Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Lockout'11: Bears, Lions defenses in focus
By Kevin Seifert
There has been plenty of discussion this offseason on the impact of the NFL lockout on offensive schemes, especially those for teams with either new coaches or new quarterbacks (or both). But what about the defense?
Writing for NBCSports.com, Mike Tanier developed an interesting way to evaluate NFL defenses based on a "Simplicity Score" that helps describe how complicated a scheme is. The more variables a defense has, the theory goes, the harder it will be to install fully in training camp following a lost offseason.
As it turns out, the NFC North boasts two of the league's simplest defenses based on this approach. The Detroit Lions were No. 2 on the list, and the Chicago Bears were No. 3. This year, at least, simpler might be better.
The "Simplicity Score" took into account the extent to which teams used the zone blitz last season and also the variety of pass-rush calls, based on Football Outsiders game charts. Coverage was not considered, mostly because it's almost impossible to identify -- Cover 2, Cover 3, man-to-man -- via tape study on every play to get an accurate ratio. You would need a coach's help on that one.
Let's look closer at Tanier's thoughts on the Lions and Bears:
Tanier: [Coach] Jim Schwartz gets as much pass rush as possible from his four down linemen, rushing four defenders 76 percent of the time and zone blitzing just 2.2 percent of the time. Those tactics will not change now that Nick Fairley joins Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch, and Cliff Avril on what should be the league's best defensive line.
Seifert comment: This speaks to the entire premise of the Lions' defense based on personnel: It's intended to maximize the skill along the defensive line to help cover for shortfalls at linebacker and in the secondary. And I love that Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham rarely use the zone blitz. I've never, ever understood the allure of putting your best pass-rushers in coverage as a "change of pace." All it is to me is a missed opportunity.
Tanier: [Coach] Lovie Smith is another offshoot of the Tony Dungy family tree, and while he blitzes more often than Caldwell (six-man rushes on 10 percent of pass plays), he almost never switches to a three-man front. Smith also has Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs at linebacker, two veterans who know the system as well as he does.
Seifert comment: The Tampa 2 scheme, which Smith claims the Bears play only part of the time, is predicated on its four defensive linemen accounting for the majority of pass rush. Urlacher and Briggs do blitz sometimes, but in the past four seasons they've combined for 16 total sacks. But even if the Bears' defense was more complicated, the deep experience of their key players would mitigate the shorter training camp.