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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

1 Comment

  1. John Williams

    John Williams

    May 7, 2017 at 8:09 am

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

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Star Blog

Has the Time Come to Bid Farewell to WR Cole Beasley?

Brian Martin

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Has the Time Come to Bid Farewell to WR Cole Beasley?

It was inevitable that we would reach this point eventually. I warned Cowboys Nation back in May to prepare yourselves that 2018 might be the last time we see Cole Beasley in a Dallas Cowboys uniform, and indeed that could be the scenario that plays out. Now a free agent, Beasley is free to sign with any team of his choosing.

The Dallas Cowboys have however shown an interest in bringing Cole Beasley back in the mix. They supposedly offered him a contract extension before the start of the season, but it was a number Beasley scoffed at. To me, this suggests the two sides may have a difficult time mutually agreeing on the money amount it would take to keep him in a Cowboys uniform for what could be the rest of his career.

Being a fan favorite too many Cowboys fans, it would be hard for many of us to see Cole Beasley playing in a different uniform. But more than that, his productivity in the passing game and bond with Quarterback Dak Prescott would surely be missed and not easily replaced.

Cole Beasley, Dak Prescott

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott

As much as I hate to admit it, I have a hard time seeing the Dallas Cowboys extending Beasley's contract. Unfortunately, he's just not at the top of the list when it comes to handing out contract extensions. In fact, he could be at the bottom of the pecking order.

The Cowboys still have to extend DeMarcus Lawrence, Amari Cooper, Dak Prescott, and quite possibly Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones. All of these players are probably more of a priority than Beasley due to the positions they play and their age. That means No. 11 is likely the odd man out.

I'm not ruling out his return to Dallas just yet though. He may find the Cowboys previous offer was more than fair to the way other teams value him on the open market. That would certainly increase the possibility of him staying put and not having to uproot his family to another city.

There is no denying the Dallas Cowboys value Cole Beasley and what he brings to the passing game. His value may even rise a little now that Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan is no longer in the picture. A new OC definitely adds an interesting twist in determining Beasley's future with America's Team.

What do you think? Should the Dallas Cowboys extend Cole Beasley's contract?



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Star Blog

Cowboys Chill While Pats & Rams Set to Thrill

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Cowboys Chill While Pats & Rams Set to Thrill

If you were to check out the line on the Super Bowl matchup between the New England Patriots and the Los Angeles Rams, you might wander over to Sportsbook Review, where you could read a 5Dimes review and see what all the best online sportsbooks, first and foremost among them 5Dimes, are dealing on this intriguing matchup. Tom Brady and the Patriots, much to everyone’s chagrin outside the six New England states, are back in it – again – and are currently slight favorites over the emerging LA Rams.

In New England’s 37-31 victory over the Chiefs, the Patriots did what they always seem to do, which is rally late and win in dramatic fashion. It’s become almost a ho-hum experience in New England while the rest of the country bites on a bullet, cursing the embarrassment of riches and success that has been the standard of this Patriots’ franchise for two decades. But this was supposed to be the season that the dynasty would end after viewing Tom Brady’s often mediocre performances and his All-World tight end, Rob Gronkowski, hobbling up and down the field without the same reckless abandon as we’ve seen in year’s past. And then their only truly talented speed merchant capable of stretching the field, Josh Gordon, left the team under a cloud of suspicion.

Unfortunately for the rest of the nation, the Patriots' once porous defense coalesced into a rather stout unit and apparently, the two weeks between the end of the regular season and the start of the Patriots’ postseason was enough time for Brady to heal from his rumored sprained MCL that he had been dealing with in silence all season long.

Gronkowski must have also visited the same shaman as Brady because he looked as dominating as ever in ripping the Chiefs on every critical third-down throughout the final quarter. Finally, the conduit to much of Brady’s success, Julian Edelman, is now being mentioned as a Hall-of-Fame candidate when his run is done.

It’s all a bit much for everyone else, but not for Patriots Nation.

The LA Rams will be the Patriots’ latest foe on the league’s grandest stage as they have a burgeoning superstar in Jared Goff. Los Angeles tore through the regular season off of the golden arm of Goff and his Juggernauts, winning 13 of 16 and earning a first-round bye. Their first foray into the 2018 postseason was a 30-22 win over the determined but overwhelmed Dallas Cowboys. The Rams then traveled to the lair of Drew Brees and the Saints down on the bayou and came away with a 26-23 overtime victory.

However, had it not been for an inexcusable non-call, it is far more likely LA would be watching, rather than participating in this year’s Super Bowl. If you didn’t see it or hadn’t heard about it, then the question begs; why are you reading this article?

Of course, you know that LA’s cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman steamrolled New Orleans’ wideout Tommylee Lewis as Brees’ pass was descending toward Lewis inside the five-yard line. It was a penalty without a flag and that one blown call forced the Saints to settle for a field goal that pushed them ahead 23-20. Yet, there was still enough time on the clock to give Goff and his prolific Rams’ offense one last gasp at either tying the game or putting a dagger through the hearts of Saints’ fans everywhere with a touchdown in the waning moments.

It was the former and not the latter that occurred, but an errant pass by Brees in overtime sealed the deal as the Rams picked it off and ultimately ended the contest off the thunderous foot of Greg Zuerlein.

If you want to check out the line movements over the next two weeks for Super Bowl LIII then get on over to Sportsbook Review, read the 5Dimes review, and see exactly where the money is moving the spread as well as the total in the game. Buckle up Cowboys’ fans, it’s gonna get even more interesting as February 3rd draws near.



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Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches
Smiley N. Pool / The Dallas Morning News

Lamentablemente, la temporada 2018 de los Dallas Cowboys ha llegado a su fin. Lo hizo cuando el equipo visitó Los Angeles para intentar sorprender a los Rams en su propio campo en la Ronda Divisional de los playoffs. Ni siquiera con una invasión exitosa de la afición de Dallas pudieron ganarse un pase al Campeonato de Conferencia. En vez de eso, los Cowboys estarán viendo desde casa y la afición estará preguntándose: ¿qué sigue para los Dallas Cowboys?

Parece ya una tradición anual que no podemos dejar pasar. Este momento en el que comenzamos a cuestionar, una vez más, que entrenador es digno de quedarse en la franquicia y cual debe irse. En esta edición de "Cowboys en Español," hablaremos específicamente de los tres principales coaches en el equipo.

Cowboys DC Rod Marinelli Should Be On The Hot Seat

Coordinador Defensivo Rod Marinelli

El futuro del coordinador defensivo de los Dallas Cowboys no se puede tratar sin mencionar a Kris Richard. Fue la defensiva la que llevó al equipo hasta la postemporada y fue la unidad que cargó al equipo en muchas de sus victorias. Incluso con la llegada de Amari Cooper a Dallas, la defensiva fue siempre el pilar de la franquicia esta temporada.

Jaylon Smith y Leighton Vander Esch sorprendentemente se perfilaron como uno de los mejores duos de linebackers en toda la liga, la línea defensiva fue muy exitosa con Randy Gregory y DeMarcus Lawrence en los extremos y con la grata sorpresa que fue Antwaun Woods en el centro. La secundaria vio la mejor temporada en la controversial carrera de Byron Jones e hizo un excelente trabajo con un talento decente, pero no genial.

Todo esto, y el haber terminado como la sexta mejor defensiva en puntos permitidos (20.2) y la quinta mejor contra la corrida (94.6), hace a Rod Marinelli merecedor de una ronda de aplausos. Sin embargo, Richard probablemente merezca más aplausos.

Fue Richard quien revolucionó la defensiva de los Cowboys y la convirtió en un grupo mucho más agresivo. Fue él quien implementó jugadas de "blitz" en el equipo (algo no común con Marinelli) y quien en un punto de la temporada, comenzó a seleccionar las jugadas desde la banda.

En esta posición, me parece que los Dallas Cowboys tienen que enfrentar la dura decisión de decirle a Marinelli que es tiempo de dejarle el puesto a Kris Richard. Si bien no se llevó un trabajo de head coach, es muy probable que le llovieran ofertas a Richard si no se hace con el título de coordinador defensivo en Dallas.

Scott Linehan Acknowledges Need for New "Wrinkles" in Cowboys Offense

Dallas Cowboys OC Scott Linehan (Tim Heitman / USA TODAY Sports)

Coordinador Ofensivo Scott Linehan

Con un equipo tan polémico como este, la afición de Dallas no concuerda en muchas cosas. Sin embargo, lo hacen al hablar del pésimo trabajo que Scott Linehan ha realizado mandando las jugadas en ofensiva. Realmente ha sido doloroso de ver y es en mi opinión, el mayor problema que tiene el equipo actualmente.

Semana tras semana, fuimos testigos de pésimas decisiones en la ofensiva de los Cowboys. Vimos como el equipo se aferraba a llenar la caja de defensivos antes de correr el balón con Ezekiel Elliott. Vimos incontables pases pantalla en tercera oportunidad y largo. Pero no solo es lo que vimos, sino lo que no vimos.

A pesar de la innegable habilidad para correr el balón de Dak Prescott, Linehan se rehusó a explotar esta versatilidad de su QB. Vimos pocos "QB sneaks," jugada donde el mariscal toma el balón bajo centro y consigue poco yardage detrás del empuje de su línea ofensiva.

Siendo honestos, los Cowboys llevan dos años sufriendo por este coordinador. Dejarlo volver en el 2019 sería una decisión ridícula. Los comentarios en la radio de Jason Garrett no lucen prometedores, pero realmente sería una sorpresa que fueran ciertos. Linehan no debe volver... punto.

Jerry Jones Delivers Vote of Confidence in "Real Deal" Jason Garrett

Head Coach Jason Garrett

El futuro en esta posición será muy debatido durante los próximos meses, pero de los tres que hemos mencionado es sin lugar a dudas el más seguro de todos. Nos guste o no, Jason Garrett estará al frente del equipo la próxima temporada.

Garrett está lejos de ser un gran coach y aún le hace falta demostrar que puede cumplir las aspiraciones de los Cowboys de traer un sexto Trofeo Lombardi a casa. Pero siendo honesto, este equipo debería tener suficiente con Garrett y un par de buenos coordinadores. ¿El problema? No hay un par de buenos coordinadores en el equipo.

Sin embargo, Garrett ha demostrado que cuenta con el amor y apoyo de sus jugadores. Ha demostrado que efectivamente, puede ganar la división (lo ha hecho en tres de los últimos cinco años). Este año el equipo le dio la vuelta a la temporada después de comenzar 3-5.

Lo más preocupante en mi opinión, es la falta de urgencia para despedir a Linehan, por ejemplo. Quizá a puerta cerrada Garrett quiere un cambio en su staff, pero nunca lo sabremos.

Jason Garrett no es un coach excelente, pero podría ser suficiente para llevar a los Cowboys a un Super Bowl si tiene un equipo adecuado. Todo parece indicar que su trabajo está seguro (incluso más de lo que pensamos) así que es tiempo de esperar que se arreglen sus coordinadores.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches" 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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