Sunday, November 24, 2013

A-Gap Blintze

We have been focusing on the offense this entire time but now we will start with the defense. To refresh your memory: The main focus that the offense has is to get down the field and score. So that means the main job of the defense is to keep the offense from gaining yards and scoring. Not only do they want to stop the offenses from scoring, but they also strive to push the offense backwards, and better yet, if they can get the ball away and score it’s a huge achievement. Now with the defense, you will hear names like linebackers, tackles, ends, corners and safeties. But don’t be fooled. There is nothing safe about safeties, and cornerbacks do not stay in any, they are all over the field. Other terms like zone, blitz, sack, and Cover2 are also thrown around. And, no, they are not regions that we hear about in geography, a misspelled Jewish delicacy, our grocery bag or how many blankets we need on our bed now that winter is upon us.

We are going to start with the group of players that line up opposing the offensive line. These are known as the defensive linemen. There are two types of players that make up these linemen. The first group is the defensive tackles. There are two tackles on defense and they line up next to each other (see the red “X’s”) . These players are some of the biggest men on the team. They are huge and fast. They are crucial to stopping the running back by closing up any “holes” or “gaps” on the inside. If they don’t tackle the running back they try to force him into look for other avenues to get down field and buy time so the linebackers to come up and tackle them for little to no gain. The other job they have is to push the offensive guards into the quarterback if the offense is attempting a passing play. Why is that important? What happens is that the quarterback gets a little bit of security called a “pocket” (not to be confused with the rhinestone ones we have on our favorite pair of jeans) this pocket doesn’t last long but gives the quarterback some time to set up a pass play. This is guarded by the offensive tackles and guards but the defensive tackles and linebackers want to “collapse” the pocket to either force a “sack” (QB tackled behind line of scrimmage for a loss) or a hurried pass that either results in an incomplete pass( no one catches it and it results in a loss of down), or an interception ( the defense catches the ball resulting in a defensive score or a loss of possession for the offense). Defensive tackles have a lot to think about in that very short amount of time that it takes to line up. Although, the defense usually knows its assignment before the ball is snapped, they have to make adjustments on the fly. Terms like “A-Gap” and “3-Technique” or variations of those are used when talking about the way the defensive tackles play their assignments. You can really stop stun the football crowd if you say something like, “It looks like that tackle was using a 3-Technique in the A-Gap on the last play.” Expect utter silence and blank stares.

The next group is the defensive ends. There are two ends that line up on each side of the defensive tackles but are usually farther away. These guys do not have to worry so much about which gap to run through or how to out-maneuver the offensive guards. Their name give them away - ends. If the offense is running the ball, they try to keep the running back from getting around them on the “outside” (close to the edge of the field). They want to keep the running back in the middle of the field where the linebackers or safeties can tackle them for little to no gain. If it is a passing play, they run in at the quarterbacks from the outside and try to sack them. They usually have more opportunity to bat the ball down or creating a turnover. These are usually the players that we see celebrating a sack with a dance that is pretty uncomfortable to witness if you’re in a mixed crowd.

So go get ‘em this week! Begin to use your new-found football knowledge on those family and friends who might have given up hope that you would ever share in their fandom. See you next time!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

All Guts And None Of The Glamour

I have heard it said if national defense is done right, we will never hear of it. But if they do it wrong, we all know. It is the same for these next two position groups. These men that make up the most anonymous and non-glamorous positions are called the tackles and the guards on the offensive line. When they are doing it right, then we (as casual fans) will hear accolades about the great passing ability of the quarterback and how much time he has to find an open receiver. Or we will hear about the keen ability of the running back to find those “open holes” and run up field. But if these linemen do their job incorrectly… then, we will know who they are.

First we will talk about guards. There are two guards on the line. They line up on each side of the center. One of their jobs is to keep the defense from get into the backfield. If the defense can’t get into the backfield they can’t sack the quarterback or tackle a running back for a loss of yards on the play. Their other jobs vary from play to play; if it is a passing play, they try to form a wall around the quarterback in order for him to have a few seconds of time to find an open receiver. If it is a running play, then they try to bowl over the defenders in order to open up “holes” for the running back to pop through. These men need to be large, strong and fast. Large to be able to absorb the punishment meant for the players in the backfield, strong in order to send those defenders backwards on running plays and fast to be able to adjust to the constant changes that occur in the course of the game.

Lining up next to them are the offensive tackles. When I studied the tackle positions, it seemed to me that the job description more accurately described a form of punishment. These men have to control a large amount of open field and usually defending against much leaner, faster, stronger defenders coming from anywhere in that open field. These defenders have one thing in mind; they are zeroing in on the quarterback or the running back. Tackles are usually the largest men on the offense, and yet they are required to be as fast and as strong as those they are blocking.

The tackle that lines up on the right side, or right tackle, usually has a tight end that also lines up with them. The right tackle usually has the responsibility of blocking the biggest defender, so having another comrade on the line is a bonus.

If you have ever seen The Blind Side (and if you haven’t, you need to) the character that Sandra Bullock plays gives an excellent description of the left tackle. The left tackle has a unique duty. In the NFL, there is only one starting quarterback that is left-handed (Michael Vick, and he’s injured at this time). Why is that important? When a right-handed quarterback is getting ready to throw, his back will more than likely be towards the left side, his blind side. He needs absolute trust that his left tackle will stop or delay a defensive player coming at him from that side. It is also mentioned that the left tackle is usually the second highest paid player on the team, using the beautiful analogy of the quarterback being compared to a house and the left tackle to the house insurance.

Both of these groups, the guards and the tackles, have to figure out how to stop the defense without grabbing and holding on to the player or their jersey. If they grab hold of it and are caught they are called for a holding penalty. You know, one of those times when the ref throws that pretty yellow flag? (BTW – Why is it yellow? Yellow reminds us of happy things, and I guarantee you that half of the men on the field are not experiencing happiness when a flag is thrown. I think they should change the flag to a strobing red siren. That would be more compatible with the circumstance). As I did a little more studying on these positions this week , what I have found out makes me much more compassionate to the plight of a offensive lineman when a holding penalty is called. In fact, I would like to petition the NFL to allow them whips and chairs.

These four, undistinguished, unspectacular positions hold the key to success for all offenses in the NFL. For whoever wins on the line of scrimmage will win the game. Have a great week!