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Jacksonville Jaguars Defensive Philosophy: The Buddy Ryan Effect

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Buddy Ryan, Gregg Williams and Jack Del Rio: Will their defensive philosophies create conflict or championships?

The Buddy Ryan Effect:

Last week, we discussed the history, philosophy, and possible effects of introducing Gregg Williams to the Jacksonville Jaguars. One name that comes up with any research into Gregg Williams is his tutelage under Buddy Ryan. Ryan is best known for developing the defense that would define the 1985 Chicago Bears, the 46 defense. Fans of the Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Oilers, and Arizona Cardinals might disagree with that statement, of course, but the legacy of Ryan is in his approach to defenses. Gregg Williams is considered a disciple of Ryan, though he only technically worked under Ryan in 1993 with the Oilers. Though their time together was short, Williams defensive career is centered on emulating and developing the concepts established by Buddy Ryan. The "attack style" reputation of the Jaguars new defensive coordinator is ripped straight from the playbook of Ryan.

To better understand what Williams is going to bring to Jacksonville, we must first look at Buddy Ryan's contributions to Gregg's philosophy and how to translate that to the Jaguars.

On Attacking the Quarterback:

"Buddy Ryan said it best. It's hard for a quarterback to throw with tears in his eyes. We brought the whole house. We left our two corners back. Bledsoe went hot and got the ball out quickly. Terry Glenn caught it..."

The point of emphasis of a Buddy Ryan defense is to attack the pass protection in as many different ways as possible in order to shut down the quarterback. The object, simply put, is to expose the protection and eliminate the passer. It is not a senseless throwing of players at the offensive line in an act of desperation, but the specific and methodical attack of the offensive line in order to expose weaknesses in protection. Crudely put, it's a pack of velociraptors testing the fences in Jurassic Park, rather than the overwhelming but clumsy Tyrannosaurus Rex knocking down the towers with brute force.

While blitzing is nothing new to the NFL, Ryan took things to a whole different level with the development of the 46 defense.


This formation is named for Doug Plank's jersey number. Plank was a hard-hitting, hard-nosed, and nasty storung safety that allowed for the development of this formation. Notice all the players on the line of scrimmage. J and C are the strongside and weakside linebackers, (Jack and charlie in Ryan's system), with the mike or middle linebacker lined up between and behind the charlie linebacker and the defensive end. One defensive end is lined up directly over an offensive guard, one defensive tackle is directly over center (like a nose tackle), the other defensive tackle is right over the offensive guard, and finally there is a defensive end just outside the right tackle.

You'll notice that the strong safety is as close to the line of scrimmage as the middle linebacker. The strong safety would play the role of a run-stuffing linebacker or blitzer, leaving the free safety and cornerbacks in largely man-to-man coverage. Ryan could very easily shift his blitzers and cover men based on down, distance, and the offensive in front of him. The jack, charlie, or mike linebackers were fast enough to cover as well as blitz, though the latter was clearly preferred. What was important for Ryan was to probe the pass protection and identify weaknesses that could be exploited later. If linemen were making their blocks based on certain reads or looks, Ryan could call a blitz that took advantage of that reaction and find a way to leave a man unblocked.

To fully understand what Buddy Ryan developed, remember that
Bill Walsh would develop a short drop and well timed passing offense as a reaction to the blitz packages developed by Ryan. The "west coast offense" is seen by some football academics as a reaction to the aggressive attacks of defenses like the 1985 Chicago Bears. It is a slight oversimplification to say that it is only because of Ryan, but it is without doubt a factor.

On the Philosophy:

While the 46 defense is a major part of Buddy Ryan’s defensive toolbox, his philosophy is much broader than a personnel grouping. Much like when Gregg Williams claimed during a press conference that the Jaguars were going to use every defensive system ever created, Buddy Ryan used just about everything. In his 1993 Houston Oliers playbook, Ryan schemes a 4-3, 4-4, 46, 3-4, and everything in-between. Again, the crux of his philosophy is to probe the offensive pass protection and exploit a weakness, using one base defense all the time would be ineffective at exploiting the vulnerabilities and would remove the element of surprise and confusion from the attack.

To explore the Ryan and Williams philosophy further, we excerpt from the 1993 Oilers Defensive Playbook.

"Our defensive philosophy is simple. We will do anything and everything it takes to win, within the rules. We can only control what we do on our side of the ball, therefore we will approach every game with the plan of winning the game with defense"

Coachspeak, of course, but just the introduction:

"We will keep constant pressure on our opponent and their offense. Our multiple defensive scheme will hamper their ability to identify our intentions by giving them an ever-changing picture on defense."

"A quarterback has never completed a pass when he was flat on his back. We must hit the QB hard and often. QB’s are over-paid, over-rated, pompous bastards and must be punished. Great pass coverage is a direct result of a great pass rush, and a great pass rush is simply a relentless desire to get to the QB"

If Gregg Williams can bring this to Jacksonville this fall, we will be in for one hell of a show.

On the penetrating style of defense:

"In our penetrating defense the purpose of the defense is to force mistakes and throw our opponent for a loss and place great pressure on the passer. We will use penetrating type of defense a maority of the time in all positions on the field. The penetrating defense requires ability to read on the move. We must have great effort in getting into proper pursuit patterns. We feel, with the speed and ability of our team, we can achieve great success with these defenses."

What does this mean for Jacksonville?

This look back at Buddy Ryan is a healthy mix of speculation and optimism. The 46 defense is rarely used in the current NFL, Gregg Williams used it on occasion in Tennessee and Rex Ryan will experiment with the formation in Baltimore from time to time. It's unrealistic to expect Williams to completely undo everything from Jack Del Rio and Mike Smith in one season. This is why we distinguised between scheme and philosophy in the breakdown of Buddy Ryan and Gregg Williams' approach.

While it should not be surprising to see the Jaguars come out in a 46 at least once during training camp, it's implimentation as a serious part of our defense is very much in doubt. The Jaguars lack a serious contender at nose tackle, though situationally it might work with Henderson or McDaniel. The Jaguars will instead embrace the methodical attack of a Ryan defense, allowing the team to attack the quarterback through carefully measured pressure rather than overwhelming blitzing.

Much of this depends on the development of our pass-rushers. Should Quentin Groves and Derrick Harvey show promise in their first season, the amount of attacking should be very high. If the rookies are slow to develop or were injuries to mount, Williams will adjust accordingly and become a bend-don't-break defense.

Either way, there will be a visible change from the Mike Smith defense to the Gregg Williams defense. Smith was unafraid to attack when he had the ability, though the chess game of the Buddy Ryan/Gregg Williams system is different by degree than what the Jaguars had previously. Frankly, we have a great deal to be excited about. Whatever happens, it'll certainly be uncomfortable for the Mannings, Brady's, and Cutler's of the AFC.