Dallas Cowboys: Breaking Down the Team's Transition to the Tampa 2 Defense

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Dallas Cowboys: Breaking Down the Team's Transition to the Tampa 2 Defense
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In the wake of the Monte Kiffin hiring, the Cowboys are hoping that their defense can effectively transition to the Tampa 2 defense

Cowboys fans are too.

The truth is that many of us are just hoping that the Cowboys know what they're doing.  Most of us don't know a thing about the Tampa 2 and what it means for this team. 

I'm going to attempt to break it down for you. 


The Terminology

The switch to the 4-3/Tampa 2 comes as a big change, not only to players, but to fans as well. 

When you hear people discussing the switch you may run across some terms that you’re not familiar with.  Before I even begin to break down this defense, I’d like to explain them to you.

Sam Linebacker: The “sam” linebacker is your strong side linebacker.  A Sam linebacker will line up on the strongest side of the formation dictated by TE/WR sets.  The Sam linebacker should be strong and fast.  His biggest priority is filling his gap to stop the run.

Mike Linebacker: The “mike” linebacker is an athletic linebacker who is both strong and fast.  He is the key to the Tampa 2 scheme.  It is his responsibility to cover deep routes in the seam.  If there isn’t a deep seam route,  the mike linebacker will rally to the rusher or short reception.  Excellent pursuit skills and awareness are imperative.

Will Linebacker: The “will” linebacker is an athletic player who is exceptionally quick and excels in coverage.  The will linebacker must be trusted in pursuit and zone coverage. Often the will linebacker will have opportunities to force turnovers.

The below image will help you correlate these definitions with X's and O's.

1, 3, and 5 technique: The numbers associated with the word “technique” indicate the position where the defensive lineman is aligned. In the base 4-3, the “1” gap refers to the shoulder of the center, the “3” gap refers to the outside shoulder of the guard and the “5” gap is the outside shoulder of the tackle.

Below you will see the technique alignments.

 

The Projected Lineup

5-Technique End: DeMarcus Ware (This should be your best pass-rusher.)

3-Technique Tackle: Jay Ratliff or Jason Hatcher

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

1-Technique Tackle: Draft pick or Sean Lissemore

Strong Defensive End: Tyrone Crawford

Sam: Alex Albright or Kyle Wilber

Mike: Sean Lee

Will: Bruce Carter

Cornerbacks: Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne

Strong Safety: Barry Church

Free Safety: Draft pick, Gerald Sensabaugh or Matt Johnson


The Scheme

Now that you have a basic handle on the defensive terms and the projected Cowboys defensive lineup in 2013, we can now discuss the basic principles of the scheme.

The Tampa 2 defense is designed to eliminate the big play.  The safeties' responsibility is to play deep to take away fly routes. 

The big difference between the Tampa 2 and the Cover 2 is that the Tampa 2 relies on the mike linebacker to drop into coverage to take away deep middle routes. 

Here is a good way to look at the Tampa 2 defensive alignments.

You’ll see that I divided the field into seven sections.  This shows how the field is separated in the Tampa 2.  In this scheme you can allow the under routes and you depend on your players to rally to receivers. 

One dynamic feature of the Tampa 2 is that it is designed to allow your defenders to take risks.  The Cowboys have been near the bottom of the league in interceptions for years.  The Tampa 2 should change that.

Where the Tampa 2 gets dangerous is when you deviate from the basic look.  You can shift players to confuse the offense without compromising the integrity of the scheme.  Additionally, you can line up in the base defense while executing a blitz with little opponent recognition. 

 

The Cowboys Twist

This is where things get more interesting. 

The Cowboys' personnel will have to be mixed and matched to this scheme. it seems to be tailor-made for Sean Lee and Bruce Carter.  Lee’s awareness and ability to recognize plays makes him the perfect mike linebacker.  Carter’s raw athleticism and knack for making plays makes him the perfect candidate to emulate Derrick Brooks as the will linebacker.

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

On the other side, the Cowboys have a large financial commitment to their corners, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, and the Tampa 2 is a scheme that doesn’t require shutdown corners.

This is where I expect Monte Kiffin to get creative.

The Cowboys trust their corners to be able to adapt.  They are highly skilled players who are going to be successful.  I don’t see this as being the huge problem that some foresee.

In fact, I think it’s a blessing.

The ability of Claiborne and Carr will allow the Cowboys to implement some Cover 1 and Cover 0 defenses to maximize pressure.

The Tampa 2 as a scheme relies on the defensive linemen getting up field to rush the passer.  This is where Ware and Ratliff will be dangerous.  Ware is one of the most talented pass-rushers of all time.  He will get ample opportunities to make plays.  Consider him like Simeon Rice of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their successful days.

 

The Challenges

This team isn’t completely ready for the switch yet.  They are still missing some key pieces. 

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Cowboys will have to find a way to acquire a true nose tackle.  They will need a 1-technique guy who can maintain gaps, stop the run and still be a factor in rushing the passer.  Think Warren Sapp.

Another glaring need for the Cowboys is a rangy safety who can fly to the ball, make plays and create turnovers.  It’s been a long time since the Cowboys had a ball-hawking safety.  One will be necessary in this scheme.

 

How do you feel about the Tampa 2 switch?

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Summary

Cowboys fans should be excited about the transition to the Tampa 2.  It will play to the strengths of all the Cowboys' key players.

While there are still questions about personnel fits and acquisitions, I believe the Cowboys will be able to successfully implement this scheme.

In doing so, they will return to defensive dominance and NFC relevance.

 

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