Minnesota Vikings defenders had differing views on the current viability of the Tampa-2 defense it has been running since 2006, first under defensive coordinator Mike Tomlin and since 2007 under defensive coordinator and then head coach Leslie Frazier.
For a few years, the Vikings had success with that scheme, especially when leading the league in stopping the run. The pass defense also got a boost with the arrival of Jared Allen via trade in 2008. Getting a pass rush with the front four defensive linemen has always been billed as essential to the scheme.
Now, however, the Cover-2 as the base defense might just be an outdated philosophy.
"I think it's just been around for so long that teams have learned the different weak spots in it and the places that they can attack it at, as opposed to some of the stuff that may be newer and different – they haven't really got a chance to adjust to it yet and that's one of the biggest things," linebacker Erin Henderson said. "Also, Cover-2, you're really dependent on everybody to execute their job every single play so when you have a corner that may not reroute the right way and now you put the safeties in jeopardy. You have a (middle linebacker) that doesn't get down the middle of the field where he's supposed to be and now the middle of the field is wide open. If your backside hook defender isn't poaching the right way and then they get a checkdown and they turn the 5-yard checkdown into a 20-yard pass. So it's just different things like that where everybody had to be on the same page and taking care of their business play in and play out."
Safety Jamarca Sanford echoed Henderson's sentiment in one aspect and disagreed on another point. Sanford said it does require a high degree of execution but didn't think it was outdated.
"Not at all. When you go back and watch film – people can say that, but when you go back and watch film it comes down to execution," Sanford said. "No matter what defense is called, you've got to execute. They're going to make plays in Cover-2 or we're going to make plays. It comes down to players doing their job. A lot of times it's not the defense, it's us doing our jobs. A lot of times it's just them making good plays. They're paid, too, on that side of the ball. It goes both ways. Cover-2 is a good defense if everybody is doing their jobs."
The idea with the zone defense is that everyone has a coverage area on the field, but it is essentially a read-and-react defense, and one player getting out of position allows a bigger zone to open up to the offense.
The statistics weren't good with it in 2013. The Dallas Cowboys, who also ran it, finished last in the NFL for total yards surrendered. The Vikings finished 31st. The Vikings were also last in points given up, 31st in passing yards per game, 30th in third-down efficiency and tied for 30th in first downs per game.
With the firing of head coach Leslie Frazier, a longtime disciple of the Tampa-2 defense, it seems like the right time to move onto something different. General manager Rick Spielman certainly seemed open to the idea when talking about the potential changes after the firing of Frazier.
"It will be interesting when you talk to a lot of these coaches, whether it's a 3-4 or a 4-3, some teams run a 4-3 with a hybrid 3-4," Spielman said. "There are so many different things going out there. I am very excited about the process, just to learn and to talk to a lot of different people to see their philosophies. … It will be interesting as we go through this process because I'm looking forward to getting educated as well about a lot of different philosophies and how you approach this."
Among the Vikings' candidates for a new head coach are several defensive coordinators, including Todd Bowles of the Arizona Cardinals, Dan Quinn of the Seattle Seawhawks, Mike Zimmer of the Cincinnati Bengals, Ray Horton of the Cleveland Browns and Jack Del Rio of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Henderson said he will wait patiently for management to make its decision on the next head coach, and then his decision on the next defensive coordinator. Perhaps Sanford said it best from the players' perspective.
"Whether he goes to a 3-4 or a 4-3, I'm all for it," Sanford said, "as long as I'm a part of it."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Vikings: Defensive scheme change in the air
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