IRVING, Texas – With Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett on the verge of naming Monte Kiffin as the defensive coordinator replacing Rob Ryan, there's been plenty of discussion on the style of defense that Kiffin will bring with him to Dallas. But it's a scheme that Cowboys fans have seen before.
Under Dave Campo and Mike Zimmer, the Tampa 2 defense was used here with some nice success, but the biggest difference in the way the Cowboys ran it compared to Kiffin's version is that he had John Lynch, Ronde Barber, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and Simeon Rice. Even during the first season with Bill Parcells, Zimmer was calling defenses with La'Roi Glover and Dat Nguyen in this Tampa 2 look until Parcells convinced Jones that it was easier to find players to play in the 3-4, since it was a cheaper form of defense to play, because you didn't have to pay the outside linebacker what you were paying defensive ends.
The roots of the defense really didn't start in Tampa. I remember when I was in Green Bay Tony Dungy spoke about how he learned the defense when he was a player with the Steelers under Chuck Noll and long-time defensive coordinator Bud Carson. It was Carson that took advantage of middle linebacker Jack Lambert's athletic ability to play in coverage. Dungy did the same thing with Hardy Nickerson and Shelton Quarles in the way he dropped them between the two deep safeties which affected routes that were run in the middle of the field. Dungy and Kiffin took the concept of the defense to handle teams that were running the West Coast offenses, which were becoming so popular at the time. The key to the defense is having an attacking defensive front, but it's also a defense built on speed and its ability to rally to the ball.
In the 3-4 defense Ryan played, it was a two-gap system which required the defensive line to fire their hands into the blockers, hold the block, then shed one way or the other. Head inside, head outside. In this Tampa 2 scheme, the linemen try and get up the field as fast as they can. In scouting terms it is called "Grabbing a gap". This is where Warren Sapp was at his absolute best, as was Glover when he played here. Sapp and Glover would play on the outside shoulder of the guard, or in a "3 technique," and attack that shoulder, trying to be as disruptive as possible. Opposite of the "3 technique" is what is known as the "1 technique," and he's the heavy guy that plays on the inside shoulder of the guard. His job is to control that area with power. You will hear terms being thrown around when talking about this defense and the types of front they play. An "Under" front is when the defensive line is shaded to the weak side of the formation or an "Over" front that is shaded to the strong side. The over and under has to deal with the positioning of the "1 technique," and the other defensive linemen adjust off that. What this front allows is switches and stunts without putting the defense at risk.
The Tampa 2 defense is really simple in the coverage scheme, which should help this secondary when it comes to lining up. The quarterback of this defense is the free safety, who's responsible for the communication with the other members of the secondary. Most people just think this is a zone scheme, but it's more than that. There are man-coverage, man-under and zone blitz schemes out of this defense. Where it will be different for these Cowboys corners is that they'll have to be more physical playing the run. Their job will be to try and funnel plays inside to the linebackers and safeties.
Ronde Barber has had a Hall of Fame career playing in this scheme, because he's not afraid to tackle, and he can be physical at the point of attack. In coverage, these corners will play at the line and will get jams on these receivers, because if they don't, it will make it difficult for these safeties to have to cover. The one advantage is that Tampa 2 corners do a really nice job of using the sideline as an extra defender. If you ever watch the Bears' corners play, Tillman and Jennings do an outstanding job of playing the scheme using the sideline, but they're also effective in their ability to jump routes. You will see these corners press, then bail in coverage and drop to their areas. The safeties in this scheme play in the deep half, but they'll also adjust or rotate to help in the running game by getting the extra defender in the box. Safeties also have to be able to see the entire field and understand where they fit in the coverage.
The design of the defense is bend but don't break, making sure to eliminate the big play. It makes the offense have to drive the ball in order to have success, and it requires an offense to be very patient in the way they attack it. It's designed to allow the underneath stuff, but the speed of the defense takes care of that. In terms of the Tampa Bay personnel compared to this current Cowboys squad, think of DeMarcus Ware as Simeon Rice, Bruce Carter as Derrick Brooks, Sean Lee as Shelton Quarles and Barry Church as John Lynch, with Jay Ratliff as Warren Sapp. I don't believe the coverage part will be a problem for Carr and Claiborne, but how physical they can be trying to do those things I spoke of in funneling runs inside or playing the run when he gets to the outside will be important. This defense will not have all the bells and whistle that Rob Ryan had, but scheme-wise it is much simpler and gives the defenders a chance to make plays.