PDA

View Full Version : Film study: Dissecting Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense


mesaSteeler
01-25-2009, 09:25 PM
Film study: Dissecting Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense
by Elliot Harrison, FOXSports.com
http://msn.foxsports.com/nfl/story/9132076/Film-study:-Dissecting-Pittsburgh%27s-3-4-defense
Updated: January 25, 2009, 5:24 PM EST

FIFTY. Fifty years Dick LeBeau has been in the NFL. Five-Oh, and that's continuous service. The Steelers' defensive coordinator may be the Wayne Newton of pro football. LeBeau just keeps going. But his legacy is not just about quantity.

It's one thing to keep on keepin' on. It's quite another to mastermind a 3-4 defense that's playing in the Super Bowl. And, oh by the way, LeBeau's defense ranked No. 1 in just about every significant defensive category this season.

A very good defensive back of 14 seasons for the Lions, LeBeau began coaching in 1973. In 1984, he developed a scheme that was partially drawn off his playing days as a DB, his experience adjusting to evolving pass offenses, and perhaps his own curiosity. LeBeau's creation, the "zone blitz," made offenses flub like a chief justice giving the oath of office. Simply put, the zone blitz creates pressure from unpredictable spots so as to disrupt the passing game, while ensuring that vulnerable areas of the secondary are covered remember, LeBeau was a defensive back.

So what does all that mean? Basically, if a linebacker blitzes, a defensive end may drop a few steps into coverage to fill the zone the linebacker just exited. That's one simple example of how the defense operates. Sometimes the offense picks up this wacky concoction of a pass rush, but all too often, it confuses offensive linemen and their protections.

Come next Sunday evening, after the pregame features, after Coldplay or whomever performs at midfield for 100 paid extras, and after the jets roar by, the real game will start ... and Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and the Cards will truly realize this ain't the Falcons they're playing.

In this week's Film Study, we'll digest Pittsburgh's zone blitz and the 3-4 defense it spawned from.

FILM STUDY

LeBeau's scheme, and anyone trying to replicate it, needs a very athletic front seven that can both rush the quarterback and have the agility to drop into pass coverage. Pittsburgh has players that can do both. The alignment that best suits these purposes is one with three down linemen and four linebackers. That's what Pittsburgh plays, and plays very well.

The more traditional and widely used 4-3 does not allow the freedom of four roaming linebackers that can blitz, cover or freelance. The 3-4 gives coordinators more options to attack an offense, or bend without breaking. At least, that's the thought behind it.

For some perspective, I asked two players I work with on FSN's Pro Football Preview Shawne Merriman and Eddie George their sentiments on the 3-4 and what the Cardinals are up against. Merriman, who plays outside linebacker in San Diego's version of the 3-4, prefers the flexibility the defense allows.

"I love the 3-4," Merriman says. "With four athletic linebackers able to make plays, it's harder for an offense to prepare for you. Our coaches can do different things to disrupt them."

Of course, in order to do this, the down linemen have to free up the linebackers to make those athletic tackles, sacks, etc. Doing that with only one defensive tackle, the nose tackle, instead of two is extremely difficult ... unless that nose tackle is someone like the Steelers' Casey Hampton. At 6-1, 325 lbs, he's a tree stump. Make that a really agile tree stump. Hampton, like Merriman's teammate Jamaal Williams in San Diego, plugs the middle so that James Harrison, James Farrior and Lamar Woodley can make tackles unimpeded.

In LeBeau's scheme, any of the linebackers will peel back and cover. They have to be versatile, as do the defensive ends, in case they're asked to drop into pass lanes so as to confuse the offense. This is something Merriman admits he had to work on coming into the NFL, but appreciates now.

"Dropping into coverage was not something I did much in college," Merriman says. "But when you watch film of an offense's first 15-20 plays, you get a feel for what they do. And having guys that can rush the quarterback or get back in coverage makes it easier to stop (offenses). It becomes a chess match."

Okay, so everyone has to be athletic to cover, blitz, and stop the run. But does that really matter to someone like Arizona's Edgerrin James? Do running backs or other offensive players care if they're playing a 4-3 or 3-4?

"Oh, definitely," George explains. "You know why? Pass protection. Against a 3-4, sometimes I had two reads, to figure out who I was supposed to block. If you have four athletic linebackers like the Steelers had in the '90s (when George starred for the Titans), and have now, you're not sure who's coming and from where."

Because Pittsburgh's outside 'backers, Harrison and Woodley, combined for 27.5 sacks this season, LeBeau doesn't always disguise who's coming. It's like going to a Van Halen concert when the band was in its prime, absolutely knowing you'll get David Lee Roth in leotards and a gratuitous guitar solo.

When LeBeau does blitz, it can be anyone from anywhere ... with another defender covering the vacated zone.

George explains: "If we're in max protect, and I'm helping on the strong side, thinking two linebackers are blitzing from that side, what happens if a safety comes from the weak side? Nobody has him."

Troy Polamalu anyone?

That's the beauty of what Lebeau's baby, the zone blitz, accomplishes. Confusion. Sacks. And yet, he employs it judiciously. The Steelers rushed five guys or more only seven times in the AFC Championship against Baltimore. Not a lot. But the three sacks and interception they got from those few plays certainly are.

Quality over quantity.

I agonizingly picked against the Cardinals against both the Panthers and Eagles, and I'm afraid I'll make the same mistake again. But averaging 3.3 yards per carry in the postseason, I don't trust the "resurgent" Cards' running game against the Steelers.

Harrison and Woodley will get pressure on Warner, which should alleviate LeBeau from having to blitz often. But the question is, when he does, will the Cardinals' protection be ready for it? Some of the Eagles' coverage schemes confused Warner in the second half in the NFC Championship Arizona would not have won without Larry Fitzgerald. It will be hard for Warner to just throw it up for Fitzgerald, or anyone else, if he's on his back.

Offensively, I think Pittsburgh will utilize the ground game effectively. While the Cards' defense has played well, they're merely so-so against the run. That should open up the Steeler passing game enough to score some points. How does 24-20 sound?

Pick: Steelers

WWIIOwheelz
01-25-2009, 09:56 PM
Great read!

As much as I hate to say it, I shudder when the Wood drops back in pass coverage. At this point in his career, that's still asking an awful lot of a physical end.

Hapa
01-25-2009, 10:55 PM
I <3 the 3-4. I wish my team ran it.

HughC
01-25-2009, 11:23 PM
Here's another look at the 3-4 from another city.

http://www.rockymountainnews.com/news/2009/jan/23/collier-explains-art-of-3-4-defense/

"And you build it from the inside out," Collier said. "The nose tackle and the inside linebackers, those are three guys that are very important. But when you go through it, the nose tackle is probably the single-most important guy.

"He has to hold it all together and make it so the guards can't get out on the inside linebackers. Let me put it this way - the nose tackle can make the inside linebackers look pretty good, and if your inside linebackers look pretty good, you're going to play pretty good defense."

markymarc
01-26-2009, 08:05 AM
Great read and thanks for posting Mesa. Actually I would not be surprised if we use more of the same like the Rats game. Only rush 5 or more players not often and try to shut down the passing game. And sorry but there is no way Edge and Hightower are going to run on us. IMO if Harrison and Woodley can win their match ups when rushing the QB that will make for a long day for Warner. And let's be honest Warner has not exactly lit up a lot of 3-4 defenses.

Dino 6 Rings
01-26-2009, 08:11 AM
Neck holding degates the outside pass rush of Harrison. that is going to be something to watch in this Super Bowl. If they call an early holding call on the Left tackle for Neck Holding we could have a great defensive day out of Harrison. If not, Woodley needs to step up and I could see Harrison being moved to the left side OL once in a while, which happened in the Baltimore game as well.

PoundinSteel
01-26-2009, 10:34 AM
Great read and thanks for posting Mesa. Actually I would not be surprised if we use more of the same like the Rats game. Only rush 5 or more players not often and try to shut down the passing game.

If we sit back on Warner he will light us up, period. From a coverage stand point there isn't much Warner hasn't seen. Flacco, well looked like a rookie against the 3-4. We MUST get pressure in Warners face and disrupt his timing routes and the deep ball. If we can get Warner running for his life the defense should have a huge game.

MDSteel15
01-26-2009, 10:42 AM
This should be a college course... Dissecting Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense 101 :wave:

markymarc
01-26-2009, 11:13 AM
If we sit back on Warner he will light us up, period. From a coverage stand point there isn't much Warner hasn't seen. Flacco, well looked like a rookie against the 3-4. We MUST get pressure in Warners face and disrupt his timing routes and the deep ball. If we can get Warner running for his life the defense should have a huge game.

Actually that would mean Harrison and Woodley winning their battles against the tackles and yes I do believe we can generate pressure with 5 players. Don't get me wrong because I want to see blitzes utilized too against Warner. Either way LeBeau will come up with something good for Warner and company. Let's also not forget that another way to slow down their offense is with Ben and FWP generating long drives ending in TDs.

GodofGridiron
01-26-2009, 11:30 AM
Actually that would mean Harrison and Woodley winning their battles against the tackles and yes I do believe we can generate pressure with 5 players. Don't get me wrong because I want to see blitzes utilized too against Warner. Either way LeBeau will come up with something good for Warner and company. Let's also not forget that another way to slow down their offense is with Ben and FWP generating long drives ending in TDs.

Those two are key. If we can carry out both tasks, this game wont be as close as a lot of folks think. I want that Redbird defense on the field 60 % of each quarter. By the fourth they will be gassed and we can break out the proverbial nails for their coffins.

markymarc
01-26-2009, 11:38 AM
I want that Redbird defense on the field 60 % of each quarter. By the fourth they will be gassed and we can break out the proverbial nails for their coffins.

I would love to see that as well. And you know if Tomlin gets them down early he would want to seal the coffin as quickly as possible. I just have a gut feeling that Ben and FWP will both have big games on Sunday.

PoundinSteel
01-26-2009, 11:56 AM
Actually that would mean Harrison and Woodley winning their battles against the tackles and yes I do believe we can generate pressure with 5 players. Don't get me wrong because I want to see blitzes utilized too against Warner. Either way LeBeau will come up with something good for Warner and company. Let's also not forget that another way to slow down their offense is with Ben and FWP generating long drives ending in TDs.

I agree, the best way to control the Cards is to keep them off the field. Warner concerns me because he is very good with his hot reads when the pressure comes from the ends. He is much more vunerable with pressure up the middle, in his face. How bout a few double stunts with Harrison and Woodley coming off of Big Snacks back pockets, with Farrior and Foote drifting back to fill the underneath zones and tight coverage on the outsides?