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Defending the Spread

Two weeks ago we linked an article on the integration of the spread offense into the NFL by Dan Pompei of National Football Post.

To summarize, Pompei quoted Belichick, Rodgers and Brees on the advantages of the spread offense.  Belichick even admitted to reaching out to the college master of the spread, Urban Meyer.  Only problem for BB is he lacks a legitimate downfield receiving threat at the wide receiver position and relies more on both Welker and his TEs.

The key attraction to the spread for an offense who posses the talent at specific positions is that it leverages match up issues.  They desire to get a Darren Sproiles out in space against a linebacker or even safety.  It gets a freak of nature like a Jermichael Finley out on a cornerback or safety who have the speed to keep him but not the strength or height to defend.  Since the spread involves 4 wideouts, which may include an RB or TE, the issue is most all teams don’t have 4 good corners they have to have a linebacker and safety that can run in coverage.

Before even going into the specifics of what the keys are to defending the spread let’s look at traits that are critical to running the spread.  In the article by Pompei guys like Rodgers, Brees and Belichick (for Brady) discussed some of the attributes of the spread for them.  What do all three quarterbacks have in common? Accuracy. Not only accuracy but they can read the defense proficiently and get rid of the ball quickly for slants, hitches and quick outs.

Wonder was asked what was required to defend the spread before seeing the video below by Sean Salisbury.  Wonder’s response was it “takes a good edge rush and single/man press coverage.” In the video below Salisbury discussed how he was seeing the Colts and Patriots starting to implement some of the spread schemes into their offenses. His first key is “you better have really good corners” and “you better have more than 2.  You got to have corners who can be physical and you cannot play off coverage.  If you are going to continue to play off coverage against a spread offense great quarterbacks and offenses will continue to thrown the slants, the hitch, quick out and kill you…if you are going to play off coverage (they’ll) eat you alive.  You want to disrupt the rhythm and timing off the offense.  Must have a DC who has the stones of a burglar to be willing to step up and press you on a regular basis.”

Guess what the other key is? Per Salisbury “you’ve got to have edge pass rushing.  If you hit a QB enough times in the mouth the ball comes out a little quicker than usual and you become less accurate.”

The Gmen have truly have one of the key ingredients to containing the spread without question.  Back in May I wrote a post titled Tampa 2 versus Rodgers.  In that post we directed your attention to scouting reports on Webster and even Rolle:

The scouting report on Corey Webster coming out of LSU was that “his strength allows him to redirect the opponent through press coverage.”  In addition, he “uses his long arms to get a good push in attempts to reroute and press receivers at the line of scrimmage” while being “disruptive with his hands” in coverage.  

The report on Antrel Rolle is that he “excels in press coverage, showing the strength to jam and reroute receivers at the line of scrimmage.”  Yet the negatives in his scouting report prior to the 2005 draft had the following:

Better when playing in the short area, as he does not have the sustained speed playing off the receivers in man coverage…When the quicker receivers defeat his press, he is a little too stiff in his hips to immediately recover and give chase…Needs to use his hands better to prevent the receiver from using double moves to gain separation.

Both clearly thrive and excel in a more physical/press scheme.  Rolle can contribute but, as indicated in the scouting report above, he struggled the most in coverage versus a guy like Welker this past Sunday.  Bottom line, Rolle needs to be werw he fits naturally, in center field.  This leads us to hope that Prince Amakumara can contribute on a regular basis and be effective once they hit the field against teams who posses more receiver speed such as GB and NO.

The positive’s for Prince is Man Coverage:

Most of Nebraska’s defense is man coverage based because they get constant pressure with their front 7. Prince excels in man-man and is great at sticking with his guy as the play develops. This is possibly Prince’s greatest attribute and will really help his transition to the NFL.

Give credit to Fewell for his approach to the Patriots this past Sunday.  But the personnel of the Patriots versus the other elite offenses/quarterbacks on their schedule have their differences.  Both the Packs and Saints have more WR speed while the Saints have a shifty RB out of the backfield.

Let’s hope that Fewell realizes this and uses press even more while matching up his personnel accordingly.  In the end, in order to be the best you need to match up and beat the best.