The "Tampa Two" Defense:

As football fans know, the Superbowl will match two teams with head coaches who are products of the "Cover Two" or "Tampa Two" defensive schemes. Although watching the games last weekend, I recognized it much more in the Bears than in the Colts, especially with the way they are using Bob Sanders to try to shore up against the run, but I may just not be as familiar with the Colts as the Bears as I saw the Bears play many more times this year than the Colts.

Anyway, this fall Sports Illustrated had a brilliant article analyzing the Tampa Two defensive scheme (I had never heard it referred to by that moniker until reading the article), its history, how it works, and how to attack it. It really opened my eyes as to what they are trying to do out there. Must-read material in anticipation of the Super Bowl. And if you are a casual fan invited to a Super Bowl party, if you read this one article you'll be able to drop many an insight sure to impress your host.

The article may be for subscribers only. The article was printed in the November 27, 2006 issue if you want to try to locate it somewhere else.

The online version of the article appears to omits some of the supplementary material that was in the print version, especially a fascinating sidebar on the "prototypes" for each of the the various positions. Of particular interest to me was the observation that Jack Lambert was the prototypical middle linebacker in the Cover Two scheme (because of his speed and athleticism) and Mel Blount was the prototype cornerback (because of his size and physical play). If the sidebar is somewhere on the SI website and I just missed it, please post it in the Comments if you find it.

I recall reading once that there are only two types of sports magazines--Sports Illustrated and everything else. I think this is a good example of that observation.

As football fans know, the Superbowl will match two teams with head coaches who are products of the "Cover Two" or "Tampa Two" defensive schemes.

I think this is slightly off. Dungy and Smith are not "products" of Tampa Two defensive schemes. They are architects of the Tampa Two defensive scheme, since they, you know, invented it when Dungy was head coach and Smith linebackers coach at Tampa.
1.25.2007 9:51am

I think this is slightly off. Dungy and Smith are not "products" of Tampa Two defensive schemes. They are architects of the Tampa Two defensive scheme, since they, you know, invented it when Dungy was head coach and Smith linebackers coach at Tampa.

Bud Carson is the architect of the Cover 2.
1.25.2007 10:08am
Brady Quinn (mail):
Dungy and Smith invented the Tampa Two defensive scheme and should, therefore, know how best to attack it. For this reason I believe the game will be an offensive shootout. I'm really looking forward to this Super Bowl more than any other in recent memory.
1.25.2007 10:27am
Goober (mail):
It's a common misconception that the Colts use the Tampas Two defense. But if you look closely it's possible to see that Indianapolis doesn't employ any defense at all.
1.25.2007 10:45am
Alan P (mail):
for the best football analysis site go to

football outsiders
1.25.2007 10:47am
Goober--its possible to simultaenously employ the Tampa Two defense and no defense at all. See the Detroit Lions, 2006 Season.
1.25.2007 10:54am
great unknown (mail):
Except when SI gets involved in politics. Case in point: the Duke false-accusation scandal, where SI came down rather strongly on the side of fraud and deception.
1.25.2007 10:56am
Aaron Benedict (www):
It's not a surprise that Lambert and Blount are prototypes for this defensive scheme. As SeaLawyer pointed out, Bud Carson is the creator of this defense when he was the Defensive Coordinator for the Steelers in the 1970's. This is something that Dungey has said in different interviews.

In fact there is a certain amount of symmetry here since the new Steelers head coach is also a uses the "tampa two" defense.
1.25.2007 10:58am
DrObviousSo (mail) (www):
for the best football analysis site go to

football outsiders

Quoted for absolute, 100% truth. It is by far the best sports writing available.
1.25.2007 11:26am
Witness (mail):
This raises an interesting question I've always pondered: Why is football (and perhaps other sports in general) not an academic subject taught in a university setting?
1.25.2007 11:31am
Witness, it is. But it's only taught to the hundreds of unpaid professional athletes posing as college students, the median grade is an A, and the exam includes questions like "who's the best football coach in the country" (answer = the coach of the football team at your school)
1.25.2007 11:33am
The base cover two defense was popularized by the Steel curtain (of which Tony Dungy was a key component). However, the style dates back to Bobby Dodd's Ga Tech teams of the 1940's.

The Tampa two variant utilizes a zone blitz scheme executed from the weakside, thereby allowing a safety to come off the edge and fill on the run, or to rush, while dropping a DE into coverage in the flat. A deep drop by the middle linebacker covered the gap in the middle of the defense, while the strong side CB rotates to cover deep half.

The Tampa two defense requires a dominant DT, who can command a double team, freeing up one-one one blocking against the rush end, allowing the blitz off the corner to speed rush past the blocker and pressure the quarterback. Tampa had Warren Sapp at DT, and John Lynch at safety, which made the defense work.
1.25.2007 11:38am
DNL (mail):
Football Outsiders does this sort of work regularly.
1.25.2007 11:50am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Why is football (and perhaps other sports in general) not an academic subject taught in a university setting?

What anonVCfan said. When Joe Restic was running the multiflex offense at Harvard in the 1980s a for-credit house seminar (that is, a smaller course taught by a resident tutor of a house [college at Oxford/Cambridge/Yale] at the house) on the multiflex was offered at the house where the letter-sport jocks typically lived.

But the course Witness desires was probably a pre-requisite. I've seen primers published some autumns usually with titles like "How to sound knowledgable in what your boyfriend is paying attention to instead of you") but this is one of those father-to-son things that you might not learn otherwise. I was disappointed in school that academic subjects in public school taught and retaught the fundamentals, step by step, grade by grade, but somewhere around when we stopped playing little kid games in gym, around 5th grade, all of the gym instruction (such as it was) assumed knowledge that had never been taught. It doesn't do much good to start a lecture with "Suppose you're going for a 3-point lay-up" when the student has no idea of what you're talking about. That's why I favored less popular sports like wrestling and trampoline where we were starting at an equal footing (and where being short, squat and slow were less of a disadvantage.) (That was in school. There was no intersection between paddleball or frisbee or bicycling or free diving and school.)
1.25.2007 12:07pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Football does have the advantage that while you can study it deeply and get more enjoyment out of it, the fundamentals (ball going this way good, ball going that way bad) are obvious, and it's got a good rhythm for a ritual, whether at the stadium or on television.

Baseball also has its rhythm, well-suited to hot summer afternoons. I think my local minor league team doesn't respect that zen, breaking the rhythm with some sort of schtick every half inning.
1.25.2007 12:17pm
Kovarsky (mail):
Kovarsky's razor-

anybody that says football doesn't suck compared to baseball themselves sucks.
1.25.2007 12:28pm
Steve P. (mail):
Prof. Zywicki--
I'm surprised that you didn't mention Mike Tomlin, the new Steelers head coach, and how he is also a product of Dungy's Tampa Two defense. In fact, that is how he was so successful as Minnesota's defensive coordinator, bringing the Vikings up to #1 against the run. A good question to consider is how he will modify LeBeau's 3-4 defense.
1.25.2007 12:29pm
Witness (mail):
David Chesler and AnonVCFan,

Yeah, I realize those types of "classes" exist. I'm talking more about an "academic" approach to sports, available for players and non-players alike, where theories and strategies can be developed not merely as a pragmatic aid to the athletic program. It just seems strange that an industry as popular as professional sports doesn't have a scholarly base cultivating its future pioneers. I mean, we have film schools and culinary schools and fashion schools (sometimes on the campuses of major research institutions) but not "football schools."
1.25.2007 12:31pm
I recall reading once that there are only two types of sports magazines--Sports Illustrated and everything else.

I suppose I will third the recommendation that Todd pay a visit to, and perhaps even pick up a copy of their Pro Football Prospectus 2006.
1.25.2007 12:33pm
for the best football analysis site go to

football outsiders
Quoted for absolute, 100% truth. It is by far the best sports writing available.

Agree. SI is not even close.
1.25.2007 12:34pm
Witness (mail):
Also, I imagine the primary reason we don't see football treated with more academic seriousness is a false presumption that jocks are dumb and sports are intellectually facile. Relatedly, there would be rampant skepticism and indignant outrage if a university created such a program, as many would view it as simply a way to get players through school more easily.
1.25.2007 12:35pm
Well "jocks," at least in the form of students who play on competitive college teams, are on average dumber then the other students at their institution. The misconception is that people who enjoy watching sports are dumb.
1.25.2007 12:55pm
Witness (mail):

By stating that jocks are "on average dumber then" [sic] other students at their institution, I assume you're relying on things like their relative in-class performance and graduation rates. But if football were recognized as a legitimate academic pursuit and scholarly classes were offered on the subject, might that not change? And even in the interim, shouldn't their football intelligence be factored into the equation for determining how "dumb" they really are?

Again, the perception is that football is intellectually easy. And it's a self-reinforcing one because it prevents serious consideration of football as an academic pursuit, which in turn prevents "jocks" (and non-jocks alike) from developing and demonstrating their particular brand of intelligence from a perspective that would be respected by the outside world.
1.25.2007 1:13pm
Silicon Valley Jim:
Several years back, a former Bengals running back (I don't remember the name) was a defendant in a criminal trial. During the trial, it was discovered that he was illiterate. I think that that says a good deal about "football intelligence".

I doubt, by the way, that that running back was a rare exception among NFL players.
1.25.2007 1:33pm
Witness (mail):
I think that that says a good deal about "football intelligence".

Yes, it could say, for example, that football intelligence does not require the ability to read or write. Or it could say that not all successful players possess football intelligence. Or it could say that James Brooks was lying in order to get out of his $100K child support obligation. Or it could say something else altogether.

Regardless, if football were treated seriously in academic circles, don't you think it would only serve to lower the rates of illiteracy (which I doubt are as high as you presume) among football players?
1.25.2007 1:48pm
Silicon Valley Jim, if you look at Wonderlic scores, running backs are almost always at or near the bottom, basically because it doesn't take much brains to figure out which lineman you are supposed to run behind.
1.25.2007 1:48pm

The Bucs also had Brooks at MLB and Barber as a cover corner. They had a marquee player at every level in the defense. They probably could have played any scheme and made it work.
1.25.2007 1:59pm
Chess isn't recognized as a legitimate academic pursuit. Many academics might respect it as a worthwhile hobby, but it's not an area of academic study. The idea that a particular sport, no mater how intellectually engaging, should be considered a serious scholarly field (and get research money that would otherwise go to other fields), is ridiculous. I can't believe you were serious; I thought you were joking, and I responded likewise (thus the ineloquent language).
1.25.2007 2:01pm
The rates of graduation for football players are not below the average college student - this is a common misperception. And this in itself is amazing because of the huge amount of time they have to devote to the sport.

The comment that illiteracy isn't rare in the NFL is so idiotic so as to barely warrant a response. It's also stupid to equate illiteracy with intelligence.
1.25.2007 2:02pm
I like the 'jocks as victims social preconceptions' comment. Oh, the poor, poor victimized 'jocks,' (your word) because of the massive social stereotypes they have to live with, they never have a chance to succeed academically. What a harsh world we live in.

I enjoy both playing and watching sports (and I consider myself relatively athletic), but lets get some perspective.
1.25.2007 2:07pm
Hattio (mail):
David Chesler,
How do you go for a three point layup anyway? Intentionally draw the foul?

Hattio's theorem. Anyone who finds any worth whatsoever in baseball not only sucks, but sucks with an absolute suckiness.

Silicon Valley Jim,
I think you will find many people who are both illiterate and intelligent. I mean, this guy obviously was blessed with immense physical and athletic ability. But so are tons of others. And the smart ones manage to parlay that into a college career that's frankly a pretty sweet deal whether they're getting paid or not, and if they're lucky a lucrative career. There are plenty of people with the same physical and athletic ability who are using it to be the top dog in their dorm in the prison. The fact that he had the intelligence to figure out how to use his skills in a difficult game, and play that into a lucrative career says something for his intelligence.
1.25.2007 2:08pm
Witness, you're correct to point out that there is some degree of intelligence that goes into coaches designing plays. It takes some intelligence to coach a football team.

There are 2 reasons, I think, why football isn't taken seriously in academic circles.

One is that football culture is anti-intellectual, even in the Ivy Leagues. For every true "student-athlete," there are hundreds of morons who resent the fact that they have to contend with the distraction of classes between high school and either the NFL or obscurity.

The other reason is that sports is a watered-down, simplified version of reality. Where your whole universe is a rectangle of turf, everyone knows the rules, the consequences of every decision are at least somewhat predictable (e.g. every coach understands the risk/reward calculation involved in going for it on fourth down), success is easily quantified, and every year you can tear the whole thing up and start over again, the people who succeed in this universe don't deserve respect from academics.

Maybe football is like chess with bigger, slightly more intelligent pieces, but chess isn't taken seriously by academics either, except as an occasionally useful illustration of larger principles.

Compare designing a defense to running a business or a government, or any other challenging task in real life.
1.25.2007 2:11pm
Steve Lubet (mail):
i believe that the graduation rate for football players is considerably lower than the graduation rate for other students who receive full scholarships, that being a more useful comparison.
1.25.2007 2:12pm
Witness (mail):

Do you feel that it's also "ridiculous" to consider things like advertising, journalism, and public relations as serious scholarly fields and give them research money? These fields seem vocational in nature, yet they are given departments at major research institutions.

What about dance, film, theater, or creative writing? These fields exist primarily to entertain audiences (much like sports), yet they are also given academic recognition.

Perhaps if chess were as profitable or popular an industry in the US as football, your analogy would be more well-taken. But it seems that we have no problem according academic status to fields that make us money or from which we derive entertainment, sports being one of the exceptions.
1.25.2007 2:17pm
Professor Lubet,
I don't see why that would be the more "useful" comparison. It depends on what you are using it for. A couple of the comments indicated that football players are dumber than the average student population. I think that's silly and unsupported and the graduation rate is relevant compared to the student population for those purposes.
If your purpose is to demonstrate that the scholarships are being squandered, maybe your comparision would be more "useful." I would disagree with it, but see the relevance. I don't see the relevance or usefulness to the point we were discussing.
1.25.2007 2:20pm

The idea that a particular sport, no mater how intellectually engaging, should be considered a serious scholarly field (and get research money that would otherwise go to other fields), is ridiculous.

IBM spent quite a bit of research money to develop Deep Blue (its chess-playing supercomputer), presumably because they hoped to apply the technology to other applications. Who's to say that there is no value in looking at how different football strategies have emerged, how they transformed the game and have caused others to adapt their strategies? No less useful than many other sociological studies, I imagine.
I'm not suggesting that we replace the National Institute of Health with the National Institute of Football, but I don't think it is fair to be so completely dismissive.
1.25.2007 2:22pm
Witness (mail):

I appreciate your thoughtful engagement of the subject. Many probably doubt that I'm being genuinely serious here, but I am.

I think the first reason you cited is very much accurate, but again, I think the anti-intellectual culture of football would change if the anti-football culture of academia would be willing to do so as well.

Your second reason, however, is intriguing to me. I think there are plenty of examples of fields that involve "watered down versions of reality." I also think you make a few false assumptions about coaching football, particularly that the risk/reward calculations are easy and that you can "tear the thing up" and start over again the next year (which simply isn't true in the salary cap era). I will certainly consider your point, though, as it's a good one.
1.25.2007 2:25pm
Nicely done, but I think anyone who could understand that explanation didn't need it.
1.25.2007 2:56pm
Silicon Valley Jim:

As a rabid and heavily tortured Bengals fan, I can tell you that the defendant in question was Bengals great James Brooks, one of the keys to the Boomer Esiason-era teams. The trial (I think) was civil and related to child support payments, but I could be wrong. He ended up using his illiteracy as a defense, saying he didn't understand the written agreements he had signed.

The real scandal was that the man had attended Auburn for several years and I believe obtained a degree. A less-publicized event occurred after the trial when Auburn footed the bill for his remedial literacy lessons.
1.25.2007 2:57pm
Al Maviva (mail) (www):
jocks are on average dumber then the other students at their institution...

For every true "student-athlete," there are hundreds of morons who resent the fact that they have to contend with the distraction of classes between high school and either the NFL or obscurity.

Wow, not that we'd ever condone stereotyping here, but...

In my top 20 law school graduating class of around 220, we had roughly a dozen former D-I athletes, and a similar number of D-III or high level amateur athletes from olympic sports. We also had a top judo player (olympic trialist), a former minor league hockey player, a former pro (up to AAA) baseball player, and so forth. Yeah, our intramural teams kicked the B-school's butt.

Seems to me, the sample should have skewed much further towards the idiots if the assumptions stated above about college athletes (occasionally students, but predominantly morons awaiting NFL employment) were true. Most student athletes in the NCAA's 25 or so sports, in its 2500 or so colleges and universities, have no hope of professional athletic careers; you really think the vast majority of them are sub-par students? Let's take the worst though - big time D-I football, and how star players are treated. I was friends with a couple of the 'morons,' both of whom played football at the school's undergraduate institution, both of whom played pro ball for a couple years - star caliber players in college. I asked about the 'morons awaiting NFL employment' thing. They told me about how their particular coach mandated brutal amounts of study hall hours. Some people managed to evade learning, but they explained that for the most part, the 105 or so players on the roster did pretty well academically and typically had a higher than campus average GPA. They faced daily mandatory study hall, paid tutors that would check up on them regularly, professors having problems with individual students were encouraged to report problems early, and the academic management for the team ensured low but-not-failing grades were met with the punishment of more mandatory study hall and tutoring. My colleagues claimed this made it pretty easy to score good grades and many former players went on to grad school. Does every D-I school do it this way? Hell no, not as long as Bob Huggins is alive. But I'm sure plenty of them do, because a I was buddies with two of the D-I basketball players, both were bench players in very good programs, one actually went to a legendary hoops school, and they reported similar experiences. Small sample size, but similar reports...

And while we're on the subject of perceived anti-intellectual people who are often written off as dumb, my graduating class also had a fair-sized ex-military contingent comprised primarily of grunts, intel types, and pilots, including a guy who was a "double" anti-intellectual if you buy into that stereotype, an ex-D-I football player and a Marine.

I might be careful about stereotyping all athletes as underachievers.
1.25.2007 3:34pm
MJG (mail):
The SI article is good, particularly as a primer. It does irritate me though that sometimes even the announcers will identify a team as running the "Tampa 2" when they are clearly mixing in some other defense. This happened a few times with the Colts where they clearly were in a man to man defense with a single deep safety and the announcers said they were running "Tampa 2."

I agree that Football Outsiders is fantastic. Also, I stumbled on a somewhat obscure blog awhile ago that appears to be frequented by a lot of coaches that I wasted about a full week back reading at

I thought these two articles were quite good as well.

Applying a little game theory to the choice between running and passing

Discussion of the "Spread offense"
1.25.2007 3:54pm
gvibes (mail):
Aaron - I thought the primary distinguishing characteristics of the Tampa Two were that a) in pass coverage, the MLB drops into a deep zone, leaving the CBs and OLBs in zone coverage underneath (kind of like a cover 3) and b) single gap responsibility up front against the run, meaning that penetration is highly valued (as it always is). The most obvious pass weaknesses of the Tampa Two against the pass are deeper sideline patterns, over the top of the CBs and outside the Ss, and deep middle over the MLB and between the safeties. Of course, if you have Urlacher, receivers rarely get behind him. Good run defense in the Tampa Two requires disciplined gap responsibility and good tackling. I didn't think the Tampa Two had any particular connection to the blitz schemes run.
1.25.2007 3:58pm
I agree that Football Outsiders is fantastic.

Yes, but it's just one of many examples of cutting-edge, innovative sports writing and analysis on the web (see, e.g., Baseball Prospectus, John Hollinger, King Kaufman). To claim that SI is still at the forefront of intelligent sports coverage is to ignore the reality that there's now very little reason to subscribe -- with articles like this one possibly excepted -- other than to look at glossy photographs.
1.25.2007 4:05pm
Hattio (mail):
Al Maviva.
Well said. BTW, did you go to Chicago-Kent. I was also friends with a guy who was a Marine/ex-football player doubly anti-intellectual. I'm curious if we're thinking of the same guy.
1.25.2007 4:25pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Witness, good point, especially when so many of the great coaches and GMs are too young, too skinny, or too fat to be or to have been great athletes. There is probably room for one or two schools that have academic football programs as serious as academic agricultural or hospitality programs. There is such thing as a phys ed degree -- your program could grow out of that.

I think it did take 4 credits worth of thinking to understand the multiflex -- this particular seminar wasn't just a gut to give the football team a break -- but it was inaccessible to anybody who didn't already have the background, and unlike Math for Poets, or Survey of Western Music, and so forth in literature, film, economics, foreign languages, etc., there was no formal or informal introductory course in sports (or chess.) I know that MIT has a phys ed requirement. Post-graduate I took a marksmanship course from that department that started with "this is the end the bullets come out of". Maybe they or other schools with phys ed requirements offer such introductory courses, though most such courses are not at all about theory and are about getting that corpore sano into which to keep the mens sana.

I think we discussed this in the Super Applicants thread. Being an athlete can get you into a school that your grades and SATs wouldn't get you into otherwise. (I suppose you could say that converse: kids with certain SATs and HS GPAs tend to be less athletic than kids with lower numbers at any given school.) But like Al Maviva said, it takes a lot of drive and discipline to do varsity sports, and drive and discipline can get you a lot further in the real world than SATs and GPAs. (Divisions and leagues that don't require the football team's academic credentials to have some correlation to the rest of the student body are probably more likely to recruit athletes who don't have anything except their sport going for them.)

Hattio, I have no idea. That 15 minutes was about my only formal basketball instruction before or since, and I could well be misremembering the words I didn't understand. I recognized that he was trying to express that the skill he was about to demonstrate was useful in a type of situation, and that the thing in his hand was a basketball, but that was about it.
1.25.2007 4:30pm
Kelvin McCabe (mail):
Let's not get carried away with all this intelligence talk. Wasn't it the Chicago Bears, not but 5 seasons ago or so, who had John Schoop (sp)as their offensive coordinator - -the oft made fun of "bunch offense" that the intelligent Yaley's figured could make a two yard pass in the flat get a first down when it was 3rd and 15? I REMEMBER THAT VIVIDLY!! As i was in law school in Chicago at the time. I have never been more mad at anything in my life. Schoop and Dick Jauron both i thought were ivy leaguers - or some such nonsense- i dont really recall because a) i was in law school and b)the Bears were so frustrating to watch. Just my $.02

Oh and I still live in the shire - so, GOOOOOOOOOOO BEAARRSSS!!!
1.25.2007 4:39pm
JunkYardLawDog (mail):
Not 100% on topic but I used to office with another lawyer who was such a big football fan that he dreamed of one day getting a job with management of the local NFL team. Every year he would tape games, college games, and track various college players and then send in his recommendations for draft picks to that NFL team.

He pestered them to the point that they would assign some guy to critique his suggestions. Often the critiques for suggested draft picks were lines like, "looks like Tarzan but plays like Jane". Anyway this particular attorney could be very nice and sometimes very irritating. During one of his very irritating periods he got me pissed off to the point I felt I needed some therapy.

I knew it was NFL draft time; that he had been trying to reach the general manager of the NFL team by phone; and that as usual he had sent in his suggested draft picks. So on the appropriate day and for the entire day, I would wait till he was on the phone and then I would call in on his line and tell his secretary I was the general manager for the local NFL team and wanted to speak to her boss (the attorney).

Well he went nuts because he missed the call, and more nuts when he would try to return the call and of course couldn't get through. Knowing that he would instruct his secretary to break in on any phone call should the GM call back, I waited for him to go on a bathroom break. As soon as he left his office I called in again and left another message. Nuts time all over again (evil smile). Then he tried to just hold is water so to speak and not leave his office for anything, while furiously trying to return these phone calls but never being able to get through to the GM of course. Not being a person of particular physical fortitude I knew he wouldn't be able to hold out all day. Sure enough, he finally had to take another bathroom break that afternoon.

Yep, soon as he left the office I called in to his line and told his secretary I was the GM for the NFL team still trying to get in touch with her boss (the attorney). Yep, he went nuts big time yet again. It was too delicious. Me and my secretary could hardly contain ourselves and our laughter as necessary to avoid discovery by the now nearly bald irritating attorney. He must have gone through 4 packs of cigarettes that day, and the site of him running up and down the hall way past my office to check with his secretary to make sure the phone lines were working was really priceless.

He talked about his missed opportunity at the big brass ring of NFL stardom by missing those phone calls for weeks afterwards!!!! It really was the best day in that office for quite a while. (LOL, I'm usually not a practical joker, honest!!!)

Says the "Dog"
1.25.2007 4:47pm
There does seem to be a particular bias among academics in favor of baseball, which is frequently treated as an appropriate intellectual subject, where football is not.

In my experience, mental horsepower is much more of a requirement for football players than for baseball players.

From a coaching/management perspective, that may not be relevant to Witness's question. But no one ever seems to bat an eye at the credentials of someone like Sandy Alderson (Padres exec, Dartmouth/HLS grad, admittedly a stereotyped anti-intellectual as a Marine), but I get no shortage of arguments when I claim that a football GM is a "smart guy."
1.25.2007 5:32pm
Aaron Schatz (mail) (www):
Hello, everyone. Aaron Schatz from Football Outsiders here. Thanks for the love, lawyer friend of mine told me you guys were talking about us over here. Used to read back when my buddy Jacob Levy was a poster here, but I had to quit the political blog habit. Too time consuming. Anyway, for you folk who want to read in-depth articles about football strategy, we've got all those articles by Mike Tanier and Michael David Smith archived in one place on our site. Enjoy, and go [insert team you are rooting for in SB XLI]!
1.25.2007 5:45pm
Mike 99:

I'm not discounting the Hall-worthy personnel at every level (that's what made the Bucs dominate with the Tampa two rather that just proficient). My point is that superlative Tampa two defenses have the DT who can absorb a double, rendering the pass rush scheme more effective (see, Tommie Harris on this year's Bears team).


You've described base cover two doctrine; the twist that Dungy put on it was paralyzing speed off the corner with the zone blitz. What's actually interesting is that Dungy had gone away from Tampa two until he got better interior line play from McFarland,. Further, it is no coincidence that the defense improved considerable when Bob Sanders returned.

Cover two is a bend-don't break defensive scheme; Tampa two is far more aggressive with pressure. That makes all the difference.


Since Todd Zywicki thinks that SI still has relevance today, I figured that he did ;^).
1.25.2007 5:51pm
Mr. Maviva, I do not doubt that there are many, many people out there who are both accomplished athletes and intelligent people. Gerald Ford had an opportunity to play in the NFL, Bill Bradley was a good NBA player, the CEO of GE was a varsity football player in college, etc. Like you, some of my law school classmates were accomplished NCAA athletes.

In my experience, however, for every one of these people, there are hundreds of knuckle-draggers, and the phenomenon has only gotten worse over the last 20 years as big D-I schools compete for television contracts and ticket revenues, and smaller schools have to deal with alumni donors who care more about the football team's win-loss record than whether their alma mater is closing libraries and retaining good faculty.

In college, some of my varsity athlete classmates were staggeringly brilliant. Most, however, were there for the weight room and the beer and did everything they could to avoid taking difficult classes. In a high level science class, you might see 2 or 3 varsity athletes in a class of 30. In a low-level film class, you'd see half of the class missing when the sports teams were travelling.
1.25.2007 5:53pm
The Human Fund (mail):

If you are suggesting that varsity athletes are generally less intelligent than the student population as a whole, I'm not sold.

you say:

In college, some of my varsity athlete classmates were staggeringly brilliant. Most, however, were there for the weight room and the beer and did everything they could to avoid taking difficult classes. In a high level science class, you might see 2 or 3 varsity athletes in a class of 30. In a low-level film class, you'd see half of the class missing when the sports teams were travelling.

In my experience it would be equally accurate to say:

In college, some of my classmates were staggeringly brilliant. Most, however, were there for the women and the beer and did everything they could to avoid taking difficult classes. In a high level science class, you might see 2 or 3 [pick any classification that is a relatively small percentage of the student body as a whole] in a class of 30. In a low-level film class, you'd see half of the class missing when the sports teams were playing at home.

If all you are saying is that there are more athletes that are not highly intelligent than there are athletes that are highly intelligent, then I agree. But I think the same could be said for the student body as a whole at most schools with Division 1 athletics.
1.25.2007 6:43pm
Zywicki (mail):
Ditto on the praise for Football Outsiders.
1.25.2007 6:45pm
Hattio (mail):
Has it occurred to you that you are talking about willingness to work hard intellectually rather than intelligence? I know a lot of people who would never take a hard science class who did very well on their LSAT, made it through law school without any real difficulty without studying all that hard etc. The other thing is people are willing to put effort into 1) what they are good at, and can get praise for and 2) what is fun. Science, for most of us is going to top playing a sport at only one of those two, if that. And a top athlete, by definition, is better at sports than others out there.
1.25.2007 6:57pm
go vols (mail):
I think you'd be hard pressed to say, as a general rule, that "athletes" are worse students. Many athletes, in fact, are better disciplined and organized than their non-athletic peers, because they have to be.

I do see some difference, as an academic, in "big-money" sports. There isn't much pressure for a D-III school or a small money sport to push unqualified students through. For football and basketball (primarily) in big-time programs, I think you can make a pretty good case that these atheletes are more likely to be below average. The graduation rate for many of these programs is well below the 4-year rate, though I don't know enough off the top of my head to say more than that.

Perhaps both sides of the argument are talking past one another?
1.25.2007 7:11pm
MJG (mail):
Another important note about Tampa 2 is that the cornerbacks will actually drop back deep and make it look more like "Cover 4"--with four deep defenders. This technique has been adopted into other schemes as well now, but in a traditional Cover 2 the cornerbacks play "up," jam the receiver at the line, cover short to intermediate passes, but let a "vertical" or deep receiver go for the safety to pick up. This is one of the reasons that traditional Cover 2 worked so well against so-called West Coast offense teams that threw short; if you threw a "quick hitch" to an outside receiver the corner was under no obligation to go deep and could squat on the ball and either go for an interception or hit the receiver.

In response, Bill Walsh with the 49ers and others got very good at throwing the fade pass to a vertical receiver with timing right at around 22 yards, behind the cornerback but before the deep safeties (the "2" in Cover 2) could get over.

"Tampa 2" responded to all this by telling the cornerbacks to run with that deep receiver unless they were threatened. This ended up confusing quarterbacks even more for a time. First, the "Squat" or up corner would take away quick routes to the outside receivers, so Quarterbacks and receivers would check or convert the short routes to fade routes. Except the cornerback would run with those fade routes too, which resulted in a lot of interceptions and incompletions. Then the offensive teams responded by sending the outside receiver on the fade and then sending a running back or tight end to the flat at around five yards. To the Quarterback's surprise, the corner would come up and make an interception on this out or flat route. If anyone saw the Patriots/Jets game, Asante Samuel did just this in intercepting Chad Pennington and running it back for a score, and he did the exact same thing last season against Jacksonville. This is the counter to the counter.

The story isn't over yet. The offenses are running more and more of the "Smash" pattern (I guarantee the Colts will run it in the Super Bowl) where the outside receiver runs a 5 yard hitch or "stop" route, and a tight end, slot receiver, or even running back runs a 10-12 yard "corner" or "flag" route over top of the hitch. What this does is it sucks the Tampa 2 corner up for the hitch and the slot/tight end runs right at that Tampa 2 safety and then breaks for the corner. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady throw this route a lot and are (or in Brady's case, was and will be next season) very good at sticking the ball in the hole behind the cornerback and away from the safety.

In any event, Tampa 2 doesn't necessarily mean they use the zone blitz, and as the term is used now it doesn't mean they will always even be in Cover 2. The most defining feature really is the Middle linebacker dropping deep. As said before, this was so effective because most teams attacked Cover 2 with the tight end or slot receiver down the middle. Mike Holmgren when he was with the Packers had to play Tampa Bay and Tony Dungy's defense twice a year, and he ran the "Texas" concept--an old Bill Walsh/Sid Gillman/Paul Brown play--the tight end runs deep down the middle and the fullback runs an "angle" route--starts out like a flat to the sideline and then angles back inside under the tight end. The middle linebacker would run deep with the tight end and the fullback was open for easy, consistent gains. Holmgren and Favre used to have a lot of issues about keeping Favre patient enough to keep throwing it to the fullback.
1.25.2007 8:09pm
"Sports Illustrated and everything else."

This was true long ago. Now it's only true in the sense that "Sports Illustrated and everything worth reading." SI is People magazine with athletes instead of actors.
1.25.2007 9:12pm
Joegator (mail):
As a long-time Bucs fan, I'll agree that the key is the middle linebackers. In its heyday, the Bucs defense struggled most when Shelton Quarles was injured. Of course, as with any defense, a pass rush is essential, but they always had issues when Quarles was banged up. He's the most underrated player from those teams.

PS - I was a student at UF several years ago, and we offered a class called "Coaching Football," it had a guest lecture from Steve Spurrier and the final exam was essentially drawing up an offensive gameplan.
1.26.2007 12:48am