Is the Panthers Cover 2 A Safe Defense?

With so little of substance to discuss these days I found this piece from NFP fairly entertaining and on point when discussing the Panthers defense. Though the Panthers brought in blitz-happy DC Sean McDermott it doesn't mean the Panthers will move off of their base Cover 2 defense. We did retain former DC Ron Meeks to guide the secondary so we know what his tendencies are...prevent the big play. In that regard I've always considered the Cover 2 a safe defense provided you have a front 4 that can get pressure. Matt Bowen though puts a twist on it:

I don't want to call Cover 2 a "safe defense," because that isn't the angle I am going for here. But it doesn't put you in a position where you have to adjust to every alignment and pre-snap motion from the offense. See a slot, bunch, stack or empty set? That doesn't matter-because you play what is called in the huddle. 

Plus, defense still check to Cover 2 (usually two hands to the helmet or an "Omaha" call from the Mike Backer) when the offense aligns in empty coming out of the huddle. That is pretty standard practice across the league.

So basically the Cover 2 is the base defense as far as what you show the offense pre-snap. From there begins the mind games...which we will discuss a little more...after the jump.

I was glad to learn that the holding two hands to the helmet means base Cover 2. Even the Madden players do that in the game! I guess it is standard across the league.

Bowen goes on to reference to a previous piece he wrote about specific plays to beat the Cover 2, which I'll go over one of those shortly. But I think he hits the nail on the head on a key piece (or pieces) the Panthers were missing last season:

No question you have to blitz (which we do see from core Cover 2 teams) and play Cover 1, but if you don’t have three corners that can consistently win outside of the numbers and in the slot (plus a safety that can walk down over a good TE), it is going to be a long afternoon in the NFL

Did we have three CBs that could win on the outside? Did we blitz from a Cover 2 on a regular basis? I don't have stats to back it up but I'm going to say 'No' on both counts. 

All three of our CBs got beat for big plays at some point past season. Richard Marshall seemed to play scared to the point of giving up so much cushion he was constantly giving up 1st downs in front of him. 

Linking on to the plays designed to beat the Cover 2, in this example I'll use the flat 7. I pick this one for no other reason than I use it a lot in Madden to protect against the short yardage pass plays if I'm sure the guy has given up on the run. It also indicates why teams like the Panthers will take a chance on a CB that has the skill and ability to play the outside:

The key to beating the Tampa 2 with this scheme is the "7" (or the Flag Route). Both No.1’s ("X" and "Z") take a hard inside release, stem to a vertical alignment and break their route between 12-15 yards towards the corner of the field. The objective here is simple: find the hole between the deep half safety and the corner who is sinking to provide a cushion—or time—for the safety to get over the top of the WR. As you can see, the highlighted yellow box is the target for the QB, and as always, safeties in Tampa 2 have to be alert for the No.1 WR to use an inside release to set up the "7" and then break to the post.

If the safety bites even a second on that inside move it's a 20 yard gain at best or a TD at worst. This shows why the Panthers rolled the dice on Brandon Hogan. CBs that can win on the outside are hard to find and usually require high draft picks. If the Panthers plan to blitz a lot this year then that will put even more pressure on these guys on the outside and the safeties. They had better be ready.

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