As John Reed points out , the phrase “Eagle” is abused, inconsistent, and overused. And even though Earle Neale’s “Eagle” defense is celebrated, it’s hard to know exactly what it is. Jene Bramel’s excellent series on pro defenses shows something akin to a 5-2-4 Oklahoma (father of the modern 34), but the diagram of Neale’s Eagle defense in Ryan and Walker’s 46 book (page 10) looks something more like this:

According to Ryan and Walker, Earle Neale's Eagle looked something like this.

This latter diagram is more believable, since people do claim that dropping the nose guard in Earle’s defense led to a kind of 4-3 (Or in Steve Belichick’s notation of the time, a 45 – back in the 1950s, corners would be sometimes be counted as linebacker depth players).

The three players in the middle – the diamond – are a 0 technique nose tackle, and two 3 technique tackles. The 3 technique tackles can also be called eagles – terminology used in odd front 4-3s and also certain derivatives of the 46. These sons of the 46 are often called double eagle defenses because of the 46 “diamond“, which they inherit from Buddy Ryan’s defense.

The most important of these defenses is called the Desert Swarm defense, made famous by Dick Tomey during his period as Arizona’s head coach. This defense lives on in college through the work of Rich Ellerson, currently the head coach at Army, who was a defensive staffer during Tomey’s run at Arizona. Though a number of sources call this defense a 4-3, it’s more an 8 in the box defense of the Ryan family, with the strong safety playing more of a linebacker technique, and the alignment to me looking quite a bit like a 5-3. To note, in the Desert Swarm, one of the 3 techniques (usually the weak side tackle) is a flexed tackle. Ironically, in the photo below, the flex tackle is on the strong side of the formation.

Literature on this defense is a little hard to come by. Some links that you might find useful are given below.

To summarize: a double eagle defense is one with a nose guard and 2 3 technique tackles. A double eagle flex has one flexed tackle. A double eagle double flex has two flexed tackles. Earle Neale’s Eagle appears to be a double eagle, though no one is 100% certain. These defenses should not be confused with the 34 Eagle of Fritz Schurmer, which is an eagle of an entirely different color.

Update: a more nuanced look at Fritz Schurmer’s Eagle can be found here.


You would think that when Dom Capers and Rex Ryan clash, and play in a 9-0 defensive slugfest, that the NFL network could find interesting film for both coaches. In this particular game, they largely showed highlights of the frustrations of the Jets offense. No matter, Dom Capers can make very subtle changes to very ordinary looking defenses. This shot for example: looks like a 3 man front on first glance. But is it that? For that matter, is  it even a psycho (1 man in 3 point stance) or just a very well disguised cloud?

This is typical of the fronts you can find throughout the video of this contest. This nickel front is very ordinary by Dom’s standards.

This front, I’m hard pressed to classify. Look at the defensive line splits; almost purely geared for an outside pass rush.

We’ll end with this one, a far more standard psycho front.

For those less familiar with the various kinds of modern fronts, I can suggest this article on Rob Ryan from this blog, and perhaps checking out the very excellent Blitzology sometime.

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.

One of the tropes I grew up with is that George Allen, in 1972, outwitted the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round of  the playoffs by playing a five man front and daring the Packers to pass. So, as we’re talking a ton about defensive fronts on this blog, I was curious. Was this Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma defense (video here), or perhaps an 8 man front, perhaps a 5-3? Was it lineman on lineman or was it gapped? What did George Allen’s five man front look like?

Looking for video can lead you to Hulu, as Hulu is pretty good about having video that even NFL’s Greatest Games won’t sell.  There are team highlights of the 1972 Washington Redskins, but nary a sign of the vaunted five man front. It’s ironic, because there is a well developed tribute page to the 1972 Green Bay Packers, but almost nothing devoted online to the innovation that led to Green Bay’s defeat.

The only image I have of the Washington defense in that game is the one below, where clearly Washington is playing a 4-3 under.

So I’m looking. I suspect the best information I can obtain will be in the oral histories of Washington Redskins players.