Both Rex and Rob Ryan are known to use the Bear front, otherwise known as the double eagle, and in its 1985 incarnation, the 46, and  in preseason week 1 year 2011, both brothers flashed some double eagle with 8 man line.

The image above is the most famous Bear of the night, as Jon Gruden mentioned it, but  the very next play featured a Bear with a flexed nose tackle.

Rob’s double eagle had 5 down linemen instead of 6, but the 6 players along the line, and two players at linebacker depth and over the tackle leads me to designate this the first Bear the Cowboys have run under Rob Ryan.

If you own exactly one book on the Dallas Cowboys, I’d strongly suggest this one be your book.

The essential oral narrative of the Dallas Cowboys.

Peter’s book is an oral narrative, composed of dozen of interviews of the “critical players”, and thus similar to, say, Studs Terkel’s “The Good War“. The book is organized in chronological order, from the foundation of the franchise to the middle 1990s. It’s not really a tell all book, though it interviews people who were very pro franchise and others who didn’t care much for their treatment (the linebacker Rodrigo Barnes, for example). It is rich in detail, exhaustive, but an easier read than its 838 pages would suggest. For the historian, comments about the way Tom Landry was blocking when the franchise began would be useful to those tracing the origins of the zone blocking scheme. We’ve talked about the specific quotes involved in our review of Pat Kirwan’s book.

Along with Pete’s book, I would also recommend this set of DVDs

along with this set of 10 Cowboys games.

These videos, along with the book, would aid any fan in tracing the nature and character of the franchise over the years. The one place where the book appears to be lacking is in any coverage of the Miami 4-3. While a ton of interviews touch on Tom Landry’s contribution to the 4-3 defense, such as the flex defense, coverage of Jimmy Johnson’s Miami 4-3 just isn’t there at all. That, I’d suggest, is the largest open hole in the Golenbock book.

On a wet April weekend, what better way to spend some time than looking for an exotic football front? And in this, Rob Ryan seldom disappoints.

We’ll be looking at some Rob Ryan fronts that can be found on video  of the week 14 game between Pittsburgh and Cleveland, 2009. This is when Cleveland began a 4-0 tear to end the season.

I’ve seen Rob Ryan stand up the defensive ends in what initially looks like a 4 man front but not the tackles, until now:

And in this front, you see a 2-4 nickel front, looking a bit like a 3-4 with the LDE of a 3-4 having been replaced with an extra defensive back.

And what would a Rob Ryan survey be without a couple shots of no down lineman (cloud) defenses?

This is a defensive front from the Pittsburgh-Atlanta game. Look at it for 2 seconds. Is it a 46 or not?

So what is it?

It’s easy to confuse until you see the DB lined up over the slot receiver. The linemen  aren’t spaced the way a 46 would be, but.. I suspect you can get a 46 effect out of a 34 front by pinching the ends into the offensive guards.

I spent a lot of time looking at other teams and wasting that time. No fronts of interest to speak of. Now, Pittsburgh tends to show a lot of 34 looks, but there is so much motion in  their linebackers that  they tend to keep someone like me engaged. For example, what’s happening here?

Some things to note: the front is shifted to the weak side of the formation. LDE is over the guard,  the NT appears to be in the “A” gap, and the RDE is outside the LT.  The result was that Matt Ryan ended up being intercepted by Troy Polamalu.

This is a brief survey of the video highlights of the October 3 game, New York Giants versus the Chicago Bears, in the 2010 season. This is a  game where the vaunted Giants pass rush netted 10 sacks. Both New York and Chicago have distinct preferences for the classic 4 man line, though they’ll add their own unique twists to it, such as linebacker shifts, putting 8 men along the front, blitzing defensive backs, and playing with end and tackle spacing to take advantage of matchups.

A lot of this material is best seen in motion, such as Aaron Ross’s cornerback blitz and sack of Jay Cutler, or Barry Cofield’s really fine inside rush for a sack, from the LDT spot. But a couple things we’ll highlight.

There is a nice sequence where a strong side safety creeps up to a linebacker-esque position, eventually looking like a 4-4.

And  in this screen capture, 1 defensive back and 1 linebacker slipping between the 4 down linemen, giving a pretty clear “A gap” blitz threat (and yes, they did blitz). The original front, just counting players with 50something numbers, appears to have been a 4-1 dime.

Compare the look above to chapter 20 in Tim Layden’s book.

It’s the 17th week of the 2010 season and it’s in the waning moments of the first quarter. Eli Manning looks over the field and the Redskins flash a nickel front. In this case it’s a 2-3. Brian Orapko, usually a right side rush linebacker, is this time on the left side. As there is no strong side to the offensive formation, he’s a free rusher regardless the side he comes from. The two down linemen are found in the “B gap”. 4 players end up rushing, betraying  the similarity between this front and a classic 4 man line.

The result? Tipped pass for an interception.  Some better looks at  the Skin’s 2-3 front can be found here (ironically in the draft thread on Extreme Skins). For video highlights of  the game, check this out.

This DVD set has just arrived, and as my DVD player is in the shop, it’s not the easiest thing to review. Thankfully, most computers these days have DVD players.

There are 12 games in the 1985 season on the set. The disks themselves are housed in  6 thinpacks and those thinpacks are fragile. I have bits of teeth falling out every time I open up a new DVD.


This will be a brief review of defensive fronts shown by Green Bay during their playoff victory over Atlanta. I’m doing this because Dom is a hot commodity, courtesy of  his #2 ranked defense. I’m mostly interested in defensive fronts, so this is a study of the fronts that can be gleaned from the 6 minute highlight video from There are 6 of these in all. 2 of these were short yardage fronts and so we’ll just skip those. We’ll concentrate on the four remaining fronts that we can see.

This line has 3 men in a 3 point stance, a fourth in a two point stance. Number 95 (or is that 96?) is over the LG, the NT is over center, the LDE is outside the tackle in a slant, pointed as if he’s going to crash onto the RG.  A fourth player is in a two point stance just outside the tackle and inside the split end.

This one is either a 3-3 or a 2-4, depending on whether you consider the third player in the “RDE” position an end or a linebacker. Update: per this article in Blitzology, this position is called a Rush Linebacker. Note the wide spacing of the 3 along the front, as the “ends” are outside the OTs.

Matt Ryan gives up an interception in the end zone on this play, due to excellent play by Green Bay’s “other” cornerback, Tramon Williams. The front resembles a 3-4 front with the NG removed from the line, and LBs playing extremely deep. The 2 lineman appear to be playing in the “B” gap. Note: This article from Blitzology cover this particular Dom Capers front. Check out the first diagram.

Matt Ryan gives up an interception for a touchdown on this play. Note that not a single lineman is in a 3 point stance. Note the wide placement of the DEs, outside their opposite offensive tackles. The uniform numbers for A J Hawk (50) and Desmond Bishop (55) are visible perhaps 5 yards behind the LOS. Before the snap, the NG tried, but never quite made it into a 3 point stance.

I’m tying together data from a series of older forum posts, breaking down video of the eighth game of the 1985 season, a game between the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings.


One of the nicer things about this more modern age of football is that Youtube gives us all great access to video that we didn’t have before. For the student of the 46, this means that fans of the 1980s Chicago Bears have been active putting up video of their favorite team. A user named ironworkerjeff has put up several videos useful for analysis. I’ll give links to three of them

  1. 1985 Chicago Bears
  2. 46 Special, part 1 of 3
  3. 46: variations and versatility

Update 2-26-2011: These Youtube videos have been removed. I suspect since video of this period is a product and ESPN Classic is still airing their 46 Special, there were copyright violations that led to the removal of this content. I can’t see any place to buy the ESPN Classic 46 Special, but it was replayed on ESPNCL this last February 26th. Video of the 1985 Bears is available on DVD. 12 games of theirs are on sale through Amazon.

In the first of these three videos, there is a terrific section with Forrest Gregg that starts at roughly 0:58

They run several different alignments, and they move their defensive linemen around to different positions. They have the ideal personnel to handle that style of defense.

Though there is a tendency to talk constantly about the 46, not all video throughout the series is of the 46. 4:30 into video one is a generic 4-3.

A classic 46 look

Madden drawing a 46. The MLB is behind the NG. He can be over the RT.

On the second video mentioned, at 3:28, there is an excellent shot of a 46 front. In the third video, at roughly 2:40 to 2:43, John Madden talks about the signature recognition feature of the 46, the “diamond”.

Madden drawing diamond in the divisional playoff broadcast, Giants and Bears

Update 3-2-2011. The diamond can also be seen in the broadcast of the 1985 Chicago Bears – San Francisco game, available via DVD from Amazon:

The “diamond” can easily be mistaken for a 3-4 front if you’re not looking but the three interior linemen aren’t lined up the same.

  • The “nose tackle” is lined up over the center.
  • The “ends”, in 3-4 jargon, are lined up over the guards, or are found in the “B” gap. Tackles are uncovered.

The three linemen in the diamond are usually down in a three point stance. Everyone else on the line can be in any stance. There will be 5 to six players on the line and eight in the box.

Now throughout  the series they keep talking about the two (Sam and Will) linebackers over the tight end blitzing. I think these comments aren’t correct. Those players in that position have assigned rush responsibilities depending on whether the TE goes out for a pass or stays.

Other notes and comments about the video. In video 2, three are terrific comments by Leslie Frasier and Ron Rivera  at about the 2:00 mark, useful comments by Bill Walsh at the 4:00-4:22 mark, and there is a fantastic quote by Mike Ditka in video 2 at the 5:14 mark.

People would spend hours preparing for the 46, but Buddy might not play the 46 but about 10 times a game.

This, I think, marks the true genius of a multiformation defense.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 244 other followers