Washburn's System & How It Could Affect Our Linebacker Play

[Note by JimmyK, 01/21/11 9:59 AM EST ] This is a well-done post by BGN member DSmith215.  I'm a little late getting it to the front page, but well worth the read.

Good morning, gentlemen.

Everybody is rightfully excited about getting Jim Washburn to the Eagles. The guy is probably the most respected DL coach in the league. However, as I've commented on several posts, if he brings his system from Tennessee over, things are going to be very different for our linebackers.

I've decided to expand on these possible changes a bit here.

1. A primer on Washburn's DE system:

Steve Mariucci once semi-famously said on NFL Network that Washburn's gap system was akin to running straight at someone while waving your arms and screaming: it's a little out of control, but boy does it get people to react to you. While Washburn is an intense student of technique and stunting, his gap scheme is pretty simple: "beat the man in front of you, then attempt to seriously injure the quarterback."

In other words, this isn't the cagey Samurai staring down his target for 20 minutes before swinging his Katana. This is the crazy, paint-covered Scot swinging an axe.

(more after the jump)...

To that end, Washburn is known for lining up his defensive ends really, really, really wide. This past season, for example, Babin and Ball often lined up in the 9 technique, way the hell off the shoulder of the OT. This allows the DE to attack the tackle and get to the QB as quickly as possible. The reason this system is effective is because it creates a lot of play disruption, even if the DEs don't get home. When pressure gets so heavy so quickly, it can often screw up a play just because the QB doesn't have time to get his head straight.

Another plus of the system is that it motivates the DEs. These guys love to get QB hits, sacks, and TFLs. The easiest way for them to do it is to, as fake Rex Ryan would say, "ATTACKATTACKATTACK." When you tell a DE that he can forget the rest of the universe and just focus on plowing through anything immediately in his path, he becomes happy and motivated. Remember how much Trent hated dropping into coverage? Remember how much Kearse hated playing to run on the way to the QB? Motivated defensive linemen can cause quite a bit of disruption.

Obviously, if you have crappy DLmen, this won't work. But, if you have talent, this system creates a simple way to maximize their talent and streamline the rushing process. Obviously, while this is reckless as hell, it gets results.

2. How Washburn plays his DTs compared to our current system:

A lot of people like to complain about our current DT 2-gap system without understanding it. Here's how it works, dudes. When one of our DTs engages with the center or guard in front of them, he is initially responsible for the stuff happening to the spaces left and right of the OLmen who are blocking him. 2 Gaps. He looks to both sides of the blocker to see if there's a run coming at him. Only when he has seen the QB in his stance holding the football and looking downfield is he allowed to rush the passer. There are a few exceptions to this based on front and stunting assignments, but this is the general rule. This tactic is referred to by a lot of DL coaches as "shove, look, and rush."

This system has an upside and a downside. On one hand, it makes us very hard to rush against up the middle. On the other hand, it slows our interior pass rush wayyyy down. JJ was content with this because it allowed him to take the run away and put opposing offenses in 3rd-and-long where he could beat them with his blitzing stick. This worked great in the regular season but often struggled in the playoffs, as the great QBs will burn any defense in existence if they have all day to throw.

Guess what Washburn likes to do with his defensive tackles? If you guessed "ATTACKATTACKATTACK," you're right! Washburn likes dudes like Trevor Laws, not dudes like Jeff Owens. He likes smaller, penetration-adept guys who can slide around a blocker and run straight into the backfield. It's a 1-gap system. Obviously, if you give him a big, talented dude, (Haynesworth, Dixon,) he'll make it work well. But, his preferences is for guys who can get inside penetration very quickly.

Fast pressure creates hurried throws, which makes Asante Samuel and Nate Allen get happy in their pants.

3. But DSmith, you sexalicious ladykiller, what about the run game?

That's a good point. Two things. First, Washburn believes in disruption over awareness. His theory is that if you have three guys in the backfield when the hand off happens, the RB is going to have to redirect, hesitate, and/or attempt to run the ball as normal anyway. In other words, there may be blockers in front of the RB, but there are three charging DLmen behind the blockers. Waving their arms and screaming. This has a tendency to really screw up running plays. Even if the RB has great vision, it's hard to run well in that situation. Washburn's thing is pure disruption and pressure. He tells to guys to kill the quarterback and if, when you get back there, the RB has the ball, kill him instead. Again, it's simplistic, but it has worked.

Second, our 2-gap system was put in place in part because the NFC East was such a beastly running division. Teams can still run the ball well today, but as the NFL evolves more and more into a passing league, the pass-rush becomes more and more important. Washburn knows this, and develops his DLmen accordingly.

4. Perfect! So there's no catch!

Wrong. There are two big catches. One of them is the counter play. The other is the draw, or more specifically, the pump-and-run. You may remember this play from such games as "the Cowboys raping us two weeks in a row." Basically, opposing OCs call misdirection runs and delayed runs against Washburn's system. They get his DLmen moving one way, then run against the grain. If the back can get even one second to find his hole, he has a bunch of OLmen in front of him running into the second level.

Longtime Colts OL coach Howard Mudd developed the Colts shotgun draw game specifically because of division-rival Washburn's reckless style. He also had the Colts run soft counts and silent counts to slow down the Titans' burst off the line. Washburn is good at teaching his DLmen how to time out a snap; Mudd found a way to take some of that advantage away from them.

The way you avoid a charging bull is to wait until the last second, then leap out of the way. When teams successfully run the draw against Washburn's system, they have all their OLmen on smaller dudes just by virtue of the recklessness of the rush.

5. Shite. I see where you're going with this re: the linebackers.

Yup. If Washburn runs things here the way he did in Tennessee, our LBs are about to walk a much stonier path in football games. Our MLB is protected by the 2-gap system: he's used to Patterson and Dixon holding the interior OLmen away from him to he can read the run play and go chase after it. In Washburn's system, instead of having the OG kept away from him, he'll have about 1.5 seconds before the guard is right in his face. As such, our LBs are going to have to be much better at block-shedding and awareness of running lanes.

Essentially, Ernie Sims has no place in our LB corps if Washburn brings his attacking 1-gap system to Philly. Linebackers behind a Washburn DL have to be intelligent, good at getting around the best blockers on the field, and ideally, they're athletic and talented. This is especially true of the SAM, who can expect to get hammered by a TE a lot one-on-one, since the OTs often go to a really fast drop to try to counter the wide rush of the Washburn DEs.

Teams that have Washburn need to invest heavily in talented linebackers. Remember what a ludicrous monster Keith Bulluck was? We have some competent 'backers, but they're going to have to step their game up a ton if Washburn is as balls-out as here he was in Tennessee. They're going to have less time to diagnose plays and they'll have to expend more energy getting around blocks more often. If the birds can get some talented DLmen in FA this year, don't be surprised to see them chasing more talented LBs in the draft.

6. Sounds as though this will be interesting...

It sure will. Something that will be noticeable is that we'll have a totally different-looking defense near the LOS than we're used to. We're used to seeing not too much movement around the trenches and our LBs sprinting everywhere. Instead, we'll see DLmen running around in the backfield and our LBs grappling with the opposing offensive line. It'll likely be pretty strange to see at first.

Washburn isn't magic, but he's damn good. I expect that we'll see increased production from our DL next season. As we move forward and watch the battles in training camp, remember this stuff and see if you can watch it happening.

That's all, folks.

If you guys have questions, get at me in the comments and I'll try to answer them. Go Birds, Dallas sucks, here's to Washburn turning our defensive line into a bunch of rabid animals.

(.5)Team Erudition signing off.