Fight For Old DC Looks At Our Formations


How it looks on TV:

When Do We Use This Formation:  When teams put a fullback or 2+ tight ends on the field; the 3-4 is our “heavy” or “big boy football” formation:

  • DT:  McGee, Hood, McClain
    • Backups:  Ioannidis, Lanier, Allen (injured)
  • OLB:  Kerrigan, Smith
    • Backups:  Galette, Anderson
  • ILB:  Foster (injured), Brown
    • Backups:  Compton, Spaight, Harvey-Clemons
  • CB:  Norman, Breeland
    • Backups:  Dunbar, Moreau
  • SS:  DJ Swearinger
    • Backups:  McClure, Everett
  • FS:  Nicholson
    • Backups:  McClure, Everett

At the line:  McGee lines up over the tight ends and tackles (5-Tech), Hood lines up over the center and guards (Nose), and McClain lines up over guards and tackles (3-Tech.)  Teams can motion to make McGee and McClain switch positions.  Those guys are flanked by the outside linebackers to make this a 5-man line and tough to run against.

Linebackers:  In the picture above you can see two DTs and one OLB lined up on the line in front of Zack Brown.  Those four will usually line up away from the TE.  Putting those three guys over the center, guard and tackle in front of Brown does a couple of things:

  1. Keeps Brown clean from offensive line blocks and allows him to be a star.
  2. Makes it near impossible for teams to pull offensive lineman on that side since we can shoot into the backfield if that happens.  It limits the type of runs they can call.  Versus our 3-4 most teams ditch the gap/Power runs and stick to inside and outside zone.

To the strength of the formation (usually where the tight ends and fullback line up) you have McGee and one OLB lined up in front of the other inside linebacker.  That linebacker is usually  Mason Foster Will Compton and we ask him to shed or dodge offensive lineman en route to the football [EDIT:  Foster has been moved to IR.  Life.  Don’t talk to Mason Foster about life.]

Starting Safeties: DJ Swearinger is the only safety that plays in the box and mans up on tight ends, while Nicholson is the deep safety.  Usually those positions are interchangeable but for now the rookie Nicholson is only asked to play deep.  Backup Deshazor Everett has been asked to do all safety duties as well but is rarely asked to take the field.


How it looks on TV:

When Do We Use This Formation:  When teams put three or more wide receivers on the field.  We remove one DT from the line and add a cornerback in the slot.  The OLBs become defensive ends.

  • DT:  Ioannidis, Allen (injured)
    • Backups:  Hood, McClain, McGee, Lanier
  • DE:  Kerrigan, Smith
    • Backups:  Galette, Anderson
  • ILB:  Foster (injured), Brown
    • Backups:  Spaight, Compton, Harvey-Clemons
  • CB:  Norman, Breeland
    • Backups:  Dunbar, Moreau
  • Slot:  Fuller
    • Backup:  Holsey
  • SS:  DJ Swearinger
    • Backups:  McClure, Everett
  • FS:  Nicholson
    • Backups:  McClure, Everett

As with the 3-4, Swearinger is asked to make linebacker reads in the box and cornerback reads in man to man coverage while Nicholson is strictly the deep safety.  Depending on alignment, the Slot CB can also be asked to make linebacker reads.

Unlike the 3-4, Mason Foster is backed up by Martrell Spaight instead of Will Compton.  Last year Compton was burned on a lot of zone coverages, so it appears we have tried to minimize that by keeping him out of the Nickel package.


Do They Work?


Defensive DVOA Ranking:  14th, just above average.

3-4:  We spent our way to a beefier 3-4 line with free agent additions Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain.  The biggest hole remains at nose tackle with Ziggy Hood.  Whether we can rotate him out with a higher frequency remains a question mark.

The biggest improvement in this blog’s opinion was the benching of Will Compton.  Last year, most third down conversions and game winning drives were a result of him being on the field.  With Mason Foster placed on IR, Compton is back as the starter in our 3-4.  I don’t know what to tell you other than perhaps with limited snaps Compton will be able to play above an Arena League level.

He certainly knows the playbook and can diagnose a fair amount of formations pre-snap and is a “locker room leader”, he could excel as a position coach: #PromoteCompton.  C’mon you guys, let’s get that trending worldwide.

Nickel:  The Nickel package features our best talent with Fuller and Ioannidis joining 3-4 carryovers Kerrigan, Smith and Norman.  Injuries have tempered this package’s ceiling a bit; with Allen out teams have found success running on us especially through Ziggy Hood, but the secondary looks as good as it has in a long time.

Where To Improve

For next year, In order:

  1.  Nose Tackle.  Hood has done nothing to show he deserves to come back next year and with Allen out the last two weeks teams have been running it up the middle with impunity.
  2. Inside Linebacker.  We need at least three guys who can start given how physical the position is.  Zach Brown is the star, and next to him we could use one guy to backup Mason Foster.  The jury is still out on Spaight: missed tackles and coverage are his biggest issues to iron out.
  3. DT (one guy to play 3 and 5 Tech.)  We already spent money on Terrell McClain, Stacy McGee and drafted Jonathan Allen, so this probably won’t happen, but it would be nice to have a second guy who like Allen could slot inside in our 3-4 AND play in the Nickel as a rotational player.

It looks like we missed on Hood and McGee with the later at least being serviceable.  Teams that make a living off of attacking the A gaps can control the line of scrimmage and even with Josh Norman shutting down #1 receivers, that is not a formula for winning games.  Unlike last year the starting 11 is strong up the middle, but lose a guy or two (Foster and Allen) and Zeke goes off for 33 carries and 150 yards plus  offenses are not scared to go for it on 4th and 1.

When it comes to 300 pounders in the interior, we need as many bullets in the chamber we can afford.  Two more DT/NT types would cost a chunk of money and with contract talks looming on the other side of the ball I’m not sure how feasible it is, but getting two out of three on this list would be enough to help us soldier through if the injury bug strikes again.

Skins DEFENSE vs The Eagles (II)


Manusky acted like a mad scientist with some of our line ups, this was 3rd and 3:

  • Galette is playing inside linebacker.
  • McGee has outside contain; something he has struggled with all year
  • Zach Brown is lined up as a defensive back over Ertz–not good:

  • Galette covers the same gap as Ioannidis.
  • McGee gives up contain
  • Zach Brown is playing cornerback.

Does Galette know inside linebacker reads?  Can McGee keep up with Wentz on contain?  Why the hell is Zach Brown playing cornerback?

Later on a 3rd and 6 we come back with Galette at inside linebacker again:

As soon as that gap opened up between Kerrigan and Foster, a true inside linebacker would have fired through.  But instead you have a guy shuffling towards the sideline unsure of how to attack the running back and giving up a first down.  Rather than forcing a punt and getting the ball back down one touchdown, they go on to score to make it 31-17.

What Happened

Quarterback scrambles and deep shots.

On the first play of this drive Dunbar (circled) had trouble fighting through traffic and covering his crossing route:

So on the next play DJ makes a call for Dunbar to pass off his crosser to Nicholson.  Problem is, Dunbar doesn’t realize this means he has to now carry anything deep that Nicholson would’ve had:

That left Mason Foster one on one with Ertz which resulted in a 46 yard play.  There are a lot of ways to look at this play, but I’m seeing it as:

  1. A minus on Dunbar for not picking up the deep route that Nicholson left for him
  2. A bad adjustment.  I mean just let Dunbar fight through traffic and cover that route.  It was a 2 minute drill and that shallow crossing route wasn’t going to kill us.


The Show


Defensive Line
Player + Total
McGee 1.5 2 -0.5
McClain 1 0.5 0.5
Lanier 0.5 -2 -1.5: minus 2 for losing a pass rush lane
Hood 5 4 1
Ioannidis 7 1.5 5.5: Did almost everything right
Total     5
Pressure +10 -12 -2: losing pass rush lanes and RPOs slowed us down
+ plays are good.  
- plays are bad.  

If it's a ho-hum play, like a 3 yard gain on first down, then usually nobody will do worse or better than -1 or +1.  But give up a 64 yard touchdown (-4) or get a TFL/Sack (+2) and I go higher in either direction.

Pressure:  Did the quarterback comfortably hold onto the ball for longer than 3 seconds: -1.  Did the QB feel pressure in 3 seconds or less? +1


Those were a couple plays where Ziggy got blown off the line.  He would occasionally stalemate a block, but he never fought through doubles like Ioannidis:

Continue reading “Skins DEFENSE vs The Eagles (II)”

FFODC Previews The Eagles

WHAT Skins (3-2) vs Eagles (5-1)
WHERE Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA
WHEN Monday, October 23, 8:30 PM
THE LINE  Skins +4.5 (O/U: 49)
WEATHER  H: 77, L: 64; Partly Cloudy

The Eagles offense is coached by three former quarterbacks in HC Doug Pederson, OC Frank Reich (Terp), and QB Coach John DeFilippo.

Pederson is an Andy Reid disciple so we can expect a healthy dose of option football and small wide receivers blessed with smurf speed.  Reich was responsible for Phillip Rivers’ best years (and yes he’s the guy who led the biggest comebacks in college and the NFL) and DeFilippo somehow managed to eek out a Pro Bowl tight end in 2015 with Johny Manziel and Josh McCown at quarterback.

All three heads put together generate an attack that looks to create confusion with mesh routes (air raid), stretching of defensive flat zones (west coast), and dual threat quarterbacks that force you to keep one guy protecting a keeper or bootleg at all times (option.)  So basically this is Kansas City’s offense all over again, except it’s Philly so the concepts aren’t clever, they’re just prickish and annoying.

Run Defense vs the Eagles

Continue reading “FFODC Previews The Eagles”

Skins DEFENSE vs the 49ers


We used a 3-3-5 (3DL, 3LBs, 5DBs) on 3rd and longs in an attempt to confuse and deceive:

The above formation had Jonathan Allen (R.I.P.) at linebacker depth.  He’s going to vacate his zone and rush the QB:

The RB runs to where Allen left and gets an easy catch.  Meanwhile, we tasked Kerrigan to play zone coverage; he takes off to cover a spot on the field without even checking to see where the RB is going.

So that’s a pass rusher playing zone coverage and a defensive lineman lined up as a linebacker, and for what?  If anything we just helped a rookie QB make an easy throw on 3rd and 8.

We have done this 3-3-5 look almost every week going back to the Joe Barry days.  Preston Smith is usually the deceiver–lined up at middle linebacker instead of being at defensive end–and it usually fails.  Please shelve this.

Continue reading “Skins DEFENSE vs the 49ers”

FFODC Previews the 49ers

WHAT Skins (2-2) vs 49ers (0-5)
WHERE FedEx Field, Hyattsville, MD
WHEN Sunday, Oct 15th 1:00 PM ET
THE LINE Skins -11 (O/U: 46.5)
WEATHER  H: 82(wtf!), L: 51, Partly Cloudy

The Men of Shanahan along with familiar faces Aldrick Robinson, Logan Paulsen and Pierre Garcon invade FedEx field equipped with an offense that a lay person watching next to you would find familiar if they watched the Skins play between 2010-2013; mainly running sideways 20 times a game and occasionally faking you out with a bootleg that goes the opposite way.  I mean it’s Shanahan’s offense.  You know what’s coming.

Run Defense Vs the 49ers

The Cardinals run a 3-4 front similar to ours, it’s a front that should get a lot of use on Sunday since Shanahan likes to deploy a fullback on the regular.  The backside backer (labeled as the would be “Zach Brown”)  has 3 guys in front of him: 2 biggins and an OLB and they will absorb blocks from the LT, LG and Center.  Next to the backside backer is the playside backer (lined up toward the TE).  Notice he’s a few steps in front, closer to the line.  That would be Mason Foster/Martrell Spaight.  Foster loves to creep up to the line when he smells outside zone coming, and lots of outside zone is coming.  Playside backers lined up like so will either beat their block or kamikaze into the line and take an OL with him.  With guys all around him absorbing blocks, Zach Brown should be free to roam and MAKE PLAYS as the studio suits like to say.

One note of caution: outside zone runs tend to induce lots of flow going in one direction, so if the RB wants to cut it back, or the QB is running play action, Brown needs to keep up.

Key Matchup: Zach Brown vs FLOW.

If he can keep his momentum in agreement with his eyes, Brown could be in for a 15+ tackle game.  If the Niners want to change up formations and run away from him, then the onus falls on Foster and Spaight, both of whom have shown to be beasts against the run.

FB Kyle Juszczyk #44

Shanahan doesn’t outfit a roster without finding guys who can do one thing really well: block outside zone.  He’s found a couple of them in rookie TE George Kittle (best said in a Norm MacDonald voice) and FB Kyle Juszczyk.  They might not do much well but they can do that one thing really well.  In the above clip you can see how quickly the FB is able to process what’s in front of him and adjust.  The guy he was going to block before the snap was lined up to the outside.  After the snap he jumps inside a full gap and the FB doesn’t even stutter for a second.  He adjusts his path to the line and gets inside leverage for a kick out block to open up the hole.  That might not sound or look like much–about 3 yards–but it makes it a viable run on 1st and 2nd down, and the play action off of that run (shown later in this preview) is deadly since linebackers have to come crashing down into the line to take on the lead blocker, voiding a ton of space behind them.

Key Matchup:  INSIDE BACKERS vs Kyle Shanahan accredited outside zone blockers.

Rookie TE Kittle is joined by a familiar face in Logan Paulsen who made a name on the skins roster a few years back by being able to kick guys out at the end of the line of scrimmage.  With the big guys in the middle occupied by zone combo blocks and defensive ends chasing runs from behind, Spaight, Foster and Brown will all have to find ways to get off of blocks and stop RB Carlos Hyde before he can add acceleration to the mass part of his equation.  FWIW, LG Brandon Fusco (#63) struggles to track  down guys at the second level, so that could be a favorable matchup for us.

Pass Defense Vs the 49ers

If there was a game for Josh Norman to sit out and get healthy, this is it.

Swag, baby.

On field play from their signal caller has been erratic at best, as Brian Hoyer is prone to lock onto a guy whose covered and leave other guys open without a catch:

Continue reading “FFODC Previews the 49ers”

Skins DEFENSE vs Kansas City


They spread out our 3-4 defense a few times to where our OLB would line up over a slot WR with a safety behind him.  This left 3 big guys to rush the quarterback, affording Alex Smith plenty of time.  The only reason I can think of for this is we were trying to avoid crack blocks and also jam guys at the line so they couldn’t run their staple of “mesh” routes. Otherwise it was our regular 3-4 and Nickel the whole way except for one 3-3-5 we broke out on a 3rd down.

The Story:  The first 3 drives ended in punts before the mismatches came into play.  Fuller got stuck defending the run against tight ends and our 3-4 got spread out, shown above, which negated the pass rush.

Inside backer play was up and down.  Brown and Spaight played like Pro Bowlers in the box, but they struggled in space with Brown having two left feet in coverage and Spaight missing open field tackles.

With a bye week approaching guys were hitting hard and selling out their bodies; big hits were followed by injuries to the back seven.  Then the penalties came which cost us 7 points to open the second half.  The snap count hit 76 (20 snaps more than previous weeks) and mental errors crept in as fatigue set over the last two drives.  Uncharacteristic gaffes like Brown’s over-pursuit on outside zone and McClain tipping a stunt cost us two field goals.

Finally on the last drive Kerrigan blew contain which lead to a 37 yard play and Spaight voided underneath coverage for another 10 yard gimmie and that was enough to set up the field goal that put KC ahead 23-20.


The Show

Defensive Line
Player + Total
Kerrigan 3 6.5 -3.5
Smith 8 7.5 0.5
Allen 5.5 2 3.5
Hood 5 7.5 -2.5
McClain 2.5 7 -4.5
Ioannidis 6 1.5 4.5
McGee 7.5 5.5 2
Total     0

Kerrigan’s first negative finish is due in large part to a failed pass rush that did not keep contain.  He chose the right rush: Bull rush, but couldn’t disengage the RT before Alex Smith broke the pocket.  That’s giving valuable extra time with a back seven reeling from injuries and fatigue.

Preston Smith would have graded out in the positive if not for penalties.  The one at the goal line turned 3 points into 7 and earned him a -4.  So both star ends would have had decent to good days if not for the bonehead plays.

Ziggy Hood’s negative total was a product of him get worked by their center.  It’s one thing for a double team to get you, but when your nose can’t handle the center one on one that’s trouble since doubles can be doled out to guys on either side of him.

Matt Ioannidis diagnosed plays early and often.  Against Philly he was the lone lineman to diagnose the trap blocking and last week he was the quickest to read the Shovel pass option play that KC loves to run:

Continue reading “Skins DEFENSE vs Kansas City”