Could Tampa Bay's Cover 2 scheme help Browns' run game?

BEREA, Ohio -- Most every Football 101 Manual has the chapter: How to beat the Cover 2.

In its most simplistic definition, it's a defense that places two safeties deep in the middle of the field, with a middle linebacker buzzing in front of them and cornerbacks keeping plays in front as well.

The idea: Force teams to take the long route, be patient and play mistake-free.

The manual states that the way to drive a team out of Cover 2 is to run the ball, force the safety to move closer to the line and then throw over him.

It’s some time-honored traditional thinking that sets up an interesting matchup for the Cleveland Browns Sunday when they play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home.

Bucs coach Lovie Smith is a disciple of Tony Dungy, and Dungy was the master of the Cover 2. The Cover 2 was so identified with Dungy it eventually became known as the Tampa 2. Smith worked under Dungy for years with the Bucs, then took the Tampa 2 to Chicago, and now that he’s coach of the Bucs he has brought it back to Tampa Bay.

Which of course leads to the Browns' running game averaging 54 yards per game the past two weeks, when Oakland and Jacksonville stacked the line, often with an extra safety, to stop the run. Which of course leads to the theory that perhaps this might be a good opportunity for the Browns to get the run game going -- because they’re playing a defense that is set up to keep a safety deep as opposed to close to the line.

Browns Tight end Gary Barndige, who figures to play more if Jordan Cameron is out with a concussion, sort of bought into the theory.

"But any defense anybody plays you can get the running game (going)," he said. "Just as long as everybody is on the details. If everybody is not on the details, it’s hard to get the run going."

Spoken like a veteran who does not want to a) disparage the opposition or b) reveal too much.

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan echoed Barnidge’s feelings about the details, pointing out the Browns had several runs against Oakland that could have been big gains had the details been heeded.

"I’d say we had about seven of those opportunities," Shanahan said, "but when we did have those opportunities one guy missed. It takes 11 guys to run the ball."

Defending the run and stopping the run is an interesting dynamic. Dan Marino always called it an attitude, and said it required commitment. The Browns have the commitment, but they didn’t necessarily have the production the past two weeks. Against Oakland, though, the Browns kept running, which forced the Raiders to honor play-action.

Because the Browns figure they always need to run, they don’t necessarily see any great advantage playing a Tampa 2 team.

"We’re not going into this game saying, ‘Oh they run the Tampa 2 let’s go run the ball, this is our chance,'" guard John Greco said. "We don’t care if they run goal-line every play, the mindset is what we need to do to run the ball efficiently and effectively."

The Browns also don’t want to assume anything. Tampa Bay has talent on defense. Shanahan called defensive tackle Gerald McCoy "an extreme problem," and lineman Michael Johnson and linebacker Lavonte David are both very good players.

That helps buttress another tenet of the Tampa 2 -- the pass rush is generated from the front four.

"That front’s very dependent on their personnel," coach Mike Pettine said. "And they personnel it very well."

Pettine said the Bucs will mix their defenses more than some Cover 2 teams, showing one coverage and switching to another. He also pointed out Tampa 2 teams are built for that style, so the personnel fits.

"They can sit in lighter spacing and play Cover 2 and keep the safeties deep and still be effective against the run," Pettine said. "Anytime that you can be a defense and play what we would consider 'lighter spacing' and defend the run, that’s advantage you."

Shanahan doesn’t like the numbers produced by the offense the past two games when running the ball, but he’s not alarmed either, because he said it's expected that someone eventually will stop an offense. He also harkened back to something he always said about quarterbacks: NFL defenses eventually take away what you do best, so it’s wise to be ready with something else.

"Eventually, someone’s going to take (the run game) away, and when they do, usually, it opens up a lot of other stuff," Shanahan said, adding: "We want people to feel like they have to commit to stop something, because when they do have to commit to stop something, it makes other stuff easier."