Bud Carson the famed defensive coach is generally credited for developing Cover-2 and bringing it to the NFL when he became the defensive coordinator for the Steelers in 1972—though we've seen it before that.
He further augmented it when the Steelers drafted a tall, skinny stand-up defensive end out of Kent State and converted him to middle linebacker. His name was Jack Lambert.
With Lambert, he was able to allow the middle linebacker to cover the so-called "hole" in Cover-2 the area between the two deep safeties and behind the first level of zones.
Lambert's skill set allowed him to do this and it was later used by others, including Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffen, and became known as Tampa-2.
Carson may not have been the first to run it but he was the first to run i regularly, to make it a "thing". We've seen a clip of a previous team doing something similar with even a zone blitz concept matched with it.
Regardless Carson deserves the lion's share of the credit and DUngy and the rest acknowledge as such. Dungy mentioned it plenty of times in the 1990s in the media and in books on coaching.
Eventually, Carson left the Steelers in 1978 to join George Allen's staff with the Los Angeles Rams. However, after just two preseason games Allen was fired and Ray Malavasi was named the head coach.
Carson was tasked with coaching Allen's defense but after the firing was then asked to revert to Malavasi's defense and of course, added his stamp to it, which he most certainly did.
Here are a couple of interesting clips to take a look at.
Though not vital to the defense it is interesting to note that in these clips Nolan Cromwell is playing right cornerback in the base defense. Rod Perry, the usual starter, was injured so Cromwell moved outside and Eddie Brown filled in at free safety—Cromwell's position.
One first down Rams are in Cover-3
Strong safety Dave Elmendorf comes down to become involved in the run game, safety force ... the eighth man in the box.
Again, Cover-3 Sky
This is the same as the first clip though on the opposite side, Elmendorf comes down in the run fit while the secondary initially drops to three deep.
Carson's name for what is now called Tampa-2 was "Cover-22".
In the above clip, on third down the Rams go to nickel personnel, Sid Justin plays right corner, Jack Reynolds the middle linebacker leaves the field and Cromwell plays in the middle.
It's a passing situation and the Giants pass and you can see Cromwell drop to the hole as the Rams play what would now be called Tampa-2 though the presnap look is basically more of a Cover-3 look—the Rams are not in a shell look with both safety aligned evenly with Elmendorf a bit shallower than Brown.
The right defensive end flushes Phil Simms out of the pocket.
Cover-2 vs Chargers, 1979In the above clip it is Cover-2 out of base. The MLB Jack Reynolds drops to the hole or is taking the tight end in the hole man to man—however you want to phrase it.
One oddity is the right linebacker Bob Brudzinski is walked out, lined up on the split end (X) but he drops to the hook/curl zone where he picks up the running back to his side, the #2 receiver and the flat defender the CB Sid Justin takes the #1 receiver, the X or split end.
In the above clip, the Rams are in base defense and run Cover-2 but in this case, the free safety rotates to the middle or "hole" from the right hash and the right cornerback takes the deep 1/2 in an inverted Tampa-2 look. The MIKE (Mac in Rams' terminology), rather than taking the "hole" takes the right hook/curl -- he actually takes the fullback pretty aggressively.
The LLB (Stub) has the left hook/curl. He passes the tight end off rather than "latch" or cover him, he left to be picked up by Cromwell.
Essentially these clips show why Tampa-2 is considered in the Cover-3 family, or as Tony Dungy has called it "Cover 2-1/2" since it is three deep but one of the three deep is between the first and second level of zones. It's just not a pure two-deep zone.
These days teams run this on occasion. We cannot say routinely but it is part of their repertoire—used to play what they want from a disguise and have someone different people in different places to mess up the quarterback's reads.
But this is ahead of its time, it was not talked about or didn't appear in coaching books of that era. Carson was simply got there before others did, or at least that is what the film shows.
The Rams ran a lot of things in the Carson era usually Cover-3 on likely run downs, just like most of the so-called Tampa-2 teams. They'd play Cover-3 first then if they got them in a third and long (sometimes 2nd and long) they'd use the Tampa-2—this is what Dungy did with the Bucs and Colts, for example.
Dungy didn't play a pass defense one run downs versus two running back or two tight end sets. That was more of a Cover-3 down when you can get some run support from a corner (cloud) or safety (sky). As he learned from Carson, Cover-22 was a passing-down call. He may have shown Cover-2 but rotated into Cover-3 to get an extra man in the box, to fill the eighth gap.
Of course, the Dungy/Kiffin/Lovie Smith group pretty much stayed with Tampa-2 on passing downs while Carson varied his approaches.
Sometimes it'd be one of these Cover-2 coverages, and sometimes he'd blitz with man coverage. Against the Seahawks in 1979 there was a lot of Cover-0 with blitzes, for one example. Carson had a very diverse approach—he was no one-trick pony.
Nolan Cromwell would often be the chess piece to make all these things work. He would play multiple positions.
He was a free safety in the base defense but would play slot in nickel if it was man or 2-man but if it was Cover-22 he was the MIKE. He'd also be the MIKE in other coverages as well.
There were few games in 1979 when Cromwell was a pure CB but that was just because of injury to the starters--not because that was part of any packages on those days. Later in his career -- under Fritz Shurmur -- Cromwell would play dime linebacker, adding that to his repertoire.
The main takeaways of this post are that Tampa-2 was not used in Tampa first. It was in Pittsburgh where Tony Dungy learned it. Another is Bud Carson ran a form of inverted Tampa-2 in the late 1970s.
Another takeaway is these shots illustrate how Cover-2 and Cover-3 can be very similar postsnap and why Tampa-2 is considered part of the Cover-3 family.