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Football 101: Offensive Trends And How They Will Play Into The Cowboys Defense For 2014

The NFL is a passing league, as we all know, and the base formation of most offenses have changed to reflect that reality.

How much will we need Mitchel to be more than just a JAG?
How much will we need Mitchel to be more than just a JAG?
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Let's look at the base personnel groupings or base offensive alignment of most of the leagues 32 teams and see if we can see some trends. Also we will look at the the way the defense has to change because of this trend. Keep in mind, one of the goals of an offense is to observe the base defenses of the other teams and then try to get match up advantages.

A few years ago teams decided to attack the base defense that had a standard front seven of either four down linemen and three linebackers or three down linemen and four linebackers by trotting out three wide receivers, they automatically had a mismatch with one of the linebackers. But initially teams only went to this three wide receivers formation on second and/or third down and when they did the defense would counter with their nickel package.

Well, now teams will have the 11 package as their base offensive alignment, so the defense must counter with the nickel as their base alignment defense.

This means that teams now need to look at how to distribute the different groups of the 53-man roster a little differently. With this in mind, we should take a moment and decide which of the defensive groups we should be most worried about because of this trend. But first let's look at the data to see if the move to three wide receivers is really the new base alignment for most teams.

BASE PACKAGE

In today's NFL the base offensive formation has evolved into the 11 package. One running back, one tight end and three wide receivers. In fact, 29 of the 32 NFL teams used the 11 personnel package as their main alignment.

"Use of 11 personnel skyrocketed over the past couple seasons, and one reason it has skyrocketed is that it works."

"Right now, the most efficient way to play offense in the NFL is to put three wide receivers, one running back, and one tight end on the field with your quarterback in shotgun for a majority of snaps. Not all of them, you have to switch it up of course, but most of them." - - -

Article here.

Based upon the last quote above the author seems to be saying that instead of the 11 package, it should be called the s11 package since he seem to infer that most of those were in the shotgun formation.  (Just what I wanted to hear/see.)

Before I go further, let me reintroduce the "Package" chart, (with one minor addition), that has been shown more than once on BTB including once by me in my Football 101 series titled "Air Garrett - Part 2" article.

Package RB TE WR QB Position
11 1 1 3 Under Center
12 1 2 2 Under Center
13 1 3 1 Under Center
21 2 1 2 Under Center
22 2 2 1 Under Center
23 2 3 0 Under Center
s01 0 1 4 Shotgun
s02 0 2 3 Shotgun
s11 1 1 3 Shotgun
s12 1 2 2 Shotgun
621 2 1 2 6 or more O-Line
611 1 1 3 6 or more O-Line

The best offense in the league, Denver, used the 11 package over 70% of the time and the Ravens used it 75% of the time.

Let's look at a table that shows this trend to the 11 package from the article I am quoting from over at Football Outsiders.

Personnel 2010 2011 2012 2013
DVOA
in 2013
11 0.395 0.404 0.457 0.512
8.10%
12 0.195 0.209 0.22 0.206
0.40%
21 0.195 0.168 0.152 0.126
-1.00%
22 0.072 0.07 0.055 0.044
-4.40%
13 0.018 0.023 0.02 0.023
-4.30%
20 0.029 0.023 0.012 0.018
-1.40%
10 0.03 0.032 0.021 0.013
-7.10%
6+ OL 0.028 0.033 0.034 0.035
7.00%

Notice that the 11 package is the one that has the highest increase over the last four years. With the 21 package and the 6+ offensive linemen next. And as the author pointed out, the 6+ offensive linemen changes should not be considered a trend given the little change on a year by year basis.

As much as I bemoan the lack of innovation in the NFL, I probably should have been saying all along that it is the speed at which they show innovation that has me concerned because there has been some innovations along the way such as the Flex defense, the run 'n' shoot, the use of the shotgun and wildcat, etc. It's just that the innovations have been rather slow in coming as far as I am concerned

Many NFL years ago, say back in 1920's, the Chicago Bears ran the "T" formation. In today's way of designating or charting the offensive alignments, we would call it the 31 package, meaning three running backs and one tight end.

While the shotgun was a throwback to the past where it was not new, but rather resurrected from a previous era, I would love to see what the defense would do if we trotted out the 31 package this year. Who knows, it could be successful if for no other reason than the defense may not know how to deal with it the first couple of times it was run, kinda like the impact that the wildcat had on New England the first game it was used.

Oh, well, I can dream can't I?  Back to reality.

BASE DEFENSE THE NICKEL?

After reading the article I am quoting and then stopping to think about how that impacts the defense, I concluded that perhaps, just perhaps we will be OK at the linebacker positions and not so alright at the defensive back positions.

The reason is because if the base package for most offenses is going to be the 11 package, then that means the defense will only have two linebackers on the field most of the time as well. I think that for us it will be Rolando McClain and Bruce Carter and I feel comfortable with that.

But with the 11 package, it means we need to have five really good defensive backs available most of the time. So, with Church, Mo, and Carr we seem to be in good shape, and after the fourth game, we can add Scandrick to the list and now we have four pretty good DB's on the field most of the time, but who will be our fifth DB that we can count on as being more than just adequate? And what about the back ups?

I think when the season starts, our linebackers will be alright and our defensive line may be good enough and those units optimistically might get us into the 20's as far as rankings go, but what about our DB's?  The four I mentioned I believe will be fine, but what about the fifth and what about the depth after that?

I must mention that the Scandrick incident is what caused me to think about the over all impact and that is what got me to think about what would our base defense look like and how important to that scheme would our DB's play considering the increase in the spread alignments. What happens when teams go to five wide receivers against our defense?

Do we need to trade for another DB pretty soon, or can we afford to wait and see who gets cut from other teams as they slim down to the 53. I think we should wait and not panic. Will McClay seems to be doing a really good job in this area and I trust he will again.

Well there it is, tried to keep it shorter this time. If you like it....well you know.