I haven’t done many Xs and Os articles recently, and this one isn’t going to be explanatory in and of itself. Instead, its going to be a set of links pointing to Tampa 2 and Cover 2 resources. I’d like this to be a living document, at least over the short term, which means I reserve the right to rewrite, amend, and add to this list. If you are a coach or interested amateur, feel free to let me know more sources and resources that I can add.

What you’ll see here in order is a link, perhaps a short summary of the scope of the link, and perhaps a short quote from the link. I might borrow a diagram or two from the link, if I think it will help the reader.

Obviously this is driven by the hire of Monte Kiffen and Rod Marinelli by the Dallas Cowboys. Rob Ryan was fired recently. The reasons are part of still heated discussions, but given subsequent hires, it’s easy enough to suggest that the powers that be among the Cowboys want better execution all round. That the Cowboys offense was more prone to penalties and miscues than the defense is a position many Cowboys fans take, and that faction treats the firing of Ron Ryan as a kind of scapegoating.

Whether true or false, we’re just trying to gather under one roof, resources on this defense, notes useful to fans and coaches alike.

Before beginning, we’ll mention some things that should be any any defense aficionado’s bag of tricks: the multipart articles on defense by Jene Bramel, a copy of the Jaworksi, Cosell and Plaut book, and of course, Tim Layden’s quality introduction to modern football concepts. If you have never seen the Smart Football blog, you should, and if you’re looking for information on stunts and modern zone blitzes, the Blitzology blog seldom disappoints.

A variety of other Xs and Os links are on the sidebar.

Football Times on the Tampa 2

Scope: introductory. Diagrams may not be accurate, as they display an even front.

From Football Times article. Yellow regions are holes in the zone of a stock cover 2. Tampa 2 lets MLB drop deeper, covering middle yellow, and allowing safeties to move zone coverage closer to end lines, helping close intermediate gaps.

Inside the Playbook on the Tampa 2

Scope: Introductory. Matt Bowen was a NFL defensive back, and knows coverages well.

Matt’s diagram of a Tampa 2 coverage, 4-3 over, with a stunt on the strong side.

Wikipedia on the Tampa 2

Scope: introductory. Article is self contradictory on the history of the defense.

The personnel used in the Tampa 2 are specific in position and required abilities. All positions in this defense place a premium on speed, and often the result is that they are all undersized by league standards. The defensive linemen in this scheme have to be quick and agile enough to create pressure on the quarterback without the aid of a blitz from either the linebackers or the secondary, with
the defensive tackle in the nose position having above-average tackling skills to help stop runs.

The Fifth Down Blog on the Cover 2 and Tampa 2

Scope: Introductory. Jene Bramel’s coverage of the Monte Kiffin system.

Daily Norsemen on Minnesota’s Tampa 2

Scope: nicely done introductory level discussion of the back 7 responsibilities in the Tampa 2

While they will generally all be tailored to one gap attacking from the 4-3 front … the back seven will have to display a wide variety of skills in order to execute the full defense.

This is distinct from some 3-4 systems (and other 4-3s), where the varied looks and confusing schemes imply a high degree of
flexibility from all players, but in fact does not require as much individual diversity at key positions.

ESPN News Article: fewer and fewer Cover 2 teams

Scope: news article, reporting teams moving away from Cover 2 because safeties can’t hit as hard anymore.

The Core Positions in the Tampa 2

Scope: Introductory, newspaper blog. Bears-centric. Reporter repeating what a coach has told him.

Stampede Blue on the NT position in the Tampa 2

Scope: Introductory, with emphasis on the Colts and their history with 1 technique DTs in the Tampa 2.

Bryan Broaddus on the Tampa 2

Scope: Introduction. Some discussion of where current Cowboys fit into a Tampa 2 style scheme. Historically accurate.

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.

How to coach the MLB drop in Tampa 2

Scope: coaching thread on message board.

That middle position isn’t manned by the true MLB type that the Miami 4-3 was predicated on. Like these guys have said, he’s 6 yards back and has different responsibilities too.

Pass Coverage in the Tampa 2

Scope: Coaching blog, and article. MLB, CB, and S responsibilities.

General coaching thread on the Tampa 2.

It is not a viable every-down coverage, due to the fact that you basically are giving up the entire 0-10 yd zone from hash-to-hash without resistance, so if a team just hits the TE & RB’s over the middle, they can kill you with 8 yd gains every snap.

Tampa 2 versus the spread

I was surprised when I found out that The Tampa 2 wasn’t the same thing as the 4-3 Over Cover 2. Went to a COY clinic in Orlando a few years ago and Monte Kiffen was the speaker. It looked more like a version of the WT-6(*) than a version of the 4-3 Over. I’m still not real sure about that thing.

Not Tampa 2 specific, but interesting in contrast

On Pete Carroll’s Seahawks 4-3

Scope: Introductory to intermediate.

Shakin’ the Southland on the Miami 4-3 and descendents.

Scope: Intermediate.

Offensive Football, busting the Cover 2

Shakin’ The Southland  (Clemson football blog) on the Cover 2.

Scope: intermediate, with plenty of video.

Almost any article by Chris Brown of Smart Football has football coaches as its primary audience. Advanced fans can glean some insight as well.

Chris Brown on Peyton Manning’s favorite play: Levels

Delayed Slant from the  Smash

Beating Cover 2 from Trips.

~~~
* presumably, wide tackle 6.

We got the Split-60 from Coach “Erk Russell” in 1984. It was the WT-6 on the Strongside and the Split-4 on the Weakside. They called it the “Junk Yard Dog” defense. Coach Russell said that it took the best of the WT-6 and the Split-4.

We got it, squeezed down the Strongside into a 50 that we were more used to and I’ve used it every since as a Gap 5-2. Wish I’d put it in print, but I was just a coaching pup then and just thought it wasn’t anything special.

Now they call it the 4-3 Under and say that Monte Kiffen is credited with it. Same defense that Coach Russell ran at Georgia with a few little wrinkles. I guess some things never change.

Keith Goldner is active this season both on Advanced NFL Stats and his own blog, Drive By Football. As he has updated his Markov Chain model (see also here), I’d suggest finding Keith’s new articles on either of these two sites. In my opinion, Keith’s work on his expected points models is a must read for anyone who wants to learn analytics, because he’s perhaps the best at making sure that readers can understand how he sets his models up.

Jene Bramel is a good follow if you like in game analysis on Twitter. After the Cowboys 24-17 victory over the Giants, this tweet caught my eye, where Jene mentions a Bear front.

A Bear you say?

I never found that Bear, but at 5:18 in the second quarter – one of the more interesting drives in the game, from the standpoint of a defensive front junkie – we see this:

Two down linemen, but six players at line depth and two at linebacker depth give this front a Bear like feel.

Diagrammatic representation of the front at 5:18, 2nd qtr. Bruce Carter is the linebacker between T and TE.

Though this is formally a nickel front, and there really isn’t a 3-0-3 diamond here, there are a couple things of note. There are six players across the line. Bruce Carter is in the gap between the RDE and the R (rush linebacker), just inside the tight end. Sean Lee is at the 50 behind Bruce (a few yards in front of the left offensive tackle), and another player is in the other 50, a few yards in front of the right offensive tackle. The “lineman” in the two point stace, to the left of the nose guard in this view, isn’t playing a 5 technique as much as he is playing a 3, and the whole front looks as if Rob Ryan is guessing a run to the left side of the line.

That’s exactly what happened. The Giants ran left. Bruce Carter defeated his block and the run gained almost nothing. And it’s almost pure stubbornness to run a running back into the heart of this kind of formation.

Otherwise, I saw plenty of 2 and 3 man fronts, and at one point, perhaps a 4 man front.

After the game, I found that the day of the game, Chase Stuart had this article online, comparing the relative skills of Eli Manning and Tony Romo. And no, it isn’t the usual media fawning exercise.

Update: for more Rob Ryan fronts, this thread has screen shots of the first 10 Ryan fronts of the season.

Both Rex and Rob Ryan are known to use the Bear front, otherwise known as the double eagle, and in its 1985 incarnation, the 46, and  in preseason week 1 year 2011, both brothers flashed some double eagle with 8 man line.

The image above is the most famous Bear of the night, as Jon Gruden mentioned it, but  the very next play featured a Bear with a flexed nose tackle.

Rob’s double eagle had 5 down linemen instead of 6, but the 6 players along the line, and two players at linebacker depth and over the tackle leads me to designate this the first Bear the Cowboys have run under Rob Ryan.

The Dallas Morning News has a cute article, about how the first defensive call by Rob Ryan on the first defensive play of the first preseason game of Dallas in 2011 was the 43 Flex. I recall watching that play and thinking “psycho front”. And yes, Ryan has 4 players along the line of scrimmage and 3 players at linebacker depth, but what we’re going to do in this article is talk about about Tom Landry’s first two defenses, the 43 inside and 43 outside, and how they then morphed into the flex, to better use the talents of their All-Pro defensive tackle, Bob Lilly.

Dallas-Miami, SB VI, 4-3 inside line setup.

43 inside/outside. Inside, DTs rush "A" gap. Outside, "B" gap.

If you have the set “Vince Lombardi on Football“, then you have perhaps the best resource I can locate on the 4-3 inside and the 4-3 outside. Pages 174 through 185 cover these two defenses. The physical setup of the defensive line is the same in both cases. In the 4-3 inside, the defensive tackles rush into the “A” gaps and the middle linebacker is responsible for both “B” gaps. In the 4-3 outside, the defensive tackles rush into the “B” gaps and the middle linebacker is responsible for both “A” gaps. The front, from the offenses left to right, is a “5-2-2-5″ alignment, with the tackles head up on the offensive guards, and the ends on the outside shoulders of the tackles. The middle linebacker is 1.5 yards deep, the strong side linebacker is nose onto the tight end if the tight end is separated, suggesting strong side sweep.

Vince Lombardi on the 4-3 inside

Vince Lombardi on the 4-3 outside

The ideas for the Flex came about after Bob Lilly’s move from left defensive end to right tackle. Dick Nolan describes it as one half of  the line playing a 43 inside, one half playing a 43 outside. To note, the  tackles in the inside/outside are flexed. In Tom Landry’s Flex, however, it depended on which side of the offense was “strong”, or likely to be  the side players would run to. Bob, in Peter Golenbock’s book, describes it as follows:

If I were on the weak side, I’d be head-up with the guard, right on the line of scrimmage, whereas the tackle on the other side would be three feet back. George Andrie would be right over the tackle and instead of being on his outside shoulder, he’d be head-up, three feet back. He would be keying my guard. I also keyed my guard.

Dallas flexed. DLT on the LOS because offense is strong left.

43 flex. Left to right, front is "4-2-2-5".

As Dick Nolan explains

Let’s say the other team tries the old Lombardi sweep. When that guard pulls and that center tries to choke back to get Lilly, he can’t get to him quick enough because Lilly can just go around him, and the center will fall down on his nose trying to block him. Lilly will be running right behind their guard, and Paul Hornung will be running the ball, and Paul Horning can’t come back, because  if he does, he’ll be running right back into Lilly…

To guard against the counter, the off side defensive end now plays a 4 technique as opposed to a 5. That end is responsible for the weak side gap that the off side defensive tackle has left behind.

When introduced, it caused a lot of confusion,  because Dallas soon came to  be able to play the  43 inside/outside from the Flex set. That was the upside, as no one knew what they were actually playing. The downside is the weak side defensive end’s pass rush was effectively stuffed whenever the Flex was played. By the late 1970s early 1980s, it became almost automatic for teams to pass when they saw the Flex. Consequently,  as Charlie Waters explains in Golenbock’s book, the Flex was played less and less.

In the 1990s, Dallas switched to the Miami 43, versions of which are still played today. A derivative of the Miami 43 is Ron Vanderlinden’s Stack defense, discussed briefly here.

And now we have Rob Ryan’s 43 Flex. No, it doesn’t look a bit like the Tom Landry defense, but does resemble, somewhat, the double eagle flex defenses that were popularized by Dick Tomey and Rich Ellerson. A screen shot and a diagram of Rob’s defense follows.

Rob's 43 flex, first play of preseason. Denver appears to have an 8 man line.

Rob Ryan's 43 Flex

Notes: updated due to typos, and a very nice article on Blogging the Boys that identified each player along this front. Further, the blog Compete in All Things has some Xs and Os on the modern 43 Flex.

It’s a short book, very much an outline as much as it is anything, and that is both this book’s blessing and curse. It’s a blessing because it’s packed with ideas, and it’s something of a curse in that the details of implementation are often left up to the reader. For the fan, it’s perhaps an easier read than Ron Vanderlinden’s tome, and so I think much more suitable for the curious but casual fan of defensive technique.

For those who aren’t familiar with the double eagle flex, it’s worthwhile noting  that this is an 8 in the box defense closely related to the 46 employed by the Ryan family. There are 5 men along the line, including one flexed 3 technique tackle. The strong safety, or rover, is a hybrid player, and I’ve depicted him below as a linebacker. But much like many run oriented modern defenses, this player has to both play linebacker technique and also defend the pass.

It wouldn’t be a recent review on “Code and Football” if we didn’t provide the reader with a diagram, so this is my representation of the Double Eagle versus the Ace formation, three wide.

Ace formation versus double eagle flex. High School field. DBs funnel receivers into FS.

Note that both the boundary corner and the rover are supposed to funnel their men into the free safety.

The book is 98 pages long, packed with shifts, mods, stunts, all described in that  brief synoptic style.

From  the blog “Compete in All Things” comes  this nice little quote:

 The 3-4 has a lot of moving parts, more so than just about any other defense, and often has changing responsibilities with regards to force, contain, spill, all those terms we love to use to define good defense….

Huh?

    The 3-4 is a seven man front to start. The actual front alignment varies quite a bit, with some teams preferring a 4-0-4 head up approach with slanting and stunting, and others preferring an ‘under’ front variation (9-5-1-3-5), and yet others running a 3-0-3 double eagle front

which, because I just think it’s cool, I’m going to illustrate:

3 different 34 fronts. The base front is on top, an over shifted front in the middle, and the double eagle front obtained by "Eagling" the DEs and ILBs (i.e. having them swap facing linemen) is on the bottom.

This dovetails  in with another neat quote, this time from Coach Huey’s board, on a thread devoted to what an Eagle defense is.

 “eagling” was often used to describe either the Okie tackle going in over the guard and the LB going out over the tackle, or in the 4-3 the end going out over the TE or over a ghost TE, and the OLB going in over the tackle…

To note as well, for all you 46 aficionados out there, Coach Huey has a seven nine page discussion of the 46 that’s been going on for almost four years now.

On a wet April weekend, what better way to spend some time than looking for an exotic football front? And in this, Rob Ryan seldom disappoints.

We’ll be looking at some Rob Ryan fronts that can be found on NFL.com video  of the week 14 game between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, 2009. This is when Cleveland began a 4-0 tear to end the season.

I’ve seen Rob Ryan stand up the defensive ends in what initially looks like a 4 man front but not the tackles, until now:

And in this front, you see a 2-4 nickel front, looking a bit like a 3-4 with the LDE of a 3-4 having been replaced with an extra defensive back.

And what would a Rob Ryan survey be without a couple shots of no down lineman (cloud) defenses?

After looking at the film highlights available for the Cleveland Browns in 2010, you can see that Rob Ryan uses a broad array of defensive fronts, depending on down and distance. In short yardage, Rob will use traditional goal line defenses, but also the 46 front. Whether he’s using a “pure 46″ or a newer “zone 46” is anyone’s guess, but the front itself is unmistakable.

He uses a lot of traditional 3 and 4 man fronts, but he also uses nickel fronts ( 2-4) and psycho fronts (1-5) and also “cloud” schemes (no down linemen). Nickel fronts arise when, from the 3-4 you replace a defensive end with a rush linebacker. Psycho fronts happen when both defensive ends in a 3-4 are replaced with a rush linebacker. You can also go from a 4 man front to a nickel front by replacing both defensive ends with rush linebackers. I’ve seen substitutions that look like 4-3 over and under defenses where the weak side DE has been replaced with a rush linebacker. These end up appearing as if they are very shifted 3-4 fronts.

In this particular capture, the looping rusher ends up outside the rush linebacker facing the opposition LT.

This is a psycho front versus Cinncinnati

And this a particularly good shot of a nickel front versus Tampa Bay.

The two man line is in particularly heavy use versus New Orleans, so I strongly recommend perusing the highlights of that game.

Related Articles:

One of the nicer things about this more modern age of football is that Youtube gives us all great access to video that we didn’t have before. For the student of the 46, this means that fans of the 1980s Chicago Bears have been active putting up video of their favorite team. A user named ironworkerjeff has put up several videos useful for analysis. I’ll give links to three of them

  1. 1985 Chicago Bears
  2. 46 Special, part 1 of 3
  3. 46: variations and versatility

Update 2-26-2011: These Youtube videos have been removed. I suspect since video of this period is a product and ESPN Classic is still airing their 46 Special, there were copyright violations that led to the removal of this content. I can’t see any place to buy the ESPN Classic 46 Special, but it was replayed on ESPNCL this last February 26th. Video of the 1985 Bears is available on DVD. 12 games of theirs are on sale through Amazon.

In the first of these three videos, there is a terrific section with Forrest Gregg that starts at roughly 0:58

They run several different alignments, and they move their defensive linemen around to different positions. They have the ideal personnel to handle that style of defense.

Though there is a tendency to talk constantly about the 46, not all video throughout the series is of the 46. 4:30 into video one is a generic 4-3.

A classic 46 look

Madden drawing a 46. The MLB is behind the NG. He can be over the RT.

On the second video mentioned, at 3:28, there is an excellent shot of a 46 front. In the third video, at roughly 2:40 to 2:43, John Madden talks about the signature recognition feature of the 46, the “diamond”.

Madden drawing diamond in the divisional playoff broadcast, Giants and Bears

Update 3-2-2011. The diamond can also be seen in the broadcast of the 1985 Chicago Bears – San Francisco game, available via DVD from Amazon:

The “diamond” can easily be mistaken for a 3-4 front if you’re not looking but the three interior linemen aren’t lined up the same.

  • The “nose tackle” is lined up over the center.
  • The “ends”, in 3-4 jargon, are lined up over the guards, or are found in the “B” gap. Tackles are uncovered.

The three linemen in the diamond are usually down in a three point stance. Everyone else on the line can be in any stance. There will be 5 to six players on the line and eight in the box.

Now throughout  the series they keep talking about the two (Sam and Will) linebackers over the tight end blitzing. I think these comments aren’t correct. Those players in that position have assigned rush responsibilities depending on whether the TE goes out for a pass or stays.

Other notes and comments about the video. In video 2, three are terrific comments by Leslie Frasier and Ron Rivera  at about the 2:00 mark, useful comments by Bill Walsh at the 4:00-4:22 mark, and there is a fantastic quote by Mike Ditka in video 2 at the 5:14 mark.

People would spend hours preparing for the 46, but Buddy might not play the 46 but about 10 times a game.

This, I think, marks the true genius of a multiformation defense.

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