Posted September 8, 2006

[size=13pt]An old foe returns: The Tampa-2 defense [/size] [/b]]
Packers have seen plenty of it as the Bucs' Cover-2

By Rob Demovsky

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers aren't back in the Green Bay Packers' division. It only seems that way.

All three of the Packers' opponents in the NFC North will run the old Buccaneers' version of the Cover-2 defense, now known as the Tampa-2.

That's not good news for the Packers, who have had their share of struggles against the defense hatched in the 1990s by Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy when he was running the Bucs.

The Packers probably will see the best example of it Sunday, when the Chicago Bears come to Lambeau Field.

The Bears' third-year coach, Lovie Smith, learned the defense from Dungy and Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin while serving as Tampa Bay's linebackers coach from 1996 to 2000. He took it to St. Louis, when he was the defensive coordinator of the Rams from 2001 to 2003. In both places, the defense gave the Packers fits.

For the first time, the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings also will be running almost the same defense.

The Lions' first-year head coach, Rod Marinelli, was the Bucs' defensive line coach for 10 years. First-year Vikings coach Brad Childress, whose strength is offense, hired Tampa Bay's defensive backs coach, Mike Tomlin, to run the Tampa-2 defense for him.

"We'll get plenty of work at it," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "That's for sure."

The principles of the Cover-2 date to the 1970s, when Bud Carson built it for Pittsburgh Steelers. Dungy was a safety for the Steelers and played in their Super Bowl XIII victory over Dallas.

The gist of the defense is this:

Most of the pass rush comes from the four linemen, though there are occasional blitzes built in.

The cornerbacks and linebackers cover the short and underneath routes and the safeties are deep in zone coverage, splitting the field in half.

It usually takes an athletic middle linebacker who can cover the middle of the field and defend the pass.

By keeping the opponent's big-play threats in front of the safeties, the goal is not to give up big plays down the field.

"The key to that style of defense, and you think of Tampa several years ago, is the front four," Packers quarterback Brett Favre said. "Can they put enough pressure on the passer with four guys? If you can do that, why blitz? They drop seven into coverage. They don't get out of place.

"If you have plenty of time to throw, you'll find seams. The way to beat it is to protect. More than likely, if you're seeing plenty of Tampa-2, you're behind in the game."

Like against any defense, the key is keeping yourself out of second-and-long or third-and-long situations. That means running the ball effectively on first down. In the Packers' 24-17 loss to the Bears last Christmas Day, they managed only 65 yards rushing on 21 carries.

"We're going to have to run the ball," tight end Bubba Franks said, "because if you don't run the ball, you can't pass on it."

McCarthy said: "Every time they're in Tampa-2, you'd like to be running the football. That'd be to the advantage of the offense. When you're throwing the ball, their whole perimeter has their eyes glued to the quarterback."

What can make it difficult to run against is that the Bears, and other Cover-2 teams, find ways to disguise their safeties.

"Everything starts in a Cover-2 shell and then before the snap, they'll roll an extra safety down to get a safety in the box," offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski said. "You have to be patient and hit some things in the holes because in zone coverage there are holes there. You've just got to find them. In Cover-3, they're in the inside seams. In Cover-2, they're more in the outside seam routes."

In a copycat league like the NFL, Smith can't be surprised that the Tampa-2 has made the rounds to other teams, but it won't make it any easier on the Bears that two of its division foes also are running it.

"It has to help other teams preparing for us," Smith said. "But it's helping our offense, too, because they practice against what they're going to see the majority of the time."