93's the Mike

I can hear Eli Manning shouting those words: “93’s the Mike.” It is third and 8 from the 27, time is running out and the Giants need to score. As the ball is snapped, 93 turns and runs to deep center to guard his zone. Sure enough, Eli throws deep down the center of the field where Hakeem Nicks has a step on Brandon Carr. Unfortunately for the Giants, the long arms of number 93 shoot up into the sky and a couple of fingers brush against the ball, knocking it off course. Nicks tries to adjust, but the ball falls harmlessly to the ground. Another almost interception for Anthony, who stares at his hands in disbelief that another ball had somehow slipped out of his grasp.

On fourth and 8, Eli knows better than to go for it all and throw to the deep center zone, but he still needs 8 yards and wants a lot more as time is an issue. He opts for a deep out. As the ball is snapped the middle linebacker makes a rush towards the line and puts a swim move on the guard, who was intending on double-teaming Ratliff. The running back is able give 93 a chip, but Eli sees that he will be easily overwhelmed and spins to his right, only to run into Hatcher.

Another sack for Hatcher, who is having his best year ever. Same for the rest of the defensive line, in spite of the fact that they were labeled as being (mostly) just an average group of players. There are slaps all along the sidelines as the players and coaches congratulate each other. No one smiles bigger than Jason Garrett, happy that he was smart enough to convince his defensive coordinator to put his players in the spots that made the best overall team.

Sean Lee was the linebacker with the best instincts, so he put him on the weak side where he could do what he does best: find the football and make plays. No tight end to worry about—just diagnose the play and find the ball. Bruce Carter was put on the strong side. He had the speed to run with a tight end, and the size to take on his block.

Then there was the key to it all—the Mike—the middle linebacker. Monte had explained to him what he needed: A guy with the speed to cover the deep middle zone and the ability to cover the field from sideline to sideline, but big enough to take on the occasional guard or center. Anything else, like long arms, height, and strength would be a bonus.

When Jason proposed the use of 93 as the Mike, Monte took one look at the 257 lb., 6 foot three inch linebacker and said: “He has the size to take on blockers, so that’s good. I could see him being a force against the run. But do you have anyone faster?” Then Jason showed him some tape from week 16. New Orleans’ sure handed Marques Colston caught a pass and was running down the sideline; several Cowboys were in hot pursuit. Brandon Carr was trailing, but catching up. Three yards behind him a 257 lb. outside linebacker also joined the chase. Within the space of 30 yards all 257 lbs. of linebacker was three yards in front of the $50 million corner and had caught up with Sterling Moore just as the safety managed to push Colston out of bounds. Then he showed a clip from 2010 of Bryan McCann running back an interception from the end zone. Who was catching up to the cornerback, at least until he pulled off to shove a Giant out of the way? Some big guy wearing the number 93.

Monte cocked his eyebrow. “Can he also rush up the middle, at least occasionally? I mean I don’t really have a monster lineman to rush the passer from the middle, so it would be really nice if my middle linebacker could blitz every once in a while.” He was shown tapes of the Pittsburgh and Cincinnati games.

“I don’t know,” Monte said teasingly. “Brian Urlacher was pretty good playing the same position for the Bears, but he weighed 258. Do you think this 93 guy is heavy enough to play the Mike?”

Jason smiled. He knew that he had a convert. “To be honest guys, my secondary is just average. In fact I’ve got this one player that some want to play at defensive end, but he’s faster than most of the guys in the secondary. I’ve got one excellent defensive lineman, and four or five guys that are average that we can rotate in. But the linebackers—we’ve got some speed there. Think of some ways that we can make the linebackers the strength of the defense.”

Then Monte got a worried look on his face. “I also need a Mike that can stay healthy. Which linebacker do you have that’s durable and plays in every game?”

Jason frowned. “Well, Spencer did miss two games during the last four years.”

“How about these other two? The ones you have pegged for playing outside linebacker?”

“Better stick with 93,” Jason said hurriedly, hoping someone would quickly change the subject. He made a mental note to tell Jerry to draft at least one outside linebacker. Maybe two. And maybe a safety who could at least outrun a linebacker, if not a receiver.

Rod Marinelli, who had sidled over to listen, scratched his chin. “You know, Monte, if we rush this guy 4 or 5 times a game I think we can get 5 – 10 sacks per year out of him.”

Jason looked up. “We get 5 – 10 sacks per year out of him now, rushing him 60 - 70% of the time.”

Rod smiled. “Surprise factor. When you know he’s always coming, you’re ready for him. But that’s not even the best part. Blitzing him every once in a while is going to so kerflutz the offensive line that others will get more sacks too.”

Monte nodded sagely. “This guy is pretty fast for his size. Something of a freak of nature. He’s got a speed/weight ratio that I haven’t seen since the days of Larry Allen. I’ve got one question, though.”

“What’s that?” Jason asked warily.

“How do you spell franchise tag?”

Thus the Dallas 93 defense was born.

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