In Dallas, the offseason entailed a radical overhaul of the defense. Out went the 3-4. In came not just the 4-3, but the specialized Tampa Two version of it.
In January, Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com explained how Monte Kiffin’s defense works with clips from Kiffin’s defensive performances in Tampa.
So when the Tampa Two made its Dallas debut in Week One, there wasn’t much Tampa Two to be seen.
Here are the hallmarks of the base scheme: (1) the safeties play deep, keeping everything in front of them; (2) the corners cover short zones, keeping everything inside of them; and (3) the middle linebacker drops deep in passing situations, trying to cover the gap in front of the safeties, which often is filled by the tight end.
Thanks to the NFL’s Game Rewind feature, which provides coaching film of every game, I’ve looked at every defensive snap from the 36-31 win over the Giants. And there wasn’t much, if any, Tampa Two played by the Cowboys.
The cornerbacks routinely played man-to-man coverage on the outside, with Morris Claiborne often starting down the field before the snap even was made. The safeties rarely lined up in a two-man deep shell. Even when they did, one of them would instantly move toward the line at the snap, leaving one to cover a single deep zone. And middle linebacker Sean Lee very rarely if ever dropped straight back into coverage.
On Victor Cruz’s second-quarter 70-yard touchdown catch, for example, he sprinted right by safety Will Allen, who was flat flooted and definitely not trying to keep everything in front of him.
The approach may have something to do with all the money invested in cornerback Brandon Carr and the high draft pick used to get Claiborne. They are cover corners (even if they didn’t do a stellar job of covering the Giants receivers), and the Cowboys used them that way most of the time in Week One.
So, basically, the Cowboys may indeed adapt the Tampa Two defense, and at times they made be using Tampa Two principles. But most of what they did in Week One looked like anything but the Tampa Two.
And given that they gave up 31 points and 100-yard performances by three different receivers despite forcing six turnovers, whatever the Cowboys are doing may end up not working very well.