Let me start off by saying that I like the Tampa 2 as a base defense. I've written about it a few times and I've defended it plenty. I think the Bears have the correct personnel to run that D, but like any other defense, it has it's weaknesses that can be exploited by a good offense. Any defensive scheme you choose to run is only as good as the players you have, and with better players in 2010 I'm not surprised the Bears are looking better on defense than the last few years.
A main concept of the defense is to keep everything in front of you and force the offense to execute long sustained drives to beat you. The thinking is that if an offense has to be precise for so long, eventually they'll make a mistake. It's a sound theory, but the trend I started seeing a lot last season, and again Sunday afternoon, was that teams were hitting a "new" soft spot in the Tampa 2. Now I'm only calling it "new" because it isn't as talked about as much as the other holes in the zone. But unless the Bears mix things up a bit, it could cost them a game or two along the way.
After the jump I'll get into the Cover 2 a little before tackling the Tampa 2, then finally get to my point... so please bear with me.
The traditional Cover 2 defense has it's holes. There have been countless articles written about where to attack that D that I'll just briefly gloss over them here. In the picture above (both pics from www.footballtimes.org) the yellow areas are the soft spots that offenses try to hit. Hitting a receiver when he runs past the corner, but before he makes it to his safety help, is the most talked about hole in the defense. The other hole in the Cover 2 is deep between the safeties. An offense running two receivers down the sidelines with a 3rd receiver running a post is a classic Cover 2 beater. As is running 4 verticals down the seams. A QB simply has to read which way the safeties cheat and throw the ball. I say simply because it's a read most experienced quarterbacks can make in their sleep. But even though it's a simple read, that doesn't always equate to the QB making a picture perfect throw, nor does it take into account if a front four is getting pressure. The holes are there, but an offense still has to execute.
In the Tampa 2 variation (the pic up there), again it's been much talked about, but the middle linebacker starts off in position like a traditional Cover 2 taking away the quick dumps or slants that would hit the shallow middle, but then he retreats to the deep middle. The theory behind this is that by the MLB going deep it allows the safeties to widen out and help close the usual holes along the sidelines quicker, and the MLB himself will help take away a deep post. Offenses still run the 4 verticals against this defense, the only variation is the inside receivers will run their routes down the seam based on the positions of the 3 deep defenders.
So now... I'll hit on my concern... More frequently teams have been running a receiver down the seam to make sure the middle linebacker clears from the short middle, then bring a receiver in behind where the MLB just vacated (the bottom tip of that middle oval). Throwing the little dump over the middle is about as easy as it gets for a QB. Last season Brett Favre did this time and time again against the Bears, then Sunday afternoon Michael Vick had some success doing the same thing.
I'd like to see defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli switch it up a bit and stray from the traditional Tampa 2 on occasion in late game situations. Have MLB Brian Urlacher feign a deep drop only to come back up to try and catch a QB assuming that sort middle is there for the taking, only to throw a pass at a receiver with #54 flying up to meet him.
The Bears have been dropping their defensive line in coverage a bit more this season, so after Urlacher bails deep middle the Bears could drop an 8th player into coverage from the line. It's a cheap way to take away that pass, but the downside is you only are rushing three. The lineman could take a step or two forward, making the offensive line commit, then back off to their zone.
One other variation I think we'll see is the Bears switching up which player takes the deep middle drop. The Tampa 2 is essentially a 3 deep 4 under zone, so the Bears could keep Urlacher in an under zone and drop Lance Briggs, PIsa Tinoisamoa, or a nickle back to the deep zone. If they guess which side the offense is trying to sneak a player into the middle from, they drop the opposite inside defender to the deep zone and they'll have it all bottled up.
Now all these holes shorten up the less field you have, which is why you hear the Bears defense referred to as a 'bend but don't break' defense. It will bend by making offenses patiently dink and dunk down field, only to have the Bears converge on the pass catcher. But those openings get tighter and tighter in the Red Zone, as offenses have less room to run their offense. The Bears have a sound game plan on defense, I'd just like to see them mix up their end of game calls just enough to keep offenses guessing.