Masters of Disguise — The Fluid Face of the Ryan 3-4

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Recall the dark days of September and October, when Wade Phillips’ 3-4 was bleeding yards and points in obscene amounts.  Opposing quarterbacks and coaches commented on the ease with which they could recognize Dallas’ intent.  Blocking schemes and read progressions were set and the Cowboys blitzes, no matter the intensity or variety, were stumped.

That should not be as big a problem for the Rob Ryan 3-4, which places a premium on pre-snap movement and disguise.  The Ryan brothers choose the 3-4 over their dad Buddy’s preferred 4-3, because they feel it offers more flexibility in attacking a front.  Today, we’ll look at one sequence from Ryan’s Saints game plan.  The play shows the ease with which his Browns, and his new Cowboys, can and will operate.
Here is the first play of New Orleans’ second series.  As the Saints come to the line of scrimmage, the Browns are in daddy Buddy’s favored 46 front:
The defensive ends are tight, putting all three linemen over the center and guards.  This means no help for any of the interior OL three on the rush, giving the nose a potential mis-match.  Strongside inside backer Matt Roth, the Ted backer, is walking wide to line up inside the tight end, where strong OLB Scott Fujita will line up outside the TE.  The Browns are teasing a max pressure front against the Saints’ one-back set.
Just before the count, however, the DEs flex wide, while Roth drops back into a deeper set over the strong-side guard:
With minimal effort, the Browns have moved from the Buddy Ryan 46 to a standard, odd 3-4 look.  It’s unclear if the movement caused Drew Brees to change his play call, but the Saints ran a toss to their left, away from the stacked linebackers in the 46.  Cleveland stopped the play after a small gain.  
As much as the late movement is intended to confuse the quarterback, it is also meant to confuse the offensive line’s calls and blocking assignments.  It won’t work every time, but if the linemen are hesitant or confused, blocks will be missed and negative plays will be generated because defenders will get free paths to the football.
Keep it simple for yourselves.  Make it harder for your opponents.  This is one aspect of the Ryan 3-4.  
Next:  disguising the blitz.  
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Rafael Vela

Started covering Dallas Cowboys @ TheBoys.com in '95 and '96. Two more stops along the way and here I am. Senior Analyst for SportsTalkLine.com