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Tampa 2 101: Zone Coverage

Tampa 2, not Cover 2 - five guys in zone coverage, Brian!
Tampa 2, not Cover 2 - five guys in zone coverage, Brian!

It's no secret that Lovie Smith has the opposite demeanor of Mike Ditka. As such, It's also no surprise that the defense each coach used to get into a Super Bowl are pretty much opposites as well. Last week, I took a look at the Ditka-era 46 Zone, which relies on strength and strength in numbers to destroy offensive plays before they can ever start. Now, it's time to turn to our current system, the Tampa 2. I'll take a general overview of how the Tampa 2 divides up its zones this week, and look at pass rush and run coverage in the upcoming weeks. Onwards!

The Cover 2 is not really a defensive system, it's simply a coverage scheme. Two safeties cover two deep zones, and each cornerback covers a zone on his side of the field. No matter what you are doing with the rest of your seven players, this is a Cover 2 shell:


It's quite good at preventing big plays, as the safeties start so far back from the line of scrimmage it is difficult for an offensive player to get past them. The Cover 2 also allows the defensive backs to watch plays develop and rally to the ball to play for an interception or leave their zone to tackle a running back. Think of it as the opposite of the 46 Zone - the goal isn't to beat up the opposing team so much as to force them to complete long drives perfectly in order to score. You keep the play in front of you, and wait for the other team to mess up.

As any Bears fan knows by now, however, this approach has its flaws. What if another team attacks a seam in between the zones? Or, what if a team runs two players into the same zone? Problems...


A classic WR (left "O") and TE route tree against a Cover 2 - who will the safety cover?

This is where the Cover 2 becomes the Tampa 2. Instead of relying on only four defenders to cover these zones, you add the middle linebacker into the mix. The zones end up looking more like this:


With five players back into coverage and the middle linebacker covering center field, your safeties are free to defend against WRs coming down the edges of the field.


Not such a great play design now, is it? The LB can cover the TE and the safety's got the WR.

The middle linebacker, who has to be as fast as a safety to keep up with opposing TEs, is responsible for picking up anyone who moves through the middle of the formation. There's a reason Brian Urlacher is a prototypical MLB for the Tampa 2 - he has the dropback speed to get into coverage and the ability to rally to the ball if the play is in front of him.

That's the basic zone scheme of the Tampa 2. Next week, I'll look at what the rest of the team - those pesky front four and the other linebackers - are up to in a standard Tampa 2 scheme. See you then!