Photo credit: David Manning/USA Today
On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers soundly beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 20-3 behind a total team effort. The defense got much of the credit with their stingy performance, but the offense also performed admirably.
The defense definitely overshadowed the offense because Aaron Rodgers and company didn’t have very many explosive plays.
However, the lack of explosive plays of greater than 25+ yards doesn’t mean the offense was inefficient.
Rather, the offense executed a very efficient game plan for beating Lovie Smith’s Tampa 2 defense.
For this article, we’ll break down how the short passing game was just what the doctor ordered for dissecting the Tampa 2.
First, let’s review what the regular cover 2 defense is. I previously wrote about it here, but the GIF below outlines the assignments.
The two deep safeties divide the deep half of the field into halves. The five underneath defenders divide the underneath half into fifths.
The strength of the cover 2 is it makes completing long passes more difficult for the offense. It keeps the ball in front of the defenders who can drive downhill to it.
The weaknesses of the cover 2 arise from the large area each safety must cover. This results in weak spots between the safeties and the the spaces between the cornerbacks and the safeties. The 3-yard cushion in front of the line of scrimmage could be considered a weak spot because zone defense calls for all defenders to backpedal for depth.
Since the weakness of the cover 2 arises from the large area the safeties must cover, the Tampa 2 variation drops the Mike linebacker deeper into coverage into a zone called “the pipe.” Doing so decreases the space the safeties must cover, thereby removing the weak spot between the safeties and decreasing the weak spots between the cornerbacks and the safeties. However, it makes for a soft spot underneath the pipe.
The Tampa 2 invites the offense to attempt to complete short passes underneath the coverage. The idea is the defenders will rally to the ball and stop the receiver for a short gain. It’s very much the “bend but don’t break” mentality with the goal of eventually wearing the offense down and forcing them into mistakes.
As you’ll see in the film session below, the Packers attacked the weak spots in the Tampa 2 en route to 431 yards, including 310 in the air.
The short passing game was effective, and Rodgers completed 77.5% of his passes and averaged 8.0 yards per completion.
To be devil’s advocate, you could say the Tampa 2 worked to design, because the Packers were limited to 20 points and consistently stalled in the red zone.
But, that’s all a moot point because the Packers won and Rodgers was highly efficient with a quarterback rating of 108.1, all while battling a strained calf and the flu.
Let’s take a look at some plays that exploited the weak spots the Tampa 2 provided the Packers to take.
The Packers used many concepts to beat the Buccaneers on Sunday, but we’ll look at the overall theme of dinking and dunking to beat the Tampa 2.
Note: all GIFs have been slowed down to show player movement. Your computer and internet connection are working normally.
Line of Scrimmage Clear Out
In most zone defenses, the 3-yard cushion in front of the line of scrimmage is a soft spot. Offenses can make this cushion even wider by sending receivers deep and then sneaking others underneath into the vacated spaces.
In the play below, the Packers are in their 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, and 3 WR). The Buccaneers are in the nickel substitution, but they are playing the Tampa 2 rules with the Mike defending the pipe. The Packers use Adams (17) at the top of the screen and Nelson (87) at the bottom to clear out the underneath zones by carrying the cornerbacks vertically. As a result, Cobb (18) and R. Rodgers (89) are completely open in the flats. Starks (44) is also completely open underneath the pipe. A. Rodgers had his pick of where to the throw the ball and ultimately chose to give the tight end some love, setting up a very manageable 3rd down.
The smoke concept is a sight adjustment at the line of scrimmage that changes a run play into a passing one. If the defenders are giving a cushion to the receivers of 5 yards or more, the quarterback can make a silent audible to pass the ball instead of handing it off.
In the play below, the Packers called a zone run. However, Nelson (87) had a 5-yard cushion to the bottom of the screen, so Rodgers quickly got him the ball. Watch as the running back (27) and offensive line are still expecting a run. Rodgers made some silent signal to Nelson that the ball was coming his way. It’s basically stealing a few yards, and this gained a 1st down.
Undercutting the Pipe
Since one of the weaknesses in the Tampa 2 is the space underneath the pipe (the zone by the Mike), the Packers put in some routes to take advantage of that.
One of the most common ways to undercut the pipe is to run the receivers deep and to sneak the running back out into the vacated space. In the play below, Lacy (27) does just that and receives the ball in front of the deep Mike (50).
Another common way to undercut the pipe is to have a wide receiver run a square in directly to the soft spot. In the play below, the Packers send Cobb (18) from the bottom of the screen right under the Mike (50). The idea is get the ball into one of your best players in space and let him try to make a play. Cobb makes a few players miss and gains a 1st down, so it was a success.
Cornerback/Safety Soft Spot
Another soft spot in the Tampa 2 is the space above the cornerbacks and underneath the safeties. Every offense has routes to put their receivers in this space to complete a pass before the window closes.
The play below is 3rd and long, and while the Buccaneers are in a substitution package, they are playing Tampa 2 rules. Rodgers was able to extend the play and is trying to get the ball to Adams (17) to the top of the screen in the space between the cornerback (29) and safety (38). It was a perfectly thrown ball and would have been a completion if not for another drop.
The game against the Buccaneers wasn’t as glamorous on offense as we’ve become accustomed to, but it was efficient and successful. The game plan was clearly to pass the ball short, taking the spaces offered to them by the Tampa 2 scheme, and letting the players attempt to make play.
I believe the GIFs embedded above to be fair use under the premise of being short clips of the original broadcast that are transformative for news reporting, commentary, critique, illustration, and teaching purposes.——————