In last week’s Georgia v. South Carolina game, Georgia was able to create a huge turnover in the 4th Quarter with a less common version of Tampa 2 Zone coverage. Tampa 2 is a modification of traditional Cover 2 which goes back to the Steel Curtain, but was made famous by Monte Kiffin and Tony Dungy’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. As opposed to traditional Cover 2, Tampa 2 involves the Middle Linebacker dropping into the “Deep Hole” or vulnerable deep middle of the defense.
Here is a video example of how each Safety attempts to cover a Deep 1/2 of the field on either side and the Middle Linebacker (Urlacher #54) drops in between to cover any deep middle routes from slot receivers or tight ends.
Instead of the traditional Tampa 2 Coverage with the Middle Linebacker, Georgia played the Deep Middle with an extra defensive back. South Carolina’s Quarterback saw this look Pre-Snap:
This pre-snap look could mean a variety of coverages: Because its 3rd and 10, and Georgia is showing a blitz look, this could be Cover 1, with the Safeties playing the slot receivers man-to-man and the middle deep safety playing “Center field”.
However, as the play unfolds, its clear the coverage is Tampa 2, except the deep middle safety is coming up to play a “Robber” instead of a Middle linebacker bailing. At the bottom of the screen, South Carolina’s two Wide Receivers run a 6-yard in and a seam route. At the top of the screen, the inside Wide Receiver runs a quick hitch route (likely a hot route in response to Georgia’s blitz). South Carolina’s outside Receiver at the top runs a deep dig (In-cut) at 12 yards.
If it weren’t for the deep middle safety (#5 for UGA) “robbing”, this play would likely result in a first down. As you can see in the freeze frame mid-play below, the middle linebacker bites on the quick hitch from the slot, which would open up the dig window behind him for a first down.
Instead, South Carolina’s QB doesn’t recognize the coverage or the Robber, and the play results in an interception. Here is the play; watch how the Robber attacks downhill toward the dig route:
Why is this Unconventional Tampa 2 or Robber Tampa 2 coverage better than traditional Tampa 2? A Defensive Back is able to view the whole field and break aggressively downhill on intermediate routes.
Why don’t we see this coverage disguise more often? Because it’s a very scenario-specific coverage. With 3 safeties and 5 Defensive Backs on the field (Nickel personnel), the defense is more susceptible to the run. A linebacker is in a much better position (closer to the line of scrimmage) to play the run or give the threat of a blitz. However, on 3rd and long or obvious passing downs, this coverage is a good way to confuse a QB and potentially cause a turnover.
Post-Season film Review:
Another clip of a Tampa 2 Robber Interception in the 2014 Florida Alabama game: