NFL: Ravens going Bear

And Ray's a happy camper:

No one is happier to be a part of the Baltimore Ravens' new 46 defense than middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who can't wait to again experience the freedom of hunting down running backs without the hassle of shaking off bothersome offensive linemen.

I don't know if this is old or not (edit: it was originally announced on May 25 - Google cache link because the article appears to be gone on the baltimoresun.com site - but I saw no commentary here) but it was new to me. With most of the teams in the league copy-catting the Patriots' 3-4 (though the Ravens were already a 3-4 team), I find it interesting that the Ravens are going the opposite direction (adding a lineman when most teams are dropping one).

Of course, it should be noted that the Ravens' new DC is the son of Buddy Ryan, who originally devised the 4-6 for the Bears back in 1986.

Personally, I prefer the flexibility of the 3-4 and would be loathe to give up a safety for a lineman but I guess if that's how you best leverage your personnel...

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, here is a list of defensive schemes. On that page, the 4-6 is actually called the 4-4.

Interesting, I need coach Legion in here to go into more detail for me. Stat!

All teams will need to do against the Ravens now is do a shotgun or rollout, audible their left receiver on a streak, and tap the "L" trigger to lob the ball over to the streaking receiver. Easy 7 points! Oh wait, this is real football?

Unlike the 4-3 or the 3-4 (which are sometimes shortened to "43" and "34"), the numbers in 46 have nothing to do with the number of linemen/linebackers/etc.

Essentially, the 46 puts six men on the line. You start with the 3-man front from a 3-4: a nose tackle lined up heads-up on a center, and two ends lined up in a 3-technique (on the outside shoulder of the offensive guard, putting them in the "B" gap). You have a "rush end" line up on the offense's weak side, while two linebackers play on the line (hand-down 3-point stance) on the strong side. Your final remaining linebacker plays behind the line, and is joined with the strong safety, who essentially drops down and becomes a linebacker. Then your free safety plays center field.

The idea is that you always get your rush end in a single-team against the weakside tackle - which, if you have a dominant pass rusher, is a matchup that you want to make happen. You also let your best linebacker roam free in the middle of the field, and your deep safety goes ball-hawking. The defense is basically designed around these 3 players. The defense falls apart if the rush end can't beat the 1-on-1, or if the linebacker can't cover his territory, or if the deep safety can't make plays happen (the idea is that there should be constant pass pressure, forcing hurried throws without the benefit of setting up and "looking off" the deep defender).

So why did the 46 defense disappear as fast as it came to power? Two reasons. One, it can have some difficulty dealing with a good power running game. You have two linebackers and a rush end all on the line, each probably giving up 20-50 pounds on the guy that they're going to go head-to-head with in the ground game. The idea is for these guys to just occupy their linemen and keep anyone from getting to the second level to block the MLB and SS/LB. In Baltimore's case, the idea is to keep guards off of Ray Lewis. The defense basically puts all its chips into Ray Lewis to make the tackle against the running back. Problem is, if he doesn't, there's almost no other help to stop the back. Of course, Lewis is very good, which is why they're doing this. The potential problem is if those light guys like Suggs get blown up off the ball, and pushed back into the second level. Then they turn into roadblocks for Lewis, who can't do his part if he isn't allowed the free movement that the defense seeks. So if the small guys hold up at the point of attack (they don't need to penetrate, but they need to draw a stalemate), then Lewis can make plays against the run.

The other, more problematic reason the 46 disappeared, was the West Coast offense. The Original West Coast offense, that is. Many teams proclaim to run the WCO, but in reality, few do - most take elements of the WCO and run a bit more conventional, conservative version. The original Bill Walsh WCO was predicated on a lot of rollouts and bootlegs - lots of misdirection and lots of QB movement. The idea is to not do what the 46 wants you to: sit in the pocket. What they don't like is fakes to the RB that freeze the blitz, or rollouts that move the QB away from the rush on one side, and allows the offense to slide extra protection to the side the QB does move to. It takes the teeth out of the blitz. Worse, when you line up extra receivers and play a short, quick passing game, the 46 has very little answer for it. You either blitz against a passing attack that gets rid of the ball too quickly for your rush to matter, or you drop into coverage and try to cover with some very poor coverage matchups. And if you're not blitzing on passing downs, then you're not using the one thing that makes the defense effective at all. So yeah, it made for some extremely bad matchups for the 46 defense, which made the scheme disappear in a hurry.

Also problematic for the 46 defense was the evolution of the run-and-shoot. Again, here we have the offense sticking 3 or 4 receivers out onto the field, and getting rid of the ball on quick 1- and 3-step drops. The run-and-shoot is built around redirecting WR routes at the line of scrimmage. What gives it problems are complex coverages that aren't easily read at the line. Of course, the 46 has none of this, and that plays right into the hands of the run-and-shoot. While the WCO gave an out to the quick-footed passers, the run-and-shoot gave an out to the quick-thinking and quick-throwing passers. Warren Moon wasn't known for running, but he threw the quick slants like nobody's business.

These days, like I said, very few teams run anything close to a true Walshian WCO. The closest by far is the Denver Broncos. Shanahan uses Plummer in much the same way that Walsh used Montana, and Plummer, for all his faults, is the best bootleg QB in the NFL. And nobody really runs the run-and-shoot anymore, although St. Louis's offense is something like a grandchild to Moon-era Houston's run-and-shoot. If the Ravens really do stick with the 46, look for other teams to dust off the Walsh playbook and start moving their passers around more. And for the less mobile QBs, watch for adjustments to quick passing games. The one thing that is true is that, no matter what, the 46 defense must be accounted for. And there is much to be said about taking offenses out of their element, even if you do afford them a couple of outs.

Grumpicus wrote:

With most of the teams in the league copy-catting the Patriots' 3-4 (though the Ravens were already a 3-4 team), I find it interesting that the Ravens are going the opposite direction (adding a lineman when most teams are dropping one)

Well, the Ravens did copy the New England 3-4, just a couple NE championships ago. When the Ravens won the Super Bowl, they were strictly a 4-3 team. They lined up Rob Burnett and Mike McCrary at the ends, and Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams at the tackles. But then Adams left town, McCrary never again played a full 16 game season, Siragusa's career quickly entered its twilight, and Burnett left town a year after. So the Ravens broke everything down and started anew.

Last year was only their second year as a 3-4 defense.

Awesome, thanks Legion. Is the defense still viable if their keystone player (Ray Lewis) gets injured?

As always, coach Legion has told us how it is. I'll be very interested to see how the Ravens do if they stick with it. Like you mentioned, most teams these days have adapted the best parts of the WCO (play-action and other misdirection) which kind of kill the 46. One thing that never made sense to me about the 46 was that even with 6 guys on the line, a talented O-line can still make a hole big enough for a power back to get through... sure, you've got Ray Lewis, but a strong back will still probably get 3-4 yards every carry, and if RL screws up just once he can break it for 10+.

How does the 46 do against the screen? I've always thought that you can watch each team run a few screen plays and be pretty confident who will win - it seems to be one of the great tests of teamwork in the NFL, and the teams that do it right always seem to come out on top.

No. Losing Ray Lewis would cripple the defense's ability to stop the run. Losing Terrell Suggs would take a big bite out of the pash rush. And losing Ed Reed would badly damage the pass defense. None of the other 8 defensive players are anywhere near as important as these guys. And it's because of the presence of these guys that they're considering the defense at all. They are the new Mike Singletary, Richard Dent, and Gary Fencik.

Legion - Chalk Talk column, stat.

Minase wrote:

How does the 46 do against the screen?

Pretty well. A HB screen takes time to develop, and that's generally one thing you don't have. Especially with pass rush sweeping around the outsides, you have to worry about those outside rushers putting their paws up in the air and knocking it down (or, worse, tipping it up and letting themselves or another defender grab it). Against the WR screen, it does well too because the coverage plays man-up and usually lines up very tightly on their men. The WR screen exists to take advantage of defenders that give their receivers a big cushion to try and keep them from going deep. You won't see much of that against a 46.

One thing that never made sense to me about the 46 was that even with 6 guys on the line, a talented O-line can still make a hole big enough for a power back to get through

Well, it's a bit harder when you are unable to double-team anyone. A lot of man-blocking schemes for the ground game will essentially ignore defenders on the opposite side of the run, having those blockers block guys on their other side, allowing another guy further down the line to take part in a double-team. 6 defensive linemen make it a lot harder for the O-line to move, pull, and such. It makes double-teams very hard. Having bodies in those gaps also makes lateral movement, as we see in zone blocking, particularly difficult. However, as I mentioned, it does require 250-270 pound guys to hold up at the point of attack against 300-310 pound offensive linemen. You disallow the double-team and clog up movement, but at the expense of giving some very favorable single-teams to the offense.

One thing playing into the hands of the 46 is the current trend to smaller, more pass-catching tight ends. What the 46 hates is a guy like Kyle Brady, who is practically an extra offensive guard at 6'6", 280 pounds. You don't want Kyle Brady blocking one of your smaller "linemen". You want a guy that weighs 245-250 pounds like Marcus Pollard or Tony Gonzalez.

Loganrapp wrote:

Legion - Chalk Talk column, stat.

I'm getting my video capture hardware soon - SOOON!!

Dammit, make it snappy.

Looks like you'd better have good corners too. Or at least very physical ones with lax contact rules! =P

fangblackbone wrote:

Looks like you'd better have good corners too. Or at least very physical ones with lax contact rules! =P

The more apt at man coverage, the better. The corners play at an advantage, though, in that most passing plays don't last long enough to give receivers a very good chance at separation. The 1985 Bears corners weren't anything special. They do need to be able to avoid getting manhandled by a big, strong receiver. But they don't have to be great covermen that can stay in a receiver's hip pocket for extended pass plays. The Ravens corners - McAllister and Rolle - are more than what's needed (even though Rolle's best days are behind him, he's still got enough left in the tank).

Deion Sanders doesn't fit, but like every other NFL team, the Ravens' base defense will be just that - the base defense. They'll pull out other formations and schemes as situations dictate, and when they feel the need to play nickel or dime coverage instead of blitz the pass, Sanders will stride onto the field.