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SI Brooks: Five biggest trends that have emerged in recent years

Discussion in 'NFL Zone' started by WoodysGirl, Jun 5, 2007.

  1. WoodysGirl

    WoodysGirl Do it for the Vine! Staff Member

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    State of the D

    Five biggest trends that have emerged in recent years

    Posted: Wednesday May 30, 2007 12:59PM; Updated: Wednesday May 30, 2007 1:05PM

    NFL teams are constantly changing strategies and are quick to copy the successful game plans of others. Here are five defensive trends that have emerged in recent years:

    Tampa Two On the Decline
    Despite a Super Bowl that featured two teams running the Tampa Two defense, offenses have started to catch up with the scheme.

    The defense, which came to prominence with the great Steeler teams in the 1970s, only uses the front four to pressure the quarterback while dropping five underneath defenders and two deep safeties into coverage.

    Tony Dungy tweaked the scheme by having the middle linebacker take a deeper drop down the middle of the field, creating a hybrid three-deep coverage. This simple, but effective defense catapulted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from doormats to contenders as they finished in the top 10 in total defense for 10 consecutive years. After watching this defense dominate for so long, other teams have started to incorporate its principles into their game plans. Most of the league runs some form of Tampa Two during a game.

    But offenses have started to catch up with the scheme and the statistics bear that out. Well-established Tampa Two teams Indianapolis, Chicago and Tampa Bay each finished in the top 10 in scoring defense and total defense in 2005, but only the Bears remained that high in '06.

    Chicago finished first in the league in takeaways, fifth in total defense and third in scoring defense. The Bucs and the Colts, on the other hand, had a dramatic dip. The Colts finished dead last versus the run and had nine rushers gain over 100 yards against them last season. The Bucs finished in the middle of the pack in total defense and rush defense after being the league's top defense in 2005.

    Since Tampa Two defenses places a premium on speed instead of bulk and power, teams featuring big offensive lines and a power running game are successful pounding the ball between the tackles. It takes time for the toll of the running game to be effective, but teams that run the ball 30 or more times eventually wear down the defense and force an opponent into more eight-man fronts.

    Additionally, the success of the running game opens up big plays in the passing game off play action. Holding the middle linebacker with strong running action, creates a hole about 15-20 yards down the middle of the field, which is easily exploited by a tight end or slot receiver. Once teams establish the ability to attack the defense in multiple ways off the run and play action, the benefits of using the Tampa Two coverage are nullified.

    The Tampa Two coverage is not disappearing any time soon -- with as many as seven teams expected to use the defense basically full-time in 2007 -- but the success of playing a heavy dose of the coverage is starting to decline. With more teams finding success on the ground against the defense, you'll see less of Tampa Two in the years to come.

    3-4 Growing In Popularity

    In a league full of copycats, defensive coordinators are taking notice of the success that 3-4 teams have had in recent years. Originally, used in the 1970s and 1980s to combatpower running offenses, the 3-4 has re-emerged as one of the best solutions to deal with the West Coast offense.

    With the 3-4's flexibility of personnel and creative zone blitz packages, defensive coordinators have been successful blowing up the running game and creating long-yardage situations that have allowed them to pressure the passer. Last season, six of the top 10 rushing defenses featured some form of a 3-4 scheme. Baltimore, Pittsburgh, New England and San Diego surrendered on average 100 yards or fewer on the ground. Additionally, those four teams also finished in the top 10 in sacks and top 15 in takeaways.

    Also, front offices have discovered that the personnel needed to fill out a 3-4 is more readily available in the draft than the requisite key components of the 4-3. While the 4-3 needs four 300-pounders up front to work, the 3-4 defense is built around athletic linebackers with speed and quickness. Linebackers are easier to find in all stages of the draft than bulky defensive linemen, and some teams have had success converting undersized defensive ends into rush ends/outside linebackers -- for example, Joey Porter, Adalius Thomas, Shaun Phillips and DeMarcus Ware. After watching those guys rip up the league as 3-4 outside linebackers, teams are looking to find more such athletes.

    Rookie Pass Rushers Thriving
    Since 2000, all but one season (2004) has had at least one rookie pass rusher surpass double-digit sack totals. Last season, Mark Anderson and Kamerion Wimbley reached double digits and two other rookie rushers, Tamba Hali and Elvis Dumervil, finished with eight a piece. In previous seasons, Javon Kearse, Julius Peppers, Shawne Merriman, Dwight Freeney and Terrell Suggs were among the first-year players making an immediate impact off the edge. Expect that trend to continue this season with the likes of Gaines Adams, Jamaal Anderson and Jarvis Moss entering the league.

    Safeties More Important
    You only have to look at the dramatic rise of the Colts' defense after the return of Bob Sanders last season to appreciate the impact of the safety position. With Sanders out most of the year due to injuries, the Colts dropped to last in the league in rush defense. After he came back, the Colts ranked first in rush defense and scoring defense on their way to a Super Bowl title.

    It seems unlikely that one person can impact a defense so much, but the safety position has increased in importance. With teams still using Tampa Two or Cover Two as their primary defense, the safety has become the "playmaker." Teams want players with the athleticism to cover half of the field in the passing game and the toughness to be a factor versus the run.

    Safeties Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu, Sean Taylor and Brian Dawkins are just a few of the difference-makers who have emerged in recent years. Each has the combination of cover skills and blitz ability to be used in multiple ways. This versatility has become a premium and the draft shows the added emphasis teams are placing on finding safeties with this combination of skills. In the past, few safeties got first-round consideration, but seven safeties have been selected in the first round in the past two years.

    Teams continue to make due without shutdown CBs
    Don't read too much into the huge contract San Francisco gave cornerback Nate Clements this offseason. Teams are beginning to build championship defenses without stars at that position.

    The emergence of Cover Two and the zone blitz scheme have minimized the need for a "shut down" corner on the roster. Both schemes place a premium on pressuring the quarterback and emphasize the importance of pass rush over coverage.

    Looking at the roster of the last four championship teams, New England's Asante Samuel is the only player who would qualify as a "shut down" corner. In fact, when examining the rosters of the top ten defenses, only Rashean Mathis, Chris McAlister and Nnamdi Asomugha possess "shut down" corner qualities.

    More than ever, teams are willing to double and even triple top wideouts to take them out of the game. While teams covet the skills of a Champ Bailey or a DeAngelo Hall, they also realize that even the top corners in the game cannot be counted on to stop elite wideouts without occasional help from safeties. This fact, plus the rising cost of securing a top talent at the position, has led teams to allow talented corners like Clements, Dre Bly and Ty Law to depart after productive seasons.

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  2. CrazyCowboy

    CrazyCowboy Well-Known Member

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    Not a bad read.......they are right about all the young defensive pass rushers in the league.....Spencer will joing that list.
  3. sacase

    sacase Well-Known Member

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    Sean Taylor? Difference maker? Well I guess if you say something enough, you will eventually belive it....
  4. ABQCOWBOY

    ABQCOWBOY Moderator Staff Member

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    Offensively, I think it's backs playing in more WR roles then traditional RB duties. It's probably the most effective counter against the 34. Going to see more of it as time goes on IMO.
  5. burmafrd

    burmafrd Well-Known Member

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    Several holes in this. First he says the tampa 2 is beginning to disappear, then he says that with the Tampa 2 around so much top CBs are not so important. 4-3 DL might have two 300 lb guys at tackle- but most DEs are much smaller. AND this guy is saying Dangelo Hall is a top CB.
    All in all, I think there was very little original or even good thought in this article.
  6. adamknite

    adamknite Active Member

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    1. Sean Taylor sure is a difference maker.... for the other team, his rise to glory was smashing a 95 lb punter in the pro bowl. :rolleyes:

    2. Chad Johnson (i believe) said Hall was the best corner to cover him, now we're all having to pay the price by hearing everybody praise him as one of the best corners in the league, when in reality he's pretty good, but not great.
  7. burmafrd

    burmafrd Well-Known Member

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    Hall is not even pretty good. He is at best average. He gets burned time and again- but because once or twice a year he makes a big play BSPN slobbers all over him.
  8. FLcowboy

    FLcowboy Hopeful this is the year Zone Supporter

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    Schemes don't make defenses, players do. When Tampa started the Tampa 2, they had four good pass rushers, that also were good covering the run. When those players played well, the defense was successful. When those players began to get old, so did the scheme.

    When Parcells built his 3-4 in Dallas, he wanted the front three to hold the line, and not rush, or at least, they were to cover their lanes first, then rush. that didn't work either, because he didn't have the players that excelled in that scheme. Phillips is bringing his version of the 3-4, that allows the three linemen to be more aggressive. We really don't know how successful that will be, but we think it makes sense given Canty, Spears, and Ferguson's particular set of skills.
  9. JPM

    JPM Well-Known Member

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    Don't forget he talks a bunch; that helps more than his play on the field.

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