A scheme most closely associated with former Vikings defensive coordinator Tony Dungy, the Cover-2 defense was a staple of the Vikings from 2006 until Leslie Frazier and his staff were fired at the end of last season.
As the Vikings get prepared for the Bucs, their old scheme has been replaced by a new, more aggressive scheme that challenges both sides of the ball in practice. Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson said all the remnants of the Tampa-2 are gone in Minnesota and one of the primary beneficiaries has been cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who has taken to the new defense that has been installed.
“These guys are hungry this year,” Patterson said. “Defensively, they’ve stepped up tremendously this year. I’ve seen a lot of improvement in Xavier Rhodes. He’s been having one heck of year. Hat’s off to him. He’s just doing his thing.”
Things haven’t been going well for the Buccaneers defense this season. They’re the only team in the NFL that has allowed 200 points (204), despite only playing six games. In their last four games, they’ve allowed 37, 48 and 56 in three of them.
But, much like the Vikings, the Buccaneers have faced a series of difficult opponents that have tested their defense, which has offensive coordinator Norv Turner claiming the Bucs defense isn’t as bad as it might appear.
“This team has played outstanding offensive football teams,” Turner said. “They’ve played Atlanta. They’ve played Baltimore. They’ve played New Orleans. They’ve gone up against really the best in terms of the players that you have to go and defend. You watch that, you look at the matchups, and when we get the matchup in terms of the play call or the personnel matchup that we like we’ve got to win because there are some matchups, like with every team, that they create some problems with. This defense is, when you look at it, obviously Leslie’s the defensive coordinator, Lovie (Smith), the Chicago background. They are very multiple, they do give you a lot of different looks and they do a great job and they are one of the top teams in stripping the ball, causing fumbles, so those are the things that you have to concentrate on getting ready to play them.”
Vikings players are familiar with the Tampa-2 defense, and so is head coach Mike Zimmer, who used the scheme during his early days as defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys. But the Vikings are spending more time on themselves than the Bucs this week.
“We’re not trying to pay attention to that,” Patterson said. “We’re just trying to focus on our offense, just executing our offense and game-planning on their defense. We’re not worried about what they run defensively. We’re just working on offense and executing.”
But having the knowledge of watching their own game tape over the years gives the Vikings a clear understanding of what the Bucs will throw at them. Being inside the heads of the coaching staff is something the Vikings see as an advantage.
“It’s pretty much the same defense that we’ve seen here since I’ve been here,” wide receiver Jarius Wright said. “They have different personnel, but the concept is basically the same. We’ve seen a lot and I think that can help us when we see a specific coverage. Patterson is looking forward to reacquainting himself with his old coach on Sunday, but isn’t lobbying to make an impact. He and Teddy Bridgewater are still getting comfortable with one another and he doesn’t feel the timing is right to be pushing for more plays to get called his way.
“That’s not happening,” Patterson said. “The way things are going right now, you can’t be that guy – going up to the coach saying you need more balls, because everything is limited right now. You’ve just to play your role.”
The Bucs have proved to be eminently beatable and opponents have been able to exploit the Tampa-2 defense. It started badly with the Falcons and has continued to steamroll since. The Vikings have been struggling on offense in recent weeks and the Bucs could help cure that problem.
“We have the guys on offense to get the job done,” Wright said. “We can be explosive. It’s just a matter of executing. We have a plan in place for this week and hopefully we can play the way we all know we’re capable of. If we do that, with the way our defense is playing, we can be a very good team.”