Want to Stop the Run? It All Starts with the Nose Tackle

The following post is an excerpt taking from a comprehensive look at breakdowns in the Cleveland Browns’ run defense during the 2016 season. Check out the entire article at The Orange and Brown Report.

Later in the season we see another example of the nose tackle losing the double-team battle, allowing a blocker to ‘jump through’ to the second level.

The Bengals align in 11 personnel, utilizing a single tailback and an inline tight end. The Browns’ defense counters with an ‘Odd’ front, aligning a 0-technique over the center and a 4-technique over the guard. When teams align with two or more players in an even technique (0/2/4/6) they are frequently two-gapping or slanting into a single gap. On this call the nose tackle and closed end (defensive end aligned to the tight end’s side) are slanting to the field across their defender’s face, betting that the offense will call a run play to the defense’s right.

The offense dials up a gap/zone play known as a ‘Tackle Wrap’. The play is very similar to the popular ‘Power’, but rather than pulling a guard the offense will pull a tackle to set up better angles for the down blocks.

They two key blocks are the combo block and climb to the ILB on the 0-technique (Shelton) and the right tackle’s pull to fit the play-side linebacker (Karlos Dansby) in the hole. If both of these blocks are executed, the offense will have a “hat on a hat” (a blocker for every defender) at the point of attack.

Based on run/pass and directional keys, each defender will execute a certain technique to defeat his man. If executed correctly, the individual techniques will fit together like pieces of a puzzle to trap the ball carrier. This is the essence of team defense.

We’ll start with Desmond Bryant (#92), the play-side edge defender. When he sees the fan block he will attack the blocker’s outside shoulder, keeping his right shoulder ‘clean’ as he is a force player. His goal is to push the blocker backwards, constrict the B-gap, and most importantly not let anything get outside his free arm. The squeeze serves two purposes: it compresses the space in which the tailback can move and shortens the distance the scrapping linebackers must cover to make the tackle.

When the playside ILB (Dansby) identifies the down block from the guard (his run direction key) he likely knows he has a puller coming his way. His assingment is to violently meet the puller in the hole, attack the outside shoulder of the blocker, and force the ball back inside to the pursuit.

The final piece of the puzzle is the backside linebacker, WILL Christian Kirksey (#58). When he sees the guard pull (his run direction key) he will scrap HARD across the formation, as the edge defender and playside linebacker will force the ball carrier back inside to him. This is his play to make BUT Shelton must hold the double team to prevent a blocker from scooping to Kirksey.

Yet gain, we see the inability of the nose tackle to hold his ground against a double team break down the integrity of the run defense. Watch how quickly Shelton is moved off the line of scrimmage, allowing the center (#61) to pick up the scrapping Kirksey. The offense has a “hat on a hat” at the point of attack and safety Tasaun Gipson is forced to come downhill to make the play.

Another look at the double team shows fundamental errors in technique:

  • Poor leverage and get-off at the snap. Shelton is too high to establish a power base
  • Bad use of hands. No violent punch on the post man and the right arm appears to flash outside the right guard’s left shoulder. The hands need to be inside. While the outside arm did allow Shelton to shed the left guard’s block the ball was already through the hole.
  • Shelton’s second step is slow, causing him to be stood up and rode where the blockers want him to go. As a result when the down block comes, he is unable to prevent the scoop by dropping his pressure and swinging his hips into the center’s path.

These errors lead to Shelton being put on skates for a  5-yard ride off the line of scrimmage (although in his defense the run slant created a great blocking angle for the center). Because the rookie was slanting away from the center it did not take much push to continue moving him, as his momentum was already pointed in that direction, however the task would be more difficult if we see a good fire-off with proper leverage. The diving attempt at the tailback is mere fluff; the battle was lost before it started.

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