Understanding the 4-4 defense
This is a good article explaining the 4-4 defensive alignment for those interested. It is obviously written by a Ravens fan, but a good article along the lines of the football 101 thread.
The 4-4 defense is based around speed, athleticism and intelligence rather than relying on pure size and strength as many other defenses do. Versatility is a key as every player can have a variety of roles from one play to the next. It is an attacking defense stocked with multiple blitz packages that can be easily concealed and altered. The top priority of the 4-4 defense is stopping the run and with 8 men in the box on ever snap, it puts your defense in a very good position to do just that. In addition, with 8 men in the box, it is difficult for the offense to pin point exactly where the pressure will be coming from when the defense blitzes. One final significant advantage of the 4-4 defense is that it can easily adjust to the offense. The 4-4 can shift into a nickel or dime coverage simply and effectively. This again is where having versatile personnel is key. Yes, the 4-4 is set up to defend the run; however it can easily be broken down and adjusted to defend against the pass.
The only major drawback to the 4-4 defense is the potential to give up the big play, both through the air and on the ground. Shifty scat backs with breakaway speed are most successful against the 4-4. If they can cut their way through the layer of linebackers, they will likely only have 1, maybe 2 men to beat in the secondary and depending on their coverage assignments; they may not even be in position to make a tackle anyway. The other way the defense is exposed is on the deep pass. The cornerbacks are often left on an island, either in man coverage or playing in a 3 deep zone. If a speedy receiver gets past his defender, theyíre likely is nothing between him and the end zone. The hope however is that even if a receiver opens up deep, the quarterback wonít have time to deliver the ball because of the pressure.
While size is definitely a plus for defensive tackles in the 4-4, its not as important as quickness and the ability to use leverage to manipulate the offensive linemen. Its imperative for the defensive tackles to hold their ground. They cannot allow themselves to get turned around and under no circumstances can they allow themselves to be base blocked, one on one. Again, size is great and certainly helps, but a smaller tackle can be just as effective if he is a good technician. In the base 4-4, the defensive tackles will generally line up in the B gap in a 3 technique (outside eye of the guard). Depending on the read, the defensive tackle will either be asked to penetrate the line of scrimmage, or hold his ground and attempt to take on both the guard and offensive tackle.
How it fits the Ravens: Having a big body in Haloti Ngata to play up front is certainly a bonus. However, it is probably good to have the smaller technician in Gregg playing next to him. This allows the tackles to be shifted around without keeping the same look. Both players should do a good job at holding their ground. Justin Bannan, Dwan Edwards and Trevor Pryce should all see action rotating in at defensive tackle depending on the scenario.
The defensive endís primary role in the 4-4 defense is obviously to get to the quarterback as fast as possible. They need to be strong enough to fight their way past offensive tackles; however they also need to be athletic enough to act as a linebacker because there are plenty of scenarios in the 4-4 defense that requires the defensive ends to drop into coverage, just as an outside linebacker would do. The ends should do whatever they can to get to the quarterback and on running plays they should pursue down the line of scrimmage, but be careful not to over commit as they need to be ready for a potential cutback.
How it fits the Ravens: Trevor Pryce and Terrell Suggs will probably see the most snaps at defensive end, however, expect Jarrett Johnson, Rod Green and Dan Cody all to see action as well. It also helps that guys like Suggs and Dan Cody are also capable of playing as a linebacker. This gives the Ravens the ability to drop their defensive ends into coverage and instead blitz one of the linebackers in their place. This further goes towards confusing the offense.
There are 2 inside linebackers in the 4-4 scheme known as the Mike and Will backers. While they both play inside, Mike will shade to the strong side of the offense, Will shades to the weak side. It is important for these inside backers to be aggressive and have a nose for the ball. As in most defenses, the Mike backer acts as the quarterback of the defense and is often the defensive leader. The primary responsibility of both Mike and Will is to stop the run. The Will backer will generally be more active in pass coverage than the Mike. Because of this, the Will backer needs to be athletic enough to drop and almost play like big strong safety, his versatility is key.
How it fits the Ravens: The need for the inside backers to be quick and aggressive with a nose for the ball fits Ray Lewis and Bart Scott perfectly. Both are dominant forces against the run and incredibly intelligent when reading the offense. Because the Will back occasionally plays almost like a strong safety, it again fits Scott very well as Scott is experienced as a dime back.
As there are 2 inside linebackers, there are also 2 outside linebackers. These outside backers are known as Sam and Rover. The Sam linebacker typically sticks to the strong side. Sam does his fair share of blitzing, however he also needs to play the run and will usually be relied upon to cover the tight end or potentially a back out of the backfield. Rover will generally play on the weak side, however he can be moved to just about any where to better suit the defensive call or adjustment. The rover is probably the single most versatile position in the 4-4 defense. Depending on the call and the personnel in place, the Roverís job could be purely to get after the quarterback or to drop into coverage. In a blitzing situation, the Rover is the most likely player to get to the quarterback. The Rover position can be played by a variety of athletic types ranging from an outside linebacker, to a strong safety.
How it fits the Ravens: Because the Ravens have so many versatile defenders capable of playing both defensive end and linebacker, this is an ideal formation. Terrell Suggs, Rod Green, Jarrett Johnson, Adalius Thomas and Dan Cody all posses the ability to play either the Rover or Sam position, as well as defensive end. In a nickel package, an extra corner or safety like David Pittman or Dawan Landry could be subbed in as a Rover.
Talented cornerbacks are a must in the 4-4 defense. Because the corners are often on islands in man coverage or in a deep zone, they need to poses exceptional speed and change of direction skills. They also need to be intelligent when diagnosing the play and when in zone coverage, must be able to play the ball. The corners will generally line up 3 to 5 yards off the ball, but will rarely jam because of the risk of a big play. If the corner jams and the receiver is able to get past him, it has a high probability of ending up a big play for the offense. Of course it helps to have corners that can assist in run support, however, their primary responsibility is to shutdown any receiving threat they are assigned to. The safety in the 4-4 defense should be one of the teamís better athletes. He needs to be fast enough to play in coverage and strong enough to help against the run. He needs to have a nose for the ball and be able to diagnose the play to put himself in a position to make a play. The safety will almost always be assigned to the deep middle of the field, however he can also be blitzed in various packages.
How it fits the Ravens: Obviously Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle are 2 of the best corners in the league. They each poses all of the qualities needed of the cornerbacks in the 4-4 defense. And of course, there may not be a better center fielder in the league than Ed Reed.
Re: Understanding the 4-4 defense
Because of this, the Will backer needs to be athletic enough to drop and almost play like big strong safety, his versatility is key.
The Rover position can be played by a variety of athletic types ranging from an outside linebacker, to a strong safety.
Alston? If we do go to a 4-4 I think Chavous would be better suited to play FS.