While the Cover 2 or “Tampa 2” defense was popularized in Tampa in the mid-90s, its roots stretch back another twenty years. Still, since its inception, this defensive strategy has been effective against strong offensive teams, has helped defenses to rank in the top half of the league, and has encouraged other clubs to adopt its philosophy.
Tony Dungy, Monte Kiffin and the Tampa 2 Defense
Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin are often credited for having invented this defense during their tenure with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but even Dungy will admit that the philosophy actually gained its roots from Chuck Noll and Bud Carson’s 1975 Pittsburgh defense. This defense was nicknamed the “Steel Curtain”. Dungy adlibbed on the Steel Curtain to create a defense of his own.
The scheme involves speed, which is not surprising given that Dungy was known to utilize players who were slightly underweight for their position. Three linebackers, two cornerbacks, and two safeties cover the middle of the field and the outside linebacker covers the area between the cornerbacks that cover the area from the line of scrimmage to ten yards back.
The greatest pressure seems to be left up to the safeties, as they must be exceptionally fast, and possess the ability to break up passes. Unlike other positions in this defense, they don’t need to be great tacklers so long as they are hard hitters. Other positions generally do need to tackle well, or at least are known for it. In a general sense, the better the players’ attitudes, the better the scheme’s execution.
Tampa 2 Defense Advantages
A major plus for the Tampa 2 is that its hard-hitting nature causes turnovers. As long as the offense can make good on the favor, it is a win-win situation. Another positive is that it seems to be effective against high-scoring teams, which may be an answer to clubs who have mastered the No Huddle Offense, or have a strong two minute drill.
Unlike other defensive schemes, the plan is simple to learn and execute. Also, the players’ attitudes often factor into the scheme’s success. Since so many smaller players are used to run this defense, the coaches are able to appeal to their players’ strengths rather than their weaknesses.
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Tampa 2 Drawbacks
The scheme’s real drawback is that it cannot be run with just any crop of players. Each player must have very specific abilities i.e. the defensive back must be an above average hitter. Almost all of the defensive players must be exceptional tacklers. Also, the scheme has become popular enough that offensive coordinators now exploit the deep middle.
In recent years, teams like the Chicago Bears, Buffalo Bills, Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs have adapted the Cover 2 defense. These are teams whose coaching staff usually has roots in Tampa or a connection to Tony Dungy. The greatest Tampa 2 success has been for the Chicago Bears, whose coach Lovie Smith, worked for Dungy in Tampa.