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State of the D

Five biggest trends that have emerged in recent years

Posted: Wednesday May 30, 2007 12:59PM; Updated: Wednesday May 30, 2007 1:05PM
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Brian Urlacher is considered the prototypical Tampa Two linebacker because of his coverage abilities.
Brian Urlacher is considered the prototypical Tampa Two linebacker because of his coverage abilities.
Heinz Kluetmeier/SI
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NFL teams are constantly changing strategies and are quick to copy the successful game plans of others. Here are five defensive trends that have emerged in recent years:

Tampa Two On the Decline

Despite a Super Bowl that featured two teams running the Tampa Two defense, offenses have started to catch up with the scheme.

The defense, which came to prominence with the great Steeler teams in the 1970s, only uses the front four to pressure the quarterback while dropping five underneath defenders and two deep safeties into coverage.

Tony Dungy tweaked the scheme by having the middle linebacker take a deeper drop down the middle of the field, creating a hybrid three-deep coverage. This simple, but effective defense catapulted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from doormats to contenders as they finished in the top 10 in total defense for 10 consecutive years. After watching this defense dominate for so long, other teams have started to incorporate its principles into their game plans. Most of the league runs some form of Tampa Two during a game.

But offenses have started to catch up with the scheme and the statistics bear that out. Well-established Tampa Two teams Indianapolis, Chicago and Tampa Bay each finished in the top 10 in scoring defense and total defense in 2005, but only the Bears remained that high in '06.

Chicago finished first in the league in takeaways, fifth in total defense and third in scoring defense. The Bucs and the Colts, on the other hand, had a dramatic dip. The Colts finished dead last versus the run and had nine rushers gain over 100 yards against them last season. The Bucs finished in the middle of the pack in total defense and rush defense after being the league's top defense in 2005.

Since Tampa Two defenses places a premium on speed instead of bulk and power, teams featuring big offensive lines and a power running game are successful pounding the ball between the tackles. It takes time for the toll of the running game to be effective, but teams that run the ball 30 or more times eventually wear down the defense and force an opponent into more eight-man fronts.

Additionally, the success of the running game opens up big plays in the passing game off play action. Holding the middle linebacker with strong running action, creates a hole about 15-20 yards down the middle of the field, which is easily exploited by a tight end or slot receiver. Once teams establish the ability to attack the defense in multiple ways off the run and play action, the benefits of using the Tampa Two coverage are nullified.

The Tampa Two coverage is not disappearing any time soon -- with as many as seven teams expected to use the defense basically full-time in 2007 -- but the success of playing a heavy dose of the coverage is starting to decline. With more teams finding success on the ground against the defense, you'll see less of Tampa Two in the years to come.

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