Anytime anyone mentions the word "Tampa" and "defense," most people think of the Tampa 2 defense. For Lions fans, that brings nightmares of Rod Marinelli's bald head and the terrible Detroit Lions defenses of 2006-2008. Still, the Tampa 2 has been quite successful in the NFL since its introduction by Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin back in 1996. In the last decade, teams like the Bucs, Raiders, Colts and Bears have all either made it to the Super Bowl or won it.
Now, just because the Bucs play the Tampa 2 (T2) doesn't mean they play the exact same defense as, say, the Chicago Bears. How they play their T2 is different in its own right. For one, Tampa plays a one gap system on the defensive line, which means that each defensive lineman is responsible for covering only one gap. Other types of schemes often use a two gap system where the linemen are responsible for covering two gaps instead of one (this is generally used by a 3-4 team). What a one gap system allows is that defensive linemen, especially the defensive tackles, can be far more aggressive, as they have less responsibility on them.
This obviously bodes well for a team that has pretty much drafted a brand new defensive line in the last two drafts. The Buccaneers spent their first two picks in 2010 to draft defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Brian Price. They also spent their first two picks this year toward drafting defensive ends Adrian Clayborn and Da'Quan Bowers. All of these young players, combined with the veterans, give the Bucs a ton of potential on the defensive line, but I do think the Lions offensive line has the upper hand for this matchup.
The biggest thing the Bucs defensive line has going against it is size. The Lions offense is built for power football with size across the board (except for center, of course). The Buccaneers biggest starting defensive tackle is Roy Miller at 310 pounds. With a one gap system in place, they will be able to be aggressive, and their quickness should help with that, but they had trouble stopping the run last season due to size, and I believe they will have trouble stopping the run on Sunday, too.
Aside from playing one gap, the other thing that the Bucs do somewhat differently from other T2 defenses is that they play both man and zone coverage, while most T2 defenses (actually most defenses) in the NFL play either one or the other. What this means is that the Bucs either man up a person with a receiver for the game (i.e. man coverage) or use a corner to cover a certain portion of the field, which is zone coverage. From what I saw, the Bucs more or less played man coverage with their corners against the Lions last season. However, they did use their linebackers in zone coverage, which is standard procedure for a Tampa 2 defense.
Now, the biggest difference between a Tampa 2 and a regular cover two defense is that a Tampa 2 drops the middle linebacker into coverage. This often gives the T2 a cover three look, where each player is responsible for covering a deep third of the field. Basically, the idea is to keep everything in front of the defense and gang tackle when a catch is made. Dropping this many players also means that the defensive line is often left by themselves to generate pressure; the Lions under Marinelli were never successful with the Tampa 2 because they couldn't generate pressure and never had the proper middle linebacker.
If you look around the league, teams that successfully run the Tampa 2 all have very good and very versatile middle linebackers that can run, tackle and cover. Brian Urlacher is the prototypical middle linebacker for a T2 defense and is the biggest reason that the Bears have been as good as they have been on defense the last decade. The Buccaneers also had a great Tampa 2 middle linebacker last season in Barrett Ruud, but he decided to sign with the Titans after Stephen Tulloch chose the Lions. In a way, the Tulloch signing may have actually helped the offense too.
Taking Ruud's place will be rookie third-round pick Mason Foster. Foster, from what I know, has never played in a Tampa 2 system, so he will have to deal with the learning curve of the NFL. I think it will be quite interesting to see how the Lions go after him, especially with the two tight ends in Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew. Also, both Gerald McCoy and Aqib Talib -- Tampa's number one corner -- will play Sunday, unlike last season. All of this means that the Lions will be facing a much different Bucs defense compared to last season.
In 2010, the Lions basically played a West Coast type of offense with tons of screen and short passes from Drew Stanton that were combined with a power running game from Maurice Morris. That combination was enough for an overtime win and a 23-point effort by the offense. However, I expect a much different game plan on Sunday with Matthew Stafford under the helm instead of Stanton.
What Stafford will allow the Lions to do is stretch the field. With Stafford taking the snaps, the Lions receivers will be able to run deeper routes, which should force the safeties back even deeper than usual. What this might mean is that the usual large spaces found in the middle of a Tampa 2 defense might be even larger, which will mean that the Lions mid-range guys -- Scheffler, Pettigrew, Best, etc. -- will be able to take further advantage. All assuming that the Bucs don't decide to abandon the T2 for this game, which I would suggest.
All in all, I think this matchup favors the Lions. The Bucs have some pieces on the defensive side, but they are not built to play the Lions, no matter who is playing at quarterback. I think the lack of size and quality defensive ends on the defensive line and inexperience at linebacker will end up hurting the Bucs. Overall, I expect the Lions to score four or more touchdowns in this game.