In part two of our breakdown of Rob Ryan’s 3-4 we looked at gap control, and that Ryan played a predominantly one-gap system. Today, we’ll look at the front flexibility the 3-4 offers.
Here’s a short-yardage situation from Arizona’s first series in the Cowboys-Cards game from last year. Arizona faces a 3rd-and-1 on its own 20. The Cards have put in a “deuce” personnel set, something the Cowboys also call their 22 personnel package — two tight ends and two backs:
The Cowboys have their base 3-4 package in, but have made one critical adjustment. Because the Cards have only one receiver in the game, the Cowboys have removed one of their cornerbacks and replaced him with an extra linebacker. Dallas has a 3-5-3 in the game: the three linemen, two outside ‘backers, three inside backers, two safeties and one corner.
That’s the package. The front is a variation of Rob’s father Buddy Ryan’s 46. Some teams call this an Eagle front. Some call it sink. It can be walked into with a couple of simple adjustments to the odd 3-4 we saw before. Here’s the odd again:
Now, pre-snap both ends slide from 5-technique spots shading the offensive tackles to 3-technique spots over the guards. The Ted linebacker walks to the strongside and brackets the strong-side tight end; he’s on one TE shoulder while the Sam is on the other. The strong safety walks up into the box and assumes the second inside ‘backer spot where the Ted was, while the weak safety drops into the deep middle:
This is how the 46 is used against a balanced basic offensive front, with two receivers. Being a short-yardage play, the offense has put in a 2nd tight end. Hence Rob Ryan has the same 46 line — Jay Ratliff is on the nose, while Jason Hatcher and Kenyon Coleman are over the guards. Demarcus Ware is the weakside OLB. On the strong-side, the backers are inverted; Anthony Spencer is inside the TE while Bradie James is on his outside shoulder.
Coverage is man-to-man. Mike Jenkins has Larry Fitzgerald up top, while Abe Elam is shadowing the H-back. Where the SS would be, you can see Dallas has Sean Lee
and Alex Albright. Ryan is expecting a run and is selling out to stop it.
Let’s look at gap control. You can see in still two that the Cowboys are not staying in their pre-snap lanes. Let’s start on the strong side, to Arizona’s left. The play is headed that way, with the tailback Beanie Wells following the fullback into the B-gap between the left guard and left tackle.
Bradie James is taking the D gap outside of the TE. Anthony Spencer has knifed across the left tackle’s face and it taking the B-gap between the G and OT. DE Hatcher is angling towards the A-gap at the left guard’s inside shoulder and Jay Ratliff is attacking the other A-gap to the center’s right.
Spencer makes the play at the point of attack. Not only does he beat his blocker, the LT, but he engages the fullback, who is trying to get out to Sean Lee (50). With Spencer blowing up two blockers, he and Jason Hatcher set the line of scrimmage on Arizona’s backfield. Lee is able to follow Spencer and herd Wells towards the cutback lane on his right. Ratliff has beaten the center and drops Wells for a loss, forcing a punt:
The tight defensive front gave every man on the Dallas front single blocking and the slant call gave the play-makers like Ratliff and Hatcher the opportunity to use quickness and power to win the down. You won’t see the Cowboys sitting over blockers and waiting for the action to come at them. Their personnel isn’t built for that and it’s hardly Rob Ryan’s style.
When you break down the games you see several plays like this one from Anthony Spencer. They are why the coaches were in no hurry to let him get away. Spencer doesn’t lack for big-play power. Consistency is another matter.
Next: isolating playmakers in the nickel.