Posts Tagged ‘Bill Parcells’

On Monday I talked about the three core offensive systems that have turned the NFL into a pass happy, high scoring league. Today as promised, I am going to talk about the defensive side of the ball. I won’t be talking about the 4-3 defense today, just the 3-4 defense which has become very hip these days. Many people think there is only one version of this defense. When people think of the 3-4, they associate it with Pittsburgh’s Zone Blitzing scheme. Pittsburgh’s Zone Blitz 3-4 is just one of three versions of this defense. The other two versions of this defense that are used much more than the Zone Blitz are the Phillips 3-4 and the Fairbanks-Bullough 3-4. Not all 3-4 defenses are created equal, nor are the players that play in these systems.

Bud Wilkinson created the 3-4 defense while he was the head coach at the University of Oklahoma, but Chuck Fairbanks is credited with bringing it to the NFL. Actually, there is a little bit of controversy on who brought it to the NFL. Some say Chuck Fairbanks when he became an assistant at New England in 1974. Then some say Bum Phillips when he became head coach of the Oilers in the 70’s. Being that the east coast loves to take credit for stuff when they shouldnt, Chuck gets credited for it. In the 3-4 you have three defensive linemen with four linebackers which all have names. The weak outside linebacker is “Will”, middle weak side is “Jack”, middle strong side is “Mike”, and the strong outside is “Sam”.

Chuck’s version of the 3-4 is the Fairbanks-Bullough, which is commonly referred to as a 2-gap 3-4 system. Most coaches who are from the Parcells/Belichick coaching tree run this system. The Fairbanks-Bullough 3-4 gives teams the greatest amount of flexibility compared to other 3-4s. The linebackers in this system are extremely versatile and are capable of doing any and everything on the field. (I.e.; Mike Vrabel) When you mix the roles of the four linebackers from play to play, you can cause mass confusion for an offense. The reason this system is a 2-gap system, is because the defensive lineman are required to cover the gaps on both sides of an offensive lineman. The defensive linemen in this 3-4 are very stout so that they can occupy the offensive lineman, and allow the linebackers can make plays. It’s a more conservative version of the 3-4 compared to the other two versions. It’s typically known as a “bend but don’t break” kind of defense.

The Phillips 3-4 is a more aggressive version of the Fairbanks-Bullough system. One major difference about this version is, unlike Chuck’s; it’s a one gap system. A one gap system is one in which the defensive lineman are responsible for just one gap in the offensive line. The lineman can be more aggressive, and take more risks shooting the gaps since the linebackers are asked to give them support also. The defensive linemen are more agile and slimmer than other 3-4 defensive linemen because in this scheme, there are lots of slants, and gap and loop changes. (I.e.; Jay Ratliff) The linebackers are not as versatile nor do they need to be as smart as the backers in the Fairbanks-Bullough system. They are all blitzing, gap filling linebackers who have sacrificed size for speed, and have the ability to cover but are typically not good in space. Zone coverage isn’t something that is commonly done with linebackers in this scheme, except for the “Jack” and “Mike” linebackers who tend to do well playing in short to medium zone coverage.

A great example of how subtle but different the Fairbanks-Bullough 3-4 and Phillips 3-4 philosophies are, is in Dallas. When Parcells was the head coach in Dallas he ran Fairbanks system. Once Wade Phillips took over, the personnel changed and things got more aggressive in North Texas. Parcells wanted his players to read and react, not only during the play, but before the ball was snapped. Parcells rarely blitzed if at all during games because he didn’t want to give up the big play. If a blitz was called, but a receiver lined up in the slot, the blitz was called off most of the time. Demarcus Ware only blitzed when Bill told him to. Other than that, Ware’s job was to cover tight ends or a receiver in pass coverage. Once Wade took over, he wanted the offense to adjust to the defense. His idea is that by making Ware and the other linebackers blitz on almost every play, and have his lineman shoot the gaps and casue havoc in the backfield. Dallas would be able to dictate to an offense what it could and couldnt do. If a blitz is called, it’s hardly ever called off. In Wade’s 3-4, Demarcus Ware is basically an extra defensive lineman because he is blitzing on 90% of the time. I am sure we all remember the playoff game last year against the Eagles when Dallas had McNabb running for his life, and embarrassed the Eagles. That was the Phillips 3-4 at its best.

The last 3-4 defensive scheme, and the sexiest to most fans, is the 3-4 Zone Blitz. Violent, aggressive, confusing and relentless are all adjectives that can be used to describe this 3-4 scheme. This version of the 3-4 was created by Dick LaBeau while he was the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati. For some odd reason, this version of the 3-4 has become the most famous and publicly approved standard for 3-4 defenses. LaBeau’s scheme is based on confusing the offensive line by blitzing players that typically wouldn’t, and dropping players into coverage that don’t normally play coverage. Its not knowm as an one or two gap system, its known for being both. Teams who run this version of the 3-4 love to use various principles from a one and two gap system. The defensive linemen in this defense are very similar to the lineman in the Phillips 3-4, but can vary. One spot on the defensive line that is a must, is a DT/NT who is big, thick, and heavy and can play a one or two gap. Will, Jack, Mike and Sam are all big, fast and violent linebackers who were once defensive ends in college, but are undersized to play defensive end by NFL standards. Linebackers in this scheme are asked to give run support, blitz, and zone up and man up when needed, and have to be able to disguise what the coverage is and what their true intentions are on every play.

The Zone Blitz normally is run out of two basic zone coverages with one man coverage. The two zone coverages are the “Cover Two” and “Cover Three”. These two zone coverages are pretty standard throughout the NFL, minus the blitzing. Now most people don’t know this, but the “Cover Two” defense that Pittsburgh uses has been a staple of theirs since the 70’s. Tony Dungy, the inventor of the “Tampa Two” defense was a defensive back for the Steelers in the 70’s. He created the “Tampa Two” from the same “Cover Two” defense that the Steelers have ran since the 70’s, which they ran it out of a 4-3 just like Tampa. The only man coverage that this defense runs is a “Cover One”. In this formation, which is also known as “Cover Zero”, there is no man covering deep at all leaving a team vunerable for the big play. The free safety has no man to man responsibilities, and can either play an underneath to middle zone, or roam the field and cause havoc. The first player that comes to mind that has perfected this role in the Zone Blitz system is Troy Palamalu.

LaBeau’s Zone Blitz scheme is by far the most aggressive of the 3-4 defenses. They can attack you in any formation with either a zone, man or fire zone blitz while making you guess on every snap where the blitz is coming from. In a good Zone Blitz scheme, you will never see the same blitz twice. Is it the best of the 3-4 schemes? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One major issue with this version of the 3-4 is, if you don’t have the right personnel and you can’t get to the quarterback, this defense isn’t very effective. For proof of that, look no further than the 2002-2006 Houston Texans when Dom Capers was the head coach. He learned the system in Pittsburgh and had been successful with it there and in Carolina, but not in Houston.

Many fans and media in Denver and across the country, didn’t understand why Josh McDaniels fired Mike Nolan after one year. Two weeks later, Josh hired Don Martindale as the defensive coordinator, who is a Fairbanks-Bullough 3-4 defensive minded coach. We all know that Nolan had made Denver a good defensive team while running a 3-4 defense with 4-3 players, but he didn’t use a 3-4 scheme that Josh was comfortable with. Josh is a Fairbanks-Bullough coach, not a Phillips 3-4/Hybrid 3-4 guy which Nolan is. There was a logical reasoning to Josh’s firing and hiring of coaches who were both 3-4 defense coaches. As mentioned earlier, not all 3-4 defenses are created equal, nor are the players that play in these systems. You also say that the coaches arent either

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People love to say that the NFL is a “copy cat” league, “copy cat” doesn’t accurately describe it at all. Incestuous is a more appropriate word to describe the NFL when you really start to dig and learn about the game inside and out. Whether it’s on offense or defense, all teams use a variation of offensive and defensive sets & philosophies which have been learned from generation to generation. The two dominant coaching trees in the NFL are from the three “Bill’s”, Bill Walsh and Bill Parcells/Bill Belichick trees. The result of this is NFL inbreeding and familiararity with each other amongst all of the teams. Many coaches from these coaching trees are employed on various NFL teams have implemented what they have learned from these three men to their respective teams. When you have so many coaches who have been taught the same offensive and defensive philosophies, you create this incestuous league that we have today. An early example of what was to come in the future happened in the 1998 NFC Wild Card game between the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco Forty-Niners. Its known as one of the most memorable games of all time that was capped by a Steve Young 25 yard TD pass to Terrell Owens with time expiring. This game has been very well documented as to how familiar that both teams were with each other due to both having coaching staffs who came from the Walsh coaching tree and all use to coach together. Steve Young once commented on the fact that he and Brett Favre could have switched uniforms and called each others plays for the other team. Situations like this happen more and more than what some people realize. Instead of dissecting offense and defense today, I’m just going to talk about offense. We will get to the defensive side of the ball of Wednesday.

There are basically five to six major offensive philosophies in the NFL today, but really only three are being used routinely. The three main offensive philosophies used in the NFL today are the West Coast, Erhardt-Perkins, and Air Coryell. The West Coast offense is the most complicated of the three. Ironically, 60% of the NFL is running the West Coast or some variation of it despite the complexity of it. They say that it takes a quarterback and the rest of the team four to five years to fully grasp the system. When you think about every quarterback that has run the West Coast offense, it’s usually in year four that he and the team become explosive offensively. Walsh created the West Coast offense while he was an assistant in Cincy under Paul Brown. Brown wasn’t a fan of neither Walsh nor the offense, but used it because the Bengals were lacking talent on offense and couldn’t move the ball. Cincy went on to become one of the best if not the best team in the league with the offense. Once Brown stepped down, he didn’t hire Walsh as the head coach, so Walsh went to San Francisco and created a dynasty.

The offense utilizes short, horizontal passing plays to stretch the defense, which then enables them to have bigger run plays and longer passes. Typical plays happen within ten to fifteen yards of the line of scrimmage. By the quarterback taking short drops, it makes the defense focus on the intermediate short routes & not on the running backs coming out of the backfield. The term “West Coast” is a term that Bill Parcells gave the offense back in 1985 after the Giants beat the 49ers in the playoffs. As people know, Parcells believes in hard nose football and tough defense over finesse football which everyone said the 49ers played finesse football back then. Parcells exact comment after the win to a reporter was “What do you think of that West Coast offense now ?” The offense today isnt considered to be a “finesse” offense, but it does have its short comings which seem to be universal no matter what team runs it. Usually the inability to run up the middle is something that plauges the offense except for when Gruden ran his version in Oakland and Tampa.

The Air Coryell offense is one that is being used by a handful of teams in the league today. Oakland and San Diego use it, New Orleans runs a variation of it along with some Erhardt-Perkins, and Chicago will be using it this year now that Mike Martz is the offensive coordinator in Chicago. It’s an offense that was created by Sid Gillman back in the 60’s while with the Chargers. Later Don Coryell perfected it or made it what it eventually became remembered for while with the Chargers in the 70’s and 80’s. Another notable name to be associated with this offense is none other than Al Davis who was an assistant under Sid Gillman and took the offense to Oakland. The offense is based on timing and precession with the emphasis being on deep passes to stretch the field, and make the defense over commit to certain aspects of the passing attack. This offense isn’t as complicated as the West Coast offense as noted by the nomenclature that it uses. An Nomenclature is the terminology in which a offense calls its plays. Air Coryell uses a naming system with routes for wide receivers and tight ends having three digit numbers, and the running backs have a different system. So a pass play in the offense would be “Slant Left 787 check swing, check right”. It’s an efficient way to call many different plays with minimal if hardly any memorization. The West Coast uses a much complicated system which requires a lot of memorization, but gives a lot of freedom to the players on offense to add lib. Their formations are typically named after colors (ie,”Blue Left”).

The last of the three core NFL offenses is the Erhardt-Perkins offense. This offense was created by Ron Erhardt and Ray Perkins back in the 70’s while with the New England Patriots. The teams who have made this offense famous are New England, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Carolina, Kansas City, and recently Denver. New Orleans runs a variation of this offense also along with a variation of the Air Coryell. The system is known for its multiple formations and personnel packages that vary on a core number of foundation plays. Each formation and play is separately numbered, words can modify the plays. A typical play you would see in this offense is the first play Weis called in Super Bowl XXXVI as noted on the NFL films New England Patriot Super Bowl video. (Zero Flood Slot Hat, 78 Shout Tosser) In the beginning it was known as a run oriented, smash mouth type of offense when the Patriots of the 70’s, and the Giants of the 80’s under Parcells. The offense started to evolve in the early to mid 90’s into what we see today with the Patriots, Broncos and to displeasure of Steeler fans, the Steelers. It’s become a spread type of offense at times with the ability to run the ball. Out of all of the offenses, this is the one offense that when ran well, it can dictate to the defense better than any offense out there. The evolution of this offense happened when Ron Erhardt was the offensive coordinator with the Giants and Steelers in his last few years in the league. After that, every diciple that had learned or played under him went on to other teams and implimented this new evoluted offense.

Charlie Weis can be credited for installing the heavily modified version of this offense that we see in New England and Denver. His version of the offense became the complicated, very intricate and versatile passing attack that we have witnessed over the past ten years. He even went as far as to run five wide out sets a lot during the course of a game which was unheard of back in the day when Erhardt and Perkins created this offense. Weis left for Notre Dame which open the door for the young protege Josh McDaniels to run what he had learned under Weis as the QB coach in New England. Josh took it to another level back in 2007 with Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte Stallworth. He made the offense almost exclusively a spread offense that teams weren’t ready for nor knew how to stop with Moss & Welker needing to be double teamed. In leau of the expanded wide open passing attack, he was able to keep the running game portion of this offense a key component in the Patriots record breaking season. Josh has since then moved on to Denver and has implemented the same offesive philosophy there. Last year the Broncos got off to a 6-2 start with this offense, and Kyle Orton put up career numbers that no one expected from him.

So as you can see, the offenses that are being run in the NFL today are offenses that have been passed down through generations. As mentioned earlier, it’s not a “copy cat” league; it’s incestuous when you think about it.