Wednesday, January 28, 2009
I hate it when I have to listen to "experts" analyze significant games. You would think they would talk about something like Florida's (glorified) single wing against Oklahoma's under front. Perhaps they could examine the similarities and differences between the Steelers and Ravens D, but no, we have to sit here and listen to Anquan Boldin answer questions about the altercation between himself and OC Tom Haley. (Oh but Kurt gets a pass because he's a "competitor," F that) Anyway, I sit there and watching TV and yelling "WHO F-ING CARES!!!!" However, one day I thought to myself, "Well Lattimer what the hell are you doing to cure this ignorance?" The answer is nothing.
Let's get into a little coach porn.
First thing, I have to plug one of the better blogs on the web. Chris Brown's Smart Football is easily the most insightful football blog out there. (The guy applies game theory to play calling for god's sake) Anyway he combines theory, as well as practical applications to the game, he talked about some of the things I'll address last week, but...just read it.
(He also has the best analysis on the VAUNTED A-11 OFFENSE)
Ok on to my little dissection, let's talk a little Steeler D vs. Arizona O. (Mainly the Steeler D...and in some respects Arizona' s D) I've seen them both run the type of stuff I'll talk about.
This should be a three part series...maybe 2...maybe 4, I really have no idea.
PART 1-THE BASICS
Before we get into the hardcore stuff, lets take a little crash course in Defense 101, courtesy of the late Fritz Shurmur.
We're going to talk run defense, because hey you got to stop the run.
Steelers run a 3-4, meaning 3 defensive lineman and 4 linebackers, 2 corners, and 2 deep safeties. 3+4=7 in run support right? Wrong, this is a common misconception with the 3-4 and 4-3 schemes, by design (in their base) they both commit 9 to stop the run. To paraphrase Shurmur, an easy way to think of run D is examining a team's coverage. Let's use cover 2 as an example. 2 deep safeties, corners have the flats, linebackers take the hook and middle curl areas, 4 men are rushing.
So why is coverage so important in run D? Think about it this way those two safeties have to cover the deep halves of the field, pretty tough. So it's somewhat unsound to ask (even Ed Reed) "Hey I want you to take a deep half of the field, make sure nobody gets behind you, and oh by the way, I want you to take out the running back behind the line of scrimmage." I mean you COULD do that, but play action would kill you. However, you see that little red corner back? He has the flat, he doesn't have any deep responsibility, and he beats the shit out of the WR. (delaying the release to help his safety) In short, he can be a run first player. So back to our little equation 3 lineman + 4 linebackers + 2 cornerbacks=9, or a 9 man front.
(That little force thing means that the corner is the "end" man on the run defense, his job is to turn the ball carrier back inside to his pursuing teammates. This is a very basic definition and it would take me 5 pages to talk about force players.) Another thing to note is a the secondary force player. In this case it's the safeties, their job is to get the ball carrier if he happens to break through the front 9.
Seems awesome, 9 guys playing the run, but there is one small problem. Since you're corners have to reroute the WR's to help those poor safeties, your force players are dictated by alignment. Meaning, in the NFL, where the hashes are close together, a team can essentially dictate the placement of your force player. It sucks. I know. Shit happens.
But what about when I see safeties blowing shit up? Good question, because there is another way to get 9 hombres playing the run. A safety force scheme. Now this borders on the edge of soundness, but in the biz we call it quarters coverage. An easy way to think about it is that it's a hybrid between man and zone. The main cogs are the safeties. The safeties read the #2 receiver, or the end man on the line of scrimmage to determine whether it is a run or pass. Upon this recognition they will either fly up and play the run, if it's pass lock on #2, if #2 goes shallow rob (help) on #1's route.
(Just to clear things up if the run was to the weakside, the Free Safety becomes the force player and the SS would handle the cutback, that's how we can consider it a 9 man front)
As you can see, it's pretty complicated, but nothing some reps can handle. The problems, it's strong against 21 personnel (2 backs one tight end) but it get's a little sketchy against spread sets. It's also pretty obvious that running play action against those safeties could F them up quite a bit.
What about that 8 man box? Well that is cover 3. Many, not all, but many teams will go to an 8 man "box." What does this do? Against certain personnel groupings a defensive team can sure up their strongside if they expect a run in that direction. At this point (in a 3-4) a safety will have force on the frontside, leaving the backer with force on the backside. The two corners and weakside safety take the deep thirds. 8 is one less than 9, but on the flip side you strengthen your strongside defense and you bring a guy closer to the line.
In this diagram the defense is actually asking the linebacker (S) to force and the safety is going to fill where needed.
Man defense. Man is pretty simple: you get him, I got him. In terms of run support, you technically can't ask a guy to cover a potential receiver on any route AND ask him to play the run. so pretty much whoever is rushing/blitzing is in run support. This could be 4 all the way to gun in the mouth 9. You can also play zone behind a man scheme, such as playing 2 deep safeties with one under, or the popular cover 1 where a team will typically blitz, play man, and keep a cat deep. Like I said if you play man, you are technically removing your defender from immediate run support, however, I feel like this rule is thrown out the window in the NFL. It's also another way to show an 8 man front.
Man seems really cool, but it can be exploited... a lot. Play action, stemming blocks by receivers (making it look like your running a route), crossing routes, double moves, backfield misdirection, the list goes on and on. Oh, and there is the other problem that if someone like, well me, is defending Larry Fitz, it could be a long day.
So what is all this rambling about? Well if you want to understand the core of any defense, look at the safeties. They pretty much tell you what's going on. So going back to our dear friend Fritz, set your deep coverage, remove those players from immediate run support. Then set your force players, they are typically the curl to flat players (although not always). Then fill in the blanks, and give everyone else a gap/job.
Ok so that was a crash course, we're talking defense at 10,000 feet. And if you are a coach reading this...I'm sorry for blaspheming the gospel of defense.
If this doesn't make sense to you, I'm sorry, If you want to me to talk more, clarify, or get in a giant X's & O's pissing match, just comment.
For our next edition we'll cover the Steelers (and sometimes the Cardinals) front, as well as examining the famed ZONE BLITZ!!!!!
Posted by Steve Lattimer at 1:19 PM