Lovie Smith has long been known as a defensive-minded coach having played linebacker in college and consistently finding success on that side of the ball throughout his tenure in the NFL. Smith's defensive identity is mostly linked to the "Tampa 2" defense he helped make famous with Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin in the late 1990s; however, this is an over-simplification of Smith's coaching philosophy. Smith has utilized numerous concepts at each coaching stop including cover 1 and cover 3 strategies as well as both man and zone coverages and has found success in doing so. In 13 of Smith's 18 seasons coaching in the NFL, he has helped form a top 10 defense according to Football Outsider's DVOA, which takes into account numerous factors, including strength of opponent.
Use the chart below to take a look at Coach Smith's career, spanning 1996 through last season, to see where his teams have finished in the league's defensive rankings.
So what makes a Lovie Smith defense? There are several constants emphasized in Coach Smith's defensive schemes that have made his teams consistently good over the past two decades.
1. Pressure from the Defensive Line
The first tenet to a Lovie Smith defense is a disruptive front four to pressure the quarterback. Despite having one of the lowest rates of blitzing in the league, Smith has coached a team into the top 10 in terms of total sacks nine times. This allows the rest of the defense to drop into coverage to prevent big plays. From Warren Sapp to Leonard Little to Julius Peppers and now Gerald McCoy, Smith has had a defensive lineman exceed eight sacks in a season 20 times.
2. Defensive Takeaways
Coach Smith has stressed to his players the importance of taking the ball away from the opposing team's offense to his players each year and it shows. Smith's teams have been in the top 10 in terms of forcing turnovers 10 times, including finishing first overall in 2003 with the St. Louis Rams as well as in 2006 and 2012 with the Chicago Bears. No other current coach has more than eight top 10 appearances or more than one first place finish.
3. Extraordinary Linebackers
The WILL and MIKE (weakside linebacker and middle linebacker, respectively) are arguably the most important players in Coach Smith's defense. Smith played linebacker at Tulsa and started his NFL career as a linebackers coach, so it's only appropriate that he has helped shape superstars at the position. Throughout his career, Smith has emphasized athleticism and versatility at the positon. Lovie Smith coached linebackers tallied 352 passes defended over 18 seasons, which was only surpassed by two teams over that period. From Derrick Brooks and Hardy Nickerson to Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, linebackers have earned 18 Pro Bowl selections under Coach Smith. The Buccaneers hope that they have found the next dynamic duo of playmakers at the position with Lavonte David and Kwon Alexander.