Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Gir's Weekly Column: Volume 72

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Gir's Weekly Column: Volume 72

By Gir Todafunk
Special To The Daily Magi
December 10, 2055

Happy Conference Championship Week, readers of the Daily Magi and the View from Avalon. I am Gir Todafunk, your ace cornerback on Coach Tatsuya Kaname's Magi Football Team, back with another weekly column. We're facing Air Force this week in the Mountain West Championship Game. On paper, this is a mismatch but we are not going to take the Falcons lightly. We're going to treat them just like any other opponent: we're going to give them the business and send them on their way. I expect them to go bowling, though.

I want to talk this week about the 46 defense. The 46 defense is an American football defensive formation, part of the eight in the box family, with six men along the line (4 playing line technique, 2 in a linebacker technique). There are two players at linebacker depth playing linebacker technique, and then three defensive backs. The 46 defense was originally developed and popularized by Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, who later became head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals. Today the scheme is currently used on a regular basis by the New York Jets head coach and defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, son of Buddy Ryan.

Unlike most defensive formations that take their names from the number of defensive linemen and linebackers on the field (i.e. the 4-3 defense has 4 linemen and 3 linebackers), the name "46" originally came from the jersey number of Doug Plank, who was a starting safety for the Bears when Ryan developed the defense, and typically played in that formation as a surrogate linebacker.

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The 46 defense was an innovative defense with a unique defensive front, designed to confuse and put pressure on the opposing offense, especially their quarterback. Compared to a 4-3 base defense, the 46 dramatically shifts the defensive line to the weak side (the opposite end from the offense's tight end), with both guards and the center "covered" by the left defensive end and both defensive tackles. This front forced offenses to immediately account for the defenders lined up directly in front of them, making it considerably harder to execute blocking assignments such as pulling, trapping and pass protection in general. Moreover, the weak side defensive end would be aligned one to two yards outside the left offensive tackle, leaving opposing tackle 'on an island' when trying to block the pass rush.

Another key feature of the 46 is that both outside linebackers tend to play on the strong side of the formation. To avoid confusion, the strong and weak side linebackers (who are no longer lined up on opposite sides) are often renamed the 'Jack' and 'Charley' linebackers, respectively. The linebackers line up behind the linemen somewhere between one and three yards from the line of scrimmage. The primary tactic is to rush between five and eight players on each play, either to get to the quarterback quickly or disrupt running plays, although dropping some players back into pass coverage after seemingly indicating that they will blitz (see zone blitzing) is another method of creating confusion. Ryan would use all of these rushers to out-man and overwhelm the offense. Another major key to the 46 is the ability of the cornerbacks to play man free and bump and run coverage. Bump and run can allow the defense to take away the quarterback's immediate decision-making ability, by disrupting the timing of short routes needed to make a quick throw to beat the 46 defense.

The formation was very effective in the 1980s NFL because it often negated a team's running game and forced them to throw the ball. This was difficult for many teams at the time because most offensive passing games centered around the play-action pass, a situation that often favored the defense even further with the quarterback lined up to receive the snap from directly behind the center.

Currently, the 46 is rarely used in professional and college football (with the exception of teams led by Buddy's sons, the New York Jets coached by Rex Ryan, and the 2010 Cleveland Browns when Rob Ryan was the defensive coordinator). This is largely because of multiple receiver and spread formations. The eight man line that the 46 presented was most effective against the two back, two wide receiver sets common in the 1980s.

A minor weakness of the 46 defense can be too many defensive players lining up near the line of scrimmage to blitz, leaving areas open for receivers to catch passes. Also, short, timed passes can be thrown before the players blitzing have a chance to reach the quarterback. Another problem is that most teams do not have enough impact players to run the 46 as effectively as the 1980s Bears, the late 1980s Eagles and the 1993 Oilers did. Those teams fielded some of the best front-seven defenses ever, and included such players as Mike Singletary, Steve McMichael, Richard Dent, Dan Hampton, Clyde Simmons, Reggie White and Wilber Marshall.

The ideas of the 46 defense are more often used in today's game by bringing a fourth defensive back (usually the strong safety) up closer to the line of scrimmage, as an eighth man in "the box" to help stop the run. Defenses today may also run safety blitzes and corner blitzes at crucial moments without committing wholly to the "46" defense. Up front, teams still use the concept of the "T-N-T" front, where defensive linemen are lined up over the center and the two guards. This makes it difficult for the interior linemen to reach any of the linebackers on the second level.

Next week, I plan to talk about what happened during our game with Air Force, as well as any awards we ended up winning. The usual spoils, that is. You know what I'm talking about. I'm Gir, Mr. Wonderful, signing off. You are not alone.

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