Prevent Defenses Prevent Wins

Eddie Johnson looks at the Prevent Defense, which burned the Browns on January 11th, 1987 and the stunning 2001 loss to the Chicago Bears.

The first thing that went through my mind when a coach called for the prevent defense was "why?"

Being in a position to play the prevent defense usually means you've played well throughout the game. The thing that always stuck in my mind was why change what got us to this point. We are in a position to win and as the saying goes, "if it ain't broke, then don't fix it". I always thought the same principle should be applied here. To this day, I have never been able to figure out why some of the best coaches in the National Football League fall into this trap and lose games because of it.

The main premise behind the prevent defense is to keep the offense from making a big play. In certain prevent defenses, the coach tells you to keep everything 10 yards and under. Some even tell you to keep it 15 yards and under, depending on the score and the exact amount of time left. Basically, the prevent allows the offense to get the short stuff in the middle of the field in order to keep the clock ticking.

Granted, sometimes the prevent defense works. However, more often than not it fails. Heaven forbid it fails and you have to go back to the old game plan. The prevent defense really puts a team on its heals and makes it difficult to get the aggressiveness back that got you the lead in the first place. Momentum is an important thing, especially late in a game or in overtime. Look at the Chicago game a few weeks ago. The Browns fell into this trap and never recovered.

Players play, coaches coach. It is a coach's responsibility to put his players in a position to win. But I would say this to any coach, and I often did whenever I played for a coach who called for the prevent defense, "When you put us in the prevent defense, you are not putting us in a position to win." Period. It didn't always work, but I felt better for having said it.

No matter what defensive play or scheme is called and no matter how much you might personally disagree with a call, as a player, you have to go out and execute to the best of your ability whatever play the coach calls. He's the boss. You're a player and a competitor and want to succeed.

My philosophy has always been to go after the other team. I remember a game very vividly called "The Drive." The Broncos were facing fourth-and-21 and they ended up getting 23 yards on the play because we were in the prevent defense. Had we aggressively gone after John Elway, we would have either forced him to throw the ball early, or we would have forced him out of the pocket. With Elway, the latter was always a risky proposition, but I believe we would have had a much better chance of stopping him there had we gone after him rather than sitting back and letting hire fire away.

Unfortunately, we all remember what happened on that day, January 11, 1987.

The Broncos went on to score the tying touchdown on that drive and tied the game, sending it into overtime. They had the all-important momentum after that and went on to win 23-20. I am convinced to this day that had we not played the prevent defense, we would have played in the Super Bowl that year.

The prevent defense prevented us from winning that day, it prevented the Browns from winning in Chicago a few weeks ago and it prevents teams week in and week out from winning.

No matter where you are at in a game, you have to stick with what got you there. Offenses love it when you let them settle in and play their game.

Taking the pressure off and deviating from a defensive gameplan that has proven to be successful is not a wise decision, as history has continually shown us football fans in Cleveland and everywhere for that matter.

Whoever dictates the flow of the game usually wins. That doesn't mean just three and a half quarters, but the whole game. It is not that difficult a concept. When will coaches ever learn?

This article was originally published in Bernie's Insiders Magazine on December 10, 2001

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