I’ve gotten a few questions about LBs and DL in regard to the 3-4 in recent days. What are the Eagles looking for in terms of skills and what are the responsibilities? The key to remember is that the 3-4 is built upon LBs that make plays. The defensive linemen must control the LOS and let the LBs attack and make things happen.
OLB – These players must be pass rushers, especially on the right side. Check out this note from former Eagles scout Louis Riddick.
3-4 OLB draft prospects that are more proficient against the run than they are rushing the passer..not day-1 considerations for me.
— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) January 28, 2014
You must have LBs that can get to the QB. You need one OLB that can be at least adequate in coverage. That’s Connor Barwin for the Eagles. The other player is primarily a pass rusher and only needs to be functional as a cover guy on the occasional zone blitz when he drops back.
The problem the Eagles had in 2013 is that the OLBs weren’t consistently generating pressure on their own. They did some of that, but there were other times when Bill Davis designed good blitzes that freed them up. You have to be careful about focusing on results. The Eagles were one of the heaviest blitzing teams in the NFL. Those extra rushers led to some single blocking situations and even some plays where the OLBs were unblocked.
DE – The Eagles run a 2-gap system. This requires the DL to engage the blocker at the snap and to read the play. The DE is responsible for the gap to his right and to his left. In 1-gap systems the defender just attacks one area and doesn’t have to read plays. He can be more aggressive. The Eagles goal is for 3 DL to control the line of scrimmage. That won’t happen on every play, but when it does, it keeps the LBs free to fly to the ball and make plays.
Riddick’s comments about OLBs would need to be flipped around for DL. You want guys that are primarily run defenders. You want them to have some pass rush ability, but they need to be able to control blockers and stuff the run more than anything. You want players with long arms, strong hands and guys that don’t mind doing the dirty work.
3-4 DEs are generally going to be 6-3, 285 or more. There is some fudge room depending on a specific player and his athleticism and positional skills. You could have a DE be 6-2, 280 or 6-4, 330.
NT – The old rule of thumb was that 3-4 NTs needed to be 340 pounds and really strong, physical players. You wanted guys that could anchor vs the run and that’s about it. As the NFL has shifted to more of a passing league, we’re seeing smaller NTs. Bennie Logan was 6-2, 309 when drafted. The Eagles feel he can eventually bulk up to 320 and remain athletic.
Logan has 34-inch arms, which is long for a NT. He has enough bulk and lower body strength that he can learn to anchor vs the run. He is inconsistent in that area right now. There were some plays when he ate up blocks and looked good. There were other plays when Logan got pushed back and created running lanes for the offense.
The Eagles used more stunts than I was expecting from a 3-4 front. This is where the DE will shoot to the inside and the NT will loop around wide. Obviously the defense isn’t 2-gapping when they stunt. This is a tactic to see if you can burn the offense and create a negative play (sack or TFL).
I don’t know if Bill Davis stunted because he was trying to protect Logan and this will go away in 2014 or if Davis likes occasionally having his guys on the move so it keeps the blockers honest. We’ll find out more about that this year.
It is possible the Eagles want a massive NT who can really control the middle. They would be looking for someone who is approximately 6-2, 335 or bigger. This player would be able to anchor vs double teams. That’s when a NT takes on 2 blockers and doesn’t get moved. Not all players can do this, even if big or strong. It takes good technique and also a willingness to get mashed on over and over. Being a NT is like being a crash test dummy…except that you can feel the crashes.
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Georgia Tech LB Jeremiah Attaochu is a player the Eagles should have serious interest in. I think he could even be a potential target at pick 22.
You see burst off the ball. You see the ability to bend and dip. Attaochu uses his hands well on some plays. I also love the fact he’s physical and nasty. You want OLBs that play with an edge.