30 PM
Ga Southern
(12) 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
(1) Florida State 9/27/14 2:00 AM
NC State
Duke 9/27/14 2:00 AM
Miami-Florida
North Carolina 9/27/14 2:00 AM
(22) Clemson
Texas-El Paso 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(20) Kansas State
Tennessee 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(13) Georgia
Vanderbilt 9/27/14 11:00 AM
Kentucky
Wyoming 9/27/14 11:00 AM
(11) 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
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
(23) Ohio State
Rice 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Southern Miss
(18) Missouri 9/27/14 6:00 PM
(14) So Carolina
Boise State 9/27/14 6:00 PM
Air Force
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
(8) LSU
Memphis 9/27/14 6:30 PM
(10) Ole Miss
Texas State 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Washington St 9/27/14 7:00 PM
Utah
(9) 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
(24) Nebraska
Oregon State 9/27/14 9:30 PM
(17) USC
Nevada 9/27/14 9:30 PM
San Jose St
Vancouver FC 0 2nd Half 30:00
Portland 1
Houston 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
New England 6:30 PM
Columbus
San Jose 6:30 PM
Montreal
Seattle 6:30 PM
Red Bull New York
D.C. 7:30 PM
Chicago
FC Dallas 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Toronto 40 FINAL
Brt Columbia 23
Edmonton 6:00 PM
Hamilton
Calgary 9/21/14 12:00 PM
Montreal
Ottawa 9/21/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Montreal 9/26/14 6:00 PM
Ottawa
Saskatchewan 9/26/14 9:00 PM
Edmonton
Hamilton 9/27/14 5:30 PM
Winnipeg
Brt Columbia 9/27/14 8:30 PM
Calgary
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

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 Noon
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

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Vikings and Gophers do this weekend?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close