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4-3 Under Player Types: Defensive Line


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The next installment of the ongoing Field Gulls discussion of the Seahawks/Falcons defensive schemes. This is post # 10 in the series; you can find the other posts by searching for the tag "Field Gulls."

I will sometimes post comments and/or corrections in Red.

http://www.fieldgulls.com/2011/7/20/2268039/seahawks-4-3-player-types-defensive-line/in/4102067

By Danny Kelly @FieldGulls on Jul 20, 2011 (4 years ago)

Let's talk about how Pete Carroll views each position in his basic 4-3 Under scheme.

The basic philosophy, as Pete Carroll put it, involves the idea that,

"The more the attacking oriented the defense is the better off it will be. Obviously when you come off the ball, sometimes it is run and sometimes it is pass. We like to be in the mode of attacking the line of scrimmage, so when it is a pass we will get pressure on the quarterback."

The 4-3 Under is geared to stop the run and get pressure on the quarterback, in it's simplest terms. You want to have attacking defensive linemen that can sniff out the run but if it's a pass, get to the quarterback and force a bad throw or get a sack.

So how does Carroll describe each position? First, the strong-side defensive end, also known as the 5-tech:

"The defensive end to the tight end side needs to be a defensive player that can play the run. He does not have to be a big time pass rusher."

This is the position that Red Bryant occupied for the first seven games of 2010, and a spot that he held down well while two-gapping. After Bryant went down, the Seahawks tried Kentwan Balmer, Jay Richardson, and a few others at the position but none had the effectiveness of Big Red. Eventually, Carroll relented and put Raheem Brock there in a more traditional 4-3 role where he got up and rushed the passer. For the most part, the way that Carroll envisions it, Bryant, or a bigger run stuffing defensive linemen, sits back and takes care of two gaps, primarily concerned about stopping the run. In obvious passing downs though, his goal is to push the pocket and create a vice for the quarterback as best as he can.

The 5-tech player in this defense can be bigger, significantly bigger, than a normal 4-3 defensive end. Red Bryant is 6'4, 323 and most probably the biggest dude at that position in the NFL. But Bryant has a pretty rare combination of speed and size so you're not going to find many players in his mold.

Now, the nose tackle, also known as the 1-tech. Colin Cole held down this position for a large part of the season. (This is before Mebane put on weight and stepped into the 1-tech role and excelled. They had tried Mebane at the 3-tech position, but he failed there).

Carroll: "The nose tackle plays in the A gap to the tight end side (strongside in Under front, weakside in Over front) of the field in our defense. We have done a number of things with this position based upon the opposition at times. We have put him right in the A gap, we have cocked him on the center at times, and as needed we have even played him in a direct shade technique right over the center at times. The way we play him on base defense is as an inside-foot to outside-foot alignment or a 1 technique on the center to the strong side of the alignment."

"At Nose Tackle you have to find a player who likes to mix it up. We want a big guy in there who likes to get down and dirty. He is going to get doubled a lot on the run and pass and is going to get down blocked a lot. He has to be a tough player. This guy can be a short and stubby type of player."

Cole did some two-gapping in 2010 as well, which was a departure from Carroll's methodology at USC. (This is only a departure for Carroll if you don't realize that he used his 1-tech in the past in the NFL as a 2-gapper. He has admitted after this article was written, that he couldn't 2-gap with his D Line in college becuase it was too complex to teach it at that level the way he wanted things done.) Basically, whoever is manning the 1-tech has to be big and squat, and plug up the middle.

Now, on to the 3-tech. Brandon Mebane was the Seahawks' primary 3-tech when healthy in 2010.

"The prime spot on the defense to the weak side is the B gap player. He is an inside-foot to outside-foot alignment on the offensive guard to his side. He is a 3 technique player. He has B gap control but he can't get reached or hooked by the defense due to the way we align him. The whole scheme of this defense is predicated upon not getting hooked."

"The 3 technique player should be your premier interior pass rusher. He is going to get a lot of one on one blocks as it is hard to double team him because of where he lines up."

The key sentence here is "the 3 technique player should be your premiere interior pass rusher." Because the 4-3 is geared to stop the run, it necessitates getting pressure on the quarterback in order to stop the pass. Mebane is a very talented player but failed to get enough pressure on the quarterback in 2010. This could be a reason the Seahawks seem to value him less than most pundits and other 4-3 teams value him. I'm not sure, but because this position is so important, the Seahawks may be looking to find a more disruptive player in free agency or trades to man the position. (As I noted above, they moved Mebane to 1-tech and bulked him up to 330lbs. He's been great for them there since that move.)

In terms of size, I'd say that over 6'2 and around 300 pounds would be the standard for the 3-tech. (It seems this has changed. Seattle finally settled on the 6'7" 305 lbs Tony McDaniel as their 3-tech in the base defense, and has been their best one. Now Quinn is envisioning the 6'6" Hageman in this role - at a reduced weight closer to 300 lbs. I'm not sure if it's coincidence or a changing version of the type of player they are looking for. He must be strong and big enough to hold up against the run but also quick and agile enough to get off his block and get to the quarterback. This is one of the hardest players in the NFL to find. (We are fortunate to have 3 such players on our roster: Hageman, Jarrett, and Babs [at least for one more year on Babs]).

Finally, the other defensive end, also known as the LEO or Elephant.

"The best pass rusher on the team is usually the defensive end to the open side of the field. That puts him on the quarterback's blind side and makes him a C gap player in this defense. We often align him wider than this in order to give him a better angle of attack and allow him to play in space. We align him a yard outside of the offensive tackle most of the time. He has to play C gap run support but at the same time he is rushing the passer like it is third and ten. He has to be able to close down however if the tackle blocks down on him."

"(He) has to be one of your best football players. Size does not matter as much. We want an athletic player who can move around."

The LEO does not necessarily need to be in a down position. This is one reason many people can be foggy as to whether the Hawks run a 4-3 or a 3-4. With, at times, only 3 men in the 'down' position, it can appear to be a 3-4. In 2010, as I seem to remember it, Chris Clemons ran at the LEO spot mostly from the 3-point, down position. And he did very well there, racking up 11 sacks and playing the run well. The LEO is another 'tweener' spot that Seattle can benefit from. They have shown an ability to find players that don't fit in other schemes and make them effective.

http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2013/10/1/4787546/the-seahawks-and-multiple-defensive-fronts

Muth read: The Seahawks and multiple defensive fronts

By Ben Muth on Oct 1, 2013 (Less than 2 years ago)

"We want to be multiple." - Every defensive coordinator ever

The best place to start with the Seattle defense is its base defensive alignment. It’s essentially a 4-3 under. That means the defensive front four is shaded on the offense’s weak side and the Sam linebacker is walked up on the line of scrimmage. It’s a classic front that every team has in its playbook somewhere.

MuthHawks-1.jpg

The reason I used the qualifier "essentially" is that the Seahawks' weakside defensive end is actually a DE/OLB hybrid type player called a LEO (O’Brien Schofield in the picture above). It’s important to point out that the Seahawks always send the LEO to the weak side and a defensive end, usually Red Bryant, to the strong side. The LEO can play as a stand-up linebacker or a down defensive end depending on the individual player’s preference.

What I want to get across is why Pete Carroll uses this hybrid position. The first is that the Seahawks are able to get the most out of some tweeners with one strong skill. Chris Clemons is too small to play as a traditional 4-3 DE and probably not versatile enough, from a coverage standpoint, to be an every-down 3-4 OLB. There was a reason he bounced around before breaking out with Seattle. But Clemons can flat-out rush the passer, and Carroll wants a dynamic pass rusher on the field on all three downs, not just third-and-long. The downside is that Carroll has to find a way to protect an undersized pass-rush specialist against the run.

Hence the under shift by the Seahawks defensive line. It’s tough to run to the weak side of the formation with a three-technique no matter how soft a defensive end or LEO may be against the run. (This needs to be emphasized. The LEO is helped in the run game by having a havoc creating, penetrating 3-tech next to him that is consistently seeing one-on-one blocks that allow him to help blow up running plays to the weakside, before they even reach the LEO. This is how the 4-3 Under gets away with an undersided LEO and is still solid versus the run.) It’s always hard to get movement without a double team, and the defensive line and offensive line are 2-on-2 on the weak side in under fronts.

The reason most 4-3 teams don’t major in under fronts is because it leaves them vulnerable to strongside runs, because most 4-3 defensive ends -- Jared Allen being the prototype here -- wouldn’t do so well taking the pounding of playing a five-technique to the tight end side all game. They’d end up taking on double teams all day long, and it would sap their pass rush. That’s why the Seahawks have a guy built to play 3-4 DE, Red Bryant, as their strongside DE. (This is why Clayborn doesn't project to a starting 5-tech DE in our base defense; and also why Tyson Jackson is built for this role.)

On top of being very schematically sound, the Seahawks defense has the added benefit of being made of mashed up parts that make it easier to acquire talent to fit. It’s hard for any one team to acquire two dominant 3-4 DEs as starters and two serviceable ones as reserves. There just aren’t enough big, long guys who can swallow double teams up but are quick enough to play on the edge. But the Seahawks really just need one good five-technique and one serviceable one since they are only playing them to one side at a time.

The same goes for the LEO position, which we already touched upon. It’s really hard to find 4-3 DEs who are stout enough to play the run on first and second down and then get after the QB on third down; those guys are expensive. It’s also hard to find 3-4 linebackers who can drop into coverage or rush the passer.

So, that’s the 10,000-foot view of the Seahawks' base front and some advantages the scheme gives them. But obviously, all schemes need adjustments based on the opponent. One of Pete Carroll’s favorite tweaks to this front is to reduce the five-technique (Bryant) down to a three-technique and play what’s known as a "Bear" front (named after the Mike Ditka/Buddy Ryan Bears). (And also move the 1-tech to a 0-tech directly over the Center.) The Seahawks ran a ton of Bear vs. the 49ers in their Week 16 win against them last year.

The reason Seattle went to a Bear front so much against the 49ers last year is that the 49ers were still a "Power O"-based team then, and frankly it’s hard to run the Power O against a Bear. The reason it’s so tough is that it’s hard to create double teams and pull someone when all three interior linemen are covered. You either have to go with three single down blocks by the play side or you have to cut the backside 3-tech with the tackle, reach the nose tackle with the center and get a double team on the playside 3-tech.

Neither is ideal, and both lead to a soft middle in the play that can make it tough for the pulling guard to negotiate around. The Seahawks’ Bear front did exactly what it was designed to do. It stifled the 49ers' bread-and-butter run last year, and was a big part of that rout.

The biggest downside to the Power O is that it is a slow developing off-tackle play. Bear fronts kill slow developing plays because those three defensive tackles create an absolute pile up right in the middle of the formation. The read option, however, attacks where a Bear defense is vulnerable, right at the edges. Not only that, but it attacks the weakness quickly and with the added bonus of not having to block the end man on the line of scrimmage.

People seem to forget that the read option wasn’t a big part of San Francisco’s game plan until the playoffs last year. So, while the Seahawks' Bear adjustment was great against the 49ers' old run game, it was vulnerable against what the 49ers rode to the Super Bowl.

A lot of the talk this offseason was about how to defend the read-option. There were a dozen different theories: attack the mesh point, gap/scrape exchange, feather the QB, etc. That was something that defensive coordinators had to think about, but what probably terrified them about this 49ers team was how not blocking a guy at the point of attack freed up the 49ers offensive line to kick the heck out of guys with straight double teams.

If the Seahawks ran their base defense or their Bear front, they would always be left with the weakside three-technique at the mercy of a couple of 315-pound men. I think the Seahawks' defensive personnel is a little better than Baltimore’s last year and a lot better than Green Bay’s, but you don’t want to make a living taking on Mike Iupati and Joe Staley one-on-two. So Seattle needed a new adjustment to contain what the 49ers had become. Its adjustment was both simple and inspired.

The Seahawks just flopped their front. (To a 4-3 Over, but pulled the regular LEO for a larger DE)

MuthHawks-3.jpg

Against San Francisco, Seattle always sent Red Bryant to the weak side of the formation, and lined him up as a five-technique over there (sometimes a 4I, which is on the inside shade of the tackle). That meant that the LEO would have to play the strong side. The Seahawks would try to protect him versus the run with a three-technique by playing an over front, but Schofield wasn’t going to be able to stand up on the strong side for a full game if the Incredible Hulk was lined up inside. So Seattle went with a different offseason acquisition at LEO instead, 275-pound Michael Bennett.

Seattle toyed with some other fronts as the game went along. There were a couple of common denominators: Red Bryant, labeled DE on the right side of the photo and lined up over the weakside OT, either head up or with a slight inside shade, and Michael Bennett lined up to the strength of the formation.*

*This only applies to base defenses in non-obvious passing downs. Once it got to third-and-long, all bets were off.

The 49ers can’t get a double team on the playside down lineman anymore. Because Bryant was so wide, it would bust the inside zone rules of a read-option play for the guard to go out there and double-team. Plus, if the guard did go outside to double-team, he wouldn’t be helping collapse a down lineman inside to widen the hole; he would be knocking the DE out right into where the QB wants to run.

Once again, all defenses want to be multiple because this is what multiple allows you to do. Seattle is missing Bruce Irvin and Chris Clemons right now, and it can still completely change its defense from one week to another and swap out its players to best fit what the team wants to do that week. In Week 1, Schofield played in 69% of the snaps and played well. In Week 2, the game plan changed and he played in just 30%.

Edited by RandomFan
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One note about the evolving role of the 5-tech in Carroll's and Quinn's defenses. When PC first got to Seattle, he used a lot of 2-gapping from both the 1-tech and the 5-tech, which allows all of the run-gaps to be covered with 7 to 8 players, depending on if both are 2-gapping or just one of them. Dan Quinn came back to Seattle to start the 2013 season. That is also the year he got Seattle to bring in Michael Bennett, who played as a reserve all of 2013, but moved into a starting role in 2014 after Red Bryant was allowed to walk in free agency.

Throughout Bryant's tenure in Seattle, the 5-tech role in the base defense was his job. It's interesting as we'll find out in a later article that Bryant's role actually changed when Bradley was the DC, and changed back once Quinn returned as the DC. We'll get into the changes later, but the point I want to get across is that Quinn has a different view of the 5-tech than Bradley did, and I'm thinking that it might have even changed from 2013 with Bryant to 2014 with Bennett.

Everything I posted in the article above is correct, as far as things have been in the past for Seattle. However, a combination of things, including Bennett starting at the 5-tech role in 2014 looks to be a continued evolution of the 5-tech role. Originally Carroll wanted the 5-tech as a bigger run-stuffing DE that could stand up to very frequent double team blocks. Often even 2-gapping that player as well. Quinn has seemed to favor 1-gapping that position, while still having a big and strong enough guy to take on the still frequent double teams. Remember, Seattle's primary base-defense goal is to stop the run first, with 3 big DL's keeping blockers off their Linebackers. And they originally were leaning more towards a Cover-2 scheme like Tampa which would have left only 7 in the box on most plays. Meaning you need two players 2-gapping to cover the run gaps.

In 2014 Quinn went with the undersized Bennett (compared to Bryant) in that role. I'm not sure if that was a function of what he wanted to do, or a function of no longer being able to afford the big Bryant to hold that job down. But either way, he did successfully transition that job to a lighter player. One way this has been done is because Seattle is not a Cover-2 team now, they are a Cover3/1. With the SS Chancellor almost always walked down into the box serving as an 8th run stopper, they no longer have to have the 5-tech 2-gap in order to cover all run gaps. With the 1-tech always 2-gapping, 8 in the box has that covered.

My theory is Quinn might, and I stress the word might, be changing the 5-tech DE position to a smaller type of 275ish pound DE since the SS helps the 5-tech in the run game in this Cover-3 scheme anyway. I've said that Clayborn is not a fit for the base defense at the 5-tech. And if the scheme stays the same as it's been in the past, then that is 100% true. However, I will allow that if Quinn is in fact changing the role of the 5-tech in the manner I've described above, then Clayborn could have a shot at starting under those conditions. Jackson's recent comments that he wouldn't have to 2-gap any more lend credence to this theory. However, it remains to be seen once the season starts.

To me the unknowns are in a perfect world with the perfect players, which setup would Quinn prefer to run? Would he rather have the big Bryant type presence? And if he did, would he want to 1-gap or 2-gap him?

Was the changing 5-tech role in 2014 due to Bryant being gone, or simply Quinn's desire to change it to a more hybrid run-stopper/pass rusher?

Will Quinn be flexible and tailor the role to which players, or types of players, perform best in training camp?

Some of those questions will never be known, the other's we'll have to wait until the season starts to know the answers.

Edited by RandomFan
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Guest King Jigsaw

Remember when we talked about Aaron Donald not being a fit for our defense? Well.. I just pissed in my own Cheerios.

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Remember when we talked about Aaron Donald not being a fit for our defense? Well.. I just pissed in my own Cheerios.

It always blows me away to hear someone so talented called a misfit in some schemes. I heard it about Clowney not being a fit in Houston's defense too. If Clowney, as a prospect, doesn't fit your defense, you're running the wrong scheme.
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Random, interesting theory on the potential new duties/role of the 5 tech. Certainly could be an explanation for TJax saying he's not going to be 2 gapping anymore

Like how this clearly details why Clayborn will not be our starting 5 tech as he would be unable to withstand the constant double teams and still have enough in the tank on 3rd downs to rush the passer

Unless someone gets injured Im not sure Jarrett sees much of any time on the field this season.. 2 legit guys at 3tech in front of him in Babs and Hageman. Not a bad thing, as he can use this year to adjust to the NFL game in his limited snaps and come in next year ready to roll as this is Babs last season likely

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Remember when we talked about Aaron Donald not being a fit for our defense? Well.. I just pissed in my own Cheerios.

The worse thing is that if we had drafted him, Nolan would have had him play safety for 5 games and we would have been talking about how bad he sucks and he's another bust. With Quinn's simplified system, I'm giving everyone on defense a clean slate on performance, even Biermann.

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Remember when we talked about Aaron Donald not being a fit for our defense? Well.. I just pissed in my own Cheerios.

Donald is actually the player I wanted more than anyone out of last year's draft. Well, it was a toss up between him and Mack, and Mack had a dynamite rookie year as well. I'm not entirely disappointed in Jake because he obviously fits a need. But I just knew Donald was going to be a stud.

Random, interesting theory on the potential new duties/role of the 5 tech. Certainly could be an explanation for TJax saying he's not going to be 2 gapping anymore

Like how this clearly details why Clayborn will not be our starting 5 tech as he would be unable to withstand the constant double teams and still have enough in the tank on 3rd downs to rush the passer

Unless someone gets injured Im not sure Jarrett sees much of any time on the field this season.. 2 legit guys at 3tech in front of him in Babs and Hageman. Not a bad thing, as he can use this year to adjust to the NFL game in his limited snaps and come in next year ready to roll as this is Babs last season likely

Yep. And agree on Jarrett. Although someone always gets dinged up or injured. So I'm sure he'll at least get his feet wet this season.

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Remember when we talked about Aaron Donald not being a fit for our defense? Well.. I just pissed in my own Cheerios.

I was one of the ones who said that and I still agree because our scheme was for idiots. Our DTs were Soliai and TJax. Our 3T was Babs. Donald would have been played like a DE, not a gap shooting 3T. He would not have been DROY in Atlanta last year.

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Guest King Jigsaw

I was one of the ones who said that and I still agree because our scheme was for idiots. Our DTs were Soliai and TJax. Our 3T was Babs. Donald would have been played like a DE, not a gap shooting 3T. He would not have been DROY in Atlanta last year.

I was also one of those people. AD doesn't belong anywhere on a 3-4 line, but he's perfect for a 4-3 Under/Leo defense. Him, Hageman, Jarrett, Beasley? Jesus F. Christ

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I was also one of those people. AD doesn't belong anywhere on a 3-4 line, but he's perfect for a 4-3 Under/Leo defense. Him, Hageman, Jarrett, Beasley? Jesus F. Christ

We wouldn't have taken Hageman but I get your point.

But that's why I hate it when people refuse to accept coaches influence GMs more than anything. TD could have wanted Donald all day and twice on Sunday. But the coaches wanted to get bigger and stop the run, therefore Donald didn't fit. Shame.

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Guest King Jigsaw

We wouldn't have taken Hageman but I get your point.

You will not ruin this for me!! angry.png

*goes back to madden*

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Donald is actually the player I wanted more than anyone out of last year's draft. Well, it was a toss up between him and Mack, and Mack had a dynamite rookie year as well. I'm not entirely disappointed in Jake because he obviously fits a need. But I just knew Donald was going to be a stud.

.

Actually, I like the beginning of last year's draft of Matthews and Hageman even more than this year's of Beasley (who I love) and Collins (questionable). Would not surprise me to see Hageman blow it up this season.

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My theory is Quinn might, and I stress the word might, be changing the 5-tech DE position to a smaller type of 275ish pound DE since the SS helps the 5-tech in the run game in this Cover-3 scheme anyway. I've said that Clayborn is not a fit for the base defense at the 5-tech. And if the scheme stays the same as it's been in the past, then that is 100% true. However, I will allow that if Quinn is in fact changing the role of the 5-tech in the manner I've described above, then Clayborn could have a shot at starting under those conditions. Jackson's recent comments that he wouldn't have to 2-gap any more lend credence to this theory. However, it remains to be seen once the season starts.

To me the unknowns are in a perfect world with the perfect players, which setup would Quinn prefer to run? Would he rather have the big Bryant type presence? And if he did, would he want to 1-gap or 2-gap him?

This is really insightful -- thanks for posting it. I asked the question earlier when Jackson said he wasn't being asked to cover 2 gaps whether this meant they planned to work him at the 3 tech (which I thought was a mistake). But this makes a whole lot of sense. 8 in the box, cover 3, and only the nose is 2-gapping.

Thanks a ton for writing this. It is seriously helpful to me in understanding what we're doing.

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