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Tampa 2 101: The Front Seven

Peppers to Okung: "Here, have a towel to wipe off those tears."  Gotta love the pass rush.
Peppers to Okung: "Here, have a towel to wipe off those tears." Gotta love the pass rush.

It's only appropriate that I finish up my off-season look at the basics of Bears football on the first day of scrimmages at training camp. Last week, I looked at the alterations of the standard Cover 2 zone scheme that are the signature of the Tampa 2. Now, it's time to turn our attention to what the front seven are doing in this scheme. How does the Tampa 2 generate a pass-rush with only four rushers? And how does it defend against the run when it has already committed an extra defender to pass coverage? Answers and (of course!) pretty diagrams below the fold.

Much like the 46 Zone I talked about two weeks ago, the Tampa 2 requires elite pass rushers. While the whole defense isn't predicated on generating pressure the way Buddy Ryan's defense was, the Tampa 2 simply doesn't work that well if the four defensive linesmen can't pressure or sack the quarterback. Given enough time, an accurate passer will be able to wait until someone finds a gap in one of the zones and then throw to the open man. Hence the reason Jerry Angelo kept trying to find defensive linesmen high in the draft and why Lovie Smith was waiting at Julius Peppers' door when he became available as a free agent: the Bears needed strong rush-men.

Here's a typical attack plan for the front four in a Tampa 2. Both ends try to seal their edge to prevent the opposing QB from slipping out of the pocket. The two defensive tackles - the middle two in the front four - attempt to eat up blocks to stop running plays and also attempt to collapse the pocket around the QB.


The lynchpin of the whole operation in the 3-technique*, the position that Tommie Harris played so well pre-knee-injury. Assuming the ends can do their job and seal in the QB, the 3-technique can generate major pressure simply by pushing the offensive linesman/men across from him back into the pocket. This will either force the QB to scramble into the arms of a defensive end or let the DT get the sack himself. Either way, after this tough push back by the DT, it's an easy sack. The other defensive tackle, the double-blocked "nose" - "NT" for short - should also try to get upfield to get after the QB, but is primarily responsible simply for occupying the attention of two linesmen so his buddies can get the glory.

Speaking of running backs, what are the other two linebackers up to here? On passing plays, the strong-side linebacker (the linebacker that is across from the TE in a standard pro formation) is responsible for short coverage against the opposing tight end - you can think of him as manning the short zone below that of the middle linebacker.


On running plays, his job isn't all that different - he will either engage with the tight end to eat up the block (i.e. keep the TE or fullback from blocking anyone else) or attempt to tackle the running back as he is escaping through a gap in the offensive line. And, in case you missed last week, the middle linebacker is either going to stand still for a second to read the play or immediately drop back into coverage: hence the arrow.

The weak-side linebacker, while also responsible for covering the short zone directly around him, is the key tackler against the run in a Tampa 2. With the front four attempting to collapse the pocket, the RB doesn't have many gaps to get out of. Assuming the defensive line is able to stay in the play (i.e. they don't get knocked down or pushed past the RB) the weak-side LB will be able to make a clean run at the running back and make the tackle. Since the middle linebacker has to either stay put or drop back immediately to cover his middle zone, the weak-side linebacker is often the guy when it comes to stopping run plays.

Ultimately, the best feature of the Tampa 2 is the flexibility it offers a defense. From a Tampa 2 look, a team can easily drop a safety down into the box (Cover 3, "single high safety"), blitz a cornerback or a linebacker, or play a combination of man/zone coverage to confuse QBs, all from the same basic alignment. For all its flaws, it's the scheme we got, so love it or hate it, at least you know a bit more about it. And, as a wiser man than me once said, knowing is half the battle.

*The number "3" refers to the gap he is responsible for: a defensive player directly over the center (the "O" that is sticking out of the formation a little bit) is playing the "0" gap, and then each gap further out from there is a number up, i.e. the gap between the center and the guards is the "1," directly over a guard is a "2," between the guard and the tackle is a "3," etc., all the way on out to the 9-technique the Eagles used heavily last year, which is when a defensive end lines up way outside of the tight end.