Bucs' Cover 2 scheme depends on players

Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith during practice at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp at One Buc Place in Tampa on Monday, August 17, 2015. OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times
Buccaneers head coach Lovie Smith during practice at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training camp at One Buc Place in Tampa on Monday, August 17, 2015. OCTAVIO JONES | Times
Published Sept. 20, 2015


Right after a Bucs shellacking, such as the one they took in the 42-14 season-opening loss to the Titans, the chorus begins.

Cover 2? More like Cover Who?

Coverage breakdowns last week, coupled with the ability by Titans rookie QB Marcus Mariota to get the ball quickly out of his hand and to the right receiver, can make the most devout Tampa 2 disciple question the effectiveness of the scheme.

But as they say in football, it's not the X's and the O's, it's the Jacks and the Joes.

Every team plays Cover 2, a coverage scheme that requires two deep safeties to divide the field in half and play over the top of wide receivers, hoping to prevent big passing plays.

Lovie Smith's teams in Tampa Bay play that coverage roughly a third of the time. The one-gap, 4-3, two-deep safety alignment is merely the starting point for the defense. But the truth is, the Bucs play a single high safety and man-to-man coverage nearly as much as they do Cover 2.

It's hardly an antiquated scheme. The Seahawks, who had the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL the past two seasons, play their version of the Tampa 2. Smith's defenses in Chicago averaged about 34.4 takeaways a season. The year Smith was fired, 2012, Chicago was second in the NFL in creating turnovers with 44, matching its high water output during its Super Bowl season in '06.

Smith took over the Bucs' defensive play-calling this season. But a lack of execution on defense cost the Bucs last week.

"I don't know if there is an explanation that would please anyone," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said.

What would help the Bucs' coverage of receivers would be doing a better job against the run. Titans RB Bishop Sankey averaged 6.2 yards per carry last week.

"We think we have some guys who can rush the passer, but when you don't stop the run, you get what we got on Sunday," Frazier said. "The quarterback threw the ball 16 times. Sixteen times. That's not the ingredient for success the way we are set up.

"We have to do a much better job against the run. I mentioned to our players … (the) New Orleans Saints, they are going to feel good about running the football. We better figure out a way to get this fixed."

The Saints can throw the ball with QB Drew Brees, whose 12 career wins against the Bucs are second to former Packer QB Brett Favre's 16. Brees has won seven games in a row against the Bucs despite accounting for six of Tampa Bay's 15 interceptions last year.

SLOW SNAP: You may have noticed how slowly some of the shotgun snaps from C Evan Smith got to QB Jameis Winston last week. So did offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter.

"He did have a couple that were (slow)," Koetter said. "There were a couple times that they rushed Evan hard to his off-snapping hand, so he was really focusing on getting that hand up. A couple of those balls did float a little. That has not been an issue, but it did happen a couple of times in that game."

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QUOTABLE: "As I see it, he lost — you said one game in college? He's lost one game in the NFL right now. So he's got one (in college) and one (in the NFL). Jameis will be fine." — Lovie Smith, on Winston