The Fish Report: Aliotti Better Than Carroll?

Hey Cal fans.....I like the exchange with a recent post and thought I'd let you see what I wrote recently about our new defense.  I mention Cal twice, you might learn something about a future opponent, and I hope you find it mutually entertaining as it concerns beating a common foe.   FishDuck


The title above is one of the more preposterous concepts that I have ever suggested, yet for those who have read my reports in the past… know that I usually back up bold statements with facts, examples, or at least enough reasoning to allow some understanding of WHY I would think that OUR Defensive Coordinator is better than, or greater than Pete Carroll.  I ask for you to bear with me on this, and I would advise getting a tall cold one in advance as there are some real beauties in this report to chew on.  It’s long…but print it out and read it slowly, as I think you will learn something as I did while researching it!

There are some moderators on major Duck football websites that still doubt whether Oregon is running a 3-4 defense.  They feel that they need confirmation from the coaches, or that the DEs were just “pulling a hand up” at the Spring practices.  A recent interview with a prospective Defensive Tackle recruit had him commenting about the Oregon defense saying, “I like the 3-4 style they run.” So…it sounds like the coaching staff is actively promoting our new defense and talking about it.  But you’re still skeptical?  Look for yourself at game replays.  Again, how do we tell the difference?  It’s simple; if the defensive lineman has a hand down on the turf, or in other words if he is down in a stance…you count him as a “down defensive lineman”.  If there are three down D-linemen, but five on the LOS (with two standing up on the outside)…it is a 3-4 alignment.  If you have four down D-Linemen….then it is a 4-3 alignment.  The most common configuration you’ll see on the LOS is three D-linemen down in a stance, and one D-Linemen standing up in front of the TE…which is also a 3-4 alignment.  Now there is ONE exception to this….we have a “Specialty” defense set where we have just three down D-Linemen in total on the LOS…while we have EIGHT back in coverage, and this is used at the end of a game, or during a third and long.  But I’ll touch on “Specialty” defenses later.  Just look for more than three on the LOS, and count how many are down in a stance.  You will see, as I did, that the majority of the time last year we were in a 3-4 Defense.  It’s easy baby!

If we’re a “Hybrid” 3-4 Defense….how often did we play other type defenses?  I charted three games from last year…the Washington game, the USC game, and the Arizona game to determine the defensive formations.  The majority of the time or 45% of the defensive plays were in a 3-4 alignment which was the most of any defensive sets, thus it was the base defense of our packages.  The 4-3 was still used a surprising 30% of the time!  That was more than I would have thought going in, but contrast that to Arizona (who ran a 4-3 nearly every play) and you see that the old 4-3 defense is run much less often by Oregon than before.  The reason for us currently using a 4-3 is when we think the opponent is running the ball on first down, or it is 3rd and two, (an obvious running down) or they’re down inside our five yard line.  The other surprise was the number of plays we lined up in “Specialty” defenses which was 21% of the time.  (the other 4% was goal line stands, extra points, etc.)  These “Specialty” defenses had either three or even two down defensive linemen is all….and those defensive sets had important purposes.  I call attention to how each of the alignments had significant time and reps given to each, hence we were, and are, a “Hybrid 3-4 Defense”.  The 3-4 is our base, but we WILL use other alignments based upon the situation.  Why did we change to the 3-4 as our base defense?  Because of the Zone Blitzes baby!  It’s hard to disguise your blitzes with a 4-3….but with a 3-4 they have NO idea where you’re coming from which adds to the pressure and strain of the blitzes.  To put pressure on….you need to blitz….to blitz Safely with six back in coverage—you need to disguise your blitzes, and this is best done with the flexibility of the 3-4.  Count me in!

Another surprising aspect from charting those games was the aggressiveness characterized by the 3-4 alignments, and the “Specialty” sets.  On average….when we ran a 3-4 alignment or a Specialty Defense, we blitzed somebody (either a DB or LB) at over 80% of the time!  Again these were Zone Blitzes that could not be predicted as to where they were coming from, and we usually had at least six back in pass coverage.  Wow.  So just because we have only three on the LOS doesn’t mean that we’re being laid back and docile.  In fact it is quite the opposite; Nick and his staff are being aggressive as heck.  Sometime we’ll discuss the “Specialty” Defenses of the “2+2”, the “I-Spy-3”, and the “3-Duck-Chuck” in more detail since we’re in them a fifth of all the plays and at crucial points in the game.  (Yeah…I had some fun coming up with my names for them.  My first name IS Charles, so…..)

I’m watching the USC game and we are in our first offensive series, and……for the first time I find myself watching our offense and then sneaking a peek at what our opponent is doing on defense.  I’m stammering and pointing to the monitor as I see the Trojans line up in a 3-4 defense!  It’s five on the LOS with three down in the middle and two up on the ends.  (just like one of OUR 3-4 sets!)  Then a couple of plays later I see them run the other major 3-4 set that we run which features three down D-Linemen and one up over the TE!  This continued and while USC ran a 4-3 often….the 3-4 was much MORE often!  Did you know that USC was running a 3-4?  I didn’t, and I was dumbfounded.  So I watch the game from our offensive standpoint, watch it again from our defensive standpoint, and then watch it a third time and CHART the USC defense.  Those rascals were running a 4-3 defense 29% of the time, and a 3-4 defense 71% of the time!  They ran NO Specialty Defenses as Oregon did, and they blitzed only 21% of the time when they were in a 3-4 defense.  By contrast Oregon Zone Blitzed an incredible 93% of the time in this game when in a 3-4 defense!  Holy Crap.  We are really learning, baby….and maybe I grew a few more brain cells from trying to analyze it.  The differences between our two 3-4 defenses became more apparent as the game progressed; while we were both primarily running a 3-4 defense--we were clearly doing it differently, and with markedly different results. 

I can hardly believe my eyes as I watch the USC 3-4 defense begin a play in slow-motion, and I’m trying to discern how many gaps they’re playing.  Are they One-Gap like Oregon or Two-Gap like Cal?  I’m watching them come out of their stance and they’re coming up higher and trying to hand fight….trying to read-and-react.  That’s a Two-Gap!  (each D-Lineman is responsible for BOTH gaps on each side of the O-Lineman in front of him, hence he has to see where the play is going and plug the gap in a two-gap 3-4)  It makes sense that the Trojans run this because they have those monster D-Linemen with super athletic DEs and LBs…yet they are NOT being aggressive in this game.  I see MLB blitzes on occasion, and the safety blitz from the side, (which we burned them on repeatedly) but I don’t see the complex Zone Blitzes that Oregon is doing.  In fact I see the hesitation of the D-Linemen initiated by the Two-Gap assignments giving our Offensive Linemen time to get to certain spots first, set their blocks, and create the running lanes easier than if the Defenders were attacking.  Hmmmmm.  We had FITS with Cal’s defense until this last year.  We also had never practiced our offense against a 3-4 defense every day until we adopted it this last year.  Both USC and Cal (I believe) ran Two-Gap 3-4 defenses which gave our O-Linemen time to get their blocks positioned and with our daily experience against it….we have our best games against these two teams in memory!  (42 & 47 points)  Is that a plausible theory for those results?  Oh yeah.

So why wouldn’t USC be more aggressive and do Zone Blitz packages like Oregon?  My guess is that THEY ARE USC, and has the talent to just pick a scheme and believe that their superior talent will win the day.  The second is due to our offense; to keep tabs on James, the passing attack, and that darn elusive Masoli….it is probably a better percentage play to go at Oregon “straight-up” without many tricks.  Then a thought from the day before of viewing the game returned to me—of how there were Zone-Blitz packages that I saw in our Spring Game…that I haven’t seen yet in any of these Oregon games from last year.  Why?  Because we probably just integrated them in this last spring, and we heard how the coaches TOLD us this spring that new packages were being added.  Now that I see the games…I see that we truly DID add new stuff this spring, and we had to first get the basic packages mastered in actual games first.  Now as I contemplate USCs defense against us…I realize that you CANNOT add complex Zone Blitz packages for one game, even if you have two weeks to prepare.  It takes an entire off-season as Oregon did and enormous number of reps by the defense to get the fine points and the timing of the defense down. 

It’s early in the first half and 3rd and 13 for USC and as they approach the LOS…we line up in an odd three man front with two covering half the USC formation on their left, and one is perched on the other side of the LOS outside of the Right Offensive Tackle. (ROT)  I’m wondering if this is a “3-Duck-Chuck” or “I-Spy-3” package as the play begins and I see all three Defensive linemen coming hard.  It’s “3-Duck-Chuck!”  But then we see the safety slide off the flanker and come blitzing from an extreme right-side angle, and Casey Matthews has looped around to the right side of the USC offensive formation as well.  We are overloading the right side and the Trojans can see this as the RB moves over to help blocking and Barkley sees a sea of green engulfing him from his right.  The right side of the Trojan line is stressed as they’re trying to hold back the Green Wave and they all move over to blunt the attackers.  This movement rightward creates a huge lane up the middle….and Michael Clay is charging right through it!  He delayed for two counts while the USC Offensive line moved into position to defend their QB….and it allowed him this wide open gap to get to the Trojan QB.  Barkley sees the torpedo coming at his waist and he throws too soon, and a little high.  Incomplete!  The TE is OPEN and had room to run for forty yards if they complete that pass.  HUGE play.  Gutsy play.  It was “3-Duck-Chuck” with a Zone Blitz package!  Phew!  This was a play that required precision understanding by our defense and nanosecond timing for it to work.  Wow. How can you not LOVE these guys?

Its 1:43 left in the first half and USC has the ball down by seven and they want to tie it up before halftime.  We line up with three down Defensive linemen but at the snap go into an “I-Spy-3” where the NT makes contact with the center in front of him or “tags” him and then he steps back as we saw in the Rose Bowl.  He stays parallel to the QB, and looks to stay quick on his feet for draw plays and QB scrambles.  With the Spy in the middle, this means that we are only rushing two….until the Zone Blitz materializes!  Pleasant was leaving his coverage of the Flanker on the left side of our formation and timing his top-end rushing speed to coincide with the snap count.  It worked!  But this time was different as usually Eddie is involved in what I call a “Backside Blitz” (another report) but this time he was rushing from the TE side!  The problem for the Trojans, is that the TE shielded the Right Offensive Tackle from seeing Eddie’s charge.  At the snap we see the Turner trying to penetrate the Right Guard-Tackle gap, and that distracted the ROT from seeing Pleasant at all.  It was a direct bead to the QB, as Eddie and then Terrell chopped down the tree that is the Trojan QB to a thunderous roar from the Autzen crowd.  (the noise on stereo…is chilling)  That was an interesting twist on a standard blitz package that totally messed up USC.  Do I hear their band? What a hoot.

In the third quarter its 1st and 10 for USC at nearly midfield, and with a short field to score…they can turn this game around.  We line up with five on the LOS with three down/two up 3-4 alignment and as the count is winding down….the Trojan ROT can see Eddie Pleasant up to his old tricks as he’s leaving the flanker and sneaking over for a blitz.  The Offensive Lineman must have smiled to himself because he could SEE him this time and Pleasant wasn’t going to get away with another sack on the outside!  At the snap we see Casey Matthews loop around left to the outside with Eddie just inside him.  As they approach the ROT…Eddie tags the ROT and cuts INSIDE? That is a change, and this Offensive Lineman for Troy is letting the RB pick up Pleasant on the inside as the ROT has bigger fish to fry on the outside with Matthews bearing down on their QB.  Problem is… the ROT moved outside to contain Casey…so did the RB!  They were both so concerned about the bull-rush to the outside that NOBODY picked up Pleasant on the inside!  Oh--it’s a nasty hit to the midsection on Barkley, and then he falls awkwardly on other teammates who were getting buried from the Green Wave washing over them.  The crowd noise is like a Saturn V liftoff……

Onward in this series; so now it’s second down and seventeen?  Pleasant has such an adrenalin rush from that last play that his outside bull-rush makes Barkley throw quick and inaccurately AGAIN.  OK.. now its 3rd and 17 and we see only three on the LOS against SEVEN USC blockers.  This time it’s the “I-Spy-3” with the outside rushers going at the QB like wild-men.  The Trojans move their Offensive Linemen outside (on both sides) to counter, and Paysinger, who has hidden behind a pile and delayed two counts, is zipping around the mound and into the QBs face!  Matt dodges and is flushed from the pocket as the Spy and his Green teammates bring him down far short of the 1st down!  You gotta be kidding me.  We rush THREE on their SEVEN and win?  This is TOO sweet……

When I first watched the game last fall….I thought, as I heard from other analysts, that we “let” Barkley just throw the ball in the first half and began to apply pressure in the second half.  I now see that we were doing the same Zone Blitzes in the first half, but the USC Offensive line did a good job holding us back.  The same packages worked in the second half due to the continued pressure and the toll it takes on all parties on offense.  By the late third quarter?  This went beyond just “rattling the Quarterback” to “totally-screwing-with-the-Offensive-Linemen’s-heads” and it was forcing mistakes from the MENTAL pressure as well as the physical challenges of containing the blitzes.  I love it!

Nobody will deny the amazing record of Pete Carroll and the body of work that is all his championships.  He is known as a Defensive Guru…but on October 31st, 2009….our defensive staff and team was MUCH better in scheme and execution.  The Trojans had MVPs of All-American All-Star games and the much hyped Taylor Mayes; they only offered three of our defensive starters a scholarship…and didn’t want the rest.  For those who say that, “it’s about players, not schemes,” this game is proof against that declaration.  The Trojans had better talent on defense, ran a 3-4 defense just as we did, yet vastly underperformed the fighting, well-coached, Oregon Ducks.  Geez it makes me proud of this staff and this smart, hungry bunch of Ducks.  This year promises to be the most exciting year in a very long time to watch our defense closely!  Is there anyone having as much fun with this as I am?

Man we love these Ducks,



Charles Fischer




The opinions expressed in a FanPost are, in every way, reflective of the opinions of every California Golden Blogs Marshawnthusiast. Moreover, they are reflective of every employee of SBNation, including Tyler "Blez" Bleszinski.

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