I guess I should start by detailing what exactly the Tampa-2 defense is.
In correlation with my previous fanpost detailing why I think Akeem Ayers is a great prospect, I wanted to go over exactly why we need successful linebackers and how they should be properly used in Perry Fewell's Tampa-2 defense.
This is the prototypical set up for the Tampa-2 defense. The Tampa-2 is a modified version of the Cover-2 in a base 4-3 scheme, where the linebackers (especially the middle linebacker) have extra responsibilities. It was developed especially to combat the WCO offense, and other highly rated passing attacks.
What is necessary to make the Tampa-2 successful?
By far, the biggest asset a Tampa-2 team can have is a dominant 4 man pass rush. Well, Fewell inherited one of the best when he took the job. The largest reason we were rated so statistically high on defense was because of the ridiculous pressure we put on defense. So defensive line is perfect for the Tampa-2.
Let's look at the secondary. Believe it or not, the cornerbacks are the least important part of the Tampa-2 defense. They are responsible for the least trafficked zone in coverage, the outside underneath zone. The corners are not supposed to follow receivers too deep. They are supposed to stay put in their zone and break up any out routes or bubble screens that may develop.
The safeties are extremely important, because they cover the largest zones in the playing field, the deep zone. In the Tampa-2, they do not come up often, and are roving in the deep to make a play on the ball.
The linebackers. Ah, the linebackers. The MLB has the largest responsibility of all. In the traditional Tampa-2, he is supposed to back up into coverage into the deep middle zone. That is HIS responsibility. This makes the WLB and SLB positions extremely important, because now there is a void in the underneath middle zone where the MLB should be. That is now the responsibility of both the SAM and WILL for coverage. Unlike a regular base 4-3, the differences in a SAM and WILL are much less. The only real difference is that the SAM needs to be slightly bigger in order to stonewall a blocking TE. However, all three LBs are usually smaller and quicker to be prototypical Tampa-2 LBs.
What's wrong with the Giants' Tampa-2?
Perry Fewell often uses a 3-safety set on defense, more than one usually would. Can anybody guess why? Anybody? Hint: look at the coverage scheme (for the MLB).
Can anybody really see Goff covering that zone at all? Absolutely not. Sure, the 3 safety set can be used as a change of pace, but it was used more than that because Goff is not capable of that sort of pass coverage. What this does is leave a huge gap in the middle with only a safety to cover.
This was the biggest problem in the Colts game. If you go back and look at the game, most of the large runs came up the middle. Its because once their runners got to the 2nd level, Bulluck and Boley did not have the requisite lateral agility to slide over and make the play.
In other games, when we DID have our base Tampa - 2 defense, it was torched against fast offenses such as Detroit, Philadelphia, and Green Bay. For a defense that was all about pass defense, why was that? Its because Bulluck lost most of his range, Boley had to slide over to help Goff out near the middle, and Antrel had to play up to maintain the underneath zone, thereby having an almost impossible range to cover. Sort of like this:
^ ^ (coverage gap) ^
Cweb 0 Bulluck 0 Goff <<<<< Boley TT
(staying in zone)
TT and Cweb maintained their zones. Bulluck attempted to maintain his zone. Goff, in true Tampa-2 fashion, had to retreat to take over the middle zone, while Boley attempted to cover both the void in the middle underneath, AND his zone. That's why Antrel had to come down to help cover Bulluck's zone, as Bulluck tried to slide over to help cover the void in the under-middle zone. This left poor Kenny Phillips as the lone deep man.
The key to preventing this is having fast linebackers that can cover. Boley is above average in coverage. Goff is pretty fast, but is still kind of stiff. This is where the SAM comes in. The reason I've been so vehemently rooting for Ayers to be the pick is this:
--> Ayers has the best zone pass coverage and lateral agility in the draft. THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT OF A TAMPA-2 'BACKER.
--> Pass rushing ability gives Fewell much more flexibility for the strongside blitz. Last year, he could only do that with Antrel in a SS Blitz. That particular blitz is not easy to hide.
---> His pass coverage ability along with speed and, again, I cannot stress this enough, lateral agility (its proven, all scouting reports tout this, evident on game tape) allow him to easily slide around in his zone coverage.
---> His instincts, while not incredibly good in diagnosing the run, is fantastic in sniffing out passing plays. Especially (and there is plenty of evidence of this coverage against short curls and screens, just go look for his game tape on youtube if you don't believe me). This is exactly what Bulluck (bless his heart but at this age and coming off an injury, its tough) couldn't do. That allows Rolle to play back in his natural position, and will effectively disguise any time he wants to come up to play close.
Thus, with Ayers, we can have a scheme somewhat like this:
<<<<<Antrel>>>>> <<<<< KP>>>>>
^ ^ ^
CWeb <<<<<Ayers>>>>> Goff <<<<<Boley>>>>> TT
----> Ayers' speed and size are the best in the draft. He has a frame that will let him get even bigger. While others are better at playing the run than he is, his size can only help him hold up against the next level. Much less chance of an injury, and he doesn't have any medical red flags. He's also no slouch when it comes to run defense, which is a big plus. Maybe not the best run defender out there, but he doesn't have to be, he is big enough and fast enough to get the job done. Conditioning can help him get stronger.
Name Wt. 40
Ayers 258 4.68
Mason Foster 245 4.70
KJ Wright 242 4.73
Ross Homan 240 4.65
Lawrence Wilson 229 4.56
Doug Hogue 237 4.61
---> Ayers has a relentless motor, and that is backed up by scouting reports as well. Game tape shows it, too. He'll often be blocked and he still ends up making plays. Also was a team captain, so the intangibles are there.
Final Word Akeem Ayers is hands down the best Tampa-2 LB in the draft. His strengths match up with what the prototypical T2 LB has, with the added plus of being bigger. His weaknesses, which is mostly his strength, can be easily coached and shored up.
Now, I'll attempt to explain why several other choices are less than ideal at this position.
Let me establish myself by saying, by no means do I think Mason Foster is a bad player. He can be an excellent player. But his strengths do not match up as well as Ayers' strengths for what I feel is the biggest need of this defense.
--> He's an excellent run defender and can shed blocks well. This is obviously very important. He's a better run defender and can diagnose run plays better than Ayers, but by no means does that mean that Ayers is a slouch.
--> He is not as good in diagnosing zone coverage as Ayers is, although he is definitely in 2nd place in that regard. He has stiff hips, and doesn't have nearly the lateral agility that Ayers does. He'll have a tougher time maintaining his zone than Ayers in this regard, will force, at least in his rookie year, Antrel to extend his own zone downwards (although definitely not as much as Bulluck)
That being said, just like Ayers is no slouch against the run, Foster is no slouch against the pass.
---> Foster has an insane motor. He will go after the ball like crazy, and I really admire that about him.
Final Word: If we opt to go the OL route in the 1st, Foster would be a great pick in the 2nd---if he lasts. Even if he does, he's a riskier pick than Ayers simply because in the Tampa-2, pass coverage for LBs is MUCH more coveted than run defense. Remember, its also alot easier to teach how to play the run than how to play the pass.
---> He's an absolute beast athletically. At the beginning of the year, I was excited about Carter as a prospect, and thought he'd end up being a top-15 pick. He's aggressive and plays with a mean streak that unrivaled in this draft.
---> Unfortunately, the biggest knock on Carter is his lack of instincts. Carter relies on his athleticism to make plays and is not very good in pass coverage at all. Scouting reports from all over confirm this.
---> He tore his ACL. I want to overlook it, but I can't. If your job is to be quick and be able to move laterally well, a reconstructed ACL is the last thing you need. It might heal just fine, but still, it might not.
Final Word: Despite his great production and freakish athleticism, Carter was not made for the Tampa -2 defense, and I'd much rather have Foster than him if both were available in the 2nd.
This one is for GhostDini.
---> Sintim has not shown us anything so far, but to call him a bust is ludicrous. He hasn't had the opportunity yet to fully immerse himself into Fewell's Tampa-2.
---> The cards are stacked against him, though. GhostDini kindly provided a scouting report for Sintim here. Unfortunately, that report literally states that Sintim is not a fit for the Tampa-2.
---> From what I've seen of Sintim, I have to agree with the report. His pass coverage is nothing to write home about.
---> He also tore his ACL. Please see why this is a bad thing under the Bruce Carter section.
Final Word: At this point, its way too risky to assume that Sintim can effectively play in the Tampa-2, so bringing in competition in the form of a high draft pick can only help.
FINAL FINAL FINAL WORD:
Now you see why I like Ayers so much. His run defense can only get better. He will be next to Goff, who is an excellent run defender, and behind our defensive front, which is also excellent at collapsing the point of attack and slowing down the runner. Ayers' zone coverage instincts and agility are second to none in the draft, and my philosophy is, if you're in the position to get the best possible player at that position, especially one of great need, you do it. A great pass-coverage SAM will make Antrel Rolle alot better as well.