A Hat on a Hat, Plus One

The run.

With the help of the reporters in the Packers press, people’s understanding of what it takes to run, and stop the run, seems to be off. When you dig in deeper, who does what and why, and what it looks like when they are doing well, isn’t necessarily correct when they are reported to look good or bad.

This is a very fundamental principal. If the offense comes with as many blockers as you have defenders, there is nobody left to tackle the running back. If each offensive player wins their battle with a well designed play, an explosive play usually results. One of the fundamental principals of the pass to run philosophy, is to get the defense to back the extra defender up, in essence even up the box count for the offense. With a hat on a hat, plus one (the back), it isn’t hard to run if they can execute. There are lots of different offensive strategies to running, but really, this principle is at the core of it all.

My focus however is going to be on the defense. The defensive front 7 is poorly understood in proper context, and there are a lot of incorrect or misleading cliches floating around.

The concept is the same, a hat on a hat, plus one. There must be an extra player that the offense can’t dedicate blockers to in place to tackle the running back. When the offense blocks a corridor into the secondary, an explosive play results more often than not. Even with the best backs, explosive plays are rare when the back has no blockers beyond the line of scrimmage.

The Line of Scrimmage.

The ball can’t go through an offensive blocker, it has to go around him. The defenses job is to close each of the gaps between the lineman. In a 1 TE set, there are 7 gaps for the defense to control. Some players control 1 gap, some players control 2. Some players don’t control any. Defensive lineman (and 3-4 OLB’s) at least control one gap. Most systems and play calls will ask at least 1 linebacker to control a gap. Most also leave 1 linebacker with no gap responsibilities. He is free to flow to the ball and make plays. When the defense has all gaps covered, the best the offense will muster on a run play is how much downfield push the line got. If there is a crack, and the back gets through, there is a linebacker and/or safety to make the tackle that has no gap responsibility.

What are the players in Green Bay’s new 3-4 defense responsible for? (All of these could be modified by an exotic playcall, even the most unconventional DC’s don’t call many exotic plays, at least for run stopping)

The OLB’s

There are no designated strong side (TE side) and weak side outside linebackers. Dom (and most 3-4 coordinators) prefers right and left, keeping guys on the same side of the field. Each OLB is responsible for the the outside gap. The back should not be allowed to bounce the play outside. The OLB on the TE side might also be responsible for the gap between the TE and OT depending on the playcall.

The two positions are largely the same, though of the two, typically the LOLB will be the better run defender and better as pass coverage, and the ROLB will be the better pass rusher.

ROLB – Matthews, Thompson, Jones
LOLB – Kampman, Poppinga, Obiozor

The DE’s

The ends are responsible for the gap between the OG and the OT, and possibly also for the gap outside of the tackle (on the weak (non-TE) side, if the OT blocks the OLB, the DE has to be aware of and help out on that mismatch and help cover that gap). The end will typically be single blocked by either the OG or OT, though it is common for the OT to give the OLB a shove than turn to help the G double team the DE.

There are slight differences between the two ends. Offenses align their TE on the right side much more often than the left. This makes the defensive left the strong side more often than weak. Most offenses place their better run blockers on the right side. Most offenses run (or design plays to be run, even if the back goes elsewhere) to the right more than the left. The defensive left gets run at with better run blockers typically than the defensive right. To counteract this the LDE is typically bigger and stronger than the RDE, and a better run defender. The opposite is true with the pass, and the RDE is typically a better pass rusher than the LDE, as offenses typically put their batter pass blockers on the left side, the defensive right.

RDE – Jenkins, Montgomery, Wynn
LDE – Jolly, Raji, Harrell, Malone

The NT

There is one big difference between a 4-3 NT and 3-4 NT. A normal 4-3 NT alignment places the DT in the gap between the C and G. The DT is well positioned to engage both the C and G at the snap. Unless the lineman run away from him (pull, etc…), with good play neither should get past him, and they shouldn’t be able to move him backwards. This is different in a 3-4. Lining up directly over the C, the NT is not well positioned to stop the G’s from bypassing him and blocking the LB’s, a battle that they will lose. This is why the C vs the NT must be a battle that heavily favors the NT. If they choose to skip him, he has to make them pay by defeating the C and making the stop in the backfield. The NT usually either covers one or both of the gaps on either side of the C.

On draft day this was a concept that I don’t think that many understand. The NT has to be more than a brick wall. A big slow guy doesn’t cut it. Sure he may be immovable, but he gives the offense absolutely no reason to double block him. It is a fundamental flaw of a 3-4 defense, the offense can set itself up with very favorable blocking, but it only works if the NT can’t consistently stop the play when only one man tries to block him. This is the reason for the premium placed on 3-4 NT’s. There aren’t a lot of people on this earth that can consistently dominate a single offensive lineman (the center) by themselves.

NT – Pickett, Raji, Toribio

The ILB’s

There are two distinctly different ILB positions, the SILB and WILB, strong and weak. In Dom’s system the SILB is named the buck, the WILB is named the mack. Unlike the OLB’s, the ILB’s do change sides based on which side the TE is on, with good reason. Usually if there is an uncovered gap or extra blocker, it is on the strong side. When looking at number counts, especially when a FB is involved, there are almost always as many blockers on the strong side as there are defenders. The buck and mack have very different skill sets as it relates to the run.

The buck is a banger. Remember one of the initial premises I made, a back with no blockers isn’t going very far. The buck eliminates the blockers. If there is a G coming through, mix it up with the G and try to keep him in the gap. If the FB is coming through, stop him in his tracks. The last thing you want the buck doing is shedding the blocks, unless the RB is past or nearly past him. If he sheds the blocks early and fails to tackle the back, he made matters worse, now these blockers are in the secondary, the plus one has a blocker coming his way. Not good. The buck is supposed to engage blockers, not run around them.

If the buck has to take care of an offensive lineman, the best you can hope for is that he holds him up in the gap and doesn’t get blown backward or thrown to the ground. Likewise he should hit the FB back and maintain control of the gap. The buck is essentially a small mobile defensive lineman, as it relates to the run, he almost always is part of the gap control scheme and has a gap assigned to him. He did his job if the back has to look elsewhere for an opening and if there are no blockers out in front of him.

The mack is the playmaker. He often has no gap assigned to him. He is to seek and destroy the guy with the ball. If the rest of the front did their jobs, he should be free of blockers. If not, he should shed any block immediately or go around them in pursuit of the ball. The mack is the star of the defense. He should always be around the ball. If he is blocked, the secondary has to make the play.

Buck – Hawk, Lansanah, Havner
Mack – Barnett, Chillar, Bishop


The players I listed are where they primarily have been playing thus far. The primary exceptions being Montgomery playing at LDE due to the injuries at LDE, and Poppinga and Havner playing at ROLB due to injuries there. Bishop is officially listed on the depth chart as the #2 buck ahead of Lansanah, but he has thus far been playing mack throughout camp and in the game as Barnett has been out.


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3 Responses to “A Hat on a Hat, Plus One”

  1. ShimSham Says:

    Very nice writeup and analysis Waldo. You should post a lot of your stuff on bleacherreport. I know there’s a lot of garbage there, but typically the cream rises to the top you know? Regardless you’d get a much larger audience there.

  2. British Says:

    Fantastic post Waldo. I’ve just stumbled across your blog (using the link from your packernews.net sig). I’ve already bookmarked the site and will be returning frequently.

    The nuts and bolts of the line of scrimmage remains a bit of a mystery to me so this kind of stuff is a godsend.

    I found this bit particularly interesting:

    “The two positions are largely the same, though of the two, typically the LOLB will be the better run defender and better as pass coverage, and the ROLB will be the better pass rusher.

    ROLB – Matthews, Thompson, Jones
    LOLB – Kampman, Poppinga, Obiozor”

    Kampman seems to be perfectly suited to play ROLB whereas his run defense and pass coverage is not really his forte. I’m guessing he’s been left at LOLB because he played that side in the 4-3.

    But do you think his lack of suitability on the left side could lead to problems for the defense?

  3. waldo56 Says:

    No, the just adjust the ratio of L-R blitzing to let Kamp rush more. He’s definitely the best OLB that we have against the run. A guy like Loadholt would mow down Thompson or Matthews with ease, whereas Kamp could hold his own.

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