I'm not as well versed as many are here in the nuts and bolts of how things work, or are supposed to work, on the field during a game. That said, I found this very educational as to how our defense is supposed to function, yet doesn't for whatever reasons. Once again, it's a long article from the gotexans blog, but well worth it IMO. http://gotexans.blogspot.com/ I know we haven't been running a 4-3 defense very long. I know that there are probably still some kinks and growing pains that we are trying to work through. Nevertheless, I am beginning to wonder if Richard Smith even knows how to use a 4-3. In fact, taking it a step further, as each week passes, I am more and more sure that he's unaware we are even running a 4-3. How else can you explain the following: 1. Why does Morlon Greenwood hardly (if ever) blitz? I ask this because Morlon is ostensibly our weakside linebacker, right? I mean, that's what it says on this depth chart and that's how Kubiak referred to him through the preseason, so I assume that's the role he's actually playing. As the WLB in a 4-3, one would generally assume that he would be asked to blitz. [begin tedious primer for sake of exposition of idea, despite fact that most readers already know forthcoming info] Look, it breaks down like this: In the theoretical 4-3, each of the three linebackers serves a different purpose. The middle (MLB) is by far the most important, as the whole defense is designed to funnel plays back toward the middle. He lines up in the 0- or (occasionally) 1-technique (i.e. usually directly over the center, but occasionally offset over either shoulder of the center) and has responsibility for the A and B gaps (the holes between the center and guard or the guard and tackle). From that position, he keys off of the fullback and to determine run/pass, and has to maintain interior defense on outside runs until he is sure there is no cutback. DeMeco Ryans does all of this and does it ungodly well. The second most important backer in this defense is the strongside (SLB). He lines up on whichever side has more blockers (TEs, offset RBs/FBs, even slot WRs) and has four responsibilities. First, he is responsible for filling the D gap (which, actually, isn't even a gap--it's the area just outside the TE) and turning the run back toward the middle. Second, if the running back is attempt to run between the tackles, the SLB is supposed to jam the TE and keep the TE from getting to and blocking the MLB. Third, on a pass play, the SLB usually picks up the releasing TE and covers him. Fourth, he is expected to maintain backside contain on runs away from him and protect against anything that would reverse the direction of the play. Finally, we get to the point of this primer--the weakside (WLB). If the offense lines up with two TEs, the WLB lines up and plays his position just like the SLB with the same responsibilities. In normal, one TE situations, however, his role is different. In those cases, the WLB's two main duties are to backside protect against reverses and misdirection plays (which is why you will often see the WLB trail a pulling guard) and to pick up the swing/screen passes thrown to his side. But--and here's the rub--he has that second duty because the WLB sees more of those passes because the WLB is asked usually to blitz more than the other linebackers. And this makes sense, if you think about it--after all, the WLB is the one LB who has the fewest blockers to pick him up if he blitzes. [/end tedium...for a moment] Despite all of this, Greenwood is hardly ever sent after the QB. Heck, the reason that Shantee Orr got to play as much as he did last year was because he was a good pass rusher...from the SLB position. How does that make sense, except perhaps if you are technically running a 4-3 where you have Left and Right OLBs and you don't differentiate between the weak and strong sides except in name? Now, I am on the record repeatedly as saying that I like Greenwood and that he is underrated. After seeing him in person, my opinion hasn't changed. He's fast, he tackles well, and he seems to have very good football instincts. All of which plays into why he makes a good WLB. But if you are going to run a 4-3, and you don't get pressure from your front four, you have to blitz. Wait...I'm getting ahead of myself. 2a. Why aren't we at least blitzing someone with any regularity? [fire up the tedious, pedantic football primer again] The greatest strength of the 3-4 defense is its flexibility. Because the defense requires faster players at key positions, teams can move seamlessly between the base 3-4, an old-school 5-2 (from which they can either all rush, slide into a 2-deep zone, or even run a basic zone-blitz), and even a 4-2-5 zone. Given that flexibility plus the speed inherent in the personnel, a person might wonder why all teams don't run the 3-4. Well, aside from the fact that it's not always easy to put together that personnel (as our first years demonstrated), the answer is that the 3-4 is much easier for teams to run against. Because the players in the 3-4 are smaller, a good running team with a large line can dominate the nose tackle, crash down on the middle linebackers, and create some great running holes. The 4-3, on the other hand, gives you an additional defensive tackle and makes it easier to keep the offensive linemen from getting to the second level and neutralizing your MLB. And, if you find four really good linemen, the 4-3 offers the opportunity to get good pressure on the offense without sending a linebacker. This is helpful because the base 4-3 generally features man coverage on the WRs. If the front four can get pressure, however, the linebackers and DBs can drop into a 2- or 3-deep zone, increasing your chances for a hurried throw and possible interception. THAT SAID (and that's a very big "that said"), if you don't have a defensive line that can get pressure all by itself--few teams do--you have to create pressure. It doesn't matter how good or flexible your linebackers are, if the front four cannot get after the QB alone, all but the most inept NFL QBs can sit back there and pick apart a zone defense. See, e.g, Collins, Kerry. [end primer...for the moment] OK, so back to my pre-primer question: Why aren't we at least blitzing someone with any regularity? I know that the pat answer is "because we need our LBs in coverage." Except that is circular logic. If you aren't blitzing because you aren't getting pressure and, thus, your suspect secondary is getting exposed, then it is the dropping of LBs into coverage that is creating the need for the LBs in coverage. Look, like I said up there a while ago, if you aren't getting pressure from the front four in a 4-3, then you have to create pressure by blitzing. It's that simple. This is doubly true when your secondary is shaky at best. Pressure creates turnovers through hurried throws and forced fumbles and it forces clowns like Petey Faggins to have to cover for a shorter time (thus limiting the amount of time he has to grab hold of the WRs jersey). There are no three linebackers in the world who can help enough to counter a QB having all day to pick apart a feeble secondary. For a perfect example of this, you need look no further than last year's Washington Redskins. When injuries at corner made it so that they basically couldn't cover anyone, their response was to drop everyone into coverage and play a soft cover 2. The result: QBs had all day (because Washington's front four couldn't get any pressure at all) and the Skins were the worst deep ball defense in the league last year. The lesson: QB pressure makes the entire defense better in ways that extra coverage cannot, or, alternatively, any amount of coverage gets beat when the QB has enough time. Which is not to say that I advocate sending ALL of your linebackers... 2b. So, then...how should we go about blitzing (other than with the aforementioned proper use of the WLB)? The answer is simple: the zone blitz [4-3 defense 102 here. Feel free to skip ahead.] The idea behind the zone blitz is two-fold. First, duh, create pressure. Second, however, it tries to confuse the offense's blocking calls by sending any of the three linebackers (or, occasionally, a safety) while someone else fills the space left by the vacating backer. In that way, the defense does not lose the extra hands in coverage, but should still be able to get penetration because the offensive line will not know where the blitz is coming from on a given play. For example, the zone blitz allows the MLB to blitz through the A-gap, while the nose tackle stunts over through the B-gap. In coverage, the WLB fills the space vacated by the MLB and the RDE drops back and out into the space that WLB would fill in a standard two deep zone. So, when the QB sees the MLB attack, his natural reaction is to look to throw at where the blitz came from (or, if he's guessing that the WLB will fill, to where the WLB came from), only to find the ball thrown right at a defender. Then, on the very next play, with the very same package, the team could go with a more traditional WLB blitz, but have the RDE slide back to fill. We saw this play once or twice in the preseason with Shantee Orr lined up outside the RDE and it was effective. An added bonus of blitzing out of a two-deep zone is that it allows our best defensive player to make even more of an impact on the game. DeMeco Ryans has two sacks this season, both of which have come on a straight blitz. On both plays, he came more or less untouched (one against Harrington late in the game when we decided to actually play D and the one last week where he nearly killed Kerry Collins) because he was allowed to read the offensive line and choose between the A- and B-gap and he smacked the QB right in the mouth. He has also been asked to run blitz a couple times and he's found success there. So, if we start using him on some zone blitzes, teams will have to account for him more. Meaning that blitzes from other positions--say Danny Clark stunting over the LDE with Morlon Greenwood dropping back to the middle and DeMeco filling the space where the SLB would normally be--a team throwing over the blitz would be throwing the ball right at our best defensive weapon. Likewise, letting DeMeco creep up and show blitz, especially if he'd already had success, would create more chances for the d-linemen on either side of him to get ignored by an overzealous o-lineman. And so on, and so forth. [/4-3 Defense 102] I cannot state this strongly enough. Blitzing is a necessity when you have 1/4th of a real secondary. Zone blitzing allows for our strong front seven to create mismatches while still keeping two or three extra bodies in coverage and allowing our best defensive player to better impact the game. While you cannot necessarily use the zone blitz on every down (it becomes less effective at some point), how is this not a better option than dropping the three LBs, relying entirely on your front four for any pressure on the QB, and watching the QB have time to locate and throw at Petey Faggins? 3. Why do we use our front four in such a vanilla manner? Just like you can't run the zone blitz on every defensive snap, if you do anything over and over, eventually everyone in the NFL will know your tendencies. (By "eventually," I mean "by next week.") Right now, we have the same formulaic defensive line positions. Mario at RDE on running plays, Mario at LDE on passing plays, blah blah blah. Why? First of all, backing up a step, why when Mario moves to LDE--a move I really, really like--do the tackles not flip-flop so that Amobi Okoye is not beside Mario? We've covered this before. Yes, I am fully aware that Amobi has four sacks and that, on three of those, Mario is clearly occupying at least two blockers. That's all well and good, but, like we said before, it's not really the highest, best use of their talents. Flipping Amobi puts your two-gap, big-bodied tackle between Mario and Okoye. It is this player's goal to pick up two blockers, which means that either Amobi or Mario (or, possibly, both) would draw single blocking more often than not. Meaning, oh I don't know, that we would get more consistent penetration from both sides of the line. But, back to where we started question 3: why even have a definite set order for your defensive linemen? I mean, sure, if you are going to have set positions based on down and distance, then for god's sake, do it correctly within the constraints of the 4-3. But do you really even have to have set positions? Right now, you have Mario Williams who, though Richard Justice would disagree, is actually playing very well. You have Amobi Okoye, who is playing the pass-rush role as well as we hoped and playing the running game better than we hoped. AND you have Travis Johnson who is just playing some inspired football right now, hustling, hitting people, and playing like you would hope a first-round DT would. That's three real pass rushers, plus we haven't even touched on Kalu, Weaver, Maddox, etc. With that kind of ability up front, why become so predictable that teams can game plan and negate some of the advantage you have? Mix it up a little. Go big on one play and have Mario, Maddox, Johnson, and Amobi from left to right. Next time out, go with your more traditional base. Then turn around and go small (relatively speaking) with Mario, Okoye, Cochran, and Orr. Create a mismatch by putting Mario at under tackle and then having him twist-stunt with Weaver lined up at DE. The possibilities are vast...if you will just use them. Note: I am fully aware that Mario moved around a lot last year and that some of the coaching staff thought that might have been his "problem." You know, rather than just having an injured foot and being a rookie at a tough position. That's all well and good, but setting up your front so that he is guaranteed to get doubled on every single play is hardly the answer. I guess the bigger point here for question three is JUST DO SOMETHING. Don't keep running out there with a predictable front four rotation, no blitz packages to speak of, and a secondary that can't cover for as long as you are asking them to. DO SOMETHING. The great thing about the 4-3 is the balance. But that balance is in terms of playing the run versus playing the pass, meaning you still have to play to the strengths of your D. Consistency in game planning will always equal regression in the NFL; worse, consistently planning in the same incorrect manner will always equal failure.