The so-called “wide nine”

Apparently the buzzword around the NFL for sounding like you know what you’re talking about is the phrase “wide nine.” This refers to a technique the Philadelphia Eagles have used this season, where the defensive end in a four down lineman front slides a few inches or a foot or so to the outside and sometimes will tilt towards the quarterback. It is, in short, the defensive end getting in pure position to rush the passer. It’s called a “wide nine” because the technique, i.e. the specific alignment, of defensive linemen is categorized by a numerical system often credited to Bear Bryant (and also to Bum Phillips). The “nine” technique is the one outside the tight-end.

Greg Cosell of NFL films gives a decent version of the overly glowing if not mystical analysis of the technique below. (Of course the offense has only one tight-end, so the right defensive end isn’t really even playing a nine technique at all, but such details must bow before the intrinsic coolness of calling something “THE WIDE NINE.”)

Obviously there’s no magic to this: it’s just telling your defensive ends to pin their ears back and to rush on passing downs. Indeed, moving those defensive ends out that wide opens up all manner of attendant issues, issues that the Eagles opponent’s have routinely exploited this year. Specifically, by aligning the defensive end so wide the end has farther to go to get to the quarterback and, in the clip above, the left defensive end is so focused on rushing the passer he doesn’t bother getting a jam or chip on the tight-end. Moreover, this technique (it’s a technique if anything, there is no such thing as the “wide nine defense”), obviously opens up all kinds of issues in the run game: the defensive end aligns so wide the interior offensive linemen can quickly get up to the second level defenders like the linebackers, and the defensive ends are easy marks for traps, draws and counter plays as they sprint upfield.

Further, it’s not going to happen in the pros, but if anyone tried this at the lower levels you’d see coaches immediately going to plays that option off of this single minded defender, be it the veer, the speed option, the shovel option, or even the inverted veer. All that “track stance” stuff wouldn’t do him much good, and his wide alignment would mean the other blockers would be up on the rest of the defense. (Of course, to be fair, at the lower levels it’s likely that the “wide nine” defensive end would be a total DNA freak of nature than it is in the NFL.)

Finally, I can’t believe that this is as new as people are making it out to be. I remember being at a Florida State practice in the 1990s and seeing Mickey Andrews telling his guys to use a technique on passing downs that looked a lot like the “wide nine.” Except he didn’t call it the “wide nine” or anything else fancy. He simply told his guys to take as much room as they needed and to “kick ass.”

  • Coachdanpolcyn

    Many of my coaching colleagues have referred to that alignment — quite mockingly — as a “ghost nine” for years. Then, we optioned the heck out of it.

  • Bunting36

    Teams have used a “Wide Nine” technique at the high school and college level for years in the old Georgia 60 package.  Usually you would use a stand-up 6 technique LB with the Wide Nine.  A Ghost 9 is actually a LB standing up outside the TE or where a TE should be.

  • jerry m

    It’s so ridiculous that the ESPN guys act like the “wide 9” is some brilliant new defense. I coach at a D-III school and when we’ve seen people use this against us we’ve absolutely killed them with traps and the option game. I get that the NFL has great defensive ends but they I’m really tired of hearing about the wide 9 by idiots on tv.

  • not sure why this is the “new thing” either. its not even new in the NFL. Colts have done it with Freeney/Mathis for years

  • Shoepah

    They need to be talking about the fact that Andy hired a longtime OL coach as his DC and if that choice was a good one or not.  Up till now I would say that experiment has not worked out.

  • Shoepah
  • Stan Brown

    The numbering system in the graphic is wrong.

  • CoachSMart

    The video shows a “Wide 5 technique” not a “wide 9.”
    I learned the “wide 5” technique from Charlie McBride’s Cornhusker defenses of the 90’s and utilized it myself coaching D-ends at the small college level.  At the snap the end takes a giant step toward the OT’s heels while he keys the tackle.  If the Tackle base blocks you the end is taught to put the OT’s but in the hole (which is easier than it sounds as the OT must turn his shoulders to block you..  If the OT blocks LB or down, the end immediately squeezed toward the center with shuffle steps, kept his hips square, and looked for trap, lead, or option.  If the OT pass blocked he continued on the path toward the QB’s drop.
    I liked the technique because my ends would play at the heel line of the O-line.  Honestly, it only works with a secondary scheme that is able to play the run well, filling like linebackers. Notice in the video that there is both a linebacker and a safety walked up at linebacker depth.

  • Anonymous

    I just noticed that you’re right. The “5” and the “6” are transposed.

  • Hbhuss

     I’m not a coach by any stretch, but this whole “wide 9” phenomena I’m seeing my hometown team(the Lions) utilize seems to be at the expense of making our defense really easy to run on.  Detroit has a lot of good DEs with Vanden Bosch, Jackson, Young and especially Cliff Avril – and they’re totally irrelevant because they’re always upfield while guys like Frank Gore go untouched for 40 yards.  It just seems that this “technique” is a good idea on 3rd down – but pretty much a weak idea in any other situation.  It just takes the guys way too long to get to the QB, so unless Suh and Williams do something superhuman – a quick completion or a run to the second-level is inevitable.

  • Hayward42

    I agree.  The announcers keep talking about but Philly keeps getting beat using it.  Most teams have figured out to run past it with traps and or etc.

  • 4.0 Point Stance

    I hope this is just the first of a lengthy series of posts explaining buzzwords you can say to make it sound like you know about football when you really don’t. I for one would find that quite useful.

  • endersgame

     It’s always gotta be something with the media… A few years back it was Cover 2, then it was the Wildcat, now it’s the “Wide Nine”.

    “Look, they’re in a Wide Nine!  We’re bringin’ some PRESSHAAAA!!!!”

  • Anonymous

    Sure, suggestions for topics welcome.

  • Brad

    I always heard the story that the reason the numbering system is so screwy (doesn’t go in order past the tackles) was because Bear Bryant and his coaches drank so much that they just kinda did it wrong and it stuck. Does anyone know if there is some truth to that, or is it just a legend?

  • Gka_76

    It’s numbered that way because odd numbers are on the player’s shoulders and even numbers are head up.  I agree it’s odd, but the diagram is correct.  Not everyone uses this numbering system.

  • Anonymous

    I put up a new diagram now that is the traditional way. The one Stan referred to had the old lettering. Sorry for any confusion. Gka is correct about the background.

  • Mr.Murder

    Better  had get a push on their guard by a good defensive tackle so they have to bounce out at your end, or the endwill be run inside of all game.

  • Hugekiwi

    Same deal in Philly. At least yous have Tulloch at MLB though, he’s used to getting linemen up on him quick and can shed a block or two. It is a boom or bust system, but if anything, it’s supposed to stand or fall on the tackles. When the Titans had Haynesworth, he could manhandle double teams into the backfield and blow up inside runs before they even got started. Sure you give up some long runs every now and then, but one good run stop, a couple of QB pressures (which the wide 9 is good for), and that’s probably a three and out.

    Eagles D has shown that kind of pattern, even when we’ve gotten beaten pretty bad (like the Giants game), the defence was very effective on a few drives. Similarly for yous, the Dallas game in particular Romo seemed to handle the pressure well early but wear down mentally late on. Maybe that’s just Romo, but seeing that blue shirt out in a lot of space, and knowing Suh is about to come charging down the middle at you, that’s hard to deal with every play for 60 minutes.

  • Hesboli

    This is not a new “scheme” if you paid attention to football in the eighties a few NFL teams actually used it

  • Chad Wilson

    Using this technique as an every down defense is short sighted by anyone who runs it.  Hence the problems the Eagles have had vs. the run.  Chris has accurately highlighted the short comings of this “technique”.   This is a third down defense and I am not surprised that a former offensive line coach turned defensive coordinator would fall in love with this.  He probably had all kinds of hell blocking this on crucial passing situations.  He has neglected to realize that crucial passing situations never come up when you employ this defense on first and second down.  LOL.   This works best when you occasionally stunt into the openings created by the wide nine.  Baiting the offense to run into that opening and stuffing the play with stunts makes them think twice about calling plays into that area.  That’s if you want to run this thing every down.  

    Finally,  I have to agree with other comments in here,  this ain’t nothing but bell bottoms and 8 track.  This stuff has been used before.

  • Hesboli

    Denver actually used to call it the “floating” defense back in the 80’s

  • Jamie Chance

    Heard on a radio show that Fisher/Washburn and company had developed their version of this to attack the Colts stretch running plays.  

  • Naheem Harris

    Maybe I’ve played in a different system, but the numbering system looks wrong. Besides the 6 and the 7 being switched, there are a few other issues. (What about the 2i and the 6i?)

  • Felton

    I think it’s interesting that this post comes right after a play designed to beat the defense.

  • Tfschmitt27

    My first defensive coordination position we used a wide tackle front,  defensive schemes like that have been around ever.

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