Offense must be patient vs. cover-2

Ravens notebook

McNair will take what he's given by NFL's 2nd-ranked pass defense

January 11, 2007|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun Reporter

The Tampa 2 has found a home in Indianapolis.

The cover-2 defense - a scheme that emphasizes splitting the deep parts of the field between the two safeties and keeping plays in front of them - has been around for three decades, but was popularized by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers under then-coach Tony Dungy.

So when the Colts hired Dungy in January 2002, Dungy brought the Tampa 2 with him and has installed it with some success in Indianapolis.

The defensive scheme is familiar to Ravens quarterback Steve McNair, who likely will re-acquaint himself with the cover-2 when the Colts visit M&T Bank Stadium in an AFC divisional playoff contest on Saturday.

"The thing this team is all about is being patient," said McNair, who has compiled a 2-5 record - including five consecutive losses - against the Colts. "Take what the defense gives us [and] when they give us the big play, we've got to take advantage of it. They're a team that bends but doesn't break."

For all the talk about Indianapolis' porous run defense - which ranked last in the league during the regular season - the unit was stingy against the pass, ranking second in the NFL.

The defense stood out in the Colts' 23-8 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in an AFC wild-card playoff game Saturday. Kansas City was limited to 126 yards of offense, went three and out on its first seven possessions, and didn't record a first down until late in the third quarter.

Conventional wisdom holds that when a defense shows a cover-2 alignment, run the ball. But there's hardly anything conventional about Indianapolis' defense, according to Ravens coach Brian Billick.

"They're very multiple in the sense that when they think you're going to run, there are going to be eight guys in that box, and when they think you're going to pass, they're going to be in 2-deep," he said. "And they're very good based on your tendency and the flow of the game as to when they want to put in what configuration. So the key to beat the cover-2 is to be running and when they've got eight in the box, be passing."

The Buffalo Bills used a cover-2 defense in the regular-season finale against the Ravens, and although the offense gained 327 yards, four trips inside Buffalo's 20-yard line yielded just four field goals by Matt Stover.

Still, McNair preached patience and said the offense must not let the cover-2 force it to panic.

"They want to force you to go third-and-15, third-and-10, so they can play the cover-2 and force you to throw the ball into coverage and then give Peyton Manning another opportunity to score," McNair said. "We [are] just going to be patient, take what they give us like we've been doing all year and not get frustrated with the running game. We're going to get the running game started and feed off that and everything else will open up."

Only punters need apply

Quarterback Tony Romo's mishandling of a snap on a field-goal attempt in the Dallas Cowboys' 21-20 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in an NFC wild-card playoff game Saturday validated Stover's insistence on barring quarterbacks from holding for him. Stover, in his 17th NFL season, said he has trusted such punters as Brian Hansen, Tom Tupa, Greg Montgomery, Kyle Richardson, Dave Zastudil and Sam Koch to hold for him.

"How would you like to be the quarterback who has thrown an incomplete pass on third down and now we have to kick a field goal?" Stover said. "He's got to go in there and hold. He's still thinking about the play before. I don't want that.

"I [also] want my punter to be the holder because I've got all day to work with him. I can sit there and drill him. ... I just get so used to him because I've had a few thousand kicks with him, and it's what my eyes are so used to seeing."

Et cetera

While left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden (turf toe), right guard Keydrick Vincent (strained groin) and tight end Quinn Sypniewski (wrist) remained questionable for Saturday, safety Gerome Sapp (back) was upgraded from questionable to probable. Linebacker Adalius Thomas (ankle) was added to the injury list, but is probable. There were no changes to the Colts' injury report. ... Former Ravens owner Art Modell did not make the list of finalists for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. ... No teams have contacted the Ravens about interviewing defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to fill their head coaching positions.

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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