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Spotlight On: Cowboys Defensive Tackle Nick Hayden (Part I: Double Teams)

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Dallas needs to revamp it's defensive line. What does Nick Hayden bring to the table?

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

First things first, let's define terms. When talking about Dallas's defensive front we'll often hear the words one-tech and three-tech being thrown around. And generally speaking, we use the connotations for those terms, instead of the actual term itself. When we say three-tech we usually mean a disruptive penetrating defensive tackle, and one-tech is a big run stopper. But while those connotations have some merit, they aren't the actual definitions of a one-tech or three tech tackle.

When we talk about one- or three-technique we are simply describing where a player is lining up. When a player lines up in the one-technique he is on the outside shoulder of the center, filling the gap between the center and guard. When he lines up as a three-technique he is on the outside shoulder of the guard, filling the gap between the guard and tackle, as shown in the following illustration:

In this illustration, the one technique (WDT) plays the A gap (outside shoulder of the center, inside shpoulder of the guard), while the three technique (SDT) plays the B gap (outside shoulder of the guard)

It's true that teams generally play their more athletic defensive tackles in the three-technique position, and their bigger tackles in the one-technique spot. But in truth there is no such thing as a one-tech tackle or a three-tech tackle. A player can and will play in both techniques during the course of a game.

So what are the attributes of the one- and three-technique? A one-technique, simply by virtue of alignment, is more prone to draw a double team, especially in the running game. So the one-technique should be strong enough to hold up against a double team, able to anchor in the running game and prevent the guard and center from getting to the second level. In the passing game it is easier for the center to provide help on the three-tech, so you would like your one-technique to also be enough of a pass rush threat to draw the center's attention.

Playing the three-technique is all about a player's athleticism. He needs to be quick enough to make plays in the backfield in the run game and to be able to split double teams in his pass rush. When left singled up in pass protection you want whoever is playing the three-technique to be able to consistently beat his man and apply pressure.

Everyone with me? Great! Now that the basics are out of the way, let's take a look at Dallas's most maligned defensive tackle Nick Hayden, and what he brings to the Dallas Cowboys. Hayden is generally lined up at the one-technique. The biggest gripe against him is his lack of pass rush; the consensus seems to be he doesn't draw double teams often enough. So let's go back and examine the tape. For this column I focused on two things; where Hayden actually lined up pre-snap, and whether he drew a double team or not. We'll examine what the defensive line is doing, and if Hayden does not draw the double team, why. In Part II we'll delve deeper into Hayden's play.

Game 1:  Week 1 vs. 49er's

I looked at all 32 snaps of Hayden's in the week one game against San Fransisco. In total he was doubled on 14 of his 32 snaps (disclaimer, PFF has him with 33 snaps). So on first glance it looks like Hayden is not doing his job.

But let's break down the snaps he wasn't doubled on. 11 of those snaps came on passing plays. Here are the results:

Play 2: Single blocked. Beats man forces incomplete pass.

Play 8: Stunt with other DT.

Play 11: 3-man rush.

Play 13: Single teamed. three-technique doubled.

Play 14: 3-man rush.

Play 15: Crashes inside across guards face.

Play 19: Blitz.

Play 22: Stunts inside.

Play 26: Stunts inside.

Play 27: Loops around three tech.

Play 30: Stunt.

What we see here is that of the 11 plays that Hayden does not draw the double team in the pass rush, 10 are by design. Dallas is either blitzing or doing some kind of stunt with their linemen. On only one play does San Fransisco double team the three-technique and single team Hayden by choice.

Now that still leaves seven running plays that Hayden does not draw a double team. Let's examine those plays and see what's going on.

Play 7:  No double, center picks up linebacker.

Play 17: Single. Guard pulled.

Play 18: Singled. Zone stretch play.

Play 20: Singled. Guard pulled.

Play 21: Singled. Guard picked up linebacker.

Play 29: Singled. Stretch play, crashes inside for a TFL.

Play 31: Singled. Makes tackle.

Hayden doesn't come off quite so good in the run game. To me the single most important aspect of the one-technique is to draw and hold the double in the run game. If the one-technique does not do this the entire run defense is degraded, it forces a team to bring a safety up into the box which then degrades the pass defense. I fail Hayden twice in this respect. I don't knock him for plays in which the guard pulls; that's outside of his control. And stretch plays are a different animal which we'll cover in Part II. But he cannot allow the guard or center to get to the 2nd level freely off the snap.

Drawing the double team is the central role of the player in the one-technique alignment. But as you can see, there's a lot more to judging their success than just counting the number of times they are double teamed. Defensive scheme and offensive blocking assignments play a huge role in determining whether or not the one-tech is successful in drawing the double.

Tomorrow we'll continue to look at Nick Hayden, focusing on the week nine game against Arizona. We'll continue to monitor whether he drew the double team, but we'll expand that focus and also look at the alignment of the defensive line as a whole. On Sunday we'll wrap up the series with an in-depth film study of Hayden's game against the Lions.