Hello Again, Old 4-3: Defensive Line Comment Count

Brian February 9th, 2011 at 12:34 PM

The 4-3 is back, like it never sort of left and then really really left against Purdue and then came back and then altered into a slightly different version of itself and then mutated into a bizarre thing that was like the thing against Purdue but wasn't really because the person doing the mutating spent all his time watching his "Best of Just For Men Commercials" DVD. It will not suddenly be replaced by things that start with the number 3 and end with razorblades and pain. In the long term, this is delightful.

In the short term… eh… there might be some issues. This series is an attempt to fit Michigan's noses, ends, spurs, bandits, spinners, deathbackers, doombackers, dipbackers and frosting-covered gnomes into their new homes.

We start with the defensive line.

What we were forced to watch last year

Michigan stemmed into four man fronts occasionally but spent most of its time with a three man front featuring a traditional nose tackle who lined up directly over the center and two defensive ends. It was unclear to me if these defensive ends were intended to slant one way or the other at the snap—an aggressive "one gap" system—or if they were reading and reacting—a "two gap" system—because of the massive confusion surrounding them. It was hard to tell if Greg Banks was trying to cover two gaps unsuccessfully or just getting single blocked all the time.

They did typically line up slightly outside (lingo: "shaded outside") the tackles, indicating that it was probably the former:


You'd have to be the sort of idiot that would have Craig Roh play linebacker to play Craig Roh as a two-gap DE at 235 pounds, but… yeah.

At other times Michigan would switch to a four-man front in which their linebackers did things that made no goddamn sense at all, like on this soon-to-be 61-yard-touchdown…


…but that's another show. I bring it up to point out that in this situation you see Greg Banks as the weakside(!) defensive end, Craig Roh as the strongside guy, and Ryan Van Bergen folded inside to be the three-tech defensive tackle. This is a shifted line rather than an 'even' line, but more about that later.

What we were forced to watch the year before

Michigan ran mostly four-man lines and while they varied they usually put Brandon Graham on the weakside-ish of the formation. Here Illinois presents a balanced line with two TEs but you can see Martin lined up over the nose tackle and Graham to the bottom of the screen with a big gap between the two. Banks and Roh are to the top of the screen:


The linebacker walks down to the LOS in an effort to prevent Graham and Martin from getting double-teamed. When there is no TE on the weakside teams had a choice between singling Graham or Martin, which is why Graham got to eat the universe so often.

Sometimes they would line up differently. Here's another play on which Graham is on the weakside, well outside of the tackle as Martin lines up directly over the guard:


This is actually an "even" look where Michigan's not shifted. The DTs are over the guards, the ends line up outside the shoulder of the tackles.

They did occasionally stem into 3-3-5-ish looks, but note here that the defensive "ends" are lined up inside the tackles—this defense is designed to push runs to the outside.


Michigan ran this front most of the day against Ohio State and had success against their traditional I-form game, but struggled when the Buckeyes went to unbalanced spread sets. USC ran this quite a bit in the last few years of the Carroll regime; they called it "double eagle".

What can't possibly be quite as bad next year

My assumption is the defense is going to look a lot like the 2009 one did. That was a 4-3 under. I was going to go dig up old Michigan rosters featuring the "rush linebacker" to demonstrate that Michigan's old school defense also tended to have a guy hanging out on the edge made of menace and sacks while the other guy enjoyed fighting off tight ends but then I remembered Hoke obviated the need for circumstantial evidence:

“We’re going to be a four-three defense, either an over or under front.”

Those sound like two totally different things but they're not. This from above is an "over" front:


This is an "under" front:


And you're probably like "that's the same damn thing except Craig Roh is standing up." You're right. The difference in the pictures is the offense. In the MSU still there are more DL to the side with the TE and FB; in the Western still there are more DL away from the side of the formation with more dudes. Both have a one-technique DT and a three-technique DT. Both leave a big gap between the one-tech DT and the DT to his side. They're just mirror images of each other. A couple of helpful graphs from Shakin' The Southland to clarify. Michigan's overshifted line in the State image:


And the undershifted line against WMU:


The only player that ends up aligning differently is the strongside DE; it's really just flipping the tackles over.

That's still a useful distinction Hoke made for us, though, because a team that is under/over is going to have different requirements than a team that aligns even like Michigan did on that Iowa play above. We get to keep our terminology from two years ago when we talked about the three-tech DT and the one-tech DT.

Every team is "multiple" these days and will run under/over/even fronts as changeups. Also, the generally accepted theory is that under is better against pro-style teams that will bang your head and over is better against spread teams that will take your strongside linebacker into the slot. So when Hoke says "under/over" he probably means Michigan is going to run both depending on situation, not that they'll pick one when they figure out their personnel a bit better.

What you need at each spot

From right to left in the second graph above:

  • The weakside defensive end is going to get a one-on-one matchup with the tackle most of the time and needs to turn that opportunity into plays. Think Shawn Crable, Pierre Woods, etc.
  • The three-tech DT also usually gets a one-on-one matchup with the guard. He should be a penetrator that gets into the backfield with regularity. NFL DTs you've heard of (Warren Sapp is the canonical one) who aren't barely mobile piles of goo are probably three-techs.
  • The one-tech DT is going to experience a ton of double teams as the offense attempts to attack the "bubble" in the front the defense leaves but not putting someone over the other guard. You know all those successful zone running plays the site has explained over the years that start with a guard blocking some DT and end with that guard plugging a linebacker as someone else slides over to finish the job on the NT? That's what you don't want your nose tackle giving up.
  • The strongside DE should be Brandon Graham. Failing that, he should be a big, strong guy who's good against the run and can add some pass rush here and there.

A post from Battle Red Blog provides more detail on what your 4-3 under requires—at least on an NFL level—if you're interested.

Who goes where

Craig Roh is the weakside defensive end and will be backed up by Herron/Paskorz/Beyer/Heitzman. Attempts to move Roh elsewhere will be thwarted by a plucky band of kids and their dog ripping the Mattison mask off of a dastardly Greg Robinson.

There are two scenarios for the rest of the line. In the happy fairy dance scenario, Mattison, Hoke, and Beyonce are so much better than Bruce Tall and Greg Robinson that they transform the platoon of Will Campbell, Quinton Washington, and Richard Ash into a functional one-tech DT. Here's what happens if they don't and they move Martin:

Yeeargh. I'll believe Will Campbell can play D when I see it but Ash and Washington got some praise last year so you've got three bullets. It's possible this happens, if not probable.

If you can assemble a frankentackle in the middle then you can slide Mike Martin out to the three-tech spot he doesn't know he's been coveting for years. Imagine senior Martin getting single blocked on most plays. Tingling is normal when contemplating this scenario.

As a bonus, successfully moving Martin to the three tech allows you to leave Ryan Van Bergen at DE, where he is the kind of solid run defender you need on the strongside. He'll chip in a half-dozen sacks and be the B+ version of a strongside defensive end and that will be fine.

The realistic-thing-that-will-be-called-pessimistic-in-the-comments scenario is that Campbell/Washington/Ash produce a guy or two worth platooning but actually running those guys out as starters is asking to be smashed. This strands Mike Martin at the one-tech and essentially forces them to move Van Bergen back to the three-tech spot he occupied in 2009. Redshirt freshman Terrance Talbott is the only other three-tech on the roster until fall. Neither of these things are necessarily bad. RVB graded out decently in UFRs a couple years ago and picked up six sacks; Martin is good enough to play either spot.

What is bad is what that does to the strongside defensive end spot, where Jibreel Black would be an all-but-certain starter as a true sophomore. Black had some promising moments last year… as a pass rusher. He had many more in which his terrible run defense hurt Michigan, and while he'll get better it seems doubtful he'll get better fast enough to be an asset. The only other option at SDE is redshirt freshman Ken Wilkins.

It is possible that in this scenario they put Roh on the strongside since he'll be a junior and he's been less prone to crippling mistakes against the run. His main problem has been a lack of size that the offseason should come close to erasing. That would take a guy who's presumably going to be Michigan's best pass rusher and put him in a position to get doubled lots, though.

Awkwardness Rating On A One To Rodriguez-Interviews-Hoke Scale

Depends on scenario but this shouldn't be too bad. In the happy fairy scenario Michigan's personnel fits a shifted line like a glove. You've got three battleship type NTs, two guys on the weakside who will wreak havoc, a solid guy at SDE, and a scattering of decent backups.

Even in the regular non-fairy scenario you've got good personnel at three spots. SDE would probably be an issue. Either way it's way better than trying to use Craig Roh as a LB or three-man-line DE.



February 9th, 2011 at 12:49 PM ^

I've been dreaming of Martin at a non-Nose Tackle position for the past two years.  You're not going to take that away from me now.  I'll be over in the happy fairy dance scenario world with Tinkerbell and her friends at least through August.

STW P. Brabbs

February 9th, 2011 at 12:50 PM ^

I'm not sure why, but I always imagined Wilkins as more of a WDE (he also happens to be one of the random players on the roster about whom I am irrationally excited.)  It seems he has decent size, but I think he was something of an LB/rush end in high school, no? 

If either he or Jibreel Black can develop to the point of Brandon Graham Extra Lite (especially if both of them can and a platoon is born), the scenrio of RVB at the three-technique may not be armageddon.   But I agree that the only hope for a truly good defensive line is that Big Q, Will, and Ash can somehow hold it down as 1-techs.  My money's on Q (Ash has the size, but coming out of high school he was more of a penetrating, 3-tech type, no?)

Blue In NC

February 9th, 2011 at 12:56 PM ^

Don't you almost have to give the happy fairy scenario a try and hope for the best?  The personnel fits so much better that way and then you get Martin in the ideal position, RVB as a point of strenth (with Black available on passing downs and Roh in his best position.  

Yes, maybe you are a bit weak/vulnerable at the 1-tech but at least you have 3 guys to rotate or find a good solution.  Plus these are all younger or inexperienced guys that you hope will get better during the year (when the rushing attacks start getting stronger).  With the schedule, you hope you can weather that weakness early by facing less powerful teams and then improve that position as the pounding increases.  It also seems that the D is deeper and less likely to wear down as the season winds down.  Count me on the happy fairy train.


February 9th, 2011 at 12:56 PM ^

"Attempts to move Roh elsewhere will be thwarted by a plucky band of kids and their dog ripping the Mattison mask off of a dastardly Greg Robinson."

Don't forget Gerg saying "If it wasn't for those meddling kids!"


February 9th, 2011 at 1:01 PM ^

This is a great analysis, but Brian does the same thing I see time and time again on here that I think is just plain wrong.  You can't look at a kid as a true freshmen that is "forced" to play due to an extreme shortage of players and then label that person as too weak or bad technique etc..

Black was making plays against Big Ten lineman last year with little strength training and technique work.   He should be much improved from last year.

I think the other player people are discounting and should have a huge bounce back year is RVB.   RVB was forced to take on constant double teams last year and people wondered what happened to him.  What happened is he is not an elite 1st rd draft pick like B. Graham so he had a hard time making any plays against double teams so he had little stats.  With the attention shifted off of him he should return to causing havoc.

Our depth is a question mark because we haven't seen them play, but if healthy I think our front 4 is best in the Big Ten.  Martin may be the best DT in the conference next year, RVB is very good and Roh and Black both have the potential to be elite pass rushers.

Q.  Washington is the x factor.

Zone Left

February 9th, 2011 at 2:00 PM ^

I'll give you this, you're optimistic.  Michigan's D-Line wasn't awful last year, but it definitely wasn't one of the better fronts in the conference.  A really strong line completely changes what a defense can do, because they can get pressure without blitzing and can hold against the run without bringing eight players near the line.  Michigan couldn't do either (or anything else) last season and obliterated the school record for points allowed.  You don't get that bad with a line that is approaching elite status.  Personally, I'm hoping the defense creeps up to below average.


February 9th, 2011 at 3:34 PM ^

When you rush 3 guys and those 3 are a 1 legged Mike Martin, Greg Banks and RVB you are not going to get a lot of pressure.  Greg gets plenty of just criticism, but this team was crippled by the back 7 last year.   I understand your point, but look at the early UFR's before Martin was hurt, now picture a 4 man line.  Is it that much of a stretch to picture the Lions d line last year?    Martin= Suh.  1 elite player can lift the level of those around him because of the doubles he is forced to absorb.   Roh and Black have shown elite pass rushing potential,  if they are given 1 on1 blocking they have shown they can beat it.  If Martin and RVB are healthy we will create a lot of pressure making the our pass coverage look way better than it actually is which should be improved but not great.  .  It's all connected.  

Zone Left

February 9th, 2011 at 3:53 PM ^

You're right, it's all connected, no doubt about it. 

Comparing Martin to Suh is completely unfair to Martin, Suh is special.  Martin is an All-Big 10 caliber lineman.  There's a big difference there.

As for what's going to happen next year, shit, no one really knows.  Can Roh gain enough weight to be an above average Big 10 end?  I don't know.  There are other, just as pressing questions about Black, Ash, Campbell, and Washington--and several of them need to develop well and quickly to give Michigan a solid defensive line next season. 

I get the feeling you're expecting tremendous growth from everyone going into next season.  Remember, the defense was historically bad last season, even when Martin was healthy and everyone projected to play was on the team last year.  Expecting a leap from historically bad to having an elite front 4 is a big, big step.


February 9th, 2011 at 4:40 PM ^

I guess it is a big step, if you look at from a total defense, but I just believe there is no way to equate how much pressure having Rogers and a freshmen out there put on this defense.  The coaches tried to go to a super conservative shell that actually worked out a little bit early in the season, but once Martin was slowed down we were doomed.   I look at guys like Woolfolk, Demens, Roh(because of position change) and Black and see a dramatic improvement over the player at last years position.  I believe in the weakest link theory and the aplha dog theory.  

The Weakest Link Theory-  That the worst player or players on your defense drags down everyone around them because it is easy for a offense to target that player and in compensating for that you weaken the whole unit.  Good defense can't have a glaring weakness or it will eventually be exposed.

Alpha Dog Theory-  1 singular dominant player allows everyone else to rise up and look much better.  This is the C. Woodson factor.  The 97 defense was allowed to blitz and stunt and double other receivers because Woodson needed no help.  When teams are forced to scheme away from 1 player you have them on the run.  We had plenty of good players but once Woodson left the entire defense sagged even though we returned a lot of pieces to that 98 defense because we had to go back to giving our corners help and taking that safety out of the box.

A healthy Senior Martin can be our Alpha Dog and having 0 freshmen in the starting lineup will hopefully mean we have no glaring weakness which will mean significant improvement.

Zone Left

February 9th, 2011 at 6:02 PM ^

The problem is no one could push Rogers out of the lineup.  In theory, that means the guys behind him were even worse.  The Freshmen in the secondary should be better, and hopefully one or two actually break through and become average Big 10 starters.

Again, Martin is really good, but he's not Woodson and he might be the only guy on the defense who gets drafted (there's several who could be drafted, but I wouldn't say any are certain NFL players).  Brandon Graham might be a better fit for your Woodson theory, and the 2009 defense was the worst defense in school history--until last season.


February 9th, 2011 at 6:31 PM ^

The problem with the 2009 defense was that the Weakest Link(s) theory trumped the one alpha dog.  One great player can make an okay defense into a great one.  One great player can't cover up multiple weak links.  Graham was playing with a true freshman DE (Roh), a freshman walk-on at safety (Kovacs), a below average MLB who got benched a year later (Ezeh), two sophomores at DT (with RVB being a bit undersized for the role), and either Williams (sophomore) or Floyd (freshman) playing in the secondary as well.  An offensive coordinator who can target that many soft-spots (roughly half the guys on the field) isn't going to be worried about defending one player like Graham or Martin.

Next year's defense doesn't appear to have nearly that many liabilities and as such a player like Martin could have a big impact making things easier for an otherwise average unit surrounding him.

Yinka Double Dare

February 9th, 2011 at 5:18 PM ^

Mike Martin is an all-Big Ten level guy as the 1-gap (assuming some MSU lineman doesn't cheap shot him again - Martin was excellent before his injury despite being doubled most of the time).  If the big dudes can play the 1-gap effectively, I strongly believe Martin can put up All American-level production from the 3-gap.  His strength/quickness combination seems tailor-made for that tackle spot.

Development of one or two of those big dudes I think could be the difference between the defense being below average to average, and it possibly being above average.  RVB, Martin, Big 1-Gap Guy, and Roh on regular downs, and on obvious passing downs shift RVB inside and bring Jibreel Black in to maximize the pass rush.  If the talent cooperates, that seems like the ideal situation for our defense, and that pass rush should make the back 7's life easier in the passing game.


February 9th, 2011 at 1:13 PM ^

We'll see if it posts.
*EDIT: appears the comment box is back and funtioning for IE users*

Also, great post Brian.

Also, BWC did get blown out on that play, and the fact he never saw the field is an indication that his play hasn't matched his hype.  But every player gets beaten badly from time-to-time.  Watch Ray Lewis or Urlacher enough in a game and you'll see them erased.  The play does illustrate what could happen if we attempt to field a 1-tech who isn't ready, but it's not illustrative of what will happen every time BWC takes the field.  And to be fair it isn't really presented that way here... I've just seen this so much that it's become Pavlovian every time I think of him at NT.


February 9th, 2011 at 1:27 PM ^

If I remember correctly, we moved Woolfolk to safety in 2009 and it spelled death for our corners.  Would a similar move benefit us next season?  I realize it's much more complicated than this, but I'd rather see a secondary of CB - Floyd / Avery / Christian / Talbott, SS - Kovacs / Robinson, and FS - Woolfolk than CB - Woolfolk, Floyd / Avery / Christian / Talbott, SS - Kovacs / Robinson, and FS - Vinopal.  Nothing against Vinopal, but he just isn't athletic enough back there, IMO.  I won't soon forget him shutting down LeShoure on that 3rd and 1 though...


February 9th, 2011 at 2:18 PM ^

Well either the way, the spirit of the question remains the same.  Anyone think it we take a shot with Woolfolk at safety?  If there's anywhere we should expect to see lots of improvement from last season, it should be at corner

STW P. Brabbs

February 9th, 2011 at 5:43 PM ^

I wasn't at all clear, but what I was thinking is that it might not be worth it to move Woolfolk to safety, since he would be at the same position as Vinopal, who I actually think might develop into a decent player.  None of the cornerbacks who a) played last year and b) looked remotely promising are over 5'10", so ti'd be nice to have T-Wolf at one corner.  Personally, I think the best-case scenario is for an improved Vinopal and Robinson to start at safety, with Woolfolk and Avery at CB.  Blake Countess could challenge for one of the CB spots, over the course of the season, too.



February 9th, 2011 at 1:35 PM ^

These extremely educational posts are the reason I started following this site instead of working. I've learned more about football in the past 6 months of reading these posts than I had learned the majority of the rest my life.

Blue in Seattle

February 9th, 2011 at 1:53 PM ^

And completely agree.  Brian is at his best when he has all the information and can provide a complete analytical argument if not completely objective.

Opinions on coaching searches and hiring decisions always have the least information available, and unfortunately what the brain lacks in information it adds in with emotion.

I'm glad to see you back to form Brian.  And as a gentle reminder, if you spent the time to analyze the OSU and bowl games you would have even more information to use in future objectively analyzed posts.  I hope you can overcome the emotion to fill those gaps.  Especially because I'd think the Bowl Game would be a great example of how an poorly formed, and potentially poorly taught 3-3-5 was no match for the SEC spread formation.  Just start thinking how cool it would be to compare that to a 4-3 under/over against a similar team next year.



Blue 5

February 9th, 2011 at 1:57 PM ^

Watching the three man rush get stood up time and time again against the pass was the most frustrating thing to watch. Second only to seeing the LB's miss a tackle after the opposing team's RB went through a gaping hole.

Hopefully this will be the start of returning the D to the mid 90's form that made us a tough team to face. It was obvious that no B1G team feared playing us, not even the IU's or Northwestern's.


February 9th, 2011 at 2:05 PM ^

The 4-3 defense whether it's an over or under look is a much more effective defensive look against the Big Ten. There are a few reasons for this. First is because it allows the front seven to be much more "gap sound" with bigger bodies. Second it allows us to quickly be able to shift to account for any new gaps created by a lead blocker or player in motion. The ability to be gap sound will help us astronomically against the run. Another benefit of this switch is now our defensive lines ability to "stunt" and create pressure with the front four much more efficient then when you have a single NT in the game. One thing that worries me about this formation is the susceptibility to the play action. Any sort of over pursuit from the line backers is a death wish against a team with a good tight end. Playing against teams like ND our base look will be obsolete for majority of the game because of the 2x2, 3x2, and 3x1 sets. Greg Mattison is a he'll of a teacher. He will have our guys ready and they will understand the system quickly, but such is the case in this great sport you can be the greatest coach ever but if you don't execute it's worthless.


February 9th, 2011 at 5:31 PM ^

In a 3-4 defense you operate on the general assumption that your linemen can defeat single blocks. 

Also, you can pinch your DEs or run twists with your NT and LB to protect your LBs.  The 3-4 (or any other 3-man front defense) is no more susceptible against the run than the 4-3.   

There are certain plays where the 3-4 is more vulnerable (stretch and power plays where you hook defenders) and there are certain plays where the 4-3 is more vulnerable (inside iso plays).  Each defense has its relative strengths and weaknesses. 


February 9th, 2011 at 3:41 PM ^

I will continue to bash anyone who uses "Big Ten Style".  Football is football.   The SEC, The Big 12 it doesn't matter.   Pittsburgh is in the NFL and they have the best run defense in the league with a 3 man line.   Our 3 man line and scheme blew last year, but it had nothing to do with running a 3 man line.

A 4 man line does not stop the run better than a 3 man line.  Please people stop with these "manball" posts. 


February 9th, 2011 at 4:46 PM ^

Finding a scheme that matches personnel is more important than whether it is a 3 or 4 man line.  Executing the scheme is the most important.  I honestly don't think it's fair to say that we actually ran a 3-3-5 last year considering that we didn't line people up correctly and we didn't follow any of the principles of the defense (attacking downhill defense with multiple fronts).  If you can find it, watch videos of WVA or SDSU's defenses; it looks like a completely different defense.  GERG and company basically ruined the 3-3-5 in the same way that the Black Eyed Peas ruined that song from Dirty Dancing.

Our personnel is actually decently equipped for a 3-4.  We have all these S/OLB and OLB/DE hybrids who were supposed to be Spurs, Bandits, Spinners or Deathbackers.  We could make Roh a rush linebacker who has occasional (and I mean occasional) pass coverage responsibilities but mostly shoots into the backfield from a 2-point stance (similar to Woodley for the Steelers).  The other OLB could be Cam Gordon, leaving holes at DE and ILB (holes we basically have with the 4-3 under/over anyways).

The only problem with this is that the overall talent level on our line is still better than the overall talent level of our LBs, so it makes more sense to have more lineman playing.  Hence, the 4-3.


February 9th, 2011 at 4:56 PM ^

Can't add much more than what you already said.  I posted to you below with the same kinda thought.   I see us using a 4-2-5 nickle package a lot this year.   This utilizes our depth at the OLB/Bandit type spots and gives us flexibility.   

Many people get caught up in the base scheme, but we will match up to the offense.  We did the same thing last year but people fixated on a few games like Wisc where we stayed in the 3 man front and got kicked in the teeth, but if you watch the MSU and Iowa games we are in 4 man fronts the majority of the game.

While we looked awful last year I would love to hear what we were trying to do.  I know it's fun to bash,  but Robinson did win 2 Super Bowls.   I find it unlikely he was using some flawed d he made up in his head.  Obviously it failed but I'm curious what theri thinking was.  It's a little football nerdy for the main stream, but I hope Bacon covers a little bit about what they were trying to do in the book.  I have to think the secondary attrition was the main culprit.  


February 9th, 2011 at 4:06 PM ^

But I think you mean that the 4-3 defense is more "gap sound" because it is a 1-gap defense.  It is easier to maintain your gap responsibility when you only have 1 gap to worry about. 

Plus, the over and under fronts make it easier to be "gap sound" because you're always shading the outside shoulder of the blocker (e.g. 1-tech shades the center to either side, 3-tech is on the outside shoulder of the guard, 5-tech is on the outside shoulder of the tackle, etc).  The main responsibility of every lineman is to make sure they don't get hooked (i.e. to make sure that they always stay on the outside shoulder of the defender that they line up against).

The big runs that came from those combo blocks where Molk and a guard would effectively block a playside NT so that eventually Molk could hook that NT show how important it is for the linemen to not get hooked.  Watch what happened on those plays where Molk wasn't able to hook the NT, they usually never went anywhere.

The only worry is that last year our line, in particular certain DEs, were so bad at following this basic rule of not getting hooked, leading to very long gains for the offense.  Some of this was because we slanted our line a lot but many times it appeared that our line simply didn't do a very good job of executing their responsibilities.  Luckily the culprits will be getting bigger/stronger (Black) or will have graduated (Banks). 

I like the 4-man fronts, but if all 4 linemen aren't good enough to avoid getting hooked or pushed back, then we are better off with a 3-4 (or even a 3-3-5) where we slant linemen and shoot a LB or two into unoccupied gaps.


February 9th, 2011 at 4:47 PM ^

An informative well thought out post.  This was a refreshing read over "MANBALL"   My issue with the 3 man front all last year was that our deepest position group was DL and our weakest was LB so why take a plus player off the line to put a minus player at LB.  Often times it was the same player(Roh), but I think it was a valid criticism. 


February 9th, 2011 at 5:29 PM ^

The 3-3 is a one gap defense, the only time it is not is when you have a  two gap nose tackle and when you have a two gap nose your mike is free to fly around and everyone else is still one gap responsible with the ends taking the c's and the sam and will taking the b's while the spur and bandit are responsible for the d's.  I'm not sure our coaches got that memo though or the one on how to line up.

Also, there are a lot more responsibilities for a defensive lineman besides not getting hooked, the number one being not getting blown off the ball.   That lineman also has to close the gap to his inside forcing the ball to bounce to him so he can make the play.  Just from watching the games live it seems like the responsibilities were backwards, because the ends were hooked a lot and the OLB's seemed to go outside all the time. 

I share your worry about the ends getting hooked, but I think it had more to do with the coaching staff than with the players themselves.  If they are that bad you are right we will need to slant them and would be better off in a three man front.


February 9th, 2011 at 6:43 PM ^

The main responsibility of any defensive lineman is to make sure they don't get driven back.  I agree 100%, but that's a given for any defense.  If your DL is getting dominated and pushed back 5 yards every play, you will not be good, regardless of where you line up.  I'm assuming that our DL is not so undermanned that they will be at least able to individually hold their own against blockers.

With that said, in the 4-3 over/under defense, the main responsibility of the lineman is still to maintain an outside technique on the blocker.  That doesn't mean you shoot the outside gap; you still need to engage the blocker and hold your ground but the defense will give up long gains if a lineman gets hooked (obviously the same holds true if a lineman gets driven back).  That's why the linemen are lined up in outside shades to make it harder for the blockers to accomplish this.  I think we're saying the same thing.

I agree that a 3-3-5 is supposed to be a 1-gap defense, but I'm not sure that's what we were playing last year.  It appeared that Martin's job was to engage the center and then fight to the side of the flow.  Also, it doesn't look like any of the linebackers were shooting any particular gap but were rather reading the line/flow.

It's hard to tell what was going on because GERG was pinching and slanting the line a lot but personally, it was frustrating to watch the DEs when they were lined up in 5-techniques getting hooked by the tackle. 


February 9th, 2011 at 4:59 PM ^

How does it make you more gap sound?  Just because you are bigger does not mean you are going to become gap sound all of a sudden.  Second, how in the world does running a 4-3 make us better at adjusting to the new gaps that are created by a lead blocker?  If anything it makes us weaker.  In the 3-3 stack (run correctly) you have six guys in the tackle box vs. five offensive lineman, that extra guys job is to take out the lead blocker.  Add into account that your nose gets doubled and you get another guy free to take out the ball carrier.  The problems with the defense last year had nothing to do with scheme and everything to do with who was running/teaching it.  The 3-3 defense is designed to stop the run that is why there are eight guys in the box.  I will agree with you on one thing though having meet Greg Mattison on a couple of different occasions he is one hell of a teacher and one hell of a person and he will take us in the right direction. 


February 9th, 2011 at 5:18 PM ^

The 3-3 cant stop the run in the big ten. You can argue for days about this with me, when you have bigger bodies filling gaps becomes much easier. Also covering additional created gaps is not made harder in any degree by running the shifted 4-3. One of the biggest things Mattison teaches is flying to the ball and making sure our scheme allows us to be gap and technique sound against any offense but specifically the more pro style looks that are so prevalent in our conference. When playing the spread teams in the conference there are naturally less gaps to defend on most plays and thus forces us in a different package. I love where the defense is heading under Mattison and co. I believe after a year in the system were going to become dominant once again. We needed this badly. While the 3-3 looks give some more flexibility to defend any type of offense it is very weak against the power running game because of the lack of size on the field. Thank you for you analysis though I always enjoy speaking with other coaches as I assume you might be. You are right in the instance that it doesn't automatically make u gap sound, but when taught properly I'll take my chances with the 4-3 over the 3-3 in this conference any day. Defenses are multiple anyways now a days so we might even see some 3-3 looks throughout the year. Thanks again