Playbook: Wide-9s and Double-3s

There has been much commotion this season about a “new” phenomenon, commonly referred to as “Wide-9” defensive ends.

Most commonly associated with the Eagles, the “Wide-9” alignment denotes defensive ends lined up with an extended split from the offensive tackle (known as the 9-hole, the gap outside the tight ends; however, when no tight end is present, the split looks especially exaggerated in its distance from the nearest lineman).

While this technique has garnered media attention over the past few weeks as an innovative scheme, it is actually an age-old strategy used to create hard edges in the run game as well as in the pass game -– dating back to Hall of Famers Gino Marchetti and Deacon Jones. And in pursuing the quarterback, the wider the defensive end’s alignment, the further the tackle must set out –- a huge disadvantage for blockers in space versus a pass rusher with two to three yards of head start.

What hasn’t been mentioned much this year, but has been around equally as long, is the “Double 3-technique” alignment.

The evolution of the 4-3 began with Bill George, a middle guard for Chicago in the ’50s who decided to step back from his position covering center, reducing the number of down linemen from five to four, and standing at middle linebacker between two 3-technique defensive tackles. Now, a base 4-3 defense has one 3-technique, lining up shaded to the outside shoulder of the offensive guard and one defensive lineman shaded over the center.

In the double 3-tech, however, you bump the DT shaded over the center out of his A-gap and outside of his guard. Back to the way defensive tackles aligned minus George at middle guard.

In today’s game, the 3-tech is the more dominant pass rusher of the two defensive tackles –- a la Ndamukong Suh, Henry Melton or Cullen Jenkins -– because they are isolated one-on-one with a guard while the center is occupied by the other defensive tackle. In the double 3-tech scheme, both tackles are set to rush the passer.

By lining up on a guard’s outside shoulder, 3-techs force their blockers to set out. Guards typically are not the most athletic or the best working in space, so forcing a guard to kick out to a pass rusher is advantageous for a 3-tech.

And while the Eagles get a lot of attention for their “Wide-9s,” they actually use double 3-techniques more than anyone else in the league, leaving the A-gaps on either side of the center exposed. Because of that, the Eagles have been burned by quarterback sneaks three times this season.

But Jenkins, who stopped by “Playbook” to break down tape, explained some of the advantages of the double 3-technique in pass rushing situations. Offensive linemen have to be conscious of twisting defensive linemen, because having the defensive tackles closer to their ends creates a shorter separation for looping and setting picking on offensive linemen.

Using the double 3-techiniques creates multiple one-on-ones.  Although the center is usually uncovered, he has a great distance to slide to help. And many times teams will make sure a linebacker is creeping up in the A-Gap to keep the center honest to his responsibility -– delaying his potential help to his guards. This A-Gap “mugging,” as it’s referred to, is commonly done by 4-3 teams like the Chicago Bears with Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. Their presence creates the potential for four one-on-one pass rushing situations on a given play.

Tennessee used this last year, and nine of their 40 sacks in 2010 were using this technique. This year, six of their 14 sacks have been with double-3s. Former Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn is actually the current Eagles line coach -– so it’s no surprise this strategy made its way over to Philly. Of the Eagles 22 sacks this season, eight have used the double 3-technique alignment.

Double-3s are being used more and more each week in the NFL, so the next time you’re watching a game, give an eye to how those interior defensive linemen are lining up, especially on third-and-long passing situations. There are tiny chess matches going on all over the field. How you rush the passer –- and where your rushers are aligned –- are intricate decisions made on every play.

“Playbook” — the ultimate football Xs and Os show — airs Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on NFL Network. Check the NFL Network broadcast schedule for further details. Follow “Playbook” on Twitter @NFLN_Playbook.

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