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Spotlight On: Cowboys Defensive Tackle Nick Hayden (Part II: Alignment)

An in depth look at how Dallas uses alignment to help the defensive line.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

First things first, bookkeeping. I didn't do a good job explaining the point of these articles in part I.  This isn't a comprehensive review of Hayden's play (although I will look at that in part III). Rather I am using Nick Hayden to illustrate various concepts that relate to the defensive line in general, and the one-technique in particular. In part I we looked at taking on the double team. Today we're going to look at the alignment of the defensive line, and show that using terms like 1 or 3 technique to label actual players (as opposed to what a player is doing on a given play), gives a false impression of how our defense functions.

An illustration is in order. When we talk about Dez Bryant we don't call him a flanker, split end, or slot receiver. We just call him a receiver. He may line up at any one of those positions, but he isn't defined by where he lines up. On the other hand, Cole Beasley is primarily a slot receiver, but that's not a good thing. It's a limitation. We're trying to expand his game so that he too can line up anywhere. Now that doesn't mean that Dez or Beasley aren't best at a particular spot, only that we don't want to define them by their limitations. We want them well-rounded.

The same premise should apply to our defensive tackles. Ideally your defensive tackle can line up anywhere on the defensive line, from 0-tech to 9 tech. That's what Dallas is really looking for. And it's why Steven Jones said we wouldn't spend a high draft pick on a 1-tech. Because doing so is the equivalent of spending a high draft pick on a pure slot receiver. If you target someone who can only play one tech, then you're targeting a limited player.

Some Housekeeping:

  • Just to recap; last week we talked about double-teaming. Hayden was double teamed on 14 out of 32 plays. But a closer look revealed that most of the plays he wasn't double teamed on were because of the defensive scheme. All told there were only three plays that Hayden failed to draw the double team.
  • In Week 9 Hayden played 18 plays in the first half. He drew a double team on four of them. Again, some of that is defensive scheme (blitzes or stunts), and some came from offensive blocking assignments (pulling guards, zone schemes). By my count there was only one pass play that didn't involve a stunt or blitz where Arizona doubled the 3 tech instead of Hayden.
  • Something I didn't mention last week; of Hayden's 32 plays, 29 were run from the one technique. For three plays he played at the zero technique.

And speaking of alignment...

Play 1:

Hayden play 1 (1)

Here we see what looks to be a traditional 4-3 under front with Hayden (yellow circle), lined up at the one tech, between the center and guard. But there's already something interesting going on. Generally the one-tech plays the strong side. But here we see that Hayden is lined up opposite the TE (red circle). Note also that the strong side linebacker (Bruce Carter #54), aligns based off the one-tech, not the tight end.

hayden 1 (2)

This alignment makes sense because it was part of a pretty clever blitz. Anthony Hitchens attacks the center, leaving Tyrone Crawford one-on-one with the guard, (red circle). This causes the tackle to come over to help. But because the tight end is going out in a pattern this leaves George Selvie with only a running back between him and the QB.

Play 2:

Hayden 2 (1)

Second play of the game, again in the 4-3 under. Except this time it's Hayden (yellow circle), lined up as the three-technique and Crawford as the one.

Hayden 2 (2)

Not really!  The initial alignment was just to throw off the offensive line. Before the snap Crawford and Hayden shift, with Hayden (yellow circle) again at the one-technique. Two interesting things; Crawford (red circle) isn't really lined up wide enough to say he's playing the three technique, he's almost heads up on the guard not shaded outside. Also we're again seeing the one-tech playing the weak side of the offense.

hayden run blitz

So there's a lot going on here, but again, we see that that this particular alignment (one-tech on weak side) leads to a blitz. This is a run blitz. In the middle (yellow arrow) we see that Crawford and Hayden have crashed the middle, occupying three blockers (probably the reason Crawford wasn't in a pure three-tech position). The defensive ends are tasked with sealing the edge. To the right of the defensive tackles Rolando McClain is essentially two-gapping; occupying a blocker and responsible for the gaps to either side. On the far right edge we see Orlando Scandrick coming in; his responsibility is to force the play left. That's where Anthony Hitchens (blue circle) is waiting, completely unblocked, to make a tackle. We talk sometimes about scheme or playcalling funneling the offense to a spot; this is a great example. This play is designed for Anthony Hitchens to make the tackle.

Play 3:

Hayden 3

Hayden isn't in this play, but it's the perfect example of my point that Dallas want's multi-purpose defensive linemen. Here we see Henry Melton (69) and Anthony Spencer (93) playing a five technique (outside shoulder of the tackle), while Tyrone Crawford (98) and Jeremy Mincey (93) are playing the three technique (outside shoulder of the guard).

So to go ahead and beat a dead horse; the technique doesn't describe the player, only where that player is lined up on a particular play. Dallas doesn't need a one-tech or a three tech, Dallas needs good versatile defensive tackles, period.

Play 13:

Hayden 13 (1)

I've beaten the dead horse, now let's go ahead and ride that sucker into the dirt. Here we have both defensive tackles lined up in the three technique. But that's not Crawford and Melton; that is Crawford and Nick Hayden. What's really interesting here is that Crawford is lined up on the strong side. That makes it easier for him to be doubled by the tackle, as the tight end is there to occupy the defensive end.

Hayden 13 (2)

Now this is interesting to me. Let's start with Hayden (yellow circle). He has attacked the guard's outside shoulder. This makes it almost impossible for the center to provide help, unless he comes over the top and around the guard, and is what we generally think of when we picture a three-tech pass rushing.

Crawford (red circle) has attacked the guard's inside shoulder. This allows the guard to double team him and negates the alignment advantage of lining up at the three-tech position. If Crawford would have also attacked the guard's outside shoulder, the center would have either been rendered useless or would have had to back up into the quarterback's pocket to "get over the top" of the guards. This is my biggest critique of Crawford incidentally. For some reason his natural tendency when pass rushing is to come inside, allowing himself to be double teamed.

Play 17:

Hayden 17 (1)

Another great example of the multiplicity we ask of our defensive linemen. Here we see Henry Melton and Jeremy Mincey lined up at the seven-technique (outside shoulder of the tight end). Anthony Spencer is lined up at the one-technique, and Hayden (yellow arrow) is at the three. Notice that Hayden is initially attacking the outside shoulder of the guard.

Hayden 17 (2)

Well there's a reason Hayden isn't a great pass rusher. He can't get to the guard's outside shoulder. Anthony Spencer does not draw the double team, which allows the center to come over and double team Hayden.

Play 22:

Hayden 22 (1)

Another play without a defensive lineman playing the one-technique. Here we again have Crawford and Hayden playing the three.

Play 24:

Hayden 24

And now we're back full circle. Just like the first play, here we have a basic 4-3 under look, with the exception of the three-tech lining up on the strong side (red circle). And it's a great example of the versatility we've talked about all article, that's Nick Hayden at the three-tech (yellow circle). And behind him it's again Bruce Carter, except on this play he's playing the WILL linebacker, and Sam Wilber (51) is in at SAM.

What It All Means:

It means as fans we don't need to get caught up in labels like one-tech or three tech. Or WILL or SAM. Dallas wants players who are versatile and can play multiple positions and alignments.

Think about the players we've brought in in free agency. Justin Durant has played all three linebacker positions. Jeremy Mincey bounces along the defensive line. Mackenzy Bernadeau plays all three inside lineman positions. Even Brandon Carr has played safety along with cornerback.

It's the same with draft picks. Zack Martin had never played guard before coming to Dallas. Anthony Hitchens played all three linebacker positions for Dallas. DeMarcus Lawrence was brought in to be the weakside defensive end, but actually played better on the strong side, albeit in limited snaps.

So when we're looking at players to bring in, don't get caught up trying to "upgrade the one-tech spot". Dallas has shown they want to bring in good players, period. Then the team will find what spot to put them in to best succeed.

Okay fellow BtB'ers hope you've enjoyed this series so far. In my next article we'll bring it all together, and do a complete film breakdown of Nick Hayden's game against the Lions with a focus on the basic principles we've looked at so far.