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Scouting the Phillips 34; from Chargers to Cowboys

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Hey, a mini film review in July. NFL Replay had the San Diego Chargers/Seattle Seahawks game on yesterday, so I put the old Tivo to use and recorded it. I wanted to get a look at the Phillips 34 again.

Admittedly it was hard to get a flow of the defensive strategy because NFL Replay really chopped up the game. Sometimes they would cut to an offensive possession by the Seahawks starting with a 3rd down play. You never knew what happened on 1st and 2nd down. But I did my best and here are some of the things I noticed that my have some resonance with the Cowboys this year.

  1. On 3rd downs the Chargers went to a nickel defense with four down linemen. Usually, Shaun Phillips and Shawne Merriman were the ends in that formation. So will the Cowboys keep DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis/Anthony Spencer in as the rush ends with four on the line? And what would that mean for Jason Hatcher, who got a lot of time being one of the rush ends in that formation? Also, who moves into the middle? At minicamp, the report was they used Chris Canty and Jay Ratliff inside.
  1. The Chargers would use press coverages on 3rd and short. Not just the cornerbacks, but the linebackers and the safety would press down into the box. They weren’t afraid to be aggressive on 3rd and short, jumping the underneath patterns and counting on the line to get a decent pass rush.
  1. As far as the strong safety, I tired to keep an eye on where he lined up; I was trying to get an idea of where Roy would be. In the early part of the game they would press the safety up to around seven yards deep, but I didn’t see them blitz him that often. He mainly played the run and then dropped into coverage. But as the game wore on, they became more conservative with the safety and looked to be playing some deep Cover 2 formations.
  1. It wasn’t the all-out blitz and stunt defense that seems to have formed in our imaginations of the Cowboys next year. A lot of the plays made in the backfield (sacks, pressures) were caused by the Chargers defender just plain old beating his man. There wasn’t an overload of trickery, although they were certainly more aggressive and you could see they were shooting the gaps. They also moved around some pre-snap, trying to confuse the offense.
  1. When they did blitz, a lot of the pressure came up the middle. One of the linebackers would shoot the middle gaps, either by trying to time the blitz or just moving up into a spot on the line next to a defensive tackle. Occasionally, they would blitz the middle and ask either Phillips or Merriman to drop off the line and assume zone coverage in the middle. Sort of a zone-blitz scheme.
  1. The Seahawks exploited two weak spots in the defense. The intermediate-to-deep middle of their pass coverage was not that good. Seattle receivers continually caught balls over the linebacker and before the safeties; it really reminded me of the Cowboys defense last year. They were also susceptible to cut-back runs and draws. The linebackers and the safeties were very quick to jump the run, sometimes over-pursuing, and left lanes open on the backside.
  1. On the backside of pass plays, meaning the weak-side, sometimes the safety would jump up in the coverage to protect the short zone while the cornerback would drop deep, almost becoming the safety. They mixed up their coverages some early, but late in the game the coverage schemes became very standard.

This was just one game, so it’s hard to extrapolate this out into a solid review of the defense, but I thought it did point to some things we might expect to see this year.