Leafing Through Pages: Analysis of Sports and Other Topics

05/18/2010

Quick 3-4 Defense Primer

Building a roster that is able to utilize a 3-4 defense is a tough thing, especially if you are a team transitioning from a 4-3 defense (such as the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins for the 2010 NFL Season). There is a greater reliance on size along the line of scrimmage, more emphasis on fast, athletic linebackers who have enough size to shed blockers, and the secondary has to have the ability to play effective man coverage to take away the deep pass.

One big difference is how the approach to the 3-4 defense is handled in terms of gap control. There is basically two options, one gap or two gap. With one gap, each player is individually in charge with being assigned a single gap to play through. For example, if you are a nose tackle, you may be lined up over the shoulders of the center and the guard, so you are in charge of that single gap. With a two gap system (See the New England Patriots), the nose tackle would be head up on the center and in charge of controlling the gap to the left and to the right of the center.

Defensive Ends
The Strongside DE is in charge of containment and often has to not only have enough speed to get to the outside on pitches but have enough strength to overcome potential double teams from the right tackle and tight end. Size is a necessity here due to being double teamed in the run game. The weakside defensive end also has to set containment in the running game on his side and will often need size and agility to get past the left tackle on passing plays.

Examples
– Ty Warren (New England Patriots) – 6’5 300 [Weakside DE]
– Richard Seymour (New England Patriots) – 6’6 310 [Strongside DE]
– Marcus Spears (Dallas Cowboys) – 6’4 309 [Strongside DE]
– Marcellus Wiley (Buffalo Bills) – 6’4 275 [Strongside DE] 2000 Season
– Bruce Smith (Buffalo Bills) – 6’4 262 [Strongside DE]

Nose Tackle
The biggest guys along the defensive line. They certainly need strength as they will often be double teamed throughout the game, but they also need to flash agility to force the interior center and guard to stay with them by penetrating gaps when a pass play is called.

Examples
– Casey Hampton (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 6’1 325
– Vince Wilfork (New England Patriots) – 6’2 325
– Jamal Williams (San Diego Chargers/Denver Broncos) – 6’3 348
– Ted Washington (San Francisco 49ers/Buffalo Bills/New England Patriots) – 6’5 365

Inside Linebackers
The toughest job is this role, as these two linebackers need to effectively have the speed and agility to hit the gaps when blitzing, drop back in coverage over the middle of the field, and need strength to shed blockers when coming up to stop the inside running game.

Examples
– James Farrior (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 6’2 243
– Jerod Mayo (New England Patriots) – 6’1 242
– Tedy Bruschi (New England Patriots) – 6’1 247
– Harry Carson (New York Giants) – 6’2 237
– Randy Gradishar (Denver Broncos) – 6’3 233
– Sam Mills (New Orleans Saints) – 5’9 229
– Vaughan Johnson (New Orleans Saints) – 6’3 235

Outside Linebackers
The strongside linebacker is the man often in charge of helping cover the tight end on passing plays and is usually the largest linebacker in order to stop the outside run game. He will often have to deal with the tight end or right guard on pulling plays as well, so his strength and size are important. The weakside linebacker needs enough speed and size to play the run but more importantly, they are usually the team’s best blitzer at linebacker. They need the speed to get around the edge and the agility and strength to beat the running back if their blitz gets picked up.

Examples
– LaMarr Woodley (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 6’2 265 [Strongside LB]
– Willie McGinest (New England Patriots) – 6’5 270 [Strongside LB]
– Lawrence Taylor (New York Giants) – 6’3 237 [Strongside LB]
– Greg Lloyd (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 6’2 228 [Strongside LB]
– Pat Swilling (New Orleans Saints) – 6’3 245 [Strongside LB]

– Kevin Greene (Los Angeles Rams/Pittsburgh Steelers/Carolina Panthers) – 6’3 247 [Weakside LB]
– Carl Banks (New York Giants) – 6’4 235 [Weakside LB]
– Cornelius Bennett (Buffalo Bills) – 6’2 237 [Weakside LB]
– DeMarcus Ware (Dallas Cowboys) – 6’4 262 [Weakside LB]
– James Harrison (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 6’0 242 [Weakside LB]
– Rickey Jackson (New Orleans Saints) – 6’2 243 [Weakside LB]
– Mike Vrabel (New England Patriots/Kansas City Chiefs) – 6’4 261 [Weakside LB]
– Elvis Dumervil (Denver Broncos) – 5’11 248 [Weakside LB]

Cornerbacks/Safeties
The cornerbacks need the ability to play man coverage both short and down the field. They need to have the size and aggressiveness to be willing to tackle the receiver on short passes and the running back on sweeps and pitches to the outside. The free safeties need to have the speed to play deep down the middle of the field, while being aggressive enough to help on outside runs. The strong safeties need to have the size to deliver a hit on receivers in the middle of the field, the speed to help cover deep, and the aggressiveness to come up and stop the run on plays up the middle.

Examples
– Ryan Clark (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 5’11 205 [Free Safety]
– Mark Kelso (Buffalo Bills) – 5’11 181 [Free Safety]

– Troy Polamalu (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 5’10 207 [Strong Safety]
– Brian Dawkins (Denver Broncos) – 6’0 210 [Strong Safety]
– Rodney Harrison (New England Patriots) – 6’1 220 [Strong Safety]
– Carnell Lake (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 6’1 210 [Strong Safety]

– Rod Woodson (Pittsburgh Steelers) – 5’11 205 [Cornerback]
– Champ Bailey (Denver Broncos) – 6’0 192 [Cornerback]
– Ty Law (New England Patriots/Denver Broncos) – 5’11 200 [Cornerback]
– Asante Samuel (New England Patriots) – 5’10 185 [Cornerback]
– Terence Newman (Dallas Cowboys) – 5’11 191 [Cornerback]
– Otis Smith (New York Jets/New England Patriots) – 5’11 198 [Cornerback]
– Eric Davis (San Francisco 49ers/Carolina Panthers) – 5’11 185 [Cornerback]

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04/05/2010

Winning and the Importance of Offensive Line in the NFL Draft

Everybody knows the recent struggles of the Oakland Raiders from the 2003 season through the 2009 season but let’s examine their drafts and see if there are any trends. Oakland has gone 29-83 (25.9%) over that stretch.

Out of those 55 picks the offensive line made up only 14% of those drafts.

Let’s compare them to another team that has been struggling year in and year out. The Detroit Lions have gone 28-84 (25.0%) during the stretch from 2003 – 2009 including an 0-16 season in 2008.

Detroit finished those drafts with a total of 57 picks and like the Oakland Raiders, seemed to avoid offensive linemen as if they were the plague especially in the early and mid rounds.

Offensive Linemen Drafted: 7 for about 12% of their picks in total.

The San Francisco 49ers haven’t been much better from 2003-2009 with a record of 40-72 (35.7%) but let’s take a look at their drafts and see if they were running into the same problems as the Raiders and Lions.

So the 49ers had 59 picks and only spent 7 picks on offensive linemen for a percent of about 12% of their 7 drafts. While they did draft them high, they also didn’t draft much in the way of depth at all.

Given those three teams and their relative struggles from 2003-2009, let’s take a look at three very successful teams. We’ll start off with the New England Patriots who are posterboys for stocking up on offensive linemen like they’re going out of style. Note that New England has gone 87-25 (77.7%) including a 16-0 season.

The Patriots finished with 63 total picks. Of those picks, they selected an offensive lineman 12 times for a percent of 19%. The Patriots aren’t afraid to select 2 or more linemen in a draft despite having what many would deem considerable depth already.

The Indianapolis Colts have also seen great success from 2003-2009 with a record of 89-23 (79.5%) so let’s examine their drafts. The Colts would have 60 draft picks and select 12 offensive linemen for a percentage of 20%. That also included drafting 3 centers in the 2008 Draft and at least 1 offensive lineman taken in every draft.

Worth noting is the Philadelphia Eagles from 2000-2004 who went 59-21 (73.8%) and were extremely successful. They had 37 draft selections over that period of time and selected 8 offensive linemen for a percentage of 21.6%. Their 2004 draft they selected an OT, two OG, and an OC with their last pick.

Winning organizations of the past including the Dallas Cowboys from 1991-1995 (12 offensive linemen), the San Francisco 49ers from 1987-1992 (9 offensive linemen), and the New York Giants from 1985-1990 (14 offensive linemen) all drafted well known stars but also were smart enough to know that you build your teams up front and offensively that starts with the big behemoths blocking.

So when you’re watching the 2010 NFL Draft, make a small note of those organizations that target 2 or 3 offensive linemen. Maybe jot a note down if they did this in the 2009 NFL Draft too and cross your fingers that team is the one you’re a fan of.

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