Sunday, August 25, 2013

2013 Preseason notes: Lets talk about this whole "Gap" situation . . .

The 2012 Colts defense was a work in progress. Newly hired defensive coordinator Greg Manusky was charged with building a stout 3-4 defense, with players drafted and trained in the speed-kills Dungy 4-3 defense. The results were mostly encouraging.

The 2012 Colts stayed mostly vanilla in their schemes, which makes sense given that the players had a lot of technique-based things to learn, and forcing a complex scheme on them at the same time could have been disastrous. I'm looking at you 2012 Philadelphia Eagles.

There is also the fact (and I've not seen this mentioned elsewhere) that the style of defense that the Colts played prior to 2012 did not require players who were intelligent enough to execute complex coverages and subtle line play. I'm not saying they couldn't have handled it . . . well, ok - there were some who couldn't handle it. But those guys are gone now, and hopefully things are simpler in Buffalo.
Jerry Hughes to Tim Tebow: "How many fingers am
I holding up? Let me know when I get to three."

Tony Dungy always said, "If you can count to three, you can play in my defense." 

Well, in a mature 3-4 defense, you need to be able to count backwards from ten and do some light division.

So, what can the 2013 Exhibition Pre-season tell us about what we'll see in the regular season? The answer is: a lot.

First things first, it's clear from watching the Giants and Browns games that Greg Manusky spent a lot of time watching film of the 2012 Houston Texans. Who knows, maybe he did some light housework and ran some errands for Wade Phillips. Why do I say this? Because in the course of a mere two seasons, the Colts have gone from playing one of the simplest defensive schemes in the last 40 years of the NFL - to one of the most complex.
"I'm four-gapping this biatch!"

Last season the Colts defensive line exclusively played two-gap technique, even in clear passing
situations. Basically instead of trying to get around a blocker any way they could as in the Dungy defense, two-gap technique has a large defensive player trying to control both sides of a blocker - preventing that blocker from controlling him, while also trying to just be in the way. In this sort of scheme, the defensive linemen get very few sacks and tackles - and hence little glory or attention. Their job is to control the offensive line, and keep the linebackers "clean" so they can roam sideline to sideline and make plays.

The Texans J.J. Watt racked up 20.5
sacks, despite playing without a helmet.
"Wait," you say, your hand waving plaintively in the air, "What about Watt?" You adopt the smug self-satisfied smile of a person who gets all of his football opinions from the behind-the-scenes producers at ESPN. "What about Watt?" I say, readying myself for some parrot barf.

"Well, he plays in a 3-4, I saw it on ESPN! And he had like 40 sacks!"
"Actually it was more like 20 1/2."
"A half a sack?" you snort, "Now you're just making bleep up."
"The half sack was for tackling Tim Tebow, he only counts as a half a QB."

Well, ok, here's the when, why, and the how on Watt:

The Texans do play a 3-4 alignment, but that is about the end of the similarities between what the Texans do under Wade Phillips, and what other 3-4 teams in the league do. The Texans do a lot of funky stuff, and one of those things is that they constantly shift between having their defensive linemen player two-gap and one-gap. This causes a lot of turmoil with the opposing offense's linemen - not knowing if the 320 lbs beast across from you is going to try to stand his ground and grab you, or explode into a gap on either side of you.
After discovering that all NFL Quarterbacks like Matzah Ball Soup,
and Offensive Linemen are all Crepe Eaters; the game of football
becomes easy for young Bjorn Von Werner-Kempler.
This is what I have seen from the 2013 Colts. They are switching between two-gap and one gap every couple of plays. In many cases, only one or two of the three lineman have played one-gap. This is something I've only seen from a Wade Phillips defense.

Against the Giants, the Colts played one-gap on most 1st and 10's in normal situations. On 2nd down passing situations, they randomly played a mix of the two. Midway through the first quarter after the Giants got into our red zone after that pass interference call, on 1st and goal, the Colts went one gap and blew up a pass play. On 2nd down they played two-gap. On 3rd and 1, they went one-gap and blew up a run. 4th down - GTFOTF!
I learned my tolerance from the Master: "Playoffs?!? Playoffs?!? Allow me
to answer that question with a murder-spree at your next family reunion."

"Well, I didn't hear any of this on ESPN," you say, trying to reconcile this into your media-created reality bubble, "In fact, according to ESPN, the only players on the Colts roster are Andrew Luck and Darrius Heyward Bey, and they never said they were playing any sort of gap."

This sort of attitude is why if I ever somehow became an NFL Head Coach, my era would be known for being the most hilarious, as well as the shortest. Suffering fools gladly is the #1 quality required to be a coach nowadays. And it is a talent not very many people have.

Anywho, oh yeah, we were talking about football.

Now I know that switching gap technique on the defensive line does not seem too terribly complicated. Well, it's not. But what is complicated is that each lineman needs to know what the others are doing, so they can compensate. If your left defensive end is going to charge on on that 3rd and 1 play, the other linemen need to be aware of that so that a massive hole is not left where the linemen vacated.

Plus the linebackers play a different technique in that situation. If one or more of the defensive linemen are charging into their one gap, there's going to be more blockers to deal with for you. Trust me, there's a lot to keep track of.

I'll be writing more about the Colts defensive scheme; but I'll tell you right now - we goin' BEAST mode this year. Yah boiz.