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Schemes and Concepts Chapter 1: Gaps and Techniques

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Football Theory 1: Gaps and Techniques 1

Remember those lectures in school when towards the end, the teacher would look up to ask if anyone had any questions, to which most students sat with drool on their chin? Most of the time, almost no one cared about the subject, or paid any attention to the material, and the other small percentage of those who kept up, had no clue what the teacher was talking about.

Whether it was algebra, or poetry, I was always that confused kid. I had no idea what the Pythagorean theorem was, or how to recognize iambic pentameter. Unfortunately, in my confusion, I was always afraid to ask the teacher for help because I was afraid of asking the dreaded “stupid question.”

When it comes to football knowledge, I’ve noticed that fandom can be a similar experience.

It’s a very “that’s a stupid question” atmosphere. Generally if you aren’t a former player or coach, or live and breathe football, you can be talked down to because of your knowledge (or lack thereof) of the Xs and Os.

I like to believe I have a decent, intermediate grasp of football concepts. I’ve never played in an organized game, but between my countless hours of studying the game, conversing with those who know more than I do, and various other methods, I’ve garnered quite a repository of information.

Throughout the next few months leading up to training camp, I’m going to do a massive deep dive into the Xs and Os of football, because I want to learn and understand more of the game. When someone says, “that was such a stupid play call” or, “I’m standing 3,000 miles away and even I could’ve told you that’s the play they were going to run,” or even, "I can't believe we just drafted him," I want to understand why.

Since I’m doing this deep dive, I figured it might be fun to share the knowledge I’ve gained in a way that would allow readers to come along on this journey with me, to get a better understanding of the game in real-time. It is my hope that when this series is done, I've given readers a much better understanding of the game, its fundamentals and concepts relating to the Cowboys' offensive and defensive schemes.

What I want you to remember is that this is a learning opportunity for everyone, including me. If I say something wrong in a lesson, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me on Twitter, or leave a comment noting the mistake so that we can correct it. I’d love to hear from you!

Given all of the attention that the defensive side of the ball got this draft season, I’m going to start there. I'll begin with the absolute basics, and work my way up.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride!

Lesson 1: Gaps and Techniques

Throughout my research, I'm learning that at its core, run defense is simply a way to fill any holes that the running back can run through. This could be a hole produced by the center and guard, where they push their opposing defensive linemen out of the way to produce a running lane for the tailback. It could also be a lane on one side of the offensive line completely, where the quarterback tosses the ball laterally to the running back, who then simply runs as fast as he can around the line to gain as many yards as possible.

Regardless of where the offense is trying to create a running lane, the defense's job on any given run play is to rally to the ball carrier in an organized fashion in attempts to clog all possible holes the running back can take.

Let's Introduce a Most Fundamental Football Concept: Gaps.

The following image shows the basic gaps that every system is based around:

Football Theory 1: Gap Schemes

Image courtesy of footballboost.com via Google Images.

This should come off as a fairly simple image to digest. For each letter, there exists two gaps depending on which side of the offensive line you're on. I've come to learn that these gaps are the fundamental building blocks behind defensive plays, formations, and schemes.

As mentioned before, the defense's job on a run play is to clog each of these gaps, in an attempt to disallow the running back any space to break through the line of scrimmage.

Based on the defensive scheme that you run, you (as a defensive player) will have a certain pre-snap responsibility as to which gap you are responsible for filling. For example, say you are a defensive lineman who lines up in the A gap pre-snap. Your job on this run play is now to cover that gap, and restrict the running back's ability to run through that hole.

This Brings Me to My Next Concept: Techniques.

When you look at an offensive line, 99% of the time they line up in the same way. You'll have your left tackle, left guard, center, right guard, and right tackle. Any alignment from there by the offensive skill players is variable. Because this alignment by the offensive line is consistent, defensive schemes are based around positioning defensive players around the offensive linemen to ensure adequate gap penetration for the play.

In order to do that, defensive coordinators scheme their defensive line and linebackers to pre-snap determinations as to which gap they are responsible for, as noted earlier. To do this, defensive linemen are positioned in what's called "techniques," which can be thought of as a way to start the play in a position of strength, for the defensive lineman, to ease his gap responsibility.

The image below shows these numeric techniques:

Football Theory 1: Gap Schemes 1

Image courtesy of bucsnation.com via Google Images.

You may have heard phrases such as "1-technique" or "3-technique;" this is where those terms come from.

You also may have heard of a "nose tackle;" this is derived from the fact that this player lines up nose-to-nose with the center. So in the case of determining his technique, he would be a 0-technique.

The 4-3 defense loosely utilizes three different types of these techniques: the 1, 3, and 5 technique. Depending on the type of 4-3 formation or offensive personnel, there are certainly variations. But we'll save that for later.

Combine Gaps & Techniques for the Foundation of the 4-3 Defense.

If you count the number of gaps in the first figure above, you'll notice that there are eight total, four on each side of the center. In the 4-3 defense, you'll have four defensive linemen and three linebackers. These seven players are each responsible for filling a single gap in the course of the play. In the first image above, you would likely see a safety "cheat" down to the line of scrimmage to cover that eighth gap.

Generally, each player is given a particular gap responsibility before the play starts. For example, the 1-technique is responsible for the A gap that he is positioned in, while the 3-technique has to maintain his B gap. So how does the 3-technique's A gap get filled? This is where the linebacker's job comes in.

The middle linebacker in this case would be responsible for filling this gap. The following picture shows this in action:

Football Theory 1: Gap Schemes 2

Image courtesy of Grantland via Google Images.

Don't get hung up on the formation as I just want you to note that each player is given a gap assignment. We'll cover this formation (4-3 under) in a future post.

This type of gap scheme is called a "1-gap" concept, because each player is responsible for a single gap over the course of the play. Conversely, the 3-4 defense is known as a 2-gap scheme. There are 4-3 defensive formations where, depending on the side of the line you play, you have either a 1-gap or 2-gap assignment. But we'll stick to the basics of the 4-3, 1-gap concept for now.

Combining this gap concept with the technique alignments provides the fundamental building blocks for any defensive formation and play. From here, we can scheme up blitz packages, coverage schemes, etc... to try to force confusion and quick decision-making from the offense.

In my next post, I'll review the "base 4-3 over" formation, how it uses gaps and techniques to align players pre-snap, and how it chokes run plays to allow as few yards as possible.

I hope you've enjoyed reviewing these ideas with me as much as I've enjoyed writing them up. As I mentioned at the start of this article, I'll continue to push these out as my knowledge expands from the various lessons I learn.

Feel free to drop a comment below, or reach out to me on twitter @TheLandryTrophy. I've also gotten a ton of insight from @JoeyIckes, who I strongly encourage you follow!



Dallas Cowboys fan since the Drew Bledsoe "era." I love Tony AND Dak. I like to think that I'm the most objective that a fan can get, while still being a diehard, which I truly believe is the 8th wonder of the world. Go Cowboys!!

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1 Comment
  • John Williams

    Dude!!! This is amazing and I’m looking forward to reading more in this series. Well done!!!

Star Blog

How The Seattle Seahawks Have Increased Importance In Cowboys’ Lore

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Headlines - Dallas Cowboys At Seattle Seahawks: 5 Bold Predictions
Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

You can't talk about this decade's Dallas Cowboys without discussing the Seattle Seahawks.

In 2012, when Golden Tate took out Sean Lee on a crack-back block and the Seahawks embarrassed a Cowboys team who had just defeated the defending champion New York Giants, we saw which of the two teams was truly ready for the big stage.

In 2014, as Rolando McClain intercepted Russell Wilson and the Cowboys clinched a critical road victory, we knew that Dallas was a legit contender.

In 2015, when Seattle finally came to Dallas and rendered the return of Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant meaningless in a 13-12 win, the then 2-5 Cowboys were sent further into a Romo-less abyss.

And, in 2017, Dez Bryant's key drops and Dan Bailey's missed field goals during a horrendous home loss to the Seahawks on Christmas Eve might have sealed each of their fates for the following offseason.

The most important moment in this Cowboys/Seahawks history, however, occurred during a preseason game. A meaningless preseason game which turned out to be the most meaningful day in recent Cowboys history.

Cliff Avril dragging Tony Romo down from behind, effectively ending his career, and kicking off the roster massive turnover we have seen the last two offseasons. From Dak Prescott, to a brand new secondary, to the retirement of Jason Witten, and the cutting of Dez Bryant. All of this change, which put an end to the Romo era rosters in Dallas, began with that hit in Seattle.

Since 2012 the Cowboys, and the rest of the NFC really, have been judged by how they play against two teams: the Packers and the Seahawks.

They have been the class of the NFC, and while we like to think that if the "Dez Caught It" game went how it should have Dallas would've handled Seattle, that will forever be an unknown.

Sunday's game is not expected to carry the franchise-changing implications that some of these other match ups have had. The Seahawks are 0-2 and reeling, with a shaky offensive line and reported distrust throughout the organization.The Cowboys, however, can jump-start their season with a big road win over a winless team that they should beat in the minds of many.

But knowing how things between these teams tend to go, Sunday afternoon may end up having major implications on the rest of the Cowboys' season.

Where this could be the case is in a potential Earl Thomas trade. It's been speculated that Seattle has been hesitant to deal Thomas to Dallas before their week 3 match up, but could be more willing to do so after the game.

Especially if that game is a loss which sends them to 0-3. The Cowboys have been actively pursuing Earl Thomas, and Thomas has certainly made it clear that he wants to be in Dallas. The only party not willing to make it happen thus far, are the Seahawks.

So, this weekend, there is a chance another chapter is added to those franchise-changing moments in Cowboys/Seahawks lore.



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Star Blog

A Look Around The NFC East: Week 3

Kevin Brady

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Tyrone Crawford, Carson Wentz, Eagles

Week two didn't go as planned for much of the NFC East, with only the Dallas Cowboys reigning victorious last Sunday.

Now, three teams are locked in a tie for first place at 1-1, with the New York Giants lagging behind with a winless record. Week 3 is shaping up to be a potential early turning point, however, with Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz returning and each team facing a very beatable opponent.

Let's take a look around the division and see what the Cowboys' foes will be facing this week.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles fell victim to one of the more surprising upsets of the weekend last Sunday, as Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the Eagles 27-21. While their defense got off to a shaky start in the loss, it was the offense which proved too little too late in their push down the stretch.

Carson Wentz is expected to not only return but to start on Sunday in the Eagles' match up against the Colts. Indianapolis upset the Washington Redskins last week, but will be 6 point underdogs when the game kicks off in Philadelphia on Sunday.

Wentz should give the defending champs an extra boost, and while they haven't looked as dominant as many expected through the first two games, this could be the game to spring them the rest of the way.

Washington Redskins

As mentioned earlier, the Redskins fell in Indianapolis last week, and are now tied for first place in the division with a 1-1 record. As dominant and impressive as Washington looked in their opener against Arizona, Washington's week two loss featured lethargic offensive play for four quarters.

This week the Redskins are three point home underdogs as Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers come to town. Green Bay tied Minnesota a week ago, but behind Rodgers and their potent offense, they have the chance to take advantage of Washington's suspect secondary down the field.

Sunday will be a tough test for the Redskins as they look to get back above .500 against a tough conference opponent.

New York Giants

The Giants' season is on the brink this week, and that really isn't a dramatic statement at all. Now at 0-2 with a division loss to the Cowboys last week, the Giants have to beat the 0-2 Texans on Sunday to get some confidence and keep pace within the conference.

Lucky for them, the Texans haven't looked impressive whatsoever through two games. Unlucky for them, the Texans have strong pass rushers like JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney ready to abuse their weak offensive line.

Houston is a six point home favorite over the Giants, proving it will be an uphill battle for New York to save their season.



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Star Blog

Cowboys en Español: La Defensiva de Dallas es Muy Real

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 3

Después de dos semanas de acción de los Dallas Cowboys, una cosa ha quedado más que clara. La defensiva del coordinador defensivo Rod Marinelli ha demostrado que es realmente buena. No como en otros años, que nos conformábamos con que la defensiva dejará avanzar y cediera tres puntos hasta que se rompía en el último cuarto.

No, ahora es diferente. Este año, los Dallas Cowboys tienen presión al QB opuesto. No sólo DeMarcus Lawrence, sino Taco Charlton, Randy Gregory y recientemente, los linebackers. Hemos visto a Jaylon Smith y Damien Wilson brindar presión y sobre todo, llegar a sus objetivos.

Los linebackers no han brillado sólo en esto, sino en otros ámbitos defensivos, como cobertura aérea y más. Incluso Joe Thomas ha logrado mantener su nivel que vimos en pretemporada cuando se le ha pedido entrar al campo.

Y en cuanto a la secundaria, no podríamos estar más agradecidos con la actuación de nuestros cornerbacks. Byron Jones está jugando a un nivel increíble. La semana pasada, Eli Manning sólo se atrevió a lanzar el balón en su dirección en cinco ocasiones. En esas cinco, consiguió sólo un pase completo para cero yardas. Chidobe Awuzie también ha tenido un gran inicio al 2018, manteniendo un nivel de juego consistente y efectivo. Estamos hablando de que el domingo pasado, estos dos cornerbacks se enfrentaron a uno de los mejores WR en la NFL, Odell Beckham Jr.

Finalmente, la posición de safety se ha visto como la unidad más débil en la defensiva. Jeff Heath es un titular promedio y Kavon Frazier tiene mucho camino por recorrer. Afortunadamente, hay esperanza de que Xavier Woods regrese de lesión este domingo.

A pesar de que en el 2016 todos veíamos a la ofensiva como nuestro futuro, es sorprendente el nivel que ha mostrado la defensiva. Es más agresiva, más efectiva y más confiable que en otros años. No podemos subestimar la llegada del coach Kris Richard al equipo.

Sobre todo después de que en el partido contra los New York Giants y los Carolina Panthers se demostró que Richard está involucrado directamente con las decisiones de las jugadas que se ejecutarán en el campo. Incluso Marinelli no tuvo problemas admitiendo que efectivamente, Richard estaba ganándose un rol en este aspecto.

Esto es muy relevante para los Dallas Cowboys, pues una de las cosas más destacadas que hemos visto las últimas semanas es el usaje de cargas o "blitzes" especiales en varias oportunidades. Incluyendo tercer down y largo.

Es algo que no habíamos visto nunca con el conservador Marinelli y que claramente es producto de Richard. Este personaje que viene de los Seattle Seahawks continua emergiendo como un candidato real al puesto de coordinador defensivo en el 2019 o quien sabe, quizá sea nombrado head coach si las cosas comienzan a ir mal para este equipo.

Sin duda alguna, la defensiva ha demostrado que es muy confiable y real. Es tiempo de que la ofensiva de Dallas responda a esto y comience a mover más las cadenas y sobre todo, aprovechar las oportunidades que tengan de anotar touchdowns. Empezar a depender de goles de campo nunca sale bien.

Linehan: "Butler Has Had a Good Camp", But Will He Stay?

Dallas Cowboys WR Brice Butler (Matthew Emmons / USA TODAY Sports)

Sobre la llegada de Brice Butler

Increíblemente, Brice Butler regresó a los Dallas Cowboys, incluso después de todos los comentarios que hizo en ciertos programas de televisión. La primera reacción al respecto fue de confusión; ¿por qué regresar con un receptor que nunca fue tan especial y que habló tanto de Dallas?

La respuesta a esta pregunta se esclareció un poco este jueves por la noche cuando surgieron los rumores de que Terrance Williams, quien fue arrestado en el offseason por intoxicación pública, podría ser suspendido pronto por la NFL.

Esto probablemente no sucederá antes del partido de la semana 3, pero de todas maneras explica mucho sobre el último movimiento de los Cowboys.

Predicción #DALvsSEA

En un partido bastante cerrado, creo que la defensiva de los Dallas Cowboys hará lo suficiente para llevarse la victoria. Es de suma importancia derribar a Russell Wilson y sobre todo, que la ofensiva tenga su mejor actuación de la campaña. La defensiva de Seahawks es bastante efectiva y no será sencillo vencerlos.

Marcador: Dallas Cowboys 21 - Seattle Seahawks 17

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: La Defensiva de Dallas es Muy Real" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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