FFODC Looks At Our Run Defense

Tentative Depth Chart for 2018:

Interior Defensive Line 2-Deep (Nickel):

Ion Allen
McGee Lanier/McClain/Hood*

Interior Defensive Line 2-Deep (3-4):

McGee Hood* McClain*
Ion Allen Francis

Inside Linebackers 2-Deep (Nickel and 3-4):

Brown Foster
Spaight Harvey-Clemons/Vigil*

Safety 2-Deep (Nickel and 3-4):

DJ Nicholson
Everett DHall*

* – Trouble Spot

Three of the most common runs we faced this season were Power, Inside Zone and Outside Zone. How we defended those three plays went a long way in determining how we fared against the run. So without further ado, here’s how we fared:

Power Run

Defensive Line: Against Power our scheme dictated that our line slant inside and suck in the double teams:

This created a shorter distance for our Linebackers to cover on their way to the pulling Guard, which in turn allowed them to rally to the Running Back in less time.  It was a simple assignment that most if not all of our defensive lineman showed they could execute.

On the perimeter Kerrigan and Smith set the edge and funneled ball carriers inside.  Anderson struggled early on with that task but has been steadily improving week to week.

Inside Linebackers and Safeties: The main problems that cropped up against Power came from the second level fills by our inside linebackers and safeties.  Here is Brown missing his gap after Compton cleared a path for him:

DHall is late to fill over the top (he’s switching gaps with Brown):

And here both DHall and Brown are late to fill their gaps:

Defending Power was an issue that cost us against Minnesota and New Orleans.  We look to have addressed it since then via personnel changes at the safety level and making better reads at the linebacker level.

One example of the improvement in reads can be seen here when Brown made a great pre-snap read, knowing Power was coming by the formation:

While Brown and his other ILB counterparts have cleaned up their reads, safety fills remain a lingering issue:

DJ has been the most consistent safety when it comes to filling against the run while Nicholson was sheltered from the box for most of the season.  Everett, shown in the previous clip, had hitches in his run defense but remained serviceable as a backup rotation piece.

Issues to address in the offseason: The Defensive Line is fine and the problems with Brown that popped up mid-season seem to be corrected.  In terms of stopping Power, finding another safety to help DJ fill should be priority number one.

Inside Zone

Compared to Power, Inside zone offers a more vertical push with its double teams.  Against this run, the deeper we had to dig into the defensive line depth chart, the more our lack of strength was exposed.

Defensive Line: Francis, McGee, Ion and Allen have all shown to be viable options against inside zone.  Allen:

Meanwhile Ziggy Hood and McClain struggled holding their gaps against stronger offensive lines:

But the most god awful defense against Inside Zone came when Lanier was inserted into the lineup:

Conversely, AJ Francis has shown to be more than capable of holding the line against inside zone

Inside Linebackers and Safeties: For the most part nothing to report.  Brown and Foster have made exceptional plays when they were able to diagnose Inside Zone pre-snap:

Otherwise the fills have been solid to good.

Issues to address in the offseason:  Please resign AJ Francis.  Lanier is a clear liability and we have to figure out if his moderate-plus pass rush is worth keeping on the roster; he’ll need to stay glued to the squat rack along with Hood and McClain.

If we bring back Francis we would have four viable options against inside zone (Ion, Allen and McGee being the other three) which would give us a legitimate two deep for the interior of  our Nickel front.

To fill out a two deep in the interior of our 3-4 we would need two more bullets in the chamber.  Best case scenario is we hit on whoever we sign in the offseason and hope that one of Hood-Lanier-McClain bulks up and is ready to go in 2018.

Outside zone

Results here are very much connected to level of opposition.  We dominated the Wide/Outside zone plays against Seattle but roles were reversed against stronger offensive lines such as Dallas.

Defensive Line: We started out fine when Ioannidis and Allen were in the line up:

Ion and Allen were the two guys strong enough and technically sound enough to hold up against outside zone.  Ion has issues with speed when the run was stretched past the Tight End but otherwise he was a solid starting rotation piece.

The problems began once those two left the field.  Against Dallas Ziggy Hood had one of his worst outings:

The good news is we seemed to have found an interior combination as strong as the Ion-Allen combo with McGee and Francis:

Kerrigan and Smith didn’t make many splash plays but they also didn’t cede any big runs outside.

Inside Linebackers and Safeties: Foster, Brown and Spaight were able to keep up with the flow of Outside Zone but we need to find a fourth guy to fill out our ILB depth chart–Josh Harvey-Clemons seems to be the most athletic option.  Vigil is more technically sound but struggles with speed if his first read isn’t perfect.

The Safety corps lacks a true third and fourth option after DJ and Everett.  Nicholson is just a rookie and chances are he’ll get coached up as a third option.

Issues to correct this offseason: Ion, Allen, McGee and Francis are stout up front but after them it gets shaky.  Just like with Power we seem to be a couple of guys short of a full two-deep in our 3-4.

At the Inside Linebacker level we either need to get Josh Harvey-Clemons coached up or find a guy in the offseason.  Technically Zach Vigil is an option but his lack of athleticism and speed is reminiscent of Compton and is a worrisome road block.

The Safety corps has a solid starter in DJ.  Nicholson is revving up and at the beginning of his learning curve.  Everett is a solid back up option which would leave us with one open spot to fill.

Targets for the Offseason

Numbers wise, the needs are shaping up to be

  • 2 guys on the Defensive Line
  • 1 at the Inside Linebacker level
  • 1 at the Safety level

Besides getting healthy, the top priority for the Defensive Line should be to resign AJ Francis since he bolsters our depth against zone runs and can be a legitimate starter.  After that the options to fill out the line are more numerous in Free Agency compared to the draft but both offer great options.

At the ILB level, the top priority is to resign Zach Brown.  Literally everything else falls into place after that.  Foster might be a tossup depending on his desire and ability to come back.

Safety is a tough one to call.  It looks like Everett comes back and that would leave us with one roster spot to fill.  The main problem to address is gap fills against Power.  We could shoot for the moon and draft a first rounder or play it cautious with a proven solid Free Agent.  Either way the corps seems to be in good shape with DJ and Nicholson spearheading the way.

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