Two weeks ago, the Falcons just waxed the Bucs on Thursday night football, 56-14. The thinking was, when Lovie Smith took the job in the Bay, that he would immediately improve a Buccaneer defense that has very good players in place — Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Alterraun Verner (one of my favorite NFL names). He’s had numerous injuries to deal with, specifically McCoy, but it has not happened thus far.
At this point, I believe Smith is the last disciple of the cover 2 defense. Smith was the Rams D coordinator for the Sheep’s second Super Bowl in 2002. It’s my favorite style of NFL defense. It was en vogue for a while. Tony Dungy had the most success with it in Tampa but continued to use the defense with lesser players in Indianapolis, eventually winning a Super Bowl. Smith brought the defense to Chicago and the Bears ran it to perfection, particularly in 2006. I forgot they actually faced off in that Super Bowl.
Lately, the defense has not looked good. On top of Smith’s latest struggles was the debacle in Dallas last year when Monte Kiffin, Dungy’s D coordinator in Tampa, took over the Cowboys defense. Debacle in Dallas is an entertaining phrase; it will be weird if the Cowboys are ever dominant again.
The cover 2 defense stretches back to Dungy’s days as a player, when it was a dominant force for Chuck Knoll’s Steelers of the ’70s. I don’t think the defense is dead. I think fundamentally it’s principals are still sound. It’s great for stopping the run with four down lineman and three linebackers. It is meant to encourage the type of throws that are the most difficult to make — down the sideline in a window between a corner and safety. But, I think NFL personnel has changed since the mid 2000s and finding the guys who fit the system is more difficult
The ideal Tampa 2 defense with today’s players
1. A quick defensive tackle. Warren Sapp was a hall of famer in the Tampa 2. Because you have two tackles, neither has to be a behemoth like a Star Lotulelei or Haloti Ngata (I wish I wouldn’t have picked two examples with difficult to spell names). A guy who is big and quick is perfect, Ndamukang Suh. I also think Sheldon Richardson would work.
2. A defensive end who just destroys quarterbacks. Julius Peppers filled this role most effectively for the Bears. Simeon Rice is the prototype, wreaking havoc for the 2002 Bucs Super Bowl team. Ideally you would want this guy to be a little bit bigger, to make teams pay for running at him. Mario Williams fits the bill, although his career has been a bit of a roller coaster ride.
3. An unequivocally great middle linebacker. This is the hardest position to fill. Because many teams, including in college, go with a 3-4, it devalues middle line backing play. You need a guy that is equally good against the run and the pass (extremely rare) and just needs to be supernaturally fast for his size. There’s a reason Derrick Brooks and Brian Urlacher are both hall of famers. I think Luke Kuechly might be the only guy in the NFL who fits this need.
4. Fast, swarming outside linebackers. The Bucs actually have this partially covered because Lavonte David is one of the best in the game. I also think Sean Weatherspoon with Atlanta (and Mizzou stalwart) would be a good fit. The thing with the Tampa 2 is that you really need three good linebackers, but when you have that group it makes running the ball very difficult.
5. A ballhawking corner who can also play the run. Again, talk about rare. Peanut Tillman was perfect in this job. The guy doesn’t have to be a great cover guy but he has to be able to tackle. Vontae Davis is good at bump and run. Really any corner on this list would work but you’re going to have to spend a high draft pick, or be a development wizard like Pete Carroll.
6. A play making safety. This can come in different forms. John Lynch was a monster against the run (I do not condone the tackling in the last video; I think he led with the crown of his helmet at least 70 percent of the time). Bears safety Mike Brown did it more with interceptions. I like Eric Weddle in this role in my Tampa 2.