by: Chris Sullivan
Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,
Seahawk Addicts has moved! If your bookmark still points here, get with the times, man! Check us out at www.seahawkaddicts.com. If anything goes wrong, we will forward the site back here, fear not.
Thank you all for your support, and here's to the next step towards being the best Seahawks Community on the web! Read More!
Monday, July 22, 2019
by: Chris Sullivan
By: Chris Posted at 5:30 PM
Thursday, July 23, 2009
by: Matthew Heuett
Just as the 4-3’s keys to success were the savvy of its middle linebacker and the production of its defensive ends, the 3-4 relies heavily on the endurance and immovability of its nose tackle and even more on the play of its linebackers. After all, if you’re going to yank out a D-lineman to bulk up your linebacking corps, then those linebackers had better be doing some pretty special things for you.
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The 3-4 uses two types of linebackers: inside linebackers and outside linebackers. The outside linebackers carry the same names as the two outside linebackers in the 4-3, Sam (for the LB on the strong side) and Will (for the one on the weak side), but that’s about the only thing they have in common. While 4-3 OLBs blitz only occasionally, 3-4 OLBs are the defense’s main pass rushers. One or both OLBs will rush on every down from the 5-tech (the Sam will blitz occasionally from the 7-tech as well), although sometimes they will disguise their intentions by lining up a few yards off the line of scrimmage and blitzing from there or by lining up in the 5-tech and dropping into coverage instead of blitzing.
Players who excel as 3-4 linebackers are typically what pro scouts would call “tweeners”-- a bit too small to be a 4-3 defensive end, but a bit too big to be a 4-3 outside linebacker, either. This gives them enough size to shed blockers en route to the quarterback (the Sam tends to be slightly bigger than the Will, since he has to deal with the tight end more often), but not so much that they aren’t maneuverable enough to be effective in coverage. Before the 3-4 became popular, most tweeners had a better chance of being struck by lightning than being drafted by an NFL team, which brings us to one of the hidden benefits of running a 3-4: with fewer teams competing for the players you need, it’s easier and cheaper to fill your roster with highly talented players than it is for 4-3 teams. This benefit been mitigated somewhat in recent years, now that roughly a third of the NFL runs a 3-4 base defense (and several more teams running a hybrid 3-4/4-3), but the difference is still great enough to matter come free agency and draft day.
As you might expect, Seattle doesn’t have many tweeners on its roster. Curry, whose pass-rushing skills prompted this article in the first place, is on the light end of the scale at 255 lbs (the sweet spot for tweeners is roughly 255-265 lbs), but he could still conceivably do the job. However, who would work as Seattle’s second 3-4 outside linebacker? The next heaviest linebacker is Tatupu at 242 lbs, and the best proven pass-rushing LB on the team, Hill, is even lighter at 238 lbs. When players are asked to blitz a handful of times a game, being a bit light isn’t much of an issue, but the more times they’re asked to rush the passer, the bigger a problem it becomes. The team would likely have better luck using one of its defensive ends for the position. Atkins (268 lbs), Tapp (270 lbs), Jackson (271 lbs), and Kerney (272 lbs) are heavier than ideal, but one of them could do the job if his pass coverage skills were adequate for the task, and if the team would only be using a 3-4 front a few times a game, they might not have to play in coverage at all. One of the other DEs, Brandon Miller, is exactly the right size at 259 lbs, but since he’s a long shot to make the team he isn’t a likely candidate for the job.
The inside linebackers come in two flavors: the Mike, who lines up closer to the weak side, and the Ted, who lines up closer to the strong side. These names are a bit less definite than other position designations (some 3-4 teams reverse the names, some leave the names alone but reverse the job responsibilities, some call them something else entirely like Jack or Buck or late to dinner) but in general the Ted linebacker is the one that’s most like the Mike in the 4-3. The Ted tends to be the least athletic of the four, so he isn’t a game-breaker, but he is a sure tackler, a big hitter, and a smart leader. It’s the Ted who handles the defensive audibles. By contrast, the Mike is one of the best athletes on the team -- he can stop running backs cold, he gets to the passer when he blitzes, and he’s effective in coverage. Together, the two of them make the middle of the field a scary, painful place to be for the offense.
Tatupu’s intelligence and instincts would serve him just as well at the Ted position as they do at the 4-3 Mike, but the 3-4 Mike is a harder fit. Hill is arguably the best pure athlete of all the linebackers on the team (although he might now have to hand that crown over to Curry), but while he’s great at stopping the run and rushing the passer, his coverage skills have always been a liability. The other linebackers aren’t much better choices; D.D. Lewis is good in coverage and run support, but he isn’t much of a pass-rusher, and most of the others are either one-dimensional or simply haven’t played enough for us to know how well-rounded they are. Tatupu and Curry are likely the two best fits for the Mike position, but they can’t play two positions at once -- if one of them steps in as the Mike, then who would take over for them at the Ted or Will positions?
And that right there highlights the main reason I don’t think we’ll be seeing the Seahawks utilizing a 3-4 package. If one position were only a partial fit at best I could see it being viable, but when you have question marks at not just the Mike position but also in the two most important positions in the 3-4, outside linebacker and nose tackle, then you have to seriously question the usefulness of spending precious time in training camp working on a defensive package you know will be hamstrung at best and completely broken at worst.
The lifeblood of the 3-4 is its unpredictability. On passing downs, the pass rush could be coming from the Sam, Will, and/or Mike position, and the offensive line should be so busy dealing with the those three big D-linemen that the offense will have to hold back a tight end and/or a running back to use as blockers, which means the remaining three or four eligible receivers have to contend with anywhere between five and seven defenders. On running downs, the D-linemen and their two-gap assignments make running between the tackles dicey, and the four linebackers are ready and waiting to flow in whatever direction the run is designed to go in order to take the running back down for zero or negative yards.
In practice, however, the 3-4 didn’t work quite that perfectly. While its highly mobile four linebacker scheme was effective against the run, especially against faster, more athletic backs that 4-3 defenses and its four slow defensive linemen typically struggled to contain, over time offenses began to counter with more creative blocking schemes designed to free up offensive linemen to use on the linebackers at the second level.
3-4 defenses also began to struggle against another new offensive trend. Through the late ’80s and early ’90s, teams began to shed the slower play-action oriented passing game for much speedier variants of the West Coast Offense. Against the WCO’s short drops and quick passes, 3-4 teams found that three defensive linemen simply weren’t enough to reliably collapse the pocket. This allowed the quarterback to avoid the pass rush from the outside linebackers for a few extra seconds by stepping up into the pocket, and that was all the time the QB needed to get the pass off. Unpredictable blitzes don’t matter much when none of them can get to the passer in time.
And that’s why, despite the success of the 3-4 in the ’70s and ’80s, only a handful of teams were still running it by the mid-’90s. It may be more difficult to find and keep top-level talent to run the 4-3 front, but even with average linemen it still proved better at collapsing the pocket than the 3-4.
How the 3-4 Got Its Groove Back
So then, if the 3-4 was game-planned into obsolescence, why are so many current teams using it as their base defense today? Well, there are two answers to that question, and the first one is named Dick LeBeau. Most of you know and revile LeBeau as the current defensive coordinator of the Steelers, but back in the late ’80s he was the defensive coordinator for the Bengals, where he was dealing with the same mounting problems as every other 3-4 DC in the league. But rather than transition over to a 4-3 front, his solution was to make the 3-4 even more unpredictable--why let the linebackers have all the fun? Why not let the safeties and cornerbacks blitz? And while we’re at it, why not really screw with the o-linemen by taking that defensive end they were getting ready to block and drop him back into coverage? And just like that, the zone blitz was born. Lebeau’s imaginative defensive schemes helped the Bengals get to the Super Bowl in ’88, but many people ignored his innovations when Cincinnati failed to stop San Francisco’s last minute drive for the win.
One of the guys who did pay attention is the second reason why the 3-4 has made a comeback in recent years, and his name is Bill Belicheck. As defensive coordinator for the Giants from ’85 to ’90, his 3-4 schemes helped New York win two Super Bowls and earned him a head coaching position in Cleveland where, for personnel reasons, he chose to run a 4-3 defense instead. However, when he took charge of the Patriots in ’00, he wasted no time in installing a 3-4 defense filled to the brim with zone blitzes.
Five Super Bowl rings later -- three for Belicheck and two for LeBeau (yes, I remember ’05, and no, I don’t want to rehash that here) -- it’s hard to argue that the addition of zone blitzes has failed to make the 3-4 relevant and competitive again. And for 4-3 teams like the Seahawks that’s a good thing, because the more teams switch over to 3-4, the easier it will be for Seattle to land the next Patrick Kerney.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
by: Chris Sullivan
Hey all, switched the nameservers, site should switch at anytime... if there is downtime, check us out here -- http://seahawkaddicts.blogspot.com, I'll update if anything goes wrong or delete this when it goes right, haha. FINGERS CROSSED!
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By: Chris Posted at 5:42 PM
by: Mike Parker
Owen Schmitt can breathe a sigh of relief today after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of reckless driving, stemming from a June 25 arrest on suspicion of DUI.
Schmitt was sentenced to 365 days in jail, but 364 of those days were suspended. The remaining one day in jail was converted to 24 hours of community service, and Schmitt will pay $2,130 in fines, fees and costs. He'll also serve two years of probation.
On the night of the arrest, the fullback known as "The Runaway Beer Truck" allegedly blew a 0.151 and a 0.161 after his Jeep was seen swerving and tailgating in Black Diamond, WA. Danny O'Neil reports that per Schmitt's lawyer, Diego Vargas, there were "issues with the accuracy and admissibility" of the Breathalyzer results. (In other words, it was either the worst equipment in the history of breath-test equipment, or this guy is the reincarnation of Johnnie Cochran.)
Either way, Schmitt got off easy on this one. I hope the league won't be too harsh on him, but at least Goodell has been distracted lately with a more high-profile player's eligibility for reinstatement. (No, I'm not going to mention it here because I honestly think I might set myself on fire and run into traffic if I have to hear another update on either Vick or BrutFarr again.)
Hopefully, Schmitt learns from this experience and realizes that even professional athletes are mortal. With the signing of Justin Griffith and the installation of a new system, I hope Schmitt will begin to shift his focus from stupidity and back onto football. His role in this offense remains to be seen, and this incident doesn't help his stock.
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By: Mike Parker Posted at 12:55 PM
by: Chris Sullivan
Word from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (one of the best remaining newspapers around) is that Seahawks kicker and eyebrow model Brandon Coutu has been working outwith former Atlanta Falcons kicker, and NFL all-time scoring leader, Morten Andersen. Coutu, a University of Georgia alum, was arguably the best placekicker coming out in the 2008 draft, but eventually lost the starting job to Olindo Mare. In order for Coutu to see any playing time this year, it is clear that he going to need to step up his game a bit, and that is where Andersen comes in, saying:
“With all due respect to special-teams coaches, they are schematic. They are great at scheming. Not a lot of them are really good at teaching the art of kicking and what it takes. There are a lot of misconceptions and misnomers about what it takes to be a kicker. It’s very detail-oriented. It’s a high-performance business. A lot is demanded of the position.”
While Andersen ran Coutu through a number of field goal drills and gametime situations, the focus inevitably turned to kickoffs, the determining factor in 2008.
“Kickoffs are the thing right now for him,” Andersen said. “We’re trying to get more power through the kickoff, better hang time and better distance. His ball-striking on his field goals is exceptional, but in order to be a complete NFL kicker you have to both of those skill-sets. The field-goal skill-set I’m pretty confident with, and I’m adding some of the mental specific things, putting him in tough situations.
You might recall that Coutu's only knock last year was his kickoffs. It is fantastic that they are working hard on improving that skill-set. As bad as our defense was last year, Mare did everything he could to help them with field position, getting 31% of all kickoffs into the endzone -- that's in the top 5, as it usually is for him. In a league where field goal percentage is essentially random year-to-year (Mare was top 5 in 2006, worst in the league in 2007, top 5 or so in 2008), kickoffs are where a kicker can truly prove himself and earn his keep. Looking forward to seeing Coutu and his caterpillars come August 3!
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By: Chris Posted at 9:11 AM
by: Matthew Heuett
To recap, the 4-3 wins by putting more players back in pass protection than older schemes without becoming weaker against the run, and then augmenting the effectiveness of its pass coverage by putting pressure on the passer by collapsing the pocket with the nose guard while the 3-tech, both defensive ends, and the occasional blitzing linebacker rush the quarterback. Having a middle linebacker who can alter the defensive scheme on the fly to better counteract the offense’s plays doesn’t hurt, either.
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However, the success of the 4-3 depends on the pass rush to such an extent that (as we all saw last year) the rest of the defense tends to fall apart if the pressure isn’t getting to the quarterback, and that pressure depends most of all on the defensive ends. Which leads us to the scheme’s main drawback: good 4-3 defensive ends are rarer than red emeralds. There are a lot of teams out there trying to run a 4-3 but there aren’t enough Jason Taylors and Jared Allens to go around, which means that several of those 4-3 teams are trying to make it work with inferior talent manning one of the scheme’s key positions.
For me at least, that bit of information really puts Kerney’s value to the team in perspective. Yes, the guy’s been hurt a lot lately and is on the downward slope of his career, but he also has the ninth most sacks of all active players in the league. What other defensive end on the team is going to replace that level of production? Even if he’s only seventy or eighty percent of the player he once was, he’s still an upgrade over all of Seattle’s other options.
More importantly, if Kerney and his production at DE is lost for the season again, will it matter if the offense and the rest of the defense is better than its 2008 incarnation? Who will replace him after he’s used up the last few seasons left in his tank? There’s no guarantee that another pass-rushing prodigy will show up in the draft or free agency anytime soon, and even if they do, there’s no guarantee that Seattle will be in a position to draft or sign that player.
I’m not saying these things to rain on everyone’s parade -- far from it, actually. I’m just trying to emphasize the main drawback of running a 4-3 defense: a great deal of your team’s defensive success rests in your ability to sign and hold on to a particularly rare and highly sought-after type of player. For that matter, above average 3-techs and nose guards can command pretty high salaries, too (Haynesworth, anyone?). As Wade Phillips put it during an interview conducted during the NFL league meetings back in ’07,
It’s harder to find defensive linemen to play a 4-3 and pay for all of them. In this day and age where salary cap is so important, D-linemen are the highest-paid guys and to get the guys we had in Philadelphia with Reggie White and Jerome Brown and Clyde Simmons, there’s no way you could keep those guys.Without prime talent on the defensive line, 4-3 teams are forced to augment their pass rush by blitzing linebackers on nearly every down (sound like the ’08 season of any team you know?). This means 5-6 players are being committed to the pass rush, leaving only 5-6 guys in the defensive backfield where there should be seven. No matter how you try to shift coverage to compensate, there will be more opportunities for the offense to exploit, whether through passes to zones the remaining personnel can’t cover effectively, or through draw plays that allow the running back to slide right on by those blitzers into a field that now has fewer tacklers to evade.
So, now that we’ve gotten an idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the 4-3 (and how well Seattle can field the scheme with its current roster), let’s take a look at the other main base defense in the NFL.
The 3-4 defensive scheme is actually a bit older than the 4-3, having been developed in the 40s by college football hall of fame coach Bud Wilkinson, but it didn’t migrate over to the NFL until the '60s. Once there, it was used by some of the best teams of the era, including the ’72 and ’73 Dolphins under defensive coordinator Bill Arnsparger and the ’69 Chiefs under head coach Hank Stram, but only as a changeup -- each still used the 4-3 as their base defense.
The guy that changed the perception of the 3-4 in the NFL was Chuck Fairbanks, head coach of the Patriots from ’73 to ’78. Using the 3-4 as the team’s base defense, Fairbanks took the Patriots from a perennial sub-.500 team to playoff appearances in ’76 and ’78. Other coaches took notice, and the 3-4 became the base defense of some of the best defenses in the NFL, including the Broncos’ Orange Crush defense of the late ‘70s and the Giants’ Big Blue defense that helped the team win Super Bowls in ’86 and ’90.
As we’ve seen so far, new football defenses were developed largely by pulling more defensive linemen off the line to add players to the defensive backfield, and the 3-4 is no different. It just takes the process one step farther than the 4-3:
In terms of numbers, the difference isn’t that great: three d-linemen and four linebackers for the 3-4 versus four linemen and three linebackers for the 4-3. However, in terms of how the defense operates, that shift of a single player changes things completely for the front seven (the only significant change for the defensive backs is an emphasis on more physical play, so 3-4 cornerbacks are more likely to jam receivers at the line).
Now that the d-line is outnumbered five to three, their priorities have to change -- they simply don’t have enough bodies to pull off any of that one-gap, pressure-and-disruption business that is the heart and soul of the 4-3. Instead, the 3-4 defensive linemen focus on two things: occupying offensive linemen, and keeping an eye on two gaps at once. The nose tackle (basically a specialized name for a nose guard when he plays in a 3-4) lines up directly in front of the center in the 0-tech and watches both A gaps, while the two defensive ends line up nose-to-nose with the tackles (although depending on the play the DEs may line up in the 4-tech or 3-tech instead) and are responsible for the B and C gaps. The job takes bigger, heavier players who can handle plenty of double and triple teams without budging. The ideal nose tackle is close to 350 lbs (although most weigh quite a bit less -- the college ranks don’t produce many true 3-4 NTs), while the defensive ends (some teams prefer to call them defensive tackles instead of ends) weigh somewhere around 300 lbs.
3-4 defensive ends are much easier to find than their 4-3 counterparts, and indeed any of the defensive tackles on Seattle’s roster (especially the 3-techs) would probably do reasonably well manning the position. Nose tackle is a more difficult position to fill, plus it’s notorious for being one of the most physically intense and demanding jobs in football. However, if the Seahawks were only planning on running it a few times a game, the extra strain would be minimal. In any event, there are two players on the roster who might work: Brandon Mebane, who’s done an outstanding job at nose guard the past few seasons, and Colin Cole, whom the Packers tried their best to re-sign so they could plug him in as a nose tackle in their new 3-4 scheme. Red Bryant is a third possibility at nose tackle, depending on how well he does as a 4-3 nose guard.
Being a 3-4 d-lineman is not glamorous. They don’t get to make many tackles, and sacks are even rarer; players like Cortez Kennedy, who managed plenty of sacks from the nose tackle position, don’t come around very often. On top of that, if something goes awry in the 3-4, most of the time it’s because one of the three d-linemen missed a gap or let one of the o-linemen get loose. Still, it’s their hard work and sacrifice in the trenches that makes the linebackers’ jobs possible.
Tomorrow in part four we’ll take a look at how linebackers are used in the 3-4, examine the strengths and weaknesses of the 3-4 scheme, and finish off with a look at how and why the 4-3 and 3-4 are able to coexist in the modern NFL.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
by: Chris Sullivan
Hey there faithful Addicts,
Just wanted to let you know that we've got some big news to share with you: over the past month or two I have been working on some big changes to the site. Sometime in the next 48 hours (I'm leaning towards next 15 hours, but I've got a fair amount to finish up), Seahawk Addicts will have a new look and feel. While I'm very tempted to give a sneak preview, I think that the best thing would be to hold off until the new site officially launches either tomorrow or Thursday morning.
The site will look better and more professional, but it won't do so at the expense of the usability or underlying performance of the site. (For those who have been wondering why we've been posting a little less frequently lately, it's because I've been dedicating about 2-4 hours a day to this project for the last month or so.)
There will be a fuller explanation upon launch of the site, but I hope you guys are excited for it. Also, you should add us on Facebook if you haven't already done so, as those guys got advance warning of the launch... you know you want to be on the inside track too!
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By: Chris Posted at 2:58 PM
by: Chris Sullivan
The Washington State Lottery will make an announcement today revealing the nation's first "professional football scratch ticket," Seahawks Winning Play Scratch. The tickets are expected to be available immediately. Top prize is $50,000, and other prizes include a "dream trip," all expenses paid to Miami for the Super Bowl. Eric Williams has the scoop:
The Seahawks already had a business partnership with the state lottery in place, allowing the state agency to advertise at venues like West Field, so the deal is seen as the next step in the partnership between the two sides, said league spokesman Brian McCarthy.
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By: Chris Posted at 10:00 AM
by: Chris Sullivan
Michael Lombardi over at the National Football Post has a nice write-up on first year coaches, focusing his aim on Mike Singletary. Now, if you've been reading for awhile you know that I love Singletary; I think his pants-dropping Vernon-kick-off-fielding hijinx are exactly what the undisciplined 49ers needed last year. Singletary was an incredible player with an incredible sense of what football is and should be, play in and play out. At one point, I advocated for the firing of Nolan and his replacement with... Mike Martz. Then I was hoping Singletary would be pissed and take our Defensive Coordinator job. Well, that didn't happen, and I'm happy with Gus Bradley, but it does shed some light on my thoughts about Singletary.
Lombardi discusses one of the problems with Superstar athletes: they make crappy coaches. In general, most superstars are intrinsically blessed, he argues, and the amazing things they do don't come through hard work -- though they do work hard of course. They come from talent. And when another player doesn't have that talent, they can get impatient with them, 'Why can't you catch the flippin' ball!?" So what about Singletary? Lombardi:
Mike had a superstar career, but his drive and his work habits were that of a plodder. Singletary made himself a great player through his preparation, his work habits and his determination -- the same qualities that are needed to make a successful head coach.
The bulk of the article continues discussing the surprises that come and the adjustments that are needed, and so forth. It's actually a very interesting article, and continues to go back to Singletary to show the examples. Gotta love literary devices! Here's some more to take you into the sunset:
Since Singletary does not call plays on either side of the ball, he must understand both sides of the ball in terms of game planning. He must know the personnel on each side of the ball, its strengths and weaknesses, without having to glance down at the depth chart. (This is a pet peeve of mine. When I watched pregame warm ups, I would always look to see if the opposing GM or personnel director had a flip card for the game in his hands. If he did, I knew he hadn’t watched much tape on our team; if he had, there would be no need for him to carry a depth chart. The numbers on the backs of players’ jerseys would have been all he needed.)
What do you guys think Mora's biggest challenge will be this year?
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By: Chris Posted at 8:10 AM
by: Matthew Heuett
The defensive ends both line up in similar positions (on the outside shoulders of the tackles in the 5-tech), and both are primarily pass-rushing positions, but not many people know that the two DE positions require somewhat different players. But before we get to that, it helps to keep in mind that the right defensive end lines up across from the left tackle, while the left defensive end lines up across from the right tackle. A bit confusing, I know, but those left and right labels depend largely on whether you’re looking at things in the same direction as the offense or the defense.
The right defensive end, lining up as he does on the weak side, gets a steady diet of one-on-one matchups. Unfortunately for him, those matchups come against the left tackle, who is typically the best offensive lineman on the team since he has to protect the quarterback’s blindside. To compensate, the right DE is generally the fastest player on the d-line, combining a quick first step with enough moves and savvy to get around the left tackle to pressure or sack the quarterback.
To continue, click
Daryl Tapp is fast and athletic enough to be a good right DE in the 4-3, but he tends to run hot and cold. If he’s going to earn the starting job then he needs to produce on a more consistent basis. Lawrence Jackson will be his main competition for starting right DE, but he too needs to step up his production, as the measly two sacks he managed in his fourteen starts in ’08 just isn’t going to cut it (in his defense, ’08 was his rookie season, and DEs don’t typically put up big numbers their first year in the league). In a recent article by Clare Farnsworth for Seahawks.com, the other d-linemen listed for the right DE position are Nick Reed, who seems to be fast enough for the job, but very light at 247 lbs (4-3 DEs are typically 260-290 lbs), and Cory Redding, who seems like an odd choice for the speed-intensive position. Granted, Redding did start his NFL career as a 4-3 DE for the Lions, but that was at left defensive end, not right. Who knows, perhaps it’s just a typo on Farnsworth’s part, or maybe the Seahawks’ coaches know something about Redding that we don’t -- we’ll just have to wait and see how things shake out in training camp.
The left defensive end lines up on the strong side, so he needs to be a bit bigger and stouter than the right defensive end. Even so, the left defensive end almost always registers far more sacks than the faster, more explosive right defensive end. Seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? I’d explain, but John Morgan over at Field Gulls beat me to it with a post he wrote last year on the same subject:
Traditionally, the left defensive end is the stouter, less pass rush-oriented compliment to the explosive right defensive end. Despite that, left defensive ends like Patrick Kerney, Julius Peppers, Jared Allen and Aaron Kampman are consistently among the top sack producers in the NFL. Some of that might be a simple, meaningless confluence of talent at the right defensive end position, not indicative of any larger trend. But some it might also be explained by the changing nature of the tight end position in the modern NFL.So, there you have it: the right defensive end is faster but has to face elite left tackles, while the left defensive end faces less-talented right tackles and tight ends who are more like receivers than blockers these days. Patrick Kerney is the clear-cut starter at right defensive end, and hopefully he can return to the same level of production he had for Seattle in ’07. We’d better hope so, because the backups listed for the position in Farnsworth’s article are Baraka Atkins, a third-year player who is decent in run and pass defense but hasn’t shown much in the way of pass rush skills, and Brandon Miller and Michael Bennett, both of whom are more likely to be practice squad prospects than serious contenders for the active roster. Unless either one of the latter is a Strahan in the rough, I would expect to see someone on the right DE depth chart moved over to fill the position before either Miller or Bennett got the nod.
. . . .
Back in the days of the Flying V, the tight end was little more than an extension of the offensive line. Blocking has stayed an essential duty of the tight end until recently. More and more “tight ends” do not play the tight end position. Players like Dallas Clark and Antonio Gates are as much slot receivers as tight ends. Despite a de-emphasis on blocking by tight ends, most teams still put their inferior pass blocking offensive tackle on the right side. Therefore, left defensive ends typically face inferior competition.
Linebackers in the 4-3 come in three flavors: the middle linebacker (also known as the Mike linebacker), the strong-side (or Sam) linebacker, and the weak-side (or Will) linebacker. Let’s start with the middle linebacker, since it’s one of the main innovations of the 4-3. Along with assisting the d-line with some bone-crushing, run-stuffing tackles, the Mike linebacker is the quarterback of the defense, altering everything from individual defensive player assignments to coverage schemes on the fly to adapt to the offense’s game plan. Combine those traits with the pass coverage responsibilities that later became a part of the position with the development of the Tampa-2 and you’re looking for a player with a rare combination of power, athleticism, leadership, above-average football instincts, and a willingness to spend hours upon hours studying film.
Luckily, Seattle already found just such a player in the ’05 draft: Lofa Tatupu. His main backup last year (actually, he was the main backup for every linebacker position) was D.D. Lewis, who may not be as good a Mike as Tatupu but still did a serviceable job in his week nine start versus the Eagles (of his seven tackles, three were for zero or negative yardage, one was after a 3 yard gain, and three were after 5-6 yard gains). Second-year man David Hawthorne is listed on the depth chart as a Mike, but while he’s shown the physical tools to be a good linebacker in the NFL we simply haven’t seen enough of his play to know if he has the instincts and discipline to lead the defense effectively.
The strong-side linebacker usually lines up either behind the line of scrimmage somewhere opposite the tight end or directly on the line of scrimmage in the 7-tech. His main job is to make life miserable for the tight end, whether that means wrestling through the TE’s block to tackle the running back or swatting down any pass he tries to catch. However, since the position focuses more on stoutness, hitting and strength over speed and ball skills, the Sam linebacker tends to be the weakest of the three LBs in pass coverage. For this reason, the Sam is almost always the linebacker that gets replaced by an extra defensive back in nickel packages. A slot receiver can pose a difficult challenge to the Sam, especially if the Mike is too busy elsewhere to help him out in coverage, but his ability to intimidate receivers with punishing tackles helps even the odds somewhat. The Sam is used in blitzes periodically, but not as often as the Will or Mike linebackers.
Leroy Hill is a prime example of the archetypal strong-side linebacker: strong, tough to block, and loves to leave an imprint of his facemask on the chests of anyone who tries to carry or catch a ball in his vicinity. Unfortunately, he also fits the mold with his deficiencies in pass coverage (in particular, he has a tendency to bite on routes designed to lure him away from his zone of responsibility), but he balances that with an above-average ability to wreak havoc in blitzes (7.5 sacks in blitzes off the strong side in ’05). More concerning is his durability, as he’s missed several games due to injury over the last few years, including the last four games of the ’08 season.
Hill’s backup D.D. Lewis performed admirably when called upon (he was the starting Sam in Seattle before Hill took the job from him, after all), but he has durability concerns, too--he spent most of the ’04 and ’06 seasons on injured reserve, and last year he missed the last two games of the season. Lance Laury is listed on the depth chart as a Sam, but when both Hill and Lewis were out in weeks 16 and 17 last year, the team opted to start Will Herring over Laury despite Herring being more of a weak-side linebacker. Read into that what you will.
The weak-side linebacker typically lines up in the backfield behind the right defensive end and the 3-tech. His job is more coverage-oriented than the other two linebackers, so Wills usually have the best ball skills of the three and tend to be lighter and faster than the Mike or Sam. Along with covering outlet receivers in the flat and slot receivers in the weak-side middle, sniffing out screen passes, and taking down running backs on runs to the weak side, the weak-side linebacker also blitzes far more often than the Mike or Sam. Why? Well, partly because of the Will’s greater speed, and partly because the o-linemen on his side of the field should be too busy dealing with the right defensive end and the 3-tech to block him. Even if he doesn’t get the sack, a Will who continually puts pressure on the quarterback forces the offense to commit another player to block him, either with a tight end on the line or a running back to play bodyguard in the backfield, hopefully leaving one less potential ball carrier for the rest of the defense to worry about.
The starting Will linebacker for the ’09 season will be Aaron Curry. His play in college proved he has the speed and coverage skills necessary for the position, and his ability to rush the passer (based on reports from the OTAs) completes the package. His potential is exciting, but right now it’s just that: potential. Curry needs to be able to produce in regular season NFL games, and hopefully we won’t have to wait too long to see him do just that. D.D. Lewis was the main backup for the Will position last year (hell, at this point it might be faster to point out who Lewis wasn’t backing up last year), although I’m not sure if he’s ever played the position. However, if his career stats are anything to judge by (one sack in seven seasons) then it doesn’t appear that Lewis excels at rushing the passer. The other two potential backups for the Will linebacker are Will Herring, who has shown excellent speed and coverage skills in his limited opportunities on the field (remember, he did play safety for most of his college career), and Dave Philistin, an undrafted rookie free agent who is competing for a practice squad berth.
Okay, that’s enough for one day. Tomorrow in part three we’ll look at the strengths and weaknesses of the 4-3, introduce the 3-4 defense, and examine how defensive ends and tackles are used in the 3-4. Also, I hope you’ve all been taking notes, ‘cause there will be a test on this later (sorry, teacher humor).