Tough Ask: Defending the Run from Safety in the Wide 9

Evan Habeeb-US PRESSWIRE

Jim Washburn's Wide 9 often put extra stress on a group of Eagles' safeties who didn't need, and couldn't handle, unrealistic responsibilities in the run game.

Note: The following was written by John Breitenbach of ProFootballFocus, and shows a couple examples of the difficult situations the Eagles' safeties were put in last year because of the Wide 9:

Defensive coordinator Billy Davis, defensive backs coach John Lovett and both starting safeties from 2012 (Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman) have emphasized the pressure placed upon them in the Wide 9. The front on the side with the NT has defensive lineman in the 1 and 9 techniques. This creates a huge gap between them which the safeties were occasionally required to defend. The size of the gap was not the only problem, as defending the B gap also meant the safeties had to take on pulling offensive lineman. Here are a few examples ...

Wide-9-1_medium

First an All-22 look from behind the Ravens line in Week 2. The Ravens face first and ten from their own 30 yard line. On the weak side the Eagles have Trent Cole as the nine technique, Derek Landri as the one technique and Nate Allen essentially the weak side linebacker in the B gap. Note the huge distance between Cole and Landri.

The Ravens run a weakside counter-wham (with Michael Oher - 72 - pulling). This ends up as a big play for the Ravens but the execution is pretty simple. The left tackle blocks Cole to the outside, and he can't be too aggressive because he has outside contain, while the left guard uses his favourable shade to down block Landri. The counter action also causes both linebackers to take a step to the strongside, making the second level blocks easier. Oher is unimpeded one on one with Allen in the hole with predictable results. Here's how it played out.

Wide-9-2_medium

Neither the LT nor LG have widened the hole, but the gap is still so big Oher just needs to get a little of Allen for Rice to break into the open. Kurt Coleman misses a tackle on the back end and the Ravens gain 43 yards.

Wide-9-3_medium

Here's another example from the Week 10 matchup with Dallas. The Cowboys come out with a heavy package of two tight ends, two backs and just the solitary receiver. This play is very similar to the previous one, except Romo hands off to the fullback after faking to the back going to the strong side. Again the right tackle pulls around and has a one on one block in the hole against Allen. Notice again the massive (perhaps even bigger?) gap between Landri and Darryl Tapp.

Wide-9-4_medium

Allen loses against Free and it's a 13 yard run and first down.

Wide-9-5_medium

Not only is this likely to have had an impact on the running game, it also meant the safeties were more exposed to play action. Instead of playing pass first, Allen and Coleman had to be aggressive against the run because the defensive line were flying upfield.

At this point I should say that this definitely does not excuse the terrible safety play from 2012. Instances like these were rare and, ultimately, the blown coverages and missed tackles were what made this unit historically bad. However this does show a significant limitation of Jim Washburn's defensive front.

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