Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Strong Safety in the 46 Bear and 46 Nickel Defenses

As some of you know, from a previous post, I had some success (I do use that term relatively) with the 46 Nickel this past season.  Since using this defense, I have been enamored with finding out more information on its father, the Bear 46.  I have dug high and low and have come up with some very good resources, that have led me to some very insightful research.  The one thing that sticks out in my mind is the placement of the strong safety in this defense.  I will not go in to history here much, but as a lot of you know one of the key elements to Buddy Ryan's historic 85' Chicago Bears' Defense was the play of strong safety, Doug Plank.  With this position being so critical to the defense, it had me wondering why there were so many variations on the placement of this player.  It is hard to find any information on the 46, that has the strong safety in the same position.  So I thought a post about the pros and con's of the alignments of the strong safety were necessary.  I will also shed light, as I usually do, on what I did, and why I did it, so hopefully you can make an informative choice when placing such a critical player.

Early Years...The Beginning
Buddy Ryan's original position for the strong safety (SS) was at the weak side 40 technique.  There's much argument as to why Ryan put the SS here, however there is no doubt that this early alignment has since been challenged.  I can only speculate, but because the SS was in the box to the weak side, it allowed him to adjust to communicate with the linebackers (LB's) easier when and where he was adjusting to.  I'm sure there are other more concrete reasons why Doug Plank was placed in the weak side 40 technique, but for the purpose of this article, I will simply look at the pros and the cons of the alignment.

The Pros of the alignment are, in my opinion, very slim, as I did not utilize this alignment (well I sorta did since it WAS a safety for me, however it was NOT my SS, it was my WS).  The pros are as follows:
  • SS is in good position to communicate his adjustment/assignment to middle linebacker (MLB) who can then adjust the front accordingly (Jayhawk adjustment).
  • SS is in good position to walk out and cover a displaced #2 to the weak side.
  • SS is in good position to defend the run, and is well protected by the Nose, weak 3 technique and the wide nine technique defensive end.
  • SS is in poor position to see adjustment threat to the weak side, or handle motion away from the backfield to the strong side of the formation.
  • SS is not typically a run first defender, yet is aligned in the box, and such schemes as Power O, or Power G can exploit a weak run defender on the weak side of the defense.
  • SS has more to learn from this position.  His skill set is as follows:
    • Read and react to keys like a LB.
    • Cover receivers man to man.
    • Drop off in zone coverage.
    • Blitz from depth.

Strong Safety as the Seven Technique
The latter point will be argued in other sections of the article.  Basically, Buddy Ryan's traditional alignment is fine, but I think there have been other methods proven to be slightly more economically in their placement of the strong safety.  The first I will discuss, is one method I found in an old video about Boston College's version of the 46.  At one time, apparently BC ran their version of the 46 with 3-4 personnel.  BC placed the SS in the seven technique position, normally occupied by the Charlie LB (weakside linebacker) in Buddy Ryan's original scheme.  I will now take a look at some of the pros and cons of the SS being in the seven technique alignment.

  • Only one defender has to learn a new skill set, all 10 others play skill sets related to their original scheme.
  • SS is used to covering a defender man to man, whereas not all LB's are.  SS does not have to learn new skill set, and neither does LB.
  • SS can use quickness on LOS to beat slower, bulkier offensive linemen when blitzing.
  • SS still not in good position to get to adjustment assignments or adjust to motion.
  • SS must learn new assignment when facing the option (normally has pitch or alley assignment, now must take quarterback fitting inside the load block).
  • SS is usually undersized when compared to the LB being at the seven technique position.  This weakness can take its toll on strong side C gap runs as the SS is usually at a physical disadvantage to a tight end (TE) or offensive tackle (OT).
  • In zone coverage SS will drop to an inside zone, he does not normally drop to.  This puts more teaching time into teaching the SS additional zone drops from his normal assignment.

Boston College's 3-4 Version of the 46

The idea behind what Boston College is simple, only change one player and the rest of the defense can align and get after the offense.  I like it, but the idea of having a defensive back (DB) standing in the C gap, did not particularly sit well with  me.  So I looked at some schemes that had the SS set outside the TE to the strong side.  This fit very well with my 4-2-5 scheme as our SS was asked to play up and around the LOS on numerous occasions.  Now, let's look at the pros and cons of aligning our SS outside the TE to the strong side.

Base 4-2-5 Alignment

4-2-5 Version of the 46

  • SS only has to learn one new skill set, that of the outside rush.  Since we were 4-2-5 and ran TCU's Smoke Blitz, this was an easy install for me.
  • SS can easily get to his assignment of being the adjuster to the strong side, and can easily chase motion away from the backfield.
  • SS can drop off and cover an outside zone, which was his normal coverage responsibility in the 4-2-5.
  • Because of the SS being involved in blitzes in the original 4-2 scheme, he could also easily be taught blitz games coupled with the strong side LB to confuse the offense. 
  • SS in good position to defend the pitch on option, another carry over from his normal option assignments in the base defense.
  • No new reads or reactions need to be taught.
  • Further displacement from the box makes communication of adjustments more difficult.

I know, I'm biased, but I'm showing exactly what I did when looking at adding the 46 as a package to my defense last season.  I felt what I did "fit" what we were doing as a base defense, and allowed us to get into the 46 with little to no new teaching. 

The SS is a very important part of the 46 defense, and his placement is still up to your preference.  To be honest, no single way is correct or better, it's all in how you coach it up.  Just remember there are pros and cons to your decision, and that's why I posted this article.  For more information, check out my first post on the 46 Nickel, and go to by Scribd site and download some very good information!  Hope this helped, and I'm going to keep researching one of football's ultimate pressure defenses, the 46!!!

I do things MY way...