It’s only natural to reflect a little after a loss like the one Monday in Chicago. But the problems the Cowboys have been having on defense have been season-long issues. So who’s/what’s to blame?
Let’s begin with the scheme…
When Monte Kiffin was brought to Dallas he brought with him the Tampa 2 defense. I personally dedicated the past offseason to studying the Tampa 2 defense (amongst other defensive schemes). In no way do I consider myself an expert on the scheme, but I do feel very confident in my knowledge, and feel I could effectively speak to it and even teach it (from a macro perspective).
The Tampa 2, in and of itself, is a pretty flawed scheme. It’s extremely easy to beat if the passer is even slightly competent. Jon Gruden incessantly spoke of the Tampa 2 needing a pass-rush to be successful. Isn’t this true with any defensive scheme? If given enough time any QB can pick apart any defense. But I digress…
The Tampa 2 is particularly easy to beat because it leaves giant holes all over the field. If a QB knows the defense is running a Tampa 2, he knows how to complete a pass in about 3 seconds.
The Tampa 2 that Gruden (and most of us) think of so fondly is the one popularized by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That defense boasted a very significant pass-rush along with potential Hall of Famers at DL, LB, CB, and S (referring to Sapp, Brooks, Barber, and Lynch). That team was LOADED. Truth be told, any defensive scheme they ran would have succeed with that roster.
The Tampa 2 defense is a mix of a Cover 2 and Cover 3 scheme. It pulls the MIKE LB back as the 3rd safety. He specifically covers the deep middle. This provides a huge mismatch in the offenses favor. The MIKE dropping deep also opens up the short and intermediate middle of the field. Again, this is a very easy completion that requires only 3 seconds of pass protection.
The more I studied the Tampa 2 the more I hated it. It was just too flawed and too exposed. When the Bucs won the Super Bowl teams were still trying to figure it out. Combine that with their superior overall talent and you have a top ranked defense. But now the league has figured it out. Not to mention the Cowboys have nowhere near the talent the Bucs had…
I was still optimistic about the Cowboys defense this year because Defensive Coordinator, Monte Kiffin, planned to alternate his coverages and schemes. By alternating coverages and schemes opposing QBs would be unable to know what’s happening until post-snap. The league is tilted so far in the offenses favor (and QBs are so good) that if a QB knows what kind of coverage is called, he can pick you apart at will. The only way to beat the offense is to disguise coverage and/or bring fast and consistent pass-rush.
The Cowboys have not disguised their coverages. Just watch them presnap and its obvious what kind of coverage is called. If I can see it, you can bet your Christmas presents the professional QB across from them can see it.
Injuries or not, this defense was destined to fail. If the Cowboys ran coverages this obvious they could have Ware, Spencer, Ratliff, and Hatcher, all in their prime, still unable to make a difference. It’s just that easy to face.
The Cowboys MUST mix coverages and schemes. Tampa 2 (and Cover 2 for that matter) are pretty darn easy to beat so they should be used sparingly. The way to succeed on defense in the NFL is to disguise coverage and rotate between them. They can use Tampa 2 and Cover 2 but they have to disguise it. There are different types of man coverage also. Sometimes bump and run and sometimes soft man coverage. Sometimes man coverage offers safety help and sometimes it’s on an island. Even man coverage is easy to beat if the QB knows what’s being run. That’s a big reason you see most blitzing going against man coverage. Because if a WR has a chance to make a double-move, the best CB in the league will get beat.
My verdict is while the Tampa 2 is an extremely flawed coverage, Monte Kiffin is to blame. The players have been atrocious too (I’ll discuss Brandon Carr tomorrow) but if you can disguise coverage, even an untalented team can find better success than the Cowboys are enduring.