EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- As the Minnesota Vikings travel to Tampa Bay this weekend in search of their second road win of the year and their first victory over the Buccaneers since 2001, they'll have plenty of familiarity with the defensive scheme they'll be facing.
The team practiced against Buccaneers defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier's scheme since 2007, when Frazier became the Vikings' defensive coordinator and replaced Brad Childress as the head coach in 2010. And Tampa Bay head coach Lovie Smith ran a similar version of the Tampa 2 defense (originally popularized by Tony Dungy) when he faced the Vikings twice a year as the Chicago Bears' head coach from 2004-12.
That defense has been maligned in recent years by critics who say it's out of date and too easy to solve, and the Vikings certainly heard those sentiments under Frazier in Minnesota; defensive end Brian Robison said in training camp the scheme had gotten so stale that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers could call out the Vikings' plays as they lined up.
The Vikings gave up the most points in the league last season, and though the Buccaneers seemed to have plenty of talent on defense, they've allowed an average of 34 points a game this year (also the highest in the league). But Smith said in a conference call on Wednesday that those who criticize the defense "don't know what they're talking about.”
"When people say the 'Tampa 2,' it’s more than the Tampa 2," Smith said. "You play Cover 2, but it’s just a small part of what we do. Every team in the league plays some form of Cover 2. When it’s described that way and how it can’t work, Cover 2 has been around since the beginning of time, and it’s not going anywhere.”
Frazier and Smith had coached against one another for years, and both come from Dungy's coaching tree. After the Vikings fired Frazier on Dec. 30, he quickly joined Smith in Tampa.
"The year that I was off, I didn’t plan on having the opportunity to hire Leslie," Smith said. "But when he was available, I’ve known him a long time, I’ve competed against his teams for a long time. It was a natural fit."
Said defensive end Michael Johnson, who played for new Vikings coach Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati before joining Frazier: "He’s very positive. Always positive and believes in guys. You can feel that. So in the same sense (as Zimmer), with him the way he believes in us, it makes us want to go out there and not let him down also. It’s been kind of frustrating because I want to be better and I want us to be better because Leslie is a good dude, man. We owe him more than we’ve been able to give him so far."