As you guys know, the Vikings have run a variation of the Cover-2--the Tampa-2-- for a good part of my adult life, and definitely since 2006, when Brad Childress was hired. When he was fired and Leslie Frazier went from Defensive Coordinator, to Interim Head Coach, to Head Coach, that same defense has stayed.
Before we go any farther, if you're not sure how a Tampa-2 defense is supposed to work, Arif has done a must read series on this defense. Start off by reading this, then go read this, before you go any further. If you can only read one, read the latter. But you're an underachiever if you do.
Now, contrast that with this nugget of info from Peter King in his weekly Monday Morning Quarterback column. He was relaying a conversation former Colts GM Bill Polian had with Tampa Bay safety Ronde Barber, as explained by Alex Marvez:
The cover-two defense as we know it could be on the road to becoming obsolete. Polian got into a fascinating exchange with Tampa Bay free safety Ronde Barber about this topic. Barber is entering his 15th NFL season playing in the acclaimed "Tampa-2," a scheme predicated upon the strong safety disrupting receivers who are funneled toward the middle of the field by cornerbacks playing zone coverage on the outside. Many of the bone-jarring safety hits once allowed are now banned as the NFL has instituted rules to better protect pass catchers. That has Polian, whose Colts used that system from 2002 through 2011 after Tony Dungy was hired as head coach, questioning whether it can be used effectively in today's NFL. Said Barber: "Our theory was all these guys got to the ball and intimidation was a physical act. It was, 'Get guys to run through zones. We'll shoot our guns and separate them from the ball.' The rules will definitely affect it ... I know we don't play cover-two now the way we used to."
Let's look at this a little bit more, after the jump.
What makes this defense the most effective is the discipline and physical play of the secondary, as Arif pointed out in his breakdown. With the rules in the NFL getting stricter and/or more random and inconsistent in what or what doesn't constitute a flagrant foul, players will be more inclined to not go after a receiver coming over the middle like they used to.
If there is no intimidation factor, as Barber said, the amount of guys Alligator Arming throws for fear of being waylayed is going to drop. If that's going to drop, the main philosophy for the Cover-2/Tampa-2 has essentially been neutered.
I think this is an interesting, if not troubling dynamic for the Vikings. They've been drafting defensive players, ostensibly, to fit into the Tampa-2 system for half of a decade now. If the rules are making players less aggressive, the defense isn't going to be effective. If the defense isn't going to be effective, like we saw most of last year, the Vikings aren't going to win. If the Vikings aren't going to win, Frazier will get fired. Spielman probably will, too.
Now, you have a defensive roster full of players fit for a system that isn't workable, on a bad team going through what will probably be a full defensive makeover. Ouch.
With that said, the cause of the Vikings defensive troubles the last couple of seasons hasn't been due to a lack of aggression, it's been due to injuries and an overall lack of talent in the defensive backfield. I also think that this 'death knell' of the Tampa-2 is a bit premature. Whenever the NFL institutes a rules change, players adapt, and this won't be any different than any other situation.
This is going to be more difficult due to the fact that the meting out of punishment for 'dirty' or 'illegal' hits are more random or arbitrary than lottery winnings. I can understand why Barber says players are playing with a different level of aggression, but I also think he fails to underestimate the ability of defensive coordinators and players to adjust, once the rules settle themselves out.
Anyhow, I thought this was an interesting Monday afternoon discussion topic. Thoughts?