In last week's post, I covered some of the more fundamental defensive football concepts: gaps and defensive linemen techniques. I went through an overview of how gap theory is used to choke running lanes, and we saw how defensive linemen will position themselves in pre-snap techniques to ensure the best leverage against an opposing offensive linemen.
In this week's post, I want to take those things that we learned, and actually translate them into one of the most fundamental defensive formations in football: the 4-3 over defense.
The 4-3 Over Formation
You've very likely already heard of the 4-3 defense, which is also referred to as the "base 4-3" or even the "43." What you may not know, is the 4-3 front has several different ways for the defensive personnel to line up, depending on what the defensive coordinator will call prior to the play.
Throughout my research, I'm learning that of all the different variations, the "4-3 over", and the "4-3 under" are the most common formations. In this post, we'll be focusing on the former, and take a deeper look at the latter next week.
When the offense breaks the huddle, they will come out in a specific type of personnel.
You may have heard phrases such as “11” or “12” personnel. This refers to the number of running backs and tight ends on the field. The number of wide receivers is inferred based on this number, given that there can only be 11 offensive players on the field. For example, 21 personnel means that there are two running backs and one tight end. Therefore, there are three wide receivers, a quarterback, and five offensive linemen, in order to achieve a total of 11 offensive players.
I specify this because the defensive personnel for a particular play will be determined by the offensive personnel. In the case of the 21 personnel example above, the defense will very likely come out in a base 4-3 package, as opposed to something like “nickel” or “dime” packages, which we’ll get into later.
Why? Because of the gap scheme we discussed last week.
If we have a tight end on the field in 21 personnel, how many gaps do we have? You should have counted seven (don't forget to include the gaps outside of the offensive tackle, and tight end). So in order to combat this, the defense will put out seven defenders to fill all seven gaps.
You may be asking, "What about only six members of the front-7, and a corner to fill the last gap?" With that reasoning, you'll likely be putting the corner against either the offensive tackle, tight end, or fullback; all of which are likely a winning battle against the smaller-framed cornerback. Thus, the defense will match the offense with its 4-3 formation.
With this scheme, the defensive personnel is as follows:
- 2 defensive ends
- 2 defensive tackles
- 3 stand-up linebackers
- 2 cornerbacks
- 2 safeties
The tight end is the determining factor for the defense as to which side of the offense is referred to as the strong side (or "closed" side). This basically means that if the offense is going to execute a running play, they will go to the side with the tight end because it has more players. Obviously this doesn't always happen, but that's the origin behind the strength of the formation.
Another important concept to note, generally, offenses in the NFL are based on a right-handed scheme. What I mean by this is that your left tackle is generally the better pass blocker because he protects the quarterback's blind side. This means that when a right-handed QB is standing in the pocket, he is unable to see the pass rusher coming from the side of his left tackle. Conversely, your right tackle is generally your mauling run blocker. You generally scheme up your run plays to be run behind your left tackle.
An offensive scheme will not adjust its offensive line personnel to match a left-handed quarterback. Thus, the defensive line will generally maintain its personnel alignments to match the offensive line. Having said that, if the tight end lines up inline (adjacent to) to the left tackle, that now becomes the strong side of the formation, and the front-7 should adjust accordingly.
Why is this important? Because the defense will position their front-7 based on which side of the offense is the strong side.
In the 4-3 defense, you have three stand-up linebackers, most commonly referred to as WILL, MIKE and SAM. Notice the first letter of each of these terms also corresponds to Weak, Middle, and Strong.
In the 4-3 over formation that we’re looking at, the WILL linebacker lines up on the strong side of the offensive formation, behind the 3-technique defensive tackle (the outside shoulder of the strong-side offensive guard), while the SAM will line up behind the right defensive end (pictured below). The MIKE will hover about 4 yards behind the 1-technique.
The DLs also move depending on where the strong side of the formation is. As mentioned earlier, in the 4-3 over, you have two defensive ends (DEs), and two defensive tackles (DTs). In the 4-3 over, both DEs will line up on the outside shoulder of the outer most lineman, including the tight ends.
This results in the weak side end (RDE) beginning the play in 5-technique, while the strong side end (SDE) will line up at 7-technique.
From here, the two corners and two safeties will line up based on the pass coverage assignments, which we’ll cover in a later lesson as well. For what it's worth, the secondary (i.e. cornerbacks and safeties) is showing a cover-2 look in the image above.
Filling The Running Lanes
Okay, so now we know where the players line up. What now?
At this point, the front-7 is ready for a run play to take place (recall the gaps concept). We know there are seven gaps in the image above; two A gaps, two B gaps, two C gaps, and a D gap outside of the tight end. Because of this personnel, the defense will be able to fill all holes the offensive line can create:
2017 Positional Projections
Looking towards the 2017 NFL season, I'm projecting the following players to be on the field in this formation to open training camp:
As for why I project these players this way and why they're good (or bad) fits for these positions, we'll cover that in a future post as well.
This is a very simplistic view of the base 4-3 over defense, and there is certainly variance in how players line up, coverages, etc… but, at its simplest view, this is the base 4-3 defense. In next week's post, I'm looking to cover the 4-3 under defense, how it differs from the 4-3 over, and why the defensive coordinator might choose one formation over another.
For some, this lesson is too rudimentary. To others, it may bring about a good eye opener to the base defensive formation that the Cowboys run. In future posts, I'll dive deeper into what I've learned and researched, and hope that you will learn along with me.
2018 In Review: Byron Jones Emerges As CB1
Heading into the 2018 season Byron Jones was being asked to prove himself. The former first round pick had fallen out of the coaches' good graces during his third season, though many of his struggles could be attributed to those very coaches which were then questioning his ability.
Being asked to play out of position, or at least in a spot which did not maximize his natural ability, Jones struggled in 2017. Too often he was playing in the box as a safety where his lack of physicality was exposed by the opponent's run game. This was mostly due to the coaching staff falling in love with his tight-end-erasing ability in man coverage, but backfired when overused as a safety.
Once hired the following offseason, Kris Richard and company decided to move Byron Jones to cornerback full time, allowing him to utilize his excellent coverage skills and athletic ability to the fullest, rather than putting him at a disadvantage in the box.
The results? Well, Jones had one of the best seasons of any cornerback in football, earning All Pro and Pro Bowl honors for the first time in his young career.
Byron Jones had a dominant season for Dallas
Pro Football Focus graded Jones as the sixth best cornerback in all of football last season, allowing just 0.79 yards per coverage snap. Despite not having an interception on the season, Jones still earned national recognition as one of the best cornerbacks in the entire league.
Down the stretch of the season, Chidobe Awuzie started to play up to the level which fans had hoped for during the preseason. He had been sticky in coverage most of the year, but now he was making plays on the ball at a much better rate, forcing incompletions. This led to an increase in targets to Jones' side, and though the increase resulted in more catches given up by the number one cornerback, I don't think Jones' play faltered as much as some will have you believe.
The fact is, when you get targeted more you are bound to give up more catches and yards. The key is to force them into contested catches, and make things as difficult for the receiver as possible when targeted.
Byron Jones continued to do this all season long, and fans should be excited for the next step of his growth in 2019.
Cowboys en Español: Comentando el Tope Salarial
Por muchos años, el tema del tope salarial ha sido un tema sensible para los Dallas Cowboys. Entre dinero muerto y otros problemas, el equipo ha tenido una situación delicada en este aspecto. Sin embargo, para la temporada del 2019 tienen más espacio de lo que estamos acostumbrados.
Según Over The Cap, los Cowboys tendrán aproximadamente 48 millones de dólares disponibles en 2019. Es importante recalcar que este número no es definitivo y puede cambiar. Año tras año, esta administración ha sido aficionada de reestructurar los contratos de ciertos veteranos para liberar espacio salarial constantemente. Además de esto, hay varios jugadores bajo contrato que el equipo podría decidir cortar para liberar aún más dinero.
Al ver sólo 48 millones disponibles, es complicado imaginar un escenario en que el equipo logre satisfacer todos sus objetivos. Hay bastantes candidatos a grandes extensiones en el equipo, principalmente dos jugadores. En una liga en la que quarterback es la posición más importante, la segunda más importante podría ser la del caza cabezas, cuyo objetivo es ir tras el quarterback contrario.
Pues en Dallas, hoy dos jugadores en estas posiciones que hay que extender. El más urgente sin duda es el defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence se puso el jersey del equipo cuando este lo designó a jugar bajo la etiqueta franquicia. Afortunadamente, el atleta de 26 años la hizo de soldado y jugó sin amenazar con faltar a entrenamientos ni pretemporada.
Lo que sí comentó es que no pasaría por lo mismo en 2019. Ahora, el momento está aquí y es tiempo de que los Cowboys lo extiendan. El valor de Lawrence es difícil de predecir, pero es bastante seguro que se acercará a los números de Khalil Mack. Mack hizo historia ganando un contrato que en promedio gana 23.5 millones al año. Si bien no anticiparía que lo supere, la cifra estará cerca al contrato del defensivo de los Chicago Bears.
Además está Dak Prescott, cuyo contrato probablemente estará por encima de los 25 millones anuales. Son contratos caros, pero son piezas fundamentales para el equipo. Definitivamente se les tiene que pagar a ambos. Son pilares que año tras año buscan equipos en toda la NFL.
Además de esto, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, Cole Beasley y más podrían tener un impacto en el tope salarial. Algunos buscan un contrato nuevo, otros una extensión. Pero honestamente, me parece que habrá más espacio en el tope salarial de lo que pensamos. Sólo es cuestión de tiempo para que los Cowboys comiencen a reestructurar a sus veteranos para ahorrarse unos cuantos millones para utilizar en agencia libre.
Tyron Smith, Tyrone Crawford entre otros pueden ser buenas opciones para comenzar este proceso. Antes era Jason Witten uno de los candidatos favoritos para este proceso, pero él ya se encuentra comentando partidos para ESPN. En Inside The Star, continuaremos actualizándote con contenido al día de los Dallas Cowboys.
Can the Cowboys Become Legitimate NFC Conference Contenders this Offseason?
Super Bowl LIII is in the books, and the Dallas Cowboys can look back on a better-than-expected 2018 campaign. Having won the NFC East with a 10-6 record and bowing out to eventual finalists Los Angeles Rams, the Cowboys' young team can look ahead to 2019 as a chance to take another step forward.
The offseason is now upon us, with the NFL free agency period opening in the middle of March and the NFL Draft coming around at the end of April. Until those times, experts, pundits, and fans are left to assess their teams and predict their activities in the running to the start of next season.
The Dallas Cowboys are in a precarious position, with the team exceeding expectations, still being very young and having plenty of cap space, but also having many top-end players set to become free agents and being without a first-round pick in this year’s draft. There does, however, appear to be a way for the team to make improvements and solidify their place atop the NFC East and potentially go on to win in the Conference Finals.
Lock Down the Big Guns
Many see DeMarcus Lawrence as the top potential free agent this spring, so the Dallas Cowboys need to do everything in their power to lock down the 26-year-old defensive end.
Vice President Stephen Jones has emphasized the team’s target of retaining their own stars, per Star-Telegram, with Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, and perhaps Byron Jones being in the discussion for long-term deals.
As it stands, the team will have roughly $48.5 million in cap space for next season, which leaves plenty of space to re-sign their top players. They look set to let go of Tavon Austin, David Irving, and quite possibly Cole Beasley, among others, leaving a need to add reinforcements.
Adding New Talent
One of the most heavily rumored moves for Dallas in this free agency is picking up native Texan and former Legion of Boom linchpin Earl Thomas, per Forbes.
Against the Rams in the playoffs and throughout the season, the Cowboys lacked a defenseman who could make plays on the pass. Thomas is one of the notorious ball hawks in the league, boasting 28 career interceptions, three of which came in just four games of last season.
If the Cowboys can re-sign their stars while keeping some space for an Earl Thomas-sized contract, which clocked in at $10.4 million in 2018 for the Seattle Seahawks, their odds of going all the way next season will significantly increase.
Right now, the expected names of the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs lead the odds to win the next Super Bowl at +750. Behind them, the Rams sit at +900 having suffered a suffocating defeat in this year’s Super Bowl. Much further down are the Cowboys at +2500 right now with redbet. If they re-sign Lawrence, pay their young stars, and bring in Thomas, they’ll shoot up the table of favorites.
Then, there’s also the additions in the draft to consider.
The Cowboys may be without a first-round selection, but that may end up working in their favor. Round one of the 2019 NFL Draft is set to be laden with defensive selections according to most mock drafts, with a few quarterbacks sprinkled around and a minimal selection of offensive weapons. If the Cowboys re-sign Lawrence, they’ll be looking good at defensive end, so should then turn to giving Prescott another weapon in the passing game, which will also help to keep defenses honest and give Elliott more room to operate.
As stated, the NFL is a passing league, and Prescott exploded once he was given a viable option in Amari Cooper. Michael Gallup is expected to take another step forward next season, but just in case, the Cowboys can add another strong receiving option in the draft thanks to the strength of the defensive class. A.J. Brown of Ole Miss will almost certainly go in the first round, but exciting talents in D.K. Metcalf, Parris Campbell, Marquise Brown, and Deebo Samuel could all still be available when Dallas rings in during the second round.
Improving Dallas' pass options and pass defense will go a long way toward improving the team and allowing them to push on to a bigger and better campaign in 2019.
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