New Grantland: How Stanford Shut Down Oregon

It’s now up:

But head coach David Shaw and defensive coordinator Derek Mason also had some wrinkles up their sleeves, specifically old-school principles that defenses have used for decades to stop option teams. Oregon is not a true “triple option” team, but their fast-break style of offense forces defenses, just like those option teams do, to account for every offensive player. This made Stanford’s impressive performance remind me of some old quotes from Iowa’s great (former) defensive coordinator Norm Parker when his team faced a true triple-option team, Georgia Tech, in the 2010 Orange Bowl. In that game, which Iowa won 24-14, Parker’s defense held the Yellow Jackets to 155 yards of offense — just under 300 yards less than their season average — and one touchdown.

Parker explained that it’s not about inventing some new defensive scheme, but about being schematically sound: “You only have 11 guys out there. When they are balanced, you have to play five and a half guys on one side and five and a half guys on the other side.” If the offense is unbalanced, with additional blockers or receivers to one side or the other, the defense must “match” them and not allow the Ducks to get extra numbers or leverage. “You have to change up how you are covering it,” Parker explained. Being sound is the most important thing. “What they are looking for is for you to make a mistake.”

Read the whole thing.

  • Speedegg

    Quick question, thought a 1-gap 3-4 defense was run by the Texans/Wade Phillips while the Steelers, Packers, Patriots run a “traditional” 2-gap 3-4 system. I know Phillips aligns players more like a 4-3 defense with 3-4 personnel, but did I misunderstand what kind of system Wade Phillips runs when he was with Chargers/Cowboys/Texans or did the Steelers and Packers adjust their defense?

  • smartfootball

    Capers/LeBeau and the Steelers run a one-gap 3-4 (for the most part). The Pats, when they go 3-4, use more two-gap stuff (though Belichick does a bit of everything). I know fewer specifics about Wade Phillips but I *think* he’s a two-gapping guy, but someone could correct me.

    Obviously when it comes to NFL teams, they have the ability to mix and match some things.

  • Cromulent

    Chris, I thought I recalled a piece you did on Iowa stopping the flexbone that mentioned a DL tactic you referred to as “block down, step down”. Do you remember that?

  • IrishBarrister

    I hate to contradict, but this description of Stanford’s defense isn’t entirely accurate, or at least glosses over Shaw’s schematic genius in this game.

    3-4 Terminology

    When most people think of the 3-4, they think of the 2-gap 3-4 Predator. The 3-4 Predator, a term used to describe the same base scheme for many 3-4 defenses, aligns the DTs in 5-tech (over the tackles) and the OLBs just outside the TEs (or where they should be). Almost every NFL 3-4 team has the 3-4 Predator in their playbook, and teams like the Steelers and Ravens run it on almost every down.

    By contrast, when people speak of a 1-gap 3-4 defense, they generally mean a term that is about as precise these days as “spread offense.” To compound complexity with confusion, many commentators describe some (or all) 1-gap 3-4 defenses as 3-4/4-3 hybrid defenses. In either case, a 1-gap 3-4 defense is generally meant to describe whenever a 3-4 defense shifts at least two (2) defensive lineman in *one* direction to become aligned in gaps. This allows defenses with 3-4 personnel to get formations that parallel 4-3 variants, such as the 4-3 Under (often called a 3-4 Over since the lineman shift “over” to the strongside, with the weakside OLB as a standup DE blitzing nearly all of the time). If you want a good example of this, watch the Green Bay Packers/Caper’s defense on Sundays, and how he uses OLB Clay Matthews like a pass-rushing DE. The Seahawks are another good example. (Wade Phillips is not the best example, however, since he runs his own special brand of 5-2 1-gap defense.)

    Stanford’s 3-4 Diamond

    But the 3-4 variant used by Stanford last Saturday is not a 1-gap 3-4. It is what we defensive coordinators call the 3-4 Diamond (its also known as the 3-4 Eagle and 3-4 Apache, the latter of course being the more awesome name). The 3-4 Diamond takes a page from Buddy Ryan’s playbook and places both DTs in 3-tech (outside shoulder of the guard) and keeps the OLBs in the same position as a 3-4 Predator.

    What many offensive coordinators fail to understand about variant of the 3-4, Chip Kelly seemingly included, is that it is built to slow running plays down – not stop them. The DTs are lined up directly in position to get double teamed, and that is their goal. If they occupy the OG and OT (and sometimes go so far as to hold them to achieve it), then the zone-read’s numerical advantage is extinguished and the QBs optioning of the OLB takes on a different flavor.

    That is not to suggest that the 3-4 Diamond is some sort of kryptonite to Oregon’s offense. Rather, it requires the offensive lineman to truly block in an outside zone style (as opposed to the man blocking scheme Oregon had been using most of the season) and for the RB to become more patient in reading the holes. Shaw almost undoubtedly knew this, and was probably counting on Ducks past several months of success to make it difficult for them to adapt and change to this new wrinkle in Stanford’s defensive scheme.

    I could go into more depth, but I think this “comment” is long enough as it is.