Tampa 2 Defense In Football Explained

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: March 6, 2024

Tampa 2 coverage is a popular coverage in football. It allows teams to space out the field and protect against short, intermediate, and deep throws. But why is it called Tampa 2, and how do you play it?

Tampa 2 defense is a variation of the Cover 2 defensive scheme. The main difference is that it relies on the middle linebacker to cover the middle of the field on passing plays. This coverage was made popular by Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ head coach, Tony Dungy, which is why it gets the name Tampa 2 defense.

In this article, we will show you what Tampa 2 defense is and how it differs from traditional Cover 2 defense in football.

What Is Tampa 2 Defense In Football?

Before we teach you about the Tampa 2 defense in football, you must first learn what Cover 2 is in football.

Cover 2 is when the defense has two cornerbacks and three linebackers covering underneath zones and two safeties covering deep zones. As it says in the name, the number represents how many deep defenders there are.

Cover 2 In Football

Cover 2 is mainly used by defenses to stop short and intermediate throws. This coverage has 5 players who space the field evenly from 0-7 yards.

The zones that are covered when playing cover 2 are:

  • Left Flat
  • Left Hook/Curl
  • Middle Hole
  • Right Hook/Curl
  • Right Flat

The 2 deep players are responsible for splitting the field in half. This means that each player will have their perspective part of the field.

The fact that there are only two deep players brings a vulnerability to the deep part of the defense. This is where the Tampa 2 variation helps support the deep half of the field.

The Tampa 2 defense is a great four down defense that allows teams to play a stout run defense and protects against any vertical routes from the offense.

Defensive Lineman

Defensive Line In Tampa 2 defense

The defensive line in the Tampa 2 Defense is often structured to have four defensive linemen. These four players, made up of a nose tackle, a defensive tackle, and two defensive ends, need to be able to stop the run.

Tampa 2 dedicates most of its resources to the pass, so these four defensive linemen need to be able to run stunts, games, and get all of the physically demanding tasks of playing defensive line.

Each defensive end needs to be a good edge rusher and force the quarterback to throw the ball short, where the strength of the defense is.


Linebackers in the Tampa 2 defense

The linebackers in the Tampa 2 defense need to be the most talented on the field, especially the Mike linebacker. The reason the Tampa 2 defense works is because the Mike linebacker is able to play the run, and also cover the deep middle of the field.

The Sam and Will (Strong and weak side linebackers) also need to be able to shed blocks and play the run efficiently. These are known as the outside linebackers in the Cover 2 structure.

Defensive Backs

defensive backs in the Tampa 2 Defense

Due to the fact the Tampa 2 Defense has players who are covering their zones, it’s important in the NFL that teams who base out of the Tampa 2 defense have long, athletic players.

Having tall, long defensive backs makes it harder for the quarterback to throw to receivers down the field.

The boundary safety, as well as the free safety, need to be quick, and high football IQ players because they will need to cover any deep routes down the field.

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How The Tampa 2 Defense Started

The Cover 2 defense has been around for decades. Its primary responsibility was to stop the horizontal passing attack that West Coast offense gurus like Bill Walsh were implementing. However, teams started to attack the field vertically, and defensive coaches wanted to keep things simple. This is how Tampa 2 defense was born.

Head Coach Tony Dungy

Tony Dungy Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In 1996, Tony Dungy was the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The NFL was starting to evolve into a pass-heavy league. To properly defend against the pass, teams must cover all 53.3 yards of the field.

Coach Dungy realized that teams were attacking the middle of the field in his cover 2 defense. Additionally, balls caught directly in the middle of the field were limited.

Teams running cover 2 were wasting a player in the middle hole, as most of the throws were happening 3-5 yards behind him. This was a major issue when he faced teams who ran the west coast offense.

To counter this, Coach Dungy created his variation of cover 2, called the Tampa 2 defense.

Tampa 2 defense

Tampa 2 has the same rules as Cover 2. However, it relies on the middle linebacker (also called the Mike backer) to carry any deep routes through the middle of the field.

Coach Dungy took this defense it was able to lead his team to a Super Bowl victory.

Mike Linebacker Position

The middle linebacker or the Mike linebacker position plays a crucial role in the Tampa 2 defense.

This player needs to be athletic to play the run and run with slot receivers who are trying to disrupt the middle of the field.

Tony Dungy’s Tampa 2 system was so effective because it featured a talented linebacker named Derrick Brooks. This became their base defense.

Brooks was able to stop any runs that came his way, but he could also cover receivers who tried to run deep in the middle of the field.

The Tampa 2 defense requires this type of player to disrupt any routes thrown in the middle of the field. Teams who try to run the Tampa 2 but don’t have an athletic Mike linebacker will often get exposed.

Defensive coaches all across the NFL started to adapt this system and draft players like Derrick Brooks to run the Tampa 2 defense.

Tampa 2 Linebacker Drop

The drop from the linebacker in the Tampa 2 scheme is important. The term we like to teach is “tempo drop.”

This means the middle linebacker will only sprint through the middle of the field if a receiver is threatening him.

If there is no receiver running through the middle of the field, there is no need to run as fast as they can through the middle of the field.

The term “tempo drop” requires the linebacker to drop to the middle of the field while keeping their head on a “swivel.” As they are dropping, they should actively look left and right for receivers coming into their zone.

If no receivers are entering their deep middle zone, they can slow their drop and look to rob a receiver that’s running over the middle.

Difference Between Cover 2 And Tampa 2

The difference between Cover 2 and Tampa 2 is how the middle linebacker plays.

In a traditional cover 2, the middle linebacker will play the middle hole, covering any receivers that run directly into their zone. The problem with cover 2, is that it leaves the middle of the field exposed to big plays. Posts or seam routes from the slot receiver will naturally out-leverage the safety.

The Tampa 2 solved this issue by having the middle linebacker cover the deep middle of the field. This took away any middle-breaking routes from the offense.

It did, however, leave an opening in the underneath zone, but the ball is rarely thrown and completed in this area of the field.

What Is Tampa 2 Good Against?

The Tampa 2 is good for any offensive system. Its versatility against spread and power sets allows for safeties and linebackers to play both the run and pass effectively.

If you have a skilled player in the middle linebacker position, this is a perfect defense to run to cover the middle of the field and stop the run.

Tampa 2 is a great coverage to play when your opponent is backed up in their own territory or at midfield.

What Is The Tampa 2 Defense Weak Against?

The Tampa 2 is weak in the red zone. Any cover 2 is not favorable coverage in the red zone because of the stress it put on the safeties.

The short areas of the field require both safeties to cover more ground quickly. Sideline throws are not favorable for the Tampa 2 defense and can often leave teams in uncomfortable situations against a good quarterback.

Keep Learning

In today’s game, we see defensive coordinators like Lovie Smith still run the Tampa 2 defense against the modern spread offenses we see in the NFL.

If you liked learning about the Tampa 2 Defense, we recommend you check out our Ultimate Football Guide. It will help you increase your football IQ so watching games on Sunday is much easier!

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The Tampa 2 coverage is a well-balanced zone coverage defense, allowing teams to be even in the run fits and spaced out proportionality to defend the passing game. It is a great compliment to teams who are quarters teams, and their base is the quarters’ defense.

If you enjoyed learning about Tampa 2, check out these other coverages.

Cover 0

Cover 1

Cover 2

Cover 3

Cover 4

Cover 5

Cover 6

What versions of Cover 2 do you run? What are your thoughts on Tampa 2? Let us know in the comment section below.

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About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.