New York Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams loves the Tampa 2 defense, and he tweaks the coverage to his team’s advantage.
Ah yes, the Tampa 2 defense. What Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin did with the late 1990s Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense revolutionized the Cover 2 look.
Or should we say, “The deep-three look?”
The Tampa 2 remains a hybrid coverage tough to differentiate between two and three-deep. Deploying two deep halves (usually safeties) with a “hole” zone that fits in between the second and third levels, the Tampa 2 may sound and feel like a two-deep coverage in theory, but it’s much more of a three-deep look.
New York Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams loves the coverage. It’s a basic principle of his defense, and one he’s never shy to call in big spots. What Williams does with the look is the interesting part.
First, let’s review the Tampa 2.
This Tampa 2 is run out of the subpackage (nickel) while on the field matched-up against an 11 personnel look. The weakside linebacker is the man of the hour. It’s his responsibility to take his drop in a fashion that’s deeper than the other two hook-to-curl zones. This guy must be athletic enough to essentially play a deep-middle-third with the two-deep safeties roaming a little more closely to the sidelines (knowing they have that inside hole covered).
1. Cornerbacks: The corners should be physical, run-support guys who are willing to jam the opposing wideouts. It is their job to get hands-on, reroute the wide receivers and funnel them to the inside where all the action lies. He is responsible for the No. 1 targets (the widest eligible receivers, X and Z) first. If their No. 2 reads (in this case, H and Y, respectively) go vertical, the corners should get depth while looking for the back out of the backfield to the flat. If it’s a strict Match Cover 2, they’d run with the outside (first reads) if it’s four verts.
2. Slot Cornerback: The slot corner is playing a linebacker hook-to-curl zone on the slot side and must guard the inside of the field, first and foremost. The slot receiver (H) is the first read. If he darts to the flat quick, a flat call must be made for the outside corner to jump it. The No. 2 read for the slot corner would be the X receiver here.
3. Hook-To-Curl Linebacker: The hook-to-curl linebacker has the same responsibilities as the slot corner, except the tight end (Y) is the first read. The Z weapon would his second.
4. Hole Linebacker: The hole linebacker (the Mike in a true balanced ID) is the unique coverage that makes the Tampa 2 what it’s been for the last 25 years or so. Instead of playing a hook-to-curl coverage that would make for five underneath zones in total, he joins the two safeties in what technically amounts to a three-deep coverage (and four underneath).
5. Safeties: The two safeties first read the slot wideout and the tight end. If either dart to the flat or out with a bit of depth, a call must be made on the fly for the corner to find it (with his head on a swivel). The second reads would be the No. 1 receivers on each side (X and Z). If all four guys get vertical, the safeties would lock onto the Y and H, respectively, in a Match Cover 2 principle.
Somewhere around a decade or so ago, the Tampa 2 started to lose steam. The pass-happy rules allowed quarterbacks to dominate through the air and defenses simply could not keep up. The Cover 3 (anything single-high) started to dominate, led by the Seattle Seahawks’ Legion of Boom defensive backfield.
Although the Tampa 2 hasn’t reached the heights of the late 1990s and early 2000s, it’s still used, especially when defensive coordinators tweak the scheme. This includes Gregg Williams’ Jets defense.
Brian Poole as the “Hole” Zone
Gregg Williams tweaks his Tampa 2 to the greatest extent when he sends slot corner Brian Poole to the hole.
Instead of a slower linebacker taking a drop and often running with this first read vertically, Poole will drop from the slot and often have the chance to rob a route.
With that tweak, Williams had something special. Here is a visualization of the core defensive look that powered the Jets to their 6-2 finish.