Wednesday, June 8, 2016

What exactly is a wide-9 defensive front?

Curious minds want to know...
Great question.

I remember there being a tremendous amount of hullabaloo when the Detroit Lions started using a "wide-9" technique DE a few years back. It became such a distraction that from then on out, anything good or bad that happened for their defense (usually bad) was attributed to their use of the technique.

In retrospect this was kinda funny, because the wide-9 sees a ton of usage from what might be THE Detroit university football team, the Michigan State Spartans.

Here's the deal, in normal 4-3 Over defensive fronts, the defense will align the 3-technique defensive tackle to the strength of the formation.

3-technique=DT who's aligned between an offensive tackle and offensive guard.
Strength of the formation: Typically the side with more blocking.

Whereas the Under front uses the nose tackle to the strong side, looking to squeeze plays into tight spaces, the Over front puts the 3-tech there and is looking to spill runs outside.

Here's typical Under and Over fronts with the DL techniques listed. First the Under front:
The 5-tech DE (between the OT and TE) and the 1-tech nose tackle have to be sturdy guys that can hold the point of attack while the rest of the defense converges on the ball from the outside in.

Now the typical Over front, the most popular front in the Big 12 and possibly college football in general:
Now you have a DE lined up just inside the TE and it's hard to double-team either him or the strongside DT because that player is a 3-technique. The goal here is to force the offense to either run the ball weak or to spill the ball outside.

Over teams today typically rely on Quarters coverage as well and make the safeties an active part of the run defense, so they're spilling the ball wide where their safeties can run things down.

This style of defense was really made popular by the famous Miami Hurricane teams of Jimmy Johnson and this is where the concept of "turning linebackers into DEs and safeties into linebackers" came from, because the design of the defense was to use pressure at the point of attack to turn the game into a test of speed.

Naturally the Over front, with it's focus on team speed, is more popular in the Big 12 than the Under front which requires finding some big sturdy defenders of the sort that are harder to find in the demographically challenged Big 12 recruiting landscape.

Now, a "wide-9" technique is exactly what you would guess, a DE (or OLB) who's lined up way outside of the offensive line or tight ends. A "7-technique" DE would play on the outside shoulder of the TE, but a wide-9 plays well outside:
You'll see OLBs line up as 9-technique players all the time, but it's not a huge deal because the 3-4 DE will be in a 5-technique or a 4i-technique. When you use a wide-9 in the Over front you've just given back the opportunity for the offense to double team your 3-technique (and your nose-tackle) and potentially blow open a hole in the middle of the defense.

The advantages of lining up a DE (or OLB) in a wide-9 are that it's easier for him to turn the corner and win the edge, either in the pass-rush or also against the run.

Michigan State uses a 9-technique strongside end in their Over-4 defense and he basically uses the extra space to allow himself to maneuver more easily and blow up what the blockers are trying to do.

Any follow up questions?


  1. What are the typical offensive responses to the wide 9?
    It seems like a draw or Iso type play would easily get to the second level against this alignment.

    1. Yeah, or just zone or power where the DE kicks out the wide-9 and you run between that and the double-team on the 3-tech.