Football 101 - Defensive Line (Part 2) and More.

This is the seventh article in a series of articles where I will talk about the basics of Football 101.

In the last article I talked about some of the Defensive line blocking assignments. In this article Instead of focusing on more different blocking schemes, I decided I will deviate a little from that to talk a little about why it is so important to not only understand the difference between a double-team block and a combo-block but also how that applies to the zone blocking schemes today. It appears to me that Power blocking is on the way out and Zone Blocking is proving to be the wave of the future and it is clear to me that Garrett fully understands why that is the case. And that we had to get rid of Gurode and Davis because of that understanding.

First a little background on the running game in general and why it is so important in understanding just how hard it is for a defensive lineman these days to be able to defeat the Jump-thru and the reach blocks. I will actually discuss this in Football 101 - Defensive Line (Part 3), but in this article I will show why the defense needs to do a better job in this new Pass Happy NFL by showing what the offense is doing to stay ahead of the defensive schemes.

Since most coaches understand the old saying that in order to win in football, you must be able to "run the ball and stop the run!", then I will interject a few words here about the importance of the running back and the running game.

Let me make a very emphatic statement. Emmitt Smith was a much better more effective running back than Barry Sanders ever thought of being! Now, why would I say something like that so emphatically?

Well, I will try to explain. The short answer is that it has everything to do with "no negative plays!" Median Yards per carry is a much better measure than Average Yards per carry. What you want to do is to measure a RB's average loss per carry, and compare that to his average yards gained per carry. While a really good Running Back should have an average of at least 4.0 yards per carry, the better way to measure his effectiveness or value to a team is in the ratio of positive yards per carry versus negative yards per carry. What you want is something like 10 yards lost per 100 carries as a Maximum, (Zero is what you really want), and an average of at least 4.0 yards per carry on all positive yard plays.

In all fairness to the Running Backs, it should be noted that negative plays can well be the responsibility of the play calling, or the skill of the Offensive Line instead of the Running Backs style or skill, and the perfect example is Barry Sanders for it being the Running Back's fault (because he would not just plow forward to minimize the loss), and perhaps the Offensive Line getting or deserving some or much of the credit for Emmitt's success.

To further emphasize the impact of "negative plays", I categorize them all as the most important plays in a game or season.

Negative plays = Turnovers, Sacks, tackles for a loss, and penalties, in that order of importance. And if I were to put weight to them it would probably be a "10" for turnovers, a "6" for a Sack, a "4" for a tackle for a loss, and a "2" for a penalty.

The main reason that turnovers are so much more important is because an Offense usually only gets the ball 12 times a game, and if you give up a turnover the other team now has it 13 times to your 11, and then another turnover, and it becomes 14 times to your 10, and so on. The odds go way up on each turnover.

In my opinion these four stats are the keys to winning if all else is even close to normal, (And a Great Offensive Line will mitigate most of those Negative plays including the fact that a sack will also often result in a turnover.)

The reason penalties are not as bad as tackles for a loss or sacks, is because at least with almost all penalties you get the down over. And I should add that if I was in charge of an offensive line, I would probably teach "holding" as a last second good decision if it appears that a sack is inevitable, because of getting the down back! Let's say the sack would lose 9 yards, well first and 20 (for the holding penalty) is better than Second and 19 (with the sack). This makes it clear why Turnovers are much more important than Sacks/Tackles for a loss and penalties. ( Sacks and Tackles for a loss, are usually very close to the same importance with the only difference being the average yards lost.)

While Emmitt ran behind an Offensive Line that was built for the Power Running game, so were most other teams in that era. But, in today's NFL, it is so much more important to be able to score more points because of the new rule on not allowing receivers to be touched after 5 yards and all the new rules for protecting the QB.

So, since it is now a passing league, it is even more important to be able to keep the defense honest and "fool" or confuse the "keys" or "reads" of the defense. One key is the "high-hat", "low-hat" read by the defense. The defense is taught to not get their keys from the running backs, but rather from the offensive linemen. If the Offensive linemen stand up and drop back, (high-hat), then it is more than likely a pass. If the offensive linemen don't drop back, but rather move forward even if they are in a high-hat position, then because they can't be more than one yard beyond the actual line of scrimmage, it is thought to be a run. (Otherwise if it is a pass, then it is an Illegal man downfield.)

But another way to deceive or fool the reads can be found in plays such as the stretch play, which is more like a sweep. And since the QB can fake the handoff, and can still throw a pass, this maximizes the "play action pass" because it is a pass that has done the best job of "fooling" the keys or reads of the defense because it appeared for a long time to be a run because of those keys the defense is reading (high-hat, but not more than one yard downfield.)

There is a concept in football called "leverage." It is used a lot of the time to mean a technique in blocking schemes, but it is also used to signify an advantage in field position. If you get a positive play on any given down, you are said to have "leverage" on the next play. This means that you have a certain advantage in your play selection.

Consistency versus Average. (No Negatives). Big plays will happen when the defense gets tired because of constantly getting whipped badly for 3 quarters. So, if you focus on never having a negative play as part of your overall teaching philosophy and emphasize that importance, that resulting field position advantage that is constantly being applied during the game should wear down the defense in both scoreboard as well as their mental state.

In my opinion, Alex Gibbs is by far the best Offensive Line Coach in the NFL today, and he is arguably the best to have ever coached an offensive line in the history of football. (He perfected the zone blocking scheme as well as it could be in the NFL.) He figured out that the best answer to 8 men in the box was to do zone blocking and then figure out which guy on defense was farthest from the running back, and then ignore him because he has the least potential impact on the play.

The zone blocking scheme requires quick and athletic linemen that are also intelligent. "In the 9 seasons from 1995 to 2003, Denver was a top 5 rushing team 7 times." - Take your eye off the ball by Pat Kirwan

Many defenses have started to figure out how to handle the zone blocking scheme, but it is still used very effectively when used in combination with "angle blocking" (Sweep or "stretch") schemes. There is a "physics" component to zone blocking, (the Physics is called "Mass in Motion"), and if you stop to think about the fact that if the play is to the right, then the offensive linemen are blocking the guy in the gap to their right. It is easier to push a man backwards at an angle if you are blocking him from the side, than it is trying to move him head on (Power Blocking - Man Blocking).

I will show some plays and further describe the great things about Zone blocking and how the "Angle Block" makes the zone blocking scheme even better today than it was in the past in PART 3.

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