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Old 02-25-2009, 11:02 AM   #1
montrose
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Default Some analysis of Mike Nolan's 2008 Hybrid Defense

Some of you may recall my thread on Mike Nolan's 30-front he ran in Baltimore. Well, through the magic of NFL Game Rewind I'm in the process of breaking down every defensive snap of Nolan's team last season. I'll post if I learn anything new but from what I've caught so far here are some of the common tendencies. Bear in mind that Mike Singletary was the DC and I'm sure had some input as well, however watching the unit it was quite similar to what he ran in Baltimore with a few exceptions - particularly in personnel.

* On 1st and 2nd downs the defense alternated between a 3-4 and 4-3 front but used the same personnel in doing so. There didn't appear to be a huge method to why each front was used at that time (i.e. short yardage, blitzing, etc.), but I noticed the 3-man line was used more often on 1st down than 2nd down and 2nd downs were split about 50-50 between the two looks. The personnel he used stayed the same however, the 3 DL, Joker, 2 ILBs and OLB.

* The defense moved to a 4-man DL on every 3rd down I've seen thus far. Nolan's unit has not done much blitzing at all on these 3rd downs and elected to simply rush 4 but with a lot of twist stunts. The few times he's blitzed have received positive results, including hurried passes and sacks. One was a 5-man rush with both ILBs lined up in the A gaps and one blitzing while the other dropped into a shell and the other had a CB and OLB on the strong-side blitzing the C and B gaps, respectively. None of the blitzes seem terribly exotic, but Nolan appears to be a big fan of stunting and twisting his blitzing LBers.

* One huge difference from this defense and Nolan's in Baltimore is that he uses a Joker. The joker is Justin Smith and he is used all over the field. I've seen Smith lineup as a SOLB, WOLB, DE, NT and ILB. At these positions, I've yet to see Smith drop into coverage, he's rushed every time.

* Another difference is the lack of clearly identifying strong-side and weak-side players. Manny Lawson lined up and both OLB spots, and both rushed and dropped into coverage at both. The two ILBs, Patrick Willis and Jeff Ulbrich (I haven't gotten to a game where Takeo Spikes takes over yet) did not realign either. Occasionally, one or the other would lineup a bit to one side of the formation in the 4-3 front, but it alternated between the two and there didn't appear to be a clear distinction between who was a SILB and WILB.

* Regardless of down or distance (although I've yet to get to a 3rd and really long), Nolan never rushes less than 4.

* Nolan likes to bring extra men on 1st down. He often rushed 5 and occasionally 6. The extra rushers were usually the OLB and ILB. I have not seen one instance of him rushing both OLBs from the 3-4 look nor rushing both ILBs from either look. He seldom sent a CB or SS (Michael Lewis). While Nolan did occasionally blitz the C gaps, he more often rushed the B gaps and loved sending pressure up the A gaps.

* On 2nd down he primarily rushes just 4. Occasionally he brought the SLB or ILB from the 4-man look but that was very rare.

* In the nickle, Nolan usually took off an ILB (Ulrich) for a NB and used the Joker at NT. Occasionally he took off an OLB (Lawson), and ILB (Ulbrich) and used Smith at ILB with a fresh NT coming in. In the dime, Nolan took off the ILB (Ulrich) and OLB (Lawson) for two DBs. Regardless of down and distance, Nolan always had 3 DL, the Joker, an ILB (Patrick Willis), and his base secondary.

I'll let you guys know if I come across any other tendencies but these are the most common themes I've seen thus far and I've yet to see Nolan really divulge from them.

Last edited by montrose; 02-25-2009 at 11:10 AM..
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Old 02-25-2009, 11:05 AM   #2
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Old 02-25-2009, 11:07 AM   #3
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so Nolan's approach is to generate pressure with the line on 3rd downs

that doesnt bode well for our personnel
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Old 02-25-2009, 11:40 AM   #4
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so Nolan's approach is to generate pressure with the line on 3rd downs

that doesnt bode well for our personnel
Well obviously it's not going to be exactly like what he ran in SF as it's different players and McDaniels will want to put his touch to it as well. With that, some of the basic principles are likely to carry over and one of those may be limited blitzing on 3rd downs. This comes from Nolan's Baltimore days as well and I've stated many times that we're not going to be seeing the Steelers type of 3-4 with Harrison and Woodley on the Fire Blitz every passing down.

As far as 3rd downs go, going with a 4-man DL may be for the best this season. Dumervil could come in and rush the passer exclusively which would instantly increase his production. I'm interested to see who we'd play at the OLB spot as Lawson was asked to be pretty well-rounded. Right now I think Boss is the best fit to play that spot but I think that might be a spot we look to early in the draft.

After watching this, I'm slightly more open to Raji if he fell, primarily because we'd be alternating between fronts so much and moving guys from different techniques around, he could be a valuable piece - particularly if he can rush the passer on 3rd downs from the inside. Even if we took Raji, I'd still want Brace or another true NT to be brought in.
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Old 02-25-2009, 11:58 AM   #5
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Well obviously it's not going to be exactly like what he ran in SF as it's different players and McDaniels will want to put his touch to it as well. With that, some of the basic principles are likely to carry over and one of those may be limited blitzing on 3rd downs. This comes from Nolan's Baltimore days as well and I've stated many times that we're not going to be seeing the Steelers type of 3-4 with Harrison and Woodley on the Fire Blitz every passing down.

As far as 3rd downs go, going with a 4-man DL may be for the best this season. Dumervil could come in and rush the passer exclusively which would instantly increase his production. I'm interested to see who we'd play at the OLB spot as Lawson was asked to be pretty well-rounded. Right now I think Boss is the best fit to play that spot but I think that might be a spot we look to early in the draft.

After watching this, I'm slightly more open to Raji if he fell, primarily because we'd be alternating between fronts so much and moving guys from different techniques around, he could be a valuable piece - particularly if he can rush the passer on 3rd downs from the inside. Even if we took Raji, I'd still want Brace or another true NT to be brought in.

I've been pushing the Maluaga agenda in the draft this whole time...but obviously if Raji fell that far we would HAVE to pick him up...the problem we had last year on pass rushing 3rd down situations was that Elvis couldnt get off the end like he did in '07...

Montrose, you seem to know fronts and defensive scheming very well...so I have a questionf for you:

Has a defense ever taken a group of small DEs and similar sized OLBs and ran exclusively stunts and overload blitzes??

basically, lining up in a 3-4 with a collection of Lawson, Bailey, Dumervil, Moss, DJ, etc....and having a few drop back and a few blitz from different positions on each down how would that work..

its not ideal, but i feel our DEs are too small and get handled by the OTs every play and our LBs arent the best coverage guys so we need to theoretically fool the offensive lines when it comes to bringing pressure...

i dont know if i explained that right
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Old 02-25-2009, 12:06 PM   #6
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Montrose,

Great stuff, once again.
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Old 02-25-2009, 12:13 PM   #7
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Old 02-25-2009, 12:13 PM   #8
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so Nolan's approach is to generate pressure with the line on 3rd downs

that doesnt bode well for our personnel

What personnel? Josh/Nolan/X-man cut 70% of the starters.
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Old 02-25-2009, 12:40 PM   #9
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obviously if Raji fell that far we would HAVE to pick him up...
I wouldn't go that far. We still don't know exactly how Nolan and McDaniels will run this defense but if the eventual goal is to move to a 3-4, that takes Raji away from what he does well and we don't even know if he'd be adequate, much less dominant, as a NT. At this point, some may think Orakpo looks like he'd be far more difficult to pass up.

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the problem we had last year on pass rushing 3rd down situations was that Elvis couldnt get off the end like he did in '07...
There were a number of reasons. I heavily attribute Elvis' particular lack of production due to his fatigue from being worn down as teams attacked him on running downs. Contrary to popular belief, he wasn't double teamed that often at all. He was occasionally chipped by a TE or RB, but generally assigned to the OT one-on-one. I think the hand injury effected him as he wasn't able to put his hand down comfortably at times and Elvis's strength as a pass-rusher is exploding out of his stance (a reason I think he'd struggle as a 3-4 OLB). The pass rush also struggled because of a lack of creativity, few stunts and little blitzing allowed the OL to easily know who they had to block. In addition, Slowik's 15-yard off coverage allowed teams to move their QBs a bit and find WRs on easy comebacks. In addition, QBs were rarely confused as they got the exact same look every 3rd down. Pressure and sacks generally require some type of confusion by the QB to make him hold the ball an extra half-second or so. QB's knew exactly what we were going to do and exactly where they were going to go with the ball and that certainly didn't help matters. Also, the Broncos had little pass-rush from the interior - Kenny Peterson was probably the best. This is an underrated element of pass rushing from a 4-man DL as most focus on the great DE but a NT and UT that can collapse the pocket and absorb extra blockers helps set up pressure and sacks. These were all issues the Broncos had getting pressure on 3rd downs. Improved scheme from Nolan and a fresher Dumervil would instantly provide a spark. Maybe we can find some pass-rush help in the draft through an improved interior, or pass-rusher like Orakpo/Brown/Maybin, or Moss may thrive as a Joker which he played to some success briefly against Indy in 2007. These are all things that can help.

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Montrose, you seem to know fronts and defensive scheming very well...so I have a questionf for you:

Has a defense ever taken a group of small DEs and similar sized OLBs and ran exclusively stunts and overload blitzes??

basically, lining up in a 3-4 with a collection of Lawson, Bailey, Dumervil, Moss, DJ, etc....and having a few drop back and a few blitz from different positions on each down how would that work..
Some would argue what you described has been used by the Patriots in the past. The Steelers don't fit what your describing in terms of being undersized, but they've ran some of the exotic zone blitzes you're describing. Baltimore has ran them as well. With that, it goes against Nolan's past philosophies that focus on playing smart, tough football without a lot of crazy stuff going on.

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its not ideal, but i feel our DEs are too small and get handled by the OTs every play and our LBs arent the best coverage guys so we need to theoretically fool the offensive lines when it comes to bringing pressure...
Scheming for pressure will help, but you can't necessarily depend on it. As far as the LBs in coverage, DJ is okay but not great and Boss is actually pretty solid. Larsen wouldn't be in on many passing situations and Moss as a Joker has show the athletic ability to handle some coverage. With that, it's a place the team may look to upgrade early in the draft. Per our DE's being undersized to beat OT's. Dumervil can beat them on 3rd down situations if he's fresh. With better coaching, I think Moss can be a guy that could get some pressure on the QB, maybe from the Joker spot. We'll still need to bring in some guys to pass rush from the interior and exterior.

Last edited by montrose; 02-25-2009 at 12:44 PM..
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Old 02-25-2009, 01:00 PM   #10
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So Montrose do you think Moss can be successful as a Joker? Also When evaluating Dumerville did you notice him being lined up more as a 5 Tech this year even on 3rd? IMO I think Lining up Elvis in a wider split ala Bates would significantly increase his effectiveness.
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Old 02-25-2009, 01:00 PM   #11
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* Another difference is the lack of clearly identifying strong-side and weak-side players. Manny Lawson lined up and both OLB spots, and both rushed and dropped into coverage at both. The two ILBs, Patrick Willis and Jeff Ulbrich (I haven't gotten to a game where Takeo Spikes takes over yet) did not realign either. Occasionally, one or the other would lineup a bit to one side of the formation in the 4-3 front, but it alternated between the two and there didn't appear to be a clear distinction between who was a SILB and WILB.
This just speaks to the primary advantage of the 3-4 and that's it's versatility. 3-4 is easier to adjust on the fly and the most insulated from formations and shifts trying to create mismatches.
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Old 02-25-2009, 01:01 PM   #12
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I wouldn't go that far. We still don't know exactly how Nolan and McDaniels will run this defense but if the eventual goal is to move to a 3-4, that takes Raji away from what he does well and we don't even know if he'd be adequate, much less dominant, as a NT. At this point, some may think Orakpo looks like he'd be far more difficult to pass up.



There were a number of reasons. I heavily attribute Elvis' particular lack of production due to his fatigue from being worn down as teams attacked him on running downs. Contrary to popular belief, he wasn't double teamed that often at all. He was occasionally chipped by a TE or RB, but generally assigned to the OT one-on-one. I think the hand injury effected him as he wasn't able to put his hand down comfortably at times and Elvis's strength as a pass-rusher is exploding out of his stance (a reason I think he'd struggle as a 3-4 OLB). The pass rush also struggled because of a lack of creativity, few stunts and little blitzing allowed the OL to easily know who they had to block. In addition, Slowik's 15-yard off coverage allowed teams to move their QBs a bit and find WRs on easy comebacks. In addition, QBs were rarely confused as they got the exact same look every 3rd down. Pressure and sacks generally require some type of confusion by the QB to make him hold the ball an extra half-second or so. QB's knew exactly what we were going to do and exactly where they were going to go with the ball and that certainly didn't help matters. Also, the Broncos had little pass-rush from the interior - Kenny Peterson was probably the best. This is an underrated element of pass rushing from a 4-man DL as most focus on the great DE but a NT and UT that can collapse the pocket and absorb extra blockers helps set up pressure and sacks. These were all issues the Broncos had getting pressure on 3rd downs. Improved scheme from Nolan and a fresher Dumervil would instantly provide a spark. Maybe we can find some pass-rush help in the draft through an improved interior, or pass-rusher like Orakpo/Brown/Maybin, or Moss may thrive as a Joker which he played to some success briefly against Indy in 2007. These are all things that can help.



Some would argue what you described has been used by the Patriots in the past. The Steelers don't fit what your describing in terms of being undersized, but they've ran some of the exotic zone blitzes you're describing. Baltimore has ran them as well. With that, it goes against Nolan's past philosophies that focus on playing smart, tough football without a lot of crazy stuff going on.



Scheming for pressure will help, but you can't necessarily depend on it. As far as the LBs in coverage, DJ is okay but not great and Boss is actually pretty solid. Larsen wouldn't be in on many passing situations and Moss as a Joker has show the athletic ability to handle some coverage. With that, it's a place the team may look to upgrade early in the draft. Per our DE's being undersized to beat OT's. Dumervil can beat them on 3rd down situations if he's fresh. With better coaching, I think Moss can be a guy that could get some pressure on the QB, maybe from the Joker spot. We'll still need to bring in some guys to pass rush from the interior and exterior.

Thanks....yea, i dont remember Elvis being doubled at all...I just remember him being neutralized by OTs a lot (although i thought he was held more than anyone in the NFL last year)

Yea, basically i was hoping we would move towards a New ENgland defensive approach but it doesnt sound like it...
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Old 02-25-2009, 01:02 PM   #13
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So Montrose do you think Moss can be successful as a Joker? Also When evaluating Dumerville did you notice him being lined up more as a 5 Tech this year even on 3rd? IMO I think Lining up Elvis in a wider split ala Bates would significantly increase his effectiveness.
Jarvis was used as a joker by Bates against the Colts and was very effective.
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Old 02-25-2009, 01:14 PM   #14
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Thanks....yea, i dont remember Elvis being doubled at all...I just remember him being neutralized by OTs a lot (although i thought he was held more than anyone in the NFL last year)
Elvis' lack of height will always result on his being held without a call although he did draw a few holding penalties.

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Yea, basically i was hoping we would move towards a New England defensive approach but it doesnt sound like it...
Well we don't know what it will exactly look like. Both McDaniels and Nolan have shown the tendency to adapt their schemes to their personnel. I do think we'll incorporate some of what New England does. Keep in mind, what we see on defense this year may look a lot different next year.

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So Montrose do you think Moss can be successful as a Joker?
Possibly. He has a unique skill set and while I don't know how much he'd be moved around as I have my doubts to his ability to absorb that much coaching this soon, it would make some sense to give him a look there.

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Also When evaluating Dumervill did you notice him being lined up more as a 5 Tech this year even on 3rd? IMO I think Lining up Elvis in a wider split ala Bates would significantly increase his effectiveness.
I haven't broken down Elvis' play for every game yet so I'll let you know where he was aligned although I do remember seeing him spending some time in a 5-technique. I do think he's best fit in a 7-technique or 9-technique as he prefers rushing from the right side , although I'd like to see him moved around from side-to-side as Coyer did with him at times during his rookie season when he netted 8.5 sacks playing exclusively on 3rd downs in 13 games.
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Old 02-25-2009, 01:30 PM   #15
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wow, a defensive coordinator who molds his defense to his teams players.

he figures out how best to use his players in a scheme that suits them. finally, we get some intelligence from our DC
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Old 02-25-2009, 01:39 PM   #16
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Thanks....yea, i dont remember Elvis being doubled at all...I just remember him being neutralized by OTs a lot (although i thought he was held more than anyone in the NFL last year)

Yea, basically i was hoping we would move towards a New ENgland defensive approach but it doesnt sound like it...
I agree, but I was considering the chip block a "second man" or "double team." I understand that may be a loose interpretation, but when it takes two opponents to successfully remove you from a play, I call it a double team.

He gets chipped a lot when he beats the O-Tackle around the corner. That's why I always thought if we got a DT that raised hell in the middle (a penetrating Raji type of guy), it would lead to Elvis getting about 4-5 more sacks per year.
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Old 02-25-2009, 01:51 PM   #17
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Great post. I love reading this.

Even more important is finding a guy who can play the joker. Jarron Gilbert/Paul Kruger should have added importance in round 2 coming up.
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Old 02-25-2009, 01:55 PM   #18
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wow, a defensive coordinator who molds his defense to his teams players.

he figures out how best to use his players in a scheme that suits them. finally, we get some intelligence from our DC
You could have just said WOW A D.C.
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Old 02-25-2009, 02:08 PM   #19
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Even more important is finding a guy who can play the joker. Jarron Gilbert/Paul Kruger should have added importance in round 2 coming up.
Something to keep in mind, most jokers are guys picked up from other teams and not drafted. New England set the mold for this because the joker can require a variety of skills and experience in various systems - it's hard to draft a kid and teach him to play all of those spots.

Most importantly, you don't have to have a joker. You play with a joker if you've got a versatile guy that can do different stuff and is best moving around. From what I remember, Meck was a nice joker-type because he could do so much. I think a joker-type of position is where Moss would be best fit. It would let him use his athletic ability and move around to different spots, but he'd need to absorb a lot of strong coaching.
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Old 02-25-2009, 04:16 PM   #20
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You could have just said WOW A D.C.
true, i overstated...lol
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Old 02-25-2009, 04:29 PM   #21
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Great post. I love reading this.

Even more important is finding a guy who can play the joker. Jarron Gilbert/Paul Kruger should have added importance in round 2 coming up.
You're going to get your wild card - Michael Johnson of GT. He fits what Nolan wants to do and follows the Manny Larson role. Hopefully someone can light a fire under him to perform.
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Old 02-25-2009, 04:38 PM   #22
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Some of you may recall my thread on Mike Nolan's 30-front he ran in Baltimore. Well, through the magic of NFL Game Rewind I'm in the process of breaking down every defensive snap of Nolan's team last season. I'll post if I learn anything new but from what I've caught so far here are some of the common tendencies. Bear in mind that Mike Singletary was the DC and I'm sure had some input as well, however watching the unit it was quite similar to what he ran in Baltimore with a few exceptions - particularly in personnel.

* On 1st and 2nd downs the defense alternated between a 3-4 and 4-3 front but used the same personnel in doing so. There didn't appear to be a huge method to why each front was used at that time (i.e. short yardage, blitzing, etc.), but I noticed the 3-man line was used more often on 1st down than 2nd down and 2nd downs were split about 50-50 between the two looks. The personnel he used stayed the same however, the 3 DL, Joker, 2 ILBs and OLB.

* The defense moved to a 4-man DL on every 3rd down I've seen thus far. Nolan's unit has not done much blitzing at all on these 3rd downs and elected to simply rush 4 but with a lot of twist stunts. The few times he's blitzed have received positive results, including hurried passes and sacks. One was a 5-man rush with both ILBs lined up in the A gaps and one blitzing while the other dropped into a shell and the other had a CB and OLB on the strong-side blitzing the C and B gaps, respectively. None of the blitzes seem terribly exotic, but Nolan appears to be a big fan of stunting and twisting his blitzing LBers.

* One huge difference from this defense and Nolan's in Baltimore is that he uses a Joker. The joker is Justin Smith and he is used all over the field. I've seen Smith lineup as a SOLB, WOLB, DE, NT and ILB. At these positions, I've yet to see Smith drop into coverage, he's rushed every time.

* Another difference is the lack of clearly identifying strong-side and weak-side players. Manny Lawson lined up and both OLB spots, and both rushed and dropped into coverage at both. The two ILBs, Patrick Willis and Jeff Ulbrich (I haven't gotten to a game where Takeo Spikes takes over yet) did not realign either. Occasionally, one or the other would lineup a bit to one side of the formation in the 4-3 front, but it alternated between the two and there didn't appear to be a clear distinction between who was a SILB and WILB.

* Regardless of down or distance (although I've yet to get to a 3rd and really long), Nolan never rushes less than 4.

* Nolan likes to bring extra men on 1st down. He often rushed 5 and occasionally 6. The extra rushers were usually the OLB and ILB. I have not seen one instance of him rushing both OLBs from the 3-4 look nor rushing both ILBs from either look. He seldom sent a CB or SS (Michael Lewis). While Nolan did occasionally blitz the C gaps, he more often rushed the B gaps and loved sending pressure up the A gaps.

* On 2nd down he primarily rushes just 4. Occasionally he brought the SLB or ILB from the 4-man look but that was very rare.

* In the nickle, Nolan usually took off an ILB (Ulrich) for a NB and used the Joker at NT. Occasionally he took off an OLB (Lawson), and ILB (Ulbrich) and used Smith at ILB with a fresh NT coming in. In the dime, Nolan took off the ILB (Ulrich) and OLB (Lawson) for two DBs. Regardless of down and distance, Nolan always had 3 DL, the Joker, an ILB (Patrick Willis), and his base secondary.

I'll let you guys know if I come across any other tendencies but these are the most common themes I've seen thus far and I've yet to see Nolan really divulge from them.
Pretty straight forward stuff. I like the fact that Nolan does not get too exotic in his packages. Seems like a relatively easy system to learn and adapt too.

But, we shall see. Keep the good stuff coming in montrose, it is appreciated!
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Old 02-25-2009, 04:45 PM   #23
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wow, a defensive coordinator who molds his defense to his teams players.

he figures out how best to use his players in a scheme that suits them. finally, we get some intelligence from our DC
please. that 49ers defense sure was awesome the past few years. im shocked at how upbeat people are over this guy who has proven to be average at best. i could understand if this was a new guy that came from the eagles or somewhere successful with no real sample . but go back and watch what nolan does with suspect talent. its nothing to be all that confident about. hopefully mcd knows what to tell nolan what to do.
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Old 02-25-2009, 04:50 PM   #24
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elside, if I have my choice, we find that edge rusher in round 1 and find a horse up front in round 2 who's versatile. That should be our main goal in this draft. Get younger and stronger in the trenches.
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Old 02-25-2009, 04:51 PM   #25
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So Montrose do you think Moss can be successful as a Joker? Also When evaluating Dumerville did you notice him being lined up more as a 5 Tech this year even on 3rd? IMO I think Lining up Elvis in a wider split ala Bates would significantly increase his effectiveness.
I think Jarvis would be a perfect Joker. Med has said that he did pretty well during the combine at LB drills. His move to LB in a 3-4 WILL start his career.
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