Fat Camp: The Box

Since we're notably still in legal limbo, I decided to invent some more content today.  I almost said "out of whole cloth" at the end of that sentence, but I stopped myself.  What does that even mean anyway - whole cloth?  As opposed to what, partial cloth?  Sometimes the urge to use stupid cliches is strong and unconscious, but we must fight it so that we don't become Clark Judge-like.  (Remember the Broncos' coaches "calling 911" about the defense?  SMDH)

Speaking of stupid, don't ask me why I follow Jay Glazer on Twitter, but for some reason, I do.  I'm long on record saying that he's a name-dropping douchebag who can usually be found publicly kissing the haunches of Dana White or Jared Allen.  Some random fan asked the ever-brilliant Glazer if the stay being granted by the Eighth Circuit made football less likely in 2011.

Glazer said no, because it could force the players to finally negotiate.  (You'll hear a lot of this inanity, that it's an unwillingness to negotiate by one or both parties.) I told Glazer and his interlocutor that that was completely moronic, because it is.  If the injunction stands, there will be football.  This we know with 100% certainty, because the NFL would be forced to impose rules and have a season with no CBA while litigating in the background.  That's not what the NFL wants, but it's what would happen.

If the lockout is restored, and the players basically told that they can't dissolve their union, there's a chance that football results from that.  It's highly uncertain though, at that point.  Injunction = certain football.  Lockout = possible football.  Therefore, Jay Glazer is an Eye-Dee-Ten-Tee, like the form we used to have new booters fill out when they first got to the ship in my Navy days.

So anyway, on to my invented content.  Today, I want to talk about The Box.  I don't mean the kind of box that Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake put their junk in, but rather the defensive area near the line of scrimmage, which runs roughly from C gap to C gap.  (Some might argue that the two edges are part of The Box, but I would disagree.)

You've heard this term before, when analysts on TV mention a defense bringing an eighth man close to the line of scrimmage to help with stopping the run.  That eighth man (by virtue of being an addition to the front seven) is almost always a safety, usually the strongside guy.

If eight men are close to the line of scrimmage, that means three aren't, which is typically two CBs and a FS.  Because of that, offenses often have a really good guess what kind of coverage they'll see on first-down passing plays.  With eight in the box, you're generally getting one of two things:

1.  Man Cover-1. The free safety will have sideline-to-sideline deep responsibility, and the CBs will each take an outside WR man to man.  The SS and LBs will take inside players man to man.

I attended a Notre Dame-USC game in November 2009 and USC ran this constantly.  Every time they showed it, with Taylor Mays as the centerfield guy, Jimmy Clausen went deep to either Golden Tate or Michael Floyd, opposite whichever side Mays cheated to.  That's the best way to beat Cover-1.  It takes a really smart and fast free safety to be any good at playing this kind of defense.

2.  Cover-3.  This is like Man Cover-1, except it's a zone.  The two CBs drop back into deep thirds, and the SS and two or three of the LBs (depending if you want a fifth rusher on the QB) take thirds or quarters at the second level.

This defense is pretty conservative, and is best challenged to the short outside.  It's really hard to beat over the top, because so many defenders are deep.

I mention this because there are really good reasons to play the eighth guy close to the line of scrimmage.  For one thing, it helps stop the run.  For another, it can induce a QB into checking out of a run play and into a pass - at which point the defense can bail out and still defend the pass play.  Finally, it allows your zone blitz and overload game to be effective by confusing a blocking scheme with pre-snap alignment.

There is a vulnerability to a well-executed play-action game, but most defenses experience that.  We'd all like to stop the run with seven men and keep both safeties deep, but that's not typically how things go.

This I mention because I heard an annoying call on Sirius the other day lamenting Denver's selection of Rahim Moore - because he doesn't look like a traditional Broncos safety (like Steve Atwater, Dennis Smith or John Lynch.)

Let me just say this, which I have said before: Tradition is of little value to a football team, or any organization for that matter, if it doesn’t come in the specific form of continuity.  What does that mean?  The Steelers have been using the same 3-4 based scheme on defense continuously for more than 20 years; that’s continuity, not tradition.  They’ve been procuring and developing players for that scheme on a continuous basis, and there’s a lot of value in that.

Observing that the Broncos used to have big thumper safeties back when they were good, and then making the leap of logic that they need to have big thumper safeties in order to be good now is worthless.  There is no continuous “Broncos” concept over the last three decades in any operational sense, so it would be a matter of going back to something that used to work, just because it once worked for a team that wore the same uniforms.

The question is what are you trying to do on the field today, and how do you best staff up for that?  From some comments that I heard John Elway make on Sirius last week, I expect that the Broncos’ defensive scheme will be blitz heavy, due to new defensive coordinator Dennis Allen’s background working under Gregg Williams in New Orleans.  We’ve been thinking that would be the case, since John Fox historically lets his coordinators run the schemes on both sides of the ball, but when Elway specifically invoked Williams’ name, that made it seem even more probable.

If you want to blitz a lot, you definitely don’t want safeties with limited range, because when they’re not blitzing themselves, they’ll be covering areas where blitzers vacated, or playing a larger deep area than a seven-man coverage scheme would have normally required.  You need guys who have the athleticism to range sideline to sideline when lined up single-high, and who can also line up in the box but get back to playing two-deep if need be. The Steelers have two guys like that in Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. 

That’s the best reason for the Broncos to have drafted Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter.  They have the skill sets necessary to play the kind of defense that the Broncos want to play.  The same is possibly true of Darcel McBath, and David Bruton is a passable backup doing the same kind of stuff.

Between needing to stop the run and being in position to generate pressure with blitz schemes, I expect the Broncos to often play eight men in the box, and I believe that that need drove them to prioritize drafting safeties last month.

1.  I’m not in the arguing business, I’m in the saying what I think business.
2.  I get my information from my eyes.

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