Detroit Lions' 2009 Defensive Philosophy: "Get After 'Em!"

Greg Eno@@GregEnoSenior Analyst IMay 30, 2009

ALLEN PARK, MI - MAY 01: Head coach Jim Schwartz of the Detroit Lions looks on during rookie orientation camp at the Detroit Lions Headquarters and Training Facility on May 1, 2009 in Allen Park, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

There are some things that, if a comedian needed a quick laugh to salvage his act, he could mention to get some cheap guffaws.

Swamp land in New Jersey.

Passing gas.

George W. Bush.

In Detroit, in a room full of football fans, the comedian might try this one.

The Tampa Two.

I can see the side-splitting laughter right now, even as I type this.

The Tampa Two!

Oh, I'd better stop. I'm making myself cry here.

A struggling comic could bust up a room in Detroit with such an utterance.

Jim Schwartz is the new football coach for the Lions. He comes with defensive chops and none of those chops were garnered with anything near in strategy to the Tampa Two.

Schwartz coordinated the defense in Tennessee for eight years. His philosophy is fairly simple.

Quarterbacks don't do so well with behemoths invading their personal space.

The Lions, from 2006-08 under Rod Marinelli and his son-in-law, played the Tampa Two—a philosophy that says something else.

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A blend of the Cover Two and Cover Three, the Tampa Two drops two members of the secondary, usually safeties, into deep zone coverage, and retains the middle linebacker to cover mid-to-deep routes over the middle of the field.

The theory? Keep big plays to a minimum, conceding short yardage plays. You have to tackle under such a system and pass cover on the corners like flypaper.

The Lions never had anywhere near the right personnel to make the Tampa Two successful.

The system requires a ball-hawking middle linebacker with speed and excellent tackling skills.

It wasn't the first time the Lions were victimized by the stubborn insistence on a coaching philosophy that didn't fit their roster's strength.

Steve Mariucci traveled across the country from San Francisco to Detroit in 2003. From day one, he let it be known that the West Coast Offense was the flavor of the day—every day, for as long as he and the Lions both shall live.

Forget that the Lions' quarterback, Joey Harrington, hadn't run anything close to the West Coast Offense in college or in the pros. Forget that the Lions' receivers—and you had to have excellent slot guys under such a system—were better suited for a more vertical kind of game.

Mariucci kept trying to put his round peg into his roster's square hole.

That is, right up until the day he got fired.

Then came Marinelli, who along with his son-in-law, Joe Barry, had some success with the Tampa Two while assisting with the Buccaneers.

Even the most casual fan could look at the rosters of the Bucs and the Lions and determine, with relative certainty, that the Tampa Two was likely to fail in Detroit.

Marinelli and Barry, like Mooch with his offense, stubbornly stuck with the Tampa Two to the tune of defensive rankings that annually scraped the bottom of the NFL barrel.

In 2008, the Lions posted the second-worst defense, in terms of points allowed, in NFL history.

Well, Jim Schwartz is here along with new defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham.

The Tampa Two is dead. Buried, along with the West Coast offense and the run-n-shoot and Andre Ware and Matt Millen and Lomas Brown playoff predictions.

Schwartz, according to early reports and the words from the horse's mouth, plans on letting Cunningham stay on a relatively long leash. Meaning, blitzing won't be discouraged and something called "getting after the quarterback" will be more than a pipe dream for Lions' fans.

Schwartz and Cunningham want the Lions to funnel plays toward the middle, using pressure from the outside—particularly from new outside linebacker Julian Peterson—to accomplish that.

This means that weak side LB Ernie Sims and MLB Larry Foote will need to play more instinctively and less programmed.

Cunningham had a very bad experience trying to run the Tampa Two in Kansas City.

He won't have to worry about that with the Lions, serving Schwartz, who shares Cunningham's "get after them" mentality.

Under the Tampa Two, "pass rush" were simply two four-letter words.

There's one more four-letter word I have for Rod Marinelli and Joe Barry.

Axed.