This week, the Lions opponent will be division rival Chicago Bears. Since 2004, the Bears have been running what’s called the Tampa-2. Of course, us Lions fans don’t need to be introduced to the Tampa-2; it’s the same failed scheme that Rod Marinelli ran in 2007 and 2008. Ironically enough, he is also the man running the Tampa two in Windy City. The biggest misconception about the “Tampa-2” is that it was “invented” by former Tampa Bay head coach Tony Dungy. In reality, however, the Tampa-2 was never invented in Tampa or by anyone at Tampa. Its origins actually go back to Chuck Noll and Bud Carson’s Pittsburgh defense in the 70’s, popularly known as the Steel Curtain. The reason why it’s called the Tampa two is because Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin sort of reintroduced the NFL to the unique, slightly modified cover 2 scheme in 1996 at Tampa Bay, and since then has been very successful.
A lot of what I am going write about the Tampa-2 scheme is coming straight from Matt Bowen’s article over National Football Post, so go ahead read through that too if you want a more in-depth understanding. Above, I mentioned that the Tampa-2 is a slightly modified edition of the Cover 2, which is the standard NFL defense with two safeties, two corners, three linebackers, and four defensive linemen. The difference is that in a cover two scheme, only the safeties drop back deep to cover the deep end of the field, while in a Tampa-2, the safeties and the middle linebackers drops back with the safeties. To do so, the middle linebacker needs to have exceptional speed and coverage skills along with pretty good tackling skills. In other words, Brian Urlacher is the perfect Tampa-2 middle linebacker.
Having played safety is college, he had the right type of experience and skillset needed for Lovie Smith’s defense, and is one of biggest reason that the Bears have been so successful over the years in running this scheme2. The philosophy behind the Tampa-2 is simple: get pass rush with the front four, force the quarterback to throw the ball as soon as possible and converge on the player that catches the ball and get him down on the ground hard. There are of course positives and negatives to this ideology. The positives are of course that there almost always a tackle made as everything is usually in front of the defense and a gang of tacklers usually converge on the ball, but there are also many negatives (which we are more concerned with).
For one, not utilizing linebackers in blitzes means that if you have a weak front four, then there is no chance of success, like the Detroit Lions of 2008 and 2009. (Note that it doesn’t mean that a Tampa Two team will never blitz linebackers. In fact, the Bears took the exact opposite strategy in week one, when they continually blitzed Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs). Last year, the Bears lacked the type of defensive ends that could consistently get pressure on the quarterback, which is the biggest reason the Bears are willing to pay Julius Peppers close to $110 million dollars. Another point that gets missed when discussing Tampa-2 defenses is the role of defensive tackles. As I stated above, the middle linebacker in this scheme drops back farther than most regular schemes, which means that there is a big hole left in the middle of the field. If a pass were to be completed to the middle of the field, the closest defensive player to the ball very well could be a defensive tackle. Adding to the same point, draw plays right up the middle should be very effective against a Tampa-2 as there is no one immediately to guard the middle of the field; the trick is obviously to get through the front four, especially a Bears front four that features Tommie Harris, Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije, who actually has more sacks than Peppers.
Now, what do the Lions need to do and which player’s performance is crucial in order for the Lions offense to be successful? I would have to say that the most important player would be Maurice Morris. In week one, Jahvid Best only managed 20 yards rushing on 14 carries, which made the Lions a one dimensional offense. Shaun Hill and Matthew Stafford were able to do a decent job even with that disadvantage, but Drew Stanton won’t be. Morris is capable of having good games, and has generally been a solid back. If he can give the Lions around 75- 85 yards on the ground, then it would go a long way towards a Lions win. The other position that needs to play well for the Lions is the tight ends. Last year, tight ends against the Bears combined for 68 receptions, and 676 yards, which would rank 10th amongst tight ends. In week one, Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew combined for seven receptions for 49 yards. Those stats need to double against the Bears in order for them have a chance on Sunday.