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The gap control defense, or, an Ode to Jimmy Johnson

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Old 02-09-2010, 10:05 PM   #1
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The gap control defense, or, an Ode to Jimmy Johnson

This thread will venture into the dark, scary side of football (and my specialty), the defense. Defense, and more specifically, the 4-3 defense is my favorite subject to talk about. While my next thread was going to be the defensive line compliment to my blocking thread, that would have been annoyingly incomplete. Defensive line play is counter-intuitive without the entire context of the defense. The beauty of defense is that, regardless of alignment, the “machinery” of run defense remains the same.


To begin with I need to make an important point (and one that is sure to be ignored later on). Alignment is not a defense. Alignment is not a defense. Alignment is not a defense. An annoying reality of watching a football game (and, playing video games) is naming a defense based on lineman and linebackers. 4-3, 3-4, 4-2, 3-3. To the purpose of this thread, those distinctions are meaningless. Here is an example.


................R...................$
.....................LB.........LB..........
CB........LB....DT.......N.........DT....LB....... CB
WR...........T....G....C....G....T....TE.......... .......
...........................Q...................... .....WR
...............FB....................HB

This is a "3-4" defense? Why. Because there are 4 players called LB. Note, however, that both DTs and the NT are aligned in a "shade" (IE, not head up the offensive lineman). This will become signficant in a moment. (This is often called an Eagle Front by 3-4 teams, and is used quite a bit by Rex Ryan and Dick Lebeau).

................R...................$
.....................LB.........LB..........
CB........DE....DT.......N.........DE....LB....... CB
WR...........T....G....C....G....T....TE.......... .......
...........................Q...................... .....WR
...............FB....................HB

This is a 4-3 defense. Why? Because there are 4 players labeled as lineman, and 3 as linebackers. (This is the basic "Tampa 2" alignment as made famous by Monte Kiffin, also used heavily by Pete Caroll at USC).

................R...................$
.....................LB.........LB..........
CB........DE....DT.......N.........DT....SS......C B
WR...........T....G....C....G....T....TE.......... .......
...........................Q...................... .....WR
...............FB....................HB

Now this is a 4-2-5 look (made famous by Va. Tech and TCU).



There is no difference between the alignments. The alignment above (Called an Eagle front, or the more modern name, the Under front) is the most common alignment to a 21 personel offense (2 backs, 1 TE).

The point that is being made by this is that, for the purpose of this thread (and Maden gaming) I'll categorize defensive fronts into two types: Gap control and slant/angle. What is the difference?

In a gap control defense the defensive players are aligned in a shaded alignment (that is, on a shoulder or in a gap) of the offensive lineman. Their goal is to maintain that relative position (that is, their position in relation to the offensive lineman). By doing this, they control the "gap" they are aligned in.

A slant/angle defense slants into a gap (or, a single player will attempt to control two gaps).

This thread will be used to explain and discuss a gap control defense. Why gap control, two simple reasons? 1) I know this style of the defense the best and it is far and away the most common defense in the NFL and NCAA.

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Old 02-09-2010, 10:55 PM   #2
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Re: The gap control defense, or, an Ode to Jimmy Johnson

Beautiful. Preach on. Educate these heathens about the glorious ways of our Lord, Defense.
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Old 02-09-2010, 11:22 PM   #3
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Re: The gap control defense, or, an Ode to Jimmy Johnson

What does Jimmy Johnson have to do with this dumb thread anyway

Funny you should ask. Before he was acting like a moron for more money than I'm likely to see in my life he was busy inventing the wishbone-killer, the 4-3 defense. While I wasn't in any of the meetings while it was being developed, so I'm not sure if he was doing his hair or diagraming, since he was the head coach he gets the credit (funny world eh?). His defense, named the Miami 4-3 (since he made it famous while coaching at Da U) was to force the ball wide and let the fast guys chase it down.

While the Wishbone was eating the 3-4 alive (I mean, the Okie 5-2 for anyone who really cares )with the FB inside on the option runs, Johnson and Co. designed a defense to take away the inside run, force the QB to pitch it wide and then use the freakish speed he had to chase down the running back.

Ok Sven, thanks for the history lesson, but how does it work.

First, a diagram:

......................F.................$......... ........
CB.............LB.............LB.................. LB...........CB
................DE...........N..........DT........ ....DE
WR...........(c)..T..(b).G.(a).C.(a)..G.(b)..T..(c).TE (d)
...........................Q..................
...........................F................
....................HB........HB.........

The premise is simple: There are 7 gaps(3 on the left, 4 on the right). There are 7 defensive players. As long as you have one player in each gap, they can't run anywhere. (Thus, gap control)

The issue now becomes, how do you make sure that everybody is covering the right gap. You can't just blitz every gap every play (those Linebackers have to cover the pass as well).

Block Down, Step Down

This is the first important "feature" of the defense. What the wishbone (and, the "Power" running game of today) wants to do is run the ball somewhere between the "b" gap and the "c" gap. The wishbone did this by "reading" the end and linebacker. The power running game sends players to block the end and linebacker. Whichever the method, the offense wants to seal the DT and MLB inside, kickout the DE and send a lead blocker and the ball carrier in that hole.

The gap-control defense, obviously, wants to prevent this. How?

To block these plays the offense will utillize down blocks (IE, they are blocking down the line, to the inside). The guard will block to his inside. The tackle will block to his inside. The TE will block to his inside.

The guard is going to try and block the LB (weakside, stacked over the DE). The tackle is going to block the DT. The TE is going to block the MLB.

However, instead of allowing the offensive lineman to create a seam by down blocking, the defensive lineman will move with the offensive lineman.

The guard will block down. Instead of standing in place (and create a seam between the guard and himself) the DT will step with the guard. The guard blocks down the line, the tackle steps down the line.

The tackle is going to block down on that DT. Easy block. He's already blocking himself.

The TE is going to block down, going for the TE. The DE isn't going to stand there and create a seam, he's going to step down with the TE.

So lets look at our diagram again. The DT starts the play in the "B' gap. The DE starts it in the "d" gap.

......................F.................$......... ........
CB.............LB.............LB.................. LB...........CB
................DE...........N..........DT........ ....DE
WR...........(c)..T..(b).G.(a).C.(a)..G.(b)..T..(c).TE (d)
...........................Q..................
...........................F................
....................HB........HB.........

The guard is blocking down.

......................F.................$......... ........
CB.............LB...G..........LB..................LB...........CB
................DE...........N..........DT........ ....DE
WR...........(c)..T..(b).G.(a).C.(a)...(b)..T..(c).TE (d)
...........................Q..................
...........................F................
....................HB........HB.........

The DT isn't just going to stand in the "b" gap, he'll step down (untill he runs into the center).

......................F.................$......... ........
CB.............LB....G.........LB................. .LB...........CB
................DE...........N...DT...................DE
WR...........(c)..T..(b).G.(a).C.(a)...(b)..T..(c).TE (d)
...........................Q..................
...........................F................
....................HB........HB.........

Now, he's in the "a" gap.

......................F.................$......... ........
CB.............LB....G.........LB..TE............. ...LB...........CB
................DE...........N...DT...................DE
WR...........(c)..T..(b).G.(a).C.(a)...T(b)....(c). (d)
...........................Q..................
...........................F................
....................HB........HB.........

The tackle is blocking him (and moving inside). The TE is also blocking down. Look at that huge void between the Tackle and our DE. That would be a huge run, if the DE didn't step down with it.

......................F.................$......... ........
CB.............LB....G.........LB...TE............ ...LB...........CB
................DE...........N...DT.....DE..............
WR...........(c)..T..(b).G.(a).C.(a)...T(b)....(c). (d)
...........................Q..................
...........................F................
....................HB........HB.........

So, now instead of our DT and DE standing in the "b" and "d" gaps as they were in the start of the play, they are now occupying the "a" gap and the "b" gap. Why? Through, block down, step down.

Ray-Ray

Let's look at our first diagram one more time.

......................F.................$......... ........
CB.............LB.............LB.................. LB...........CB
................DE...........N..........DT........ ....DE
WR...........(c)..T..(b).G.(a).C.(a)..G.(b)..T..(c).TE (d)
...........................Q..................
...........................F................
....................HB........HB.........

Look at the middle linebacker. He's standing over the "a" gap. But, now that gap is occupied with a DT.

......................F.................$......... ........
CB.............LB....G.........LB...TE............ ...LB...........CB
................DE...........N...DT.....DE........ ......
WR...........(c)..T..(b).G.(a).C.(a)...T(b)....(c). (d)
...........................Q..................
...........................F................
....................HB........HB.........

Think back to the basic premise of the defense. 7 gaps, and 7 defenders. Our MLB (say, Ray Lewis for Miami) isn't going to bash his head into an occupied gap. He's going to run sideways until he finds an unoccupied gap. (obviously, beating the TE's block along the way, but that is for another post).

......................F.................$......... ........
CB.............LB....G............TE.........LB......LB...........CB
................DE...........N...DT.....DE........ ......
WR...........(c)..T..(b).G.(a).C.(a)...T(b)....(c). (d)
...........................Q..................
...........................F................
....................HB........HB.........

Eureka! Since his original gap "a" was closed, and it's neighbor "b" was closed too, he went all the way to the "c" gap. So, when our running back tries to run into "c" gap that is closed too.

So, he'll try and go wider, into the "d" gap. But, there's another LB standing there. Ok, get really wide. But now there is a CB standing there. Trapped like a rat.

Through the process of "Block down/Step down" and Linebacker scrapping, the defense has occupied the 4 playside gaps without creating a single crack for the ball carrier. Either the ball carrier barrels into a defensive player, or he tries to go wide into the waiting arms of our corner (and safety).

Last edited by Sven Draconian; 02-09-2010 at 11:31 PM.
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Old 02-10-2010, 12:43 AM   #4
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Re: The gap control defense, or, an Ode to Jimmy Johnson

I feel like buying you a beer...Bravo sir, Devs need to see this.
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Old 02-10-2010, 03:43 AM   #5
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Re: The gap control defense, or, an Ode to Jimmy Johnson

Amazing post!

Someone please make sure to send this to Ian on his Twitter.
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Old 02-10-2010, 05:05 AM   #6
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Re: The gap control defense, or, an Ode to Jimmy Johnson

Quote:
Originally Posted by ch46647
Amazing post!

Someone please make sure to send this to Ian on his Twitter.
They've probably seen it already.

Great stuff Sven. Gap control is one of the reasons why in Madden, I simply re-blitz all of my DL straight down and slide them to where I want them to control the gaps. I don't like all of this micro-management because you can get caught. It's one of the reasons why 3-4 Over is one of the better run defending sets in Madden - you don't have to move the line. Just reblitz everyone. They are already lined up in shade.

I like the way you described "Ray Ray". Slide until there is an open window. Madden does not do a great job at that. The one thing I really HATE about the game is when player another person, they can be all out of position and still make plays against the run and the pass. EA needs to do a better job of presenting football as a very technical game that requires guys to be at certain places and fulfill particular assignments and if they are not there or if they just overrun something in the slightest, something bad, CAN and SHOULD happen.

I've been preaching gap control defense since CD last year. It will do no good for us if the OL is addressed and basic gap control on defense is not.
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Old 02-10-2010, 06:49 AM   #7
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Re: The gap control defense, or, an Ode to Jimmy Johnson

Quote:
Originally Posted by LBzrule
They've probably seen it already.

Great stuff Sven. Gap control is one of the reasons why in Madden, I simply re-blitz all of my DL straight down and slide them to where I want them to control the gaps. I don't like all of this micro-management because you can get caught. It's one of the reasons why 3-4 Over is one of the better run defending sets in Madden - you don't have to move the line. Just reblitz everyone. They are already lined up in shade.

I like the way you described "Ray Ray". Slide until there is an open window. Madden does not do a great job at that. The one thing I really HATE about the game is when player another person, they can be all out of position and still make plays against the run and the pass. EA needs to do a better job of presenting football as a very technical game that requires guys to be at certain places and fulfill particular assignments and if they are not there or if they just overrun something in the slightest, something bad, CAN and SHOULD happen.

I've been preaching gap control defense since CD last year. It will do no good for us if the OL is addressed and basic gap control on defense is not.
You have no idea how badly I want this.
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Old 02-10-2010, 06:58 AM   #8
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Re: The gap control defense, or, an Ode to Jimmy Johnson

Great post man!
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Old 02-10-2010, 07:02 AM   #9
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Re: The gap control defense, or, an Ode to Jimmy Johnson

Quote:
Originally Posted by nuckles2k2
You have no idea how badly I want this.
I see huge complaints if they did it. The biggest one would be EA has taken control out of the users hands. However, it just gets pretty stupid to see guys bring their Safety down on the 2nd level of the defense and still get back and defend a streak on the perimeter. It's just dumb.
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Old 02-10-2010, 07:04 AM   #10
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Re: The gap control defense, or, an Ode to Jimmy Johnson

What do you mean by reblitz LB?
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