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Breaking Down The LB Corps

Discussion in 'PatsFans.com - Patriots Fan Forum' started by AndyJohnson, Aug 4, 2009.

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  1. AndyJohnson

    AndyJohnson PatsFans.com Veteran PatsFans.com Supporter

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    I think that it is too simplistic to look at our LB corps as 2 starting OLBs and 2 backups and 2 starting ILB and their backups. We use LBs in many varied roles, in many different situations, and alignments.
    Base Defense:
    In our base, we have 2 OLBs. On any given play one is designated to rush the passer as the 4th rusher. Should we blitz, the other may as well. Over the years, we have used different approaches to which OLB is designated the rusher. At times it is almost a 50/50 split between the 2. While this would seem schematically to be the best and most easily disgusied approach, in fact, it has been much, much more common that one of the 2 (first Willie McGinest, and recently Mike Vrabel) gets the vast majority of pass rush responsibility. McGinest in the early BB years, and Vrabel for the last 2 have almost exclusively rushed the QB. It would appear this year, that this role will fall to Adalius Thomas. IMO, given this assumption we are as strong as ever rushing the passer from our base, as our front 3 remains strong, and IMO, Adalius Thomas is one of the top pass rushing OLBs we have had, certainly better today that Mike Vrabel of 2008. In other words, I see AD in Vrabels 07-08 role of rushing almost exclusively.
    The other OLB can either split the rushing duties (ideal but not common) or rush quite a bit less often, being more responsible for coverage. Of course if that is the case, his run defense would be a critical component of his value. IMO, this is Pierre Woods this season, and I am comfortable with his ability to handle that role, even if I must accept he limits our ability to switch up which OLB is the 'rusher'.
    The majority of the pass rushing duties from the OLB position, however, are not out of the base defense. In our scheme, almost exclusively, OLBs play DE in nickel and dime packages. We DO NOT play Semour, Warren, etc as DE in sub packages, we play OLBs in that role. The DEs move inside and rush from the "DT" spots. Clearly AD is one of these '3rd down package' rushers. (note I say 3rd down for brevity we use it a lot more than just 3rd) At this point it would appear that TBC, Woods, and Crabel if healthy will play opposite him in these situations.
    In some cases, OLBs are also called on the be acutal LBs in the sub package, but typically we will have one or 2, with DBs lined up in the LB positions as well. This season, Mayo figures to be in all the time, with Guyton seeing a lot of action in 3rd down sub packages as well, so there seems to be no need/use for OLBs in a LB position in the nickel/dime.

    At ILB, one fact that has escaped discussion for years is that in our defense, the 2nd ILB in our base 3-4 will play less than half the snaps over the course of the season. As we move to nickel (3-3-5, 4-2-5) dime (4-1-6 3-2-6) that 2nd ILB disappears from the field very often. There are fewer LBs on the field to begin with and BB has a tendency to play safeties in a "LB spot" in nickel and dime. Truly we require 1 ILB, and a second half of the time. With Mayo, Guyton and Bruschi as well as Lenon, I'm confident we are in fine shape here, considering Mayo 2.0 will probably be the best ILB of the BB era in any season.

    I think the ILB position is a big strength. It is stocked with an all-pro player, a capable player beside him when needed, and good depth.
    At the OLB position, it would certainly be nice to have a seasoned, versatile, strong performer opposite Thomas to allow creativity with both, but with AD there to rush the passer, I think worry about his counterpart---at least when compared to the teams we have fielded under BB----is exaggerated. Thomas makes us as strong rushing from the OLB spot, and Woods, IMO, can hold his own as a run defender, coverage guy and solid if underwhelming contributor.
    The key is not really the LB position, but who fills the role, in addition to AD, that has historically been filled by an OLB, as a nickel/dime DE. I assume it will be a combination of TBC, Crabel (if he gets healthy) and Woods, but could imagine it includes Jarvis Green, Lenon or others.

    When I break down the LB position for 2009, I don't worry a second about ILB. I don't worry about OLB in the base, and the only concern I have is who will have their hand down across from AD as a DE in the nickel and dime.

    Feel free to comment
  2. mgteich

    mgteich PatsFans.com Veteran PatsFans.com Supporter

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    I would think that Banta-Cain is more than adequate in this role.

  3. maverick4

    maverick4 Banned

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    There isn't a LB problem, if we aren't using 4 linebackers on the field very often. Basically, you figure the Pats will be playing in nickel often.
  4. AndyJohnson

    AndyJohnson PatsFans.com Veteran PatsFans.com Supporter

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    It typically turns out to be half the snaps over the course of the season.
    Which makes sense, 3rd down is nickel/dime mostly, 2nd is about 50/50 and 1st down is nickel/dime against some teams and in some situations.
    Add in obvious throwing situations like 2 minute and ahead by a lot, and there you have it.

    I was going to try to find Reiss' participation stats from last season to show it, but alas, too busy (or lazy)
  5. kas

    kas Rookie

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    Great analysis and I agree with most of your thinking. A few points:

    -I actually expect Guyton to play ILB in passing situations with Mayo in more of a pass rushing role. I'm not so worried with these guys as much as the depth behind them. McKenzie could have been useful as a quality backup with Bruschi but I guess we'll have to wait for next year. IMO Tank Williams so far has a leg up on Lenon due to his coverage skills but we'll see.

    -We use a lot of different pass-rushing packages, some with AT at OLB and sometimes at DE. Other players who should see the field here are TBC, Crable (if ever healthy), Wright, Green. I think we'll be okay.

    -IMO the big risk we have is that we lack the depth to adequately compensate for a loss of Thomas or Mayo for any significant amount of time. Now I guess any team might face the same problem, but the rest of our roster seems so well built that a loss just about anywhere else could be compensated for.
  6. AndyJohnson

    AndyJohnson PatsFans.com Veteran PatsFans.com Supporter

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    I'd feel a lot better if he were depth for that position.
    If you consider we only use the 2nd ILB 50% of the snaps, and that we go to a 4 down nickel or dime probably 2/3s of the other half, this position is akin to a starter.
    I'm hoping either Crabel can get back and be effective in this role, or Woods can add this facet to his game.
  7. AndyJohnson

    AndyJohnson PatsFans.com Veteran PatsFans.com Supporter

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    Re: Mayo, Guyton, Tank
    This is where it gets tricky. 3rd down, we have 4 down lineman, which is actually 2 DL and 2 OLBs. We have either 2 LBs and 5 DBs or 1 LB and 6 DBs.....or sometimes both, as Rodney Harrison VERY often was a DB lining up a LB spot, and blitzing very often.
    I think we are in very good shape here, with Mayo and Guyton, and we have safeties Tank to play as Rodney did.
  8. maverick4

    maverick4 Banned

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    What about 3rd down short yardage?
    Besides Mayo, who is our big thumping Ted Johnson-like linebacker?
  9. AzPatsFan

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  10. AndyJohnson

    AndyJohnson PatsFans.com Veteran PatsFans.com Supporter

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    Bruschi has always done well in those situations. And if its goalline, we have a plethora of big DL to bring in.
  11. AndyJohnson

    AndyJohnson PatsFans.com Veteran PatsFans.com Supporter

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  12. RayClay

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    It was nice when we had 3 top pass rushers on the field at once, though.
  13. AndyJohnson

    AndyJohnson PatsFans.com Veteran PatsFans.com Supporter

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    When did we ever have that? The closest we came was the very brief time we had Vrabel, McGinest and Colvin all here together but that last about an hour of health and they werent on the field together.
    Same with AD, Colvin, Vrabel when Colvin was a shell of himself, AD was playing inside and never rushing.

    I do agree that one thing it would be nice to have is more pass rushers from the base to disguise the rush better but thats a perk, not a need really.
  14. Deus Irae

    Deus Irae PatsFans.com Retired Jersey Club PatsFans.com Supporter

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    Disable Jersey

    Just how dead is this horse going to have to be before you stop beating it?
  15. AzPatsFan

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    Mav,

    That is what the old Okie 5-2 was all about. The depth of our DL allows us to play a run stuffing 5 DL; or a pass rushing 5 DLs alternatively too, depending on the opposition's running ability. There was never a run stuffer ILB as good as another extra 300+ lb DL for run stuffing.:snob::eek:
  16. maverick4

    maverick4 Banned

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    We do have many D-linemen yes, in which case it sounds like this thread is more about how we aren't really going to be in 3-4 all that much, rather than say we have enough LB's for a mostly 3-4 defense.

    Bruschi is done. He can play serviceable backup, but he's been exposed in short yardage, in coverage, and in pass rush. The guy is 36 years old and no Junior Seau.
  17. dhamz

    dhamz Rookie

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    I wouldn't disagree with much if anything. I would say I think we spend too much time breaking down the defense into the 3 units - DL, LB, DBs. The way the fit together as a unit will be more important than the individual positions.

    Last year the defense struggled on 3rd down because they didn't cover real well, the pass rush wasn't good enough to mask that, and once Thomas went down there wasn't really anyone in the back 8 on defense who was a playmaker.

    If the DBs can cover better the LBs and DL will be better rushing the passer simply because they'll have more time. If Sanders/Meriweather/Chung and Bodden/Springs/et al make more plays than the guys back there did last year, the defense will get off the field quicker.

    The same goes for the DBs if the LBs step up their game. A healthy Thomas for 16 games helps the DBs. Mayo taking the next step would as well.

    For all the talk about the 2nd OLB spot, I just don't see it as a key to the defense. I'd place the 2 veteran corners and all the young guys back in the secondary emerging as a solid group who can make plays, the health of Thomas and Seymour, and Mayo taking the next step are much higher on my list.

    Is the Woods/Crabel/TBC trio going to be Mike Vrabel 2004? Not likely. The Mike Vrabel of last year however was nowhere near that player. Can they do what he did last year? I don't see why not. If others step up the defense can be much better.
  18. patfanken

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    Thanks Andy, I just love threads like this. Perhaps the most important point you made was the one that recognizes that as the game evolves, so does the uses of the players and the positions they play. Just like the FB as we knew it, is just a memory, so too are some of the LB positons. This is an era where Teddy Johnson would be a one or 2 down player....maybe

    In an era where mediocre QBs are completing 60% of their passes and spread formations are becoming team's base formation, you CANNOT have static positional inflexibility. The match ups would kill you. THIS is the age where teams are passing to set up the run, and the run more and more comes out of pass formations, you CANNOT play with only 4 or even 5 DBs.

    Just look at the numbers these college spread offense are putting up, in MO, Texas Tech, Fla, Utah, etc. Its mind boggling. And think about, to date NONE of these teams are sending NFL caliber QBs and few WRs So think how effective they can be when you get guys like Brady/Moss/Welker running the show. Hey they had one year, and they broke almost every offensive record. They put in a no name like Cassell and he has 2 400 yd games in a row.

    Well now its time for the defenses to start to respond, and as they always do, they will begin to catch up the "spread". The way they will do this is to respond with various personell packages, in an attempt to get better match ups.

    I would expect to see more and more teams gettng physical with Welker and Moss. Just as we are going to be more physical with other team's receivers. Today in camp Welker was getting smacked almost every play and was have trouble gettnig into the pattern. You just can't give these guys free releases off the LOS. You have to disrupt the timing. You have to give your team more time to get to the QB. You have to create doubt and confusion in the QBs mind. Make his decision making process more difficult...ergo more time to rush.

    All this will involve disguising the defense. No longer will you see 2 deep and know its going to be 2 deep after the ball is snapped. What you see, will no longer be what you get. It HAS TO BE this way or offenses will run roughshod over defenses.

    So what does that mean to our LBs. It means that the term "starter" has little meaning, and that the likelyhood of 4 LBs being on the field for 3 downs in a row is just plain UNLIKELY. Quite frankly I'd be surprised when it 2 in a row.

    Welcome to a new age. Its not about who starts, its about how many "personel groupings" you have at your disposal.
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2009
  19. RayClay

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    We always said how the rush came from anywhere in the Super Bowl days. We still have Bruschi, but not the young Bruschi. He did set the all time NCAA record for sacks.

    He played with either a Platoon of McGinest, Colvin and Mcginest (short time) or just McGinest and Vrabel or Vrabel and Colvin.

    Guys that set team or NCAA records for sacks in college have demonstrated pass rush ability, although it has been argued recently they forget how once they become pros.
    Last edited: Aug 4, 2009
  20. RayClay

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    Not saying Mayo couldn't be an outstanding rusher, he's a great athlete and a great pick.

    Just saying a lot of maybes don't = proven production or talent (not arguing the talent of Mayo and A.D.)
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