After reading through Ravages' most recent post about the popularity of the 4-3 defense returning to the NFL, I decided to once again read my favorite series about football defense. Two years ago, the New York Times asked Jene Bramel, of www.footballguys.com, to rehash one of his more popular series on his blog, which delved into the origins of the schemes in defensive football. (Bramel, a doctor, is one of the brightest schematic football fans in the world, and this of course reminded me that I need to read his work more often. Off-topic tangent: It's similar to Rany Jazyerli, a baseball blogger, and ironically also a doctor, who primarily blogs about the Royals at www.ranyontheroyals.com, but was one of the founders of Baseball Prospectus. Both are two of the more intelligent reads in terms of their respective sports)
Running across the third installment of the series made me think about why the current personnel on Denver's defense could be a great fit to the scheme that we saw employed last year. (Caveat 1: New defensive coordinator in Jack Del Rio, assuming he doesn't tinker too much with the scheme that Fox and Allen ran out there last year, which if he did could make this whole rant moot).
(Which of course leads to Caveat 2: This is a pretty optimistic look at the defensive side of the ball)
I'll start here: http://fifthdown.blogs.nytimes.com/2...ont-continued/
That's Bramel's blog at the New York Times' The Fifth Down blog. If you're in any way interested in how I came up with these observations in terms of schematics, that's a perfect read. Also read installment one about the UT position in a 4-3 under, but more on that in a minute.
Initially, I was reading installment three and thinking about how perfect Von Miller and D.J. Williams fit the under scheme. Granted, that is mostly about the Tampa-2 (which for anyone not familiar is essentially a Cover-3 with the MLB serving as the deep-middle defender) and not necessarily the scheme that Fox and Del Rio presumably will employ most of the time. I see more of a traditional Cover-2 employed in terms of base coverage sets.
But, why are Von Miller and D.J. Williams perfect for the 4-3 under?
Miller's job is to lineup closer to the line of scrimmage, rush the passer, and take edge gap responsibilities away from Robert Ayers, who is more to set that edge for Miller by taking up blocks (Ayers did show some propensity in getting up field from that position later in the season when Haggan was forced to replace Miller because of the injury). Likewise, D.J. Williams' contributions, and possibly his success last year (I'd mark it as his best as a pro), can be attributed to the scheme, and this (from the article):
Williams' talents have always been best used in space - he's allowed to do that in this under-heavy scheme. It also allowed Allen and Fox to call more pass-blitzes from his position, which were disguised by his success in the role described above.1. The ‘under’ front protects the WLB well.
As can be seen in the diagram above, if the nose tackle engages the center at all, the weakside backer is free to flow to the ball after ensuring that his gap (the weakside center-guard gap, or A gap) isn’t threatened. With the SLB and MLB dealing with potential blocks from the TE, FB and an OL, the WLB will be in position to make a lot of plays.
2. Ballcarriers are “spilled” toward the WLB.
The Dungy-and-Kiffin philosophy preaches a turn back or spilling concept in run support. That is, a defender taking on a block knows where his most likely help will be and turns or spills the ball carrier in that direction. Since the WLB is often clean in an under front (and in certain variations of the over front), he’s frequently the teammate to whom the running back gets sent.
That leads us to the UT position, which is why I believe Fox convinced Elway to take Derek Wolfe. I turn your attention to part one of the Bramel's series again, which describes the role Warren Sapp had in the Tampa scheme, as a UT lined up in a three-tech, outside shoulder of the guard. His primary responsibility was getting up field and attacking. Albeit in a different scheme (a 3-4) Wolfe was asked to do that exact thing for the University of Cincinnati, which he did quite well. He's good at getting up field off the ball, but not necessarily at reading and reacting.
This is where the question mark comes in. Can the Broncos find that player at the other DT position to take up the blocks needed, and can Joe Mays fill the MLB role, especially in making plays against the run? If those two positions are even remotely effective, assuming Ty Warren gets the start at DT, then the defense could be extremely effective.
Of course, I haven't even mentioned Dumervil, and he certainly could play a huge role on the opposite side, adding another weapon. But, if he can't hold that tackle in run situations, teams will exploit that, because Williams has never been good at shedding blocks, and then making a tackle. Ironically, neither aspect are Dumervil or Williams' specialty, raising another question mark. (Dumervil's position in the article is described as the Elephant Rusher, although I don't think he'll be moved around the field, as a true Elephant Rusher was in early musings of the Tampa-2 in Minnesota under Kiffin).
Last, but certainly not least (and a recent topic around here) why Champ Bailey is so incredibly effective in this scheme at cornerback (and should not be moved to Safety).
From the article:
Sound familiar? That IS Champ Bailey. But he is better than Ronde Barber. And he can cover one-on-one when asked.But it’s not just the weakside backer that gets more opportunity to make a difference in the Tampa-2. Like the Cover-2 zone cornerbacks that came before them, the corners in Tampa-2 schemes often get their jerseys dirtier than their counterparts in other schemes and routinely find themselves near the top of the league’s corners in tackles and big plays. The turn and spill concept also benefits the corner, as the corners are often the “help” when the front seven can’t make the tackle. The play-side corner gets the bulk of the extra business – often the strongside corner – but both corners may be the force player in run support as often as the safety. Also, because Tampa-2 corners play off the ball further than their traditional Cover-2 colleagues, they’re able to avoid blocks more easily on rushing plays and read and break on the ball more cleanly on underneath routes. Many of Barber’s big plays and high tackle counts are attributable to the nuances of the Tampa-2.
Sorry for the length, but I had a burst of inspiration reading that series. If, in any way, you enjoy the schematics of defensive football, that series is an absolute must.