With this article I wanted to advance a long held belief of mine that the Cover 2 defense is the best defensive approach to use for the modern NFL. Now there is, naturally, a great deal of strategy that goes into defensive and offensive arrangements. Some teams, such as the Patriots, prefer to employ a bigger and more veteran 3-4 defense. While other teams have employed styles different from the Cover 2 and had great success, I still hold that the Cover 2 (Tampa 2 variation) is the best defensive arrangement.
A major advantage that the Cover 2 defense has is that it is much easier to draft for this style of defense than other types of defenses. The reason behind this is that most teams put a high emphasis on size, strength, and height because their defensive arrangement demands these sorts of attributes. Take the DT position for instance; in most other defensive schemes, the DT must be massive so that he can take up two offensive linemen and thus free up the LB’s to flow directly to the football. The Ravens are a team that does this and they drafted Ngata a few years ago just to take up space to free up Ray Lewis from offensive guards that might get to the second level. Therefore, there is great demand for these types of players and they are almost always drafted early and often. They also tend to go quickly in free agency.
Cover 2, on the other hand, places much less emphasis on size. Consequently many players that work great in Cover 2 (such as Mathis, Sanders, June) do not get drafted by other teams because they are worried about size issues. This naturally enables the Cover 2 system to have easier access to talent because it allows for players to thrive in its system that otherwise do not work in other more “traditional” defensive systems. The best example of this would be Montae Reagor who failed to ever get off the bench in Denver’s system, but when he came to Indianapolis he thrived because the system values speed above just pure strength at the DT position. It is based on “knifing” through the line as opposed to engaging offensive guards and centers.
Corner back is yet another great example; guys like Marlin Jackson and Kelvin Hayden were passed up by other teams because they lacked amazing 40 times. However, the Cover 2 defense does not require CB’s to have 40 times speed in the 4.3 range because they play in a shallow zone were size and tackling is more desirable. So when other teams are drafting the Antrel Rolle’s and Fabian Washington’s early in the 1st round, the Colts are able to get bigger more talented CB’s due to the fact that they have skill sets that other defenses put less of an emphasis on.
Cover 2’s other major advantage is that it is a very affordable defense to run effectively. This is due to the fact that young players fit very well into the system and can often times effectively start in their rookie seasons. This is in direct opposition to the 3-4 defenses which requires veterans players at many of its positions because it can take two to three years to get a young player adjusted to the complexity of the scheme. This, in turn, drives up costs for operating this defensive system because your 3-4 defenses have to award veterans contracts to veterans who additionally may have trouble with injuries. A prime example of this is when the Patriots signed Chad Brown and Duane Starks to massive contracts because they desperately needed veterans who understood the 3-4 system.
The Colts, with their Cover 2 system, can employ young, affordable rookies and plug them right in. Guys like Antoine Bethea, Cato June, Freddie Keiaho and Tyjuan Hagler would have never worked out in the standard 3-4 system. But because the Cover 2 is a much simpler system you can make use of young guys who can produce at a much more affordable rate. This, in turn, allows your team to spend more money on its offensive skill position players such as Manning, Harrison, Wayne and Clark. It would be virtually impossible for a team to have big time experienced offensive skill position players and also run an expensive 3-4 defense. This, I believe, is the ultimate doom of teams such as the Patriots, Browns, and Cowboys because there is simply not enough cap space to pay an expensive defense on top of an expensive offense.
Furthermore when you have an expensive offense, you will throw the ball a lot more as the Colts, Pats, and Cowboys all did last year. When you have a great passing attack you will score early and often, and that is when you want a Cover 2 defense because its specialty is stopping the other team from throwing on you whereas the 3-4 defense is focused on blitz packages and stopping the run. The Cover 2 therefore has a great synergy with an explosive offense because you can score early and often and force the other team to throw when you are dropping seven guys into coverage and rushing with four pass rushing specialists. How many times have we seen the Colts destroy teams with that basic and effective system?
So that concluded my brief article on why the Cover 2 is the best defensive scheme in the modern NFL and, as always, feel free to comment on this and challenge my viewpoints.