NFL Defensive Scheme Notes

Just finished around four hours of research into NFL defensive schemes and thought I’d share my findings here. I’ve included some links that were helpful, many of which went into more detail than I have here.

1.    Tennessee Titans – Mike Mularkey/Dick LeBeau
Relies on element of confusion – some defenders unexpectedly drop into zone coverage, some unexpectedly rush. Thus, some defensive linemen may be asked to make zone drops into a quarter of the field, while some inside linebackers may also be expected to blitz the “A” gap. Uses cover one (man to man), cover two (zone), and cover three (zone); most frequently in zone coverages. Often rushes five with three deep defenders and three underneath defenders (“fire zone.”) Defensive linemen can have either one or two-gap responsibilities; traditionally, LeBeau and his disciples have emphasized two-gap linemen, but recently they’ve indicated a willingness to tailor things to their players’ strengths more.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zone_blitz

2.    Cleveland Browns – Hue Jackson/Ray Horton
Relies on element of confusion – some defenders unexpectedly drop into zone coverage, some unexpectedly rush. Thus, some defensive linemen may be asked to make zone drops into a quarter of the field, while some inside linebackers may also be expected to blitz the “A” gap. Uses cover one (man to man), cover two (zone), and cover three (zone); most frequently in zone coverages. Often rushes five with three deep defenders and three underneath defenders (“fire zone.”) Defensive linemen can have either one or two-gap responsibilities; traditionally, LeBeau and his disciples have emphasized two-gap linemen, but recently they’ve indicated a willingness to tailor things to their players’ strengths more.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zone_blitz

3.    San Diego Chargers – Mike McCoy/John Pagano
Uses a one-gap base defense with 3-4 personnel but more of a 4-3 in practice which is considered predictable and lacking in creativity despite giving some aggressive looks; the team most often operates out of their nickel package. Use inside linebackers for some double-A gap blitzes and stunts up the middle, but generally rush four defenders and play off coverage in the secondary. Uses a lot of three-deep coverage shells such as cover-three with a single high safety in the middle third and cornerbacks defending the outer thirds.
http://www.boltsfromtheblue.com/2014/7/7/5875303/review-san-diego-chargers-2013-pass-defense-pagano
http://www.boltsfromtheblue.com/2013/5/17/4337110/the-san-diego-chargers-should-switch-defensive-schemes

4.    Dallas Cowboys – Jason Garrett/Rod Marinelli
One of the league’s foremost proponents of the Tampa-2 defense popularized by legendary coordinator Monte Kiffen. Features a four-man defensive front with one-gap principles, often stunting and twisting to create pressure. Front-seven players are expected to be able to get penetration and flow to the ball. Uses two safeties in deep zone coverage, with a middle linebacker who also does some zone work over the middle of the field. Cornerbacks usually work in zone as well and are expected to be quality tacklers, as well as able to disrupt routes at the line of scrimmage. A conservative defense in the back, but one which has recently used some linebacker and slot corner blitzes.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tampa_2
https://www.reddit.com/r/nfl/comments/36vv3l/what_offensive_and_defensive_scheme_system_does/

5.    Jacksonville Jaguars – Gus Bradley/Todd Wash
Typically rushes just four players (the defensive line), with a cover-three shell behind it (cornerbacks covering the deep thirds on either side of the free safety’s deep third), allowing the strong safety (in a robber role) and four linebackers to defend the first level of the field. The teams listed here usually press and bail at the line of scrimmage. The teams in this category have been using a combination of one and two-gap responsibilities, with a five-technique end and a one-technique nose tackle occupying two gaps, while a three-technique under tackle and a “Leo” (hybrid end/rush linebacker, wide 9 alignment) play one gap. A strongside linebacker lines up on the outside shoulder of the opponent’s tight end (same side as the five-technique strongside end) and plays one-gap in an “under” front, whereas in an “over” front, the five-technique is more of a six-technique on the outside shoulder of the tight end and the Sam linebacker lines up essentially across from the opposing tackle.
http://www.fieldgulls.com/football-breakdowns/2013/5/31/4382318/the-seahawks-and-the-4-3-under-front-winds-of-change

6.    Baltimore Ravens – John Harbaugh/Dean Pees
Often uses two-gap principles in run defense, with heavy blitzing, although that may have been more frequent because of personnel issues, manufacturing pressure. Base defense is a 3-4, but mixed in some 4-3 under/over type looks as well, with the left end shading over the opposing guard instead of tackle. Does a good job of disguising pre-snap intentions. Coverage shells are mixed up frequently and opponent-dependent; will go heavy on man coverage in one game, zone in the next, and mix up both often. Used more man toward the end of the year, more zone at the beginning.
http://baltimoresportsandlife.com/dean-pees-ravens-d-pt-2/
2016 Michigan Football Clinic Notes: Dean Pees

7.    San Francisco 49ers – Chip Kelly/Jim O’Neil
Coming from the Ryan coaching tree and having served under Mike Pettine, O’Neil employs a base 3-4 which also uses some additional linemen at times, playing one-gap technique on one side and two gap on the other. Coverage shells are usually a man/zone hybrid “pattern matching” scheme which asks defenders to read the play and use the appropriate coverage. Blitzes at times, and uses the Ryan tree’s signature “simulated rushes” (four unorthodox rushers.)

What Fans Can Expect From Jim O’Neil’s Defense Part 2: The Pass Defense

8.    Philadelphia Eagles – Doug Pederson/Jim Schwartz
Has been labeled as a “wide nine” defensive coordinator, traditionally using four down linemen, his ends lining up well outside the tackles in order to get upfield more quickly. Considers his defense more an “attack” defense. However, often asks one defensive end to stand up and rush from a two-point stance. The 4-3 wide nine itself was influenced by the 3-4 defense, forcing inside runs by aligning its ends on the outside. Relies on the front four to generate pressure, with linebackers dropping. Coverage-wise, it’s important to have rangy linebackers to handle zone responsibilities, with the secondary playing zone as well (lots of cover-two.)
Jim Schwartz Attack 4-3 Defense: COOL Clinic Notes
http://www.philadelphiaeagles.com/news/article-1/Eagle-Eye-Jim-Schwartzs-Attack-Defense/72122296-c9e4-47e6-8eb5-cf5b0f65c1eb

9.    Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Dirk Koetter/Mike Smith
Coached under Jack Del Rio for years in Jacksonville, but philosophy is more similar to Brian Billick’s, who he spent time under; doesn’t use man coverage or blitz nearly as much as Del Rio did. Uses a conservative four-man base defensive front; his schemes have often relied on two bigger defensive tackles in the middle, which were designed to allow faster linebackers to flow to the ball. Doesn’t blitz very often or generate a lot of pressure on the quarterback. Typically uses more zone coverage (often cover two) in the back end of the defense in order to limit big plays.
https://www.reddit.com/r/falcons/comments/415zwr/bucs_fan_here_what_kind_of_scheme_does_mike_smith/

10.    New York Giants – Bob McAdoo/Steve Spagnuolo
Adopted Jim Johnson’s aggressive approach with blitzes from different packages; commonly uses three or four defensive ends on the line in obvious passing situations. All players, including defensive backs, may be asked to blitz. Most of the team’s defensive linemen are supposed to be able to move around the line and generate pressure. Favors linebackers who are smaller and more athletic, and thus can defend sideline-to-sideline against the run and in coverage. Uses a lot of zone-blitzes, without as much emphasis on man coverage relative to some other teams.
Steve Spagnuolo's Scheme, Familiarity Is What Transitioning Giants Defense Needs

11.    Chicago Bears – John Fox/Vic Fangio
Hybrid defensive front, uses both 4-3 under and 3-4 defenses in roughly that order of frequency; may be best classified as a four-man front with three-man personnel. In order to disguise the team’s intentions, defenders are often moved back and forth between different positions (ex. three-technique and five technique, defensive end and outside linebacker, outside and inside linebacker, free and strong safety.) Inside linebackers need to be very athletic because they will often have coverage responsibilities. Coverage responsibilities are cover-two and press coverage/ bump-and-run.

Vic Fangio’s Defensive Scheme

12.    New Orleans Saints – Sean Payton/Dennis Allen
Disciple of Gregg Williams (see Los Angeles) and also shows a similarly blitz-heavy style with versatile defensive looks both pre-and-post-snap. Uses an aggressive 4-3 defensive front which is designed to create pressure. Often overloads one side of the offensive line with rushers or disguises rushes pre-snap and uses a delayed overload. Often rushes his outside linebackers. Disguises also carry over into his coverage shells, which typically include a lot of cover-two and cover-three looks; will also use some man at times, cornerbacks close to the line of scrimmage with inside linebackers.
http://www.itsalloverfatman.com/broncos/entry/the-playbook-abides-the-dennis-allen-files

13.    Miami Dolphins – Adam Gase/Vance Joseph
Expected to run a scheme similar to Cincinnati’s, which uses four-man defensive lines, taking a third linebacker off the field in sub packages. Disguises his defense’s intentions well pre-snap. Gives lots of aggressive blitz looks (such as double-A gap); doesn’t blitz as frequently as he presents those, but rushes different players from similar looks in order to create confusion. Mixes in twists and stunts. Coverage is predominantly press-man, but will use zone on occasion.
http://www.dailynorseman.com/2015/6/8/8750195/so-what-exactly-is-a-mike-zimmer-defense

14.    Oakland Raiders – Jack Del Rio/Ken Norton Jr.
Ken Norton comes from Seattle, but the team’s defensive scheme attempts to synthesize the 4-3 Under that team plays with head coach Jack Del Rio’s personal philosophy. For more information on the 4-3 Under, see the write-ups for teams like Seattle, Atlanta, and Jacksonville. As for Del Rio, although he also considers defense in terms of over/under alignments, he typically likes to play man coverage with safety help, while his linebackers blitz. Essentially, these characteristics are the opposite of what the 4-3 Under calls for. Norton’s philosophy may become the dominant one now that the team has signed Bruce Irvin to a major deal in free agency.
http://www.fieldgulls.com/football-breakdowns/2013/5/31/4382318/the-seahawks-and-the-4-3-under-front-winds-of-change

15.    Los Angeles Rams – Jeff Fisher/Gregg Williams
Highly aggressive coordinator who has a deep playbook which uses different fronts, coverages, and personnel groupings. A base 4-3 under/over defense, with Williams calling for pressure in all different situations, including rushes with up to seven players. When the teams goes to sub packages, will vary playcalling between three and four-man defensive lines, with anywhere from two to four linebackers. His frequent blitzing (sometimes disguised) is usually played with more zone-coverage shells in the back, frequently cover-two and cover-four. Often uses a safety in the box, whether to serve as a run defender, blitzer, or robber in short zones.
http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap2000000355517/article/st-louis-rams-defense-will-fully-blossom-under-gregg-williams
http://www.bigcatcountry.com/2008/6/26/559060/on-gregg-williams-tenure-a
The Insider's Guide to a Gregg Williams Defense

16.    Detroit Lions – Jim Caldwell/Teryl Austin
Austin’s defensive fronts are mixed up frequently; the team uses a base four-man line, but will use hybrid 3-4 looks and also some 5-2 looks. Often employing one-gap duties in the run game, his defensive linemen create pressure through stunts and deception. Linebackers often blitz, but also play “wall” coverage (similar to a cover-two look at the first level of the field), while the boundary corners are in man coverage and the remaining three defensive backs in sub packages read opposing receiver combinations. It’s a version of a quarters defense which asks the secondary to pattern match. Cornerbacks often play off-man and stay on one side of the field.
http://jameslightfootball.com/tag/teryl-austin/page/2/

17.    Atlanta Falcons – Dan Quinn/Richard Smith
Typically rushes just four players (the defensive line), with a cover-three shell behind it (cornerbacks covering the deep thirds on either side of the free safety’s deep third), allowing the strong safety (in a robber role) and four linebackers to defend the first level of the field. The teams listed here usually press and bail at the line of scrimmage. The teams in this category have been using a combination of one and two-gap responsibilities, with a five-technique end and a one-technique nose tackle occupying two gaps, while a three-technique under tackle and a “Leo” (hybrid end/rush linebacker, wide 9 alignment) play one gap. A strongside linebacker lines up on the outside shoulder of the opponent’s tight end (same side as the five-technique strongside end) and plays one-gap in an “under” front, whereas in an “over” front, the five-technique is more of a six-technique on the outside shoulder of the tight end and the Sam linebacker lines up essentially across from the opposing tackle.
http://www.fieldgulls.com/football-breakdowns/2013/5/31/4382318/the-seahawks-and-the-4-3-under-front-winds-of-change

18.    Indianapolis Colts – Chuck Pagano/Ted Monachino
A more aggressive 3-4 defense than what Pagano’s brother employs with the Chargers, blitzing more than most other teams in the league. Capable of accommodating different types of bodies along the defensive line, but might be more of a two-gap scheme in an ideal personnel situation; seems to value physicality more than athleticism up front. Uses a lot of man-to-man coverage in the back of their defense, including with their safeties and inside linebackers, the latter of which have often been a bit smaller than is usual for that type of defense.
https://www.bostonglobe.com/sports/2014/11/10/colts-blitz-concern-for-patriots-offensive-coordinator/GM9d7XWxeIHxqVZIhcjDBJ/story.html
http://www.stampedeblue.com/2015/2/13/8034469/the-colts-blitzed-the-third-most-of-any-team-in-the-nfl-in-2014

19.    Buffalo Bills – Rex Ryan/Dennis Thurman
Runs the 46 defense developed by Buddy Ryan, Rex’s father. Ideally, uses four linemen, three to the weak side of the line. The weakside defensive end/primary rusher lines up just outside the weakside tackle, with a strong safety in the box behind him to help in run support; this player will often cover a third receiver. Both outside linebackers are aligned outside the on the strongside, with the middle linebacker also shaded over to that side. Linebackers and defensive backs are expected to blitz frequently, although “simulated rushes” in which just four rush are also common; the style of coverage is typically man coverage (either man free or bump and run), with a single-high safety.’
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/46_defense

20.    New York Jets – Todd Bowles/Kacy Rodgers
A very aggressive multiple defensive front which uses both three and four-man lines based on the matchup, with a very high blitz rate which helps compensate for defenses which have often lacked elite rushers; disguises rushes well. Uses extra safeties often when the team goes into sub packages. On the boundaries, the team uses lots of man coverage, with the other defensive backs often asked to defend zones. Didn’t make much of a shift away from what Rex Ryan was doing with the Jets in the past, which may have made Bowles a choice suited to the team’s personnel.
http://www.ganggreennation.com/2015/1/13/7537863/everything-you-need-to-know-about-todd-bowles-defense

21.    Washington Redskins – Jay Gruden/Joe Barry
Spent his formative years in Tampa Bay under Monte Kiffen, then served as defensive coordinator for Rod Marinelli in Detroit. However, seems to have been more influenced by John Pagano, who he coached under before getting the job (see San Diego for more on that.) Transitioned to a one-gap 3-4 defense last year; was expected to emulate Wade Phillips’ work, but instead used a conservative defensive scheme which featured straightforward rushes of four or even three defenders, with few blitzes and generally a lot of off-zone coverage, usually cover-three. Also occasionally mixed in cover-one (single high safety); might be asked to get more creative and vary his defenses this season after some success over a limited sample size.
Joe Barry's Dismal Defense Will Cost the Washington Redskins This Season
Joe Barry and Washington Redskins Need a Change of Philosophy on Defense

22.    Houston Texans – Bill O’Brien/Romeo Crennel
Primarily uses a three-man base defensive front with classic two-gap read-and-react principles, asking the team’s defensive linemen to control blockers rather than penetrating into the backfield. Favors bigger linebackers who play sides: an “elephant” on one side and more of a rush option on the other side. Employs a lot of disguise/deception pre-snap, including some “psycho” looks; however, isn’t really a heavy blitzer. Pretty conservative in the defensive backfield; cornerbacks often start near the line of scrimmage and attempt to disrupt routes, but often the coverage shell itself is a zone one.
Houston Texans: Insights into the Defense of Romeo Crennel
https://cover7.wordpress.com/2014/09/08/analysing-how-romeo-crennels-blitz-schemes-stifled-robert-griffin-iii/

23.    Minnesota Vikings – Mike Zimmer/George Edwards
Uses four-man defensive lines, taking a third linebacker off the field in sub packages. Disguises his defense’s intentions well pre-snap. Gives lots of aggressive blitz looks (such as double-A gap); doesn’t blitz as frequently as he presents those, but rushes different players from similar looks in order to create confusion. Mixes in twists and stunts. Coverage is predominantly press-man, but will use zone on occasion.
http://www.dailynorseman.com/2015/6/8/8750195/so-what-exactly-is-a-mike-zimmer-defense

24.    Cincinnati Bengals – Marvin Lewis/Paul Guenther
Uses four-man defensive lines, taking a third linebacker off the field in sub packages. Disguises his defense’s intentions well pre-snap. Gives lots of aggressive blitz looks (such as double-A gap); doesn’t blitz as frequently as he presents those, but rushes different players from similar looks in order to create confusion. Mixes in twists and stunts. Coverage is predominantly press-man, but will use zone on occasion.
http://www.dailynorseman.com/2015/6/8/8750195/so-what-exactly-is-a-mike-zimmer-defense

25.    Pittsburgh Steelers – Mike Tomlin/Keith Butler
Relies on element of confusion – some defenders unexpectedly drop into zone coverage, some unexpectedly rush. Thus, some defensive linemen may be asked to make zone drops into a quarter of the field, while some inside linebackers may also be expected to blitz the “A” gap. Uses cover one (man to man), cover two (zone), and cover three (zone); most frequently in zone coverages. Often rushes five with three deep defenders and three underneath defenders (“fire zone.”) Defensive linemen can have either one or two-gap responsibilities; traditionally, LeBeau and his disciples have emphasized two-gap linemen, but recently they’ve indicated a willingness to tailor things to their players’ strengths more.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zone_blitz

26.    Seattle Seahawks – Pete Carroll/Kris Richard
Typically rushes just four players (the defensive line), with a cover-three shell behind it (cornerbacks covering the deep thirds on either side of the free safety’s deep third), allowing the strong safety (in a robber role) and four linebackers to defend the first level of the field. The teams listed here usually press and bail at the line of scrimmage. The teams in this category have been using a combination of one and two-gap responsibilities, with a five-technique end and a one-technique nose tackle occupying two gaps, while a three-technique under tackle and a “Leo” (hybrid end/rush linebacker, wide 9 alignment) play one gap. A strongside linebacker lines up on the outside shoulder of the opponent’s tight end (same side as the five-technique strongside end) and plays one-gap in an “under” front, whereas in an “over” front, the five-technique is more of a six-technique on the outside shoulder of the tight end and the Sam linebacker lines up essentially across from the opposing tackle.
http://www.fieldgulls.com/football-breakdowns/2013/5/31/4382318/the-seahawks-and-the-4-3-under-front-winds-of-change

27.    Green Bay Packers – Mike McCarthy/Dom Capers
Considered to use a 3-4 base defense, but operates out of sub packages over seventy-five percent of the time, much more often than the league average. Actually seems like more of a 2-5 defense which will often ask two linebackers to rush from a three-point stance; has drawn some comparisons to former Packers coordinator Fritz Shurmur’s work with the 2-5. Will line up with three down linemen, then ask the strongside linebacker to work from a three-point stance, essentially creating a 4-3 under look. Also known for giving some “psycho” pre-snap looks, with lots of players standing around. Frequent zone-blitzing, willing to rush defensive backs as well.
http://www.packersnews.com/story/sports/nfl/packers/2015/06/04/capers-adapts-changing-nfl-offenses/28480951/
Fritz Shurmur’s Eagle Defense: The Birthplace of the Zone Blitz
https://www.reddit.com/r/GreenBayPackers/comments/2gku2o/can_someone_explain_the_dom_capers_defensive/

28.    Kansas City Chiefs – Andy Reid/Bob Sutton
Has experience in lots of different defensive schemes, but uses a three-man base defensive front. Despite having worked under the likes of Eric Mangini, is willing to use one-gap alignments, get a little bit more creative, and give unbalanced looks or like up their nose tackle as more of a one-technique. Will blitz at times, but also rushes just three and will drop their linebackers into zone coverage with some regularity; many of the team’s sacks came with four rushers or fewer. Tends to favor big-bodied front-seven defenders, albeit with versatility in the roles they’re expected to handle. Will often have a safety playing in the box and ask his cornerbacks to disrupt receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Kansas City Chiefs: Visual Breakdown & Analysis of Bob Sutton's 3-4 Defense
http://grantland.com/the-triangle/how-the-chiefs-built-the-best-defense-in-football/

29.    Arizona Cardinals – Bruce Arians/James Bettcher
Retained the team’s three-man defensive fronts, with lots of aggressive stunts and blitzes coming from the team’s linebackers (lots of pressure up the “A” gaps); some of those may be attempts to manufacture pressure without an elite edge rusher at outside linebacker. They use Deone Bucannon as a money linebacker rather than a traditional linebacker, Tyrann Mathieu as the nickel defender. At times, as many as seven defensive backs will be on the field at once. Coverages are mixed between man and zone duties, including some pattern-matching zones; may like to do more man if they can find an upgrade at the number two corner position.

Steelers Film Room: Arizona Cardinals’ Defensive Scouting Report

http://www.azcentral.com/story/sports/nfl/cardinals/2015/12/14/peek-inside-cardinals-curious-speed-defense/77243356/

30.    Carolina Panthers – Ron Rivera/Sean McDermott
McDermott is a discipline of Jim Johnson, who uses a similarly aggressive, zone-blitz scheme behind a four-man defensive line with a one-gap alignment in order to create confusion and  get mismatches. Rushes often and from various different angles (often in the “A” gaps), but also knows when to be more conservative and work through more basic zone looks, relying on his front four to generate pressure, freeing up more varied looks in the back seven. Favors rangy linebackers who can cover ground and rush the passer on occasion.
http://www.catscratchreader.com/2012/2/28/2831884/the-panthers-defense-a-treatise-on-the-jim-johnson-4-3-part-i
http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2013/11/8/5080004/panthers-vs-49ers-defense-breakdown

31.    Denver Broncos – Gary Kubiak/Wade Phillips
Uses a one-gap 3-4 defense which focuses on closing down the run early on in order to facilitate obvious passing situations in which the team can play in aggressive man coverage shells while blitzing heavily from different angles. Uses a lot of slants, stunts, and other rushes of that nature. Will often ask the strongside linebacker to put his hand in the ground, creating more of a 4-3 under look. Defensive linemen don’t need to be massive, but has employed some bigger ones during his career. Lots of bump-and-run or press-man coverage, with the strong safety often working in short zones as more of a robber and the free safety handling both man and zone duties.
http://www.battleredblog.com/2011/1/4/1913068/thats-so-crazy-it-just-might-work-examining-wade-phillips-3-4-scheme
Why Wade Phillips Would Be Perfect Choice to Lead Washington Redskins' Defense

32.    New England Patriots – Bill Belichick/Matt Patricia
One of the most versatile defenses in the league, one which uses both three and four-man defensive fronts, often with one and two-gap principles on different sides of the line on the same play; thus, schematic flexibility is prized. Favors bigger players who can set the edge and defend the run. Will often take one linebacker off the field in coverage situations, often bringing in a third safety. Designs some creative blitzes, especially given the athleticism and talent the team currently has at linebacker, but is a bit more conservative in general. Cornerbacks should be able to play both man and zone, with the safeties often being asked to play in man coverage, but most often using a free safety in deep zones
http://grantland.com/features/bill-belichick-vince-wilfork-new-england-patriots-defense/

Another helpful article: http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000498479/article/wade-phillips-vic-fangio-among-top-10-defensive-coordinators

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