It’s a seven part guide to defenses in the NFL, and unfortunately, the articles aren’t tied together in sequence. You can get to all of them through the link provided for the author, Jene Bramel, but there is no other one stop source for links 1 through 7. So we will provide one here.
- Introduction: Part 1
- Evolution of the 4-3 Front
- The 4-3 Front Continued
- The 3-4 Front
- The Zone Blitz
- The 46 Defense
- Nickel Subpackages
Overall, it’s a really fine collection of articles, and as of early 2011, pretty much a must read. I do have minor complaints in two areas.
When discussing Tom Landry’s flex defense, the shift isn’t the usual one for a strong side offense. In this discussion, we’re assuming a mid 1960s offense, where teams tended to run to the strong side of the formation. In that case, the weak side guard pulls and the defensive tackle versus the guard who pulls should be up on the line of scrimmage. That defensive lineman, Bob Lilly in the middle 1960s, would simply follow the guard to the running back.
Now, it’s a perfectly fine shift if the MLB has read his keys correctly and expects a running play to the weak side of the formation, where the strong side guard pulls and the offensive team runs to its left.
In discussing the 46, Jene leads with a garbled mishmash of information that’s simply incorrect.
The 46 is a variation of the 4-3, with eight in the box and six men on the line.
While a 46 is an 8 man front with a 6 man line, the 46 is no more a 4-3 than is the prevent defense. What’s confusing, of course, is that Buddy Ryan used the same personnel in multiple defensive formations and multiple fronts. So yes, the Chicago Bears would shift from any number of fronts: 3 man fronts, 4 man fronts, 6 man fronts of various kinds, including the 46. Same players, different roles. That doesn’t mean they’re in the same defense.
Particularly for the novice, the first article is the best. It discusses the naming conventions for defensive line play, and therefore takes the mystery out of stuff such as the “3 technique” and the “5 technique”. It gives the student the language to handle modern defensive jargon. It traces the development of defenses, and to a clever eye, shows honestly, in some ways, how the past can come back and bite you. Compare, for example, Alfred Earle Neale’s “Eagle” defense with the 3-4 shown in part 4, or for that matter, with Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma defense (see here, or here). In large part it isn’t where people line up, but what those players in those positions are capable of doing.
The last article is one that discusses the latest defensive wrinkle, what I’ve been calling a “Cloud” defense and what Jene calls the “Creep”, or “Prowl”, or “Psycho”. It’s where there are 1 or 2 down lineman and then 5 or 6 other players simply mill about. Anywhere from 3 to 8 will end up rushing from this formation, depending. It’s the latest in confusing blocking assignments, and was featured often enough in the 2010 Cleveland Browns and New York Jets repetoire. I suspect Rob Ryan will be taking the “Creep” with him to Dallas in the upcoming 2011 season.