Cover 2? Not as much as you think

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith wants opponents to buy into the Cover-2 propaganda distributed nationally about the way the team plays defense.

It’s true the Bears often discuss how they “do what we do.” The thing about it, however, is it’s not all Cover 2.

“They say all we’re gonna do is play Cover 2?” Smith asked. “We hope [the Green Bay Packers] and everyone assumes we’re gonna play Cover 2.”

From the Packers’ vantage point, Smith shouldn’t count on that being the case. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers didn’t develop into one of the NFL's elite players at his position by making misguided assumptions.

Having studied copious amounts of tape on Chicago’s defense throughout the season and in preparation of Sunday’s NFC title game, Rodgers understands the Bears are steeped in Tampa-2 philosophy. But on a down-to-down basis, Cover 2 isn’t always what the Bears play, especially lately.

“It’s almost a misnomer now,” Rodgers said. “A lot of the Tampa 2 teams are running more single safety stuff. So if you just go by the computers, they’re more of a single safety team. But Tampa 2 is a defense they like to use in long-yard situations, and also when they’re ahead in the game. They’ve run that for a number of years. Obviously, Lovie is kind of basing that from Tony Dungy, who brought it over from Tampa Bay. That’s something they do well, but like I said, not as much as you might think.”

Like Rodgers, Packers coach Mike McCarthy says the Bears are utilizing more “[Cover] 3 shell, than 2 right now, but that has a lot to do with the opponent, the score of the game, things like that.”

The Bears often disguise Cover 3 (three-deep zone with the deep coverage responsibilities split up in thirds between the two corners and free safety) by lining up in a Cover-2 look (two-deep zone with the safeties splitting the field in half for deep-coverage responsibilities). And at the snap of the ball, the strong safety (Danieal Manning) drops down into the box, and the free safety (Chris Harris) backpedals to the deep middle of the field to put the Bears in Cover 3.

"They disguise very well. They keep the [Cover] 2 shell pretty much the whole time and then move on the snap of the ball," Packers receiver Jordy Nelson said. "They try to make it difficult on you reading the coverage. We’ve just got to adjust on the run."

In a similar fashion, the team also disguises Cover 2 with Cover 3 looks.

It’s all part of the chess game between Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and opposing offenses, but it’s not all Cover 2, as some casual observers have grown accustomed to thinking.

“We believe in our basic [Tampa-2] philosophy. Eventually, it’s gonna come down to me beating the guy across [from me] -- a one-on-one battle -- no matter how you get in it,” Smith said. “There’s only so much you can do [schematically]. The teams who have a philosophy of just blitzing every snap, eventually though, as you blitz you’re gonna have to beat someone to get there most of the time. So it still comes down to a one-on-one football game.

"For us, it’s the same situation. We just do it a little bit differently. But in the end, as our players said, we’re not gonna change a whole lot. For the most part, you’re gonna know what we’re gonna do, and we’re gonna try to out-execute you.”

That doesn’t mean the Bears don’t plan on throwing in a few tricks to keep teams guessing.

"In Game 2, [there] wasn’t very much [Cover 2]. In Game 1, it was the majority of the second half," Nelson said. "It’s whatever they’ve got a feel for, whatever they feel is working best for them. I think we’re going to get a mixture. I don’t think they run it every down, like some people might think."