Today I bring to you a great series of articles on the evolution of NFL defenses. I really enjoyed this 7-part series written by Jene Bremel so give it a look-see.
It’s said that defense wins championships. But offense often drives television ratings and merchandise sales. Television broadcasts focus on the path of the football rather than showing all 22 players as the play unfolds. More often than not, it’s the quarterback and his skill position players who attract the attention of most football fans. Football phrases like "seven step drop" and "pulling guard" and "West Coast offense" are easily recognizable terms for even the most casual of fans. Meanwhile, the unrecognized beauty of the 11-man defense of professional football, the ultimate team sport in many respects, remains the ugly stepsister to its offensive counterpart. But it shouldn’t be. Defensive football is every bit as exciting and interesting as offensive football."
"In the earliest decades of defensive play, pro football teams stacked the line with nine-, seven- and six-man fronts to stop the run-heavy offenses of their day. As the forward pass gained favor, coaches needed to devise ways to drop more men into coverage but still stop the ground game."
"The second installment in this series looked at the historical evolution of the 4-3 front, from Greasy Neale, Tom Landry and Steve Owen through the A.F.L. and its Odd Front 4-3 through the aggressive, undersized Miami front made popular by Jimmy Johnson and others. But there’s more to the 4-3 timeline. Another innovation was just beginning to blossom during the heyday of the Doomsday Defense and while Johnson was beginning to make his defense work with Oklahoma State in the 1970s. The innovation became so popular during the last decade that Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated once quoted Jim Schwartz as saying that 30 of the league’s 32 teams had some variation of it in their defensive game plan every week. That innovation would become known as the Tampa-2."
"In this installment, we leave the 4-3 front behind and move on to the 3-4, which has quickly become the league’s favored defensive look again after falling out of favor almost entirely during the 1990s. Just as there are multiple flavors of the 4-3 front, there are different philosophies of how to play a 3-4."
"The true origin of the zone blitz is fuzzy. Football historians have credited concepts resembling today’s zone blitzes to Hank Bullough in the late 1970s and the Penn State coaching staff of the early 1980s. The pressure defense used by the U.S.F.L.’s Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars in the early 1980s was known for bringing defenders from unexpected angles while those expected to rush dropped into coverage. Those schemes are sometimes attributed to John Rosenberg, a Penn State assistant who joined Jim Mora on the first Philadelphia Stars coaching staff, and may have influenced Stars successors Dom Capers and Vic Fangio."
"Though he died just before the 46 defense peaked in Super Bowl XXIV, you can’t help hearing John Facenda’s voice whenever you see video of or read about Buddy Ryan and the "Monsters of the Midway" defense."
"This is the era of specialization in the N.F.L. Slot wide receivers, third-down running backs, goal-line runners and pass-catching tight ends are regular contributors in today’s offenses. The defensive side of the ball is no different. Situational edge rushers and pass-rushing defensive tackles, linebackers on the field only in passing situations and, of course, nickel defensive backs. Because offenses are operating out of multiple wide receiver sets more than ever, defenses are specializing on passing downs more often in response. Teams once simply substituted a third corner (or fourth in the "dime") for a linebacker or defensive lineman on passing downs and morphed into a 4-2-5 (or 4-1-6) look. Today, there are as many exotic passing-down packages as there are defensive fronts."