THE PAST IS PRELUDE

August 31, 1997

Offense is action, defense is reaction. At least that's how
things used to be, until the 46 defense and now the zone blitz
started dictating terms.

In football's early days the popular defense was the 7-diamond,
made up of seven linemen, a fullback (who later became known as
a linebacker) behind them, two halfbacks on the flanks and a
safety in the deep middle. The 7-diamond was a mirror of the
offensive formation, and it was designed to stop the power game
that was prevalent in football's Stone Age.

The forward pass mothballed the 7-diamond, and in the 1930s the
standard defense became the 6-2, with a more mobile linebacker
replacing one of the linemen. When Clark Shaughnessy, a
consultant to the Chicago Bears, developed the T formation with
a man in motion in the 1930s, the defense loosened further, to a
5-3, and then, in the 1940s, to Philadelphia coach Greasy
Neale's Eagle-5, a 5-2 alignment with two cornerbacks and two
safeties.

But in a historic Saturday-night game, on Sept. 16, 1950, in
Philadelphia, Paul Brown's All-America Conference champion
Cleveland Browns crushed Neale's NFL champion Eagles 35-10 with
sideline passes to the Browns' spread ends, Dante Lavelli and
Mac Speedie, and traps and draws up the middle by 238-pound
Marion Motley. Sitting in the stands that night was New York
Giants coach Steve Owen, whose team was scheduled to play
Cleveland the following week.

To counter Brown's attack, Owen installed a 6-1-4 defense, with
his ends, Jim Duncan and Ray Poole, "flexing," or dropping back
as linebackers. It was the forerunner of the modern 4-3, and it
was nicknamed the Umbrella Defense. Owen's left cornerback and
brightest defensive player, 25-year-old Tom Landry, had the
assignment of putting the scheme on the blackboard. The result
was a 6-0 New York win, the first time that Brown had been shut
out.

The 4-3 was the standard NFL defense until 1974, when New
England Patriots coach Chuck Fairbanks and Houston Oilers
defensive coordinator Bum Phillips decided that the collegiate
3-4 was the way to travel in the NFL. (Fairbanks and Phillips
had previously coached at Oklahoma and Oklahoma State,
respectively.) The 3-4 had been used before. In the '60s the
Oakland Raiders occasionally dropped left tackle Dan Birdwell
into a linebacker position, and in 1971 and '72 the Miami
Dolphins brought in a fourth linebacker, Bob Matheson, for
passing situations, but no one had ever used the 3-4 as a base
defense. At first it was thought to be soft against the run, but
by the early 1980s it was the defense of choice for all but
eight of the NFL's 28 teams.

The desire for a stronger pass rush brought back the 4-3 and
prompted Chicago defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan to devise a
terrifying monster called the 46, named after his wild-man
strong safety, Doug Plank, who wore that number. The 46 was the
ultimate in pressure: eight men stacked near the line, every gap
covered, incessant blitzing. It catapulted the Bears to the
Super Bowl title in January 1986, but as it came into vogue
around the league, defensive coordinators sadly discovered that
without Ryan's collection of talent, led by middle linebacker
Mike Singletary, it was highly vulnerable. Teams could get
outside it. The 46 gave up too many big plays, as cornerbacks
wore down from constant man-to-man coverage.

Enter the zone blitz. Again pressure is the main feature, only
this time it comes from an intricate blitz package featuring
linebackers and defensive backs firing in from all angles, with
defenders--sometimes linemen--dropping into zones behind them.
Zone defenses have been in football since the 1930s, but the
idea of using a zone to back up a blitz package is unorthodox.

--P.Z.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER With athletic linebackers like Wilber Marshall (58) and Otis Wilson, Ryan had players who could go get the quarterback. [Danny White, Wilber Marshall and Otis Wilson in game]

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)