The concept of "Cover 2" is neither the polar opposite of the way Dick LeBeau likes to play defense nor foreign to the Steelers' unit he coordinates.
"We've always been a pretty big 'Cover 2' team," LeBeau said Tuesday. "At one time, we probably were a 'Cover 2' team. For the last three years, we've been close to a 50-percent 'Cover 2' team."
"Cover 2" was originated by then-Steelers defensive coordinator Bud Carson in the 1970s. The basic idea was to prevent big plays by positioning a pair of safeties, each responsible for 50 percent of the field, in deep coverage.
Former Steelers safety and former Steelers assistant coach Tony Dungy expanded "Cover 2" into what has become known across the NFL as the 'Tampa 2' during his days as the head coach of the Buccaneers (1996-2001). Dungy's innovation was to assign the middle linebacker deep-middle coverage responsibility in "Cover 2."
Dungy's Colts and Lovie Smith's Chicago Bears meet Sunday in Super Bowl XLI. Smith is a former Dungy assistant in Tampa. Both defenses feature the "Tampa 2" version of "Cover 2."
The Steelers are famous for using a zone-blitz, which LeBeau created in Cincinnati in the 1980s.
But that doesn't mean the Steelers haven't been well-versed in the principles of "Cover 2" all along, both in recent seasons and during LeBeau's first tour as an assistant under Bill Cowher from 1992-96.
"Hopefully, we've disguised it well enough that you can't tell before the ball gets snapped," LeBeau said.
Thus, if new Steelers coach and former Dungy disciple Mike Tomlin wants to emphasize "Cover 2" over the zone-blitz or the 4-3 front as opposed to the Steelers' standard 3-4, LeBeau believes the Steelers will have that covered.
"The head coach is going set the overall tenor and philosophy of our team," LeBeau said. "Whatever he would decide to do is what we're going to do.
"Now, you might say I'm a little bit of a 3-4 guy and our guys are 3-4 guys. And I think that will come into consideration, but it's up to Mike. Philosophically, whether it's the 3-4 or the 4-3, I don't think we'll have any trouble doing what we want to do, which is put pressure on the quarterback."
The Steelers' zone-blitz approach has always endeavored to do so by surprise because the Steelers have always favored a three-man line.
"In a four-man line, you're saying 'Here are our linemen and these are our linebackers,'" LeBeau said. "Now, you can still rush linebackers and drop linemen, but your linemen are identified as four down linemen in the 4-3. In the 3-4, you're saying, 'Here are our three linemen. You figure out which of our linebackers is going to be the fourth, or the fifth pass-rusher.'
"If we're going to go to 'Cover 2,' we'll only have four rushers. If we're going to a zone-pressure (zone-blitz), we'll have five or more. But we can still play some '2' coverage concepts behind a five-man rush."
LeBeau maintains the Steelers are capable of playing a four-man front because of the versatility of defensive ends Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel and the presence of backup nose tackle Chris Hoke.
And LeBeau considers "Cover 2" capability a necessity in today's game as a method of combating offenses that spread the field in search of the big play.
"I think you gotta play some '2' coverage," LeBeau said. "It would be very hard to find any team in college or pro ball that doesn't play some sort of 'Cover 2.'
"I don't think that anybody plays any coverage all the time. The quarterbacks are too good. Even Indianapolis, you might say, is a 'Cover 2' team. Probably (the Colts') run to the Super Bowl has come from the way their defense has played down the stretch, but it hasn't been all 'Cover 2,' I can promise you that."
By Mike Prisuta