Playbook Profile: Stack the Box Old-School

Chargers expert Michael Lombardo delves into the playbook and pulls out unique formations and packages that utilize the versatility and depth of San Diego's roster. This week's segment flips to the defensive side of the ball, where coordinator Ted Cottrell has some options for exploiting his über-talented defensive front seven.

Two weeks ago, the Playbook Profile hopped in the way-back machine to explain how the Bolts have the personnel to effectively run the wishbone offense. This week's feature also leaps back in time to the days of Buddy Ryan and the 46 defense.

The 46 defense features a four-man front with three linebackers and a strong safety on the next level. The two outside linebackers align on the weak side of the formation, creating an overload situation, while the strong safety plays in box on the strong side to compensate for the over-shift. Both cornerbacks play on the line in press coverage to slow receivers getting into their routes while the free safety patrols centerfield.

This old-school defensive alignment keyed some of the dominant Chicago Bears defenses of the early 80s. Over time, it fell out of favor due to the increase in timing-based West Coast passing schemes and overbearing hand-checking rules that left cornerbacks hanging out to dry on their islands.

For the scheme to be effective today, it needs to be executed by a front seven that can absolutely dominate. The Chargers have exactly that.

DE Luis Castillo
Doug Pensinger/Getty

Ted Cottrell could deploy this formation with a defensive line of Igor Olshansky, Jamal Williams, Jacques Cesaire and Luis Castillo. Preferably, Castillo would line up on the weak side due to his superior ability to collapse the pocket from the overloaded side.

At linebacker, the dynamic pass-rushing duo of Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips would line up behind Castillo. Phillips would have the wider alignment because of his speed off the edge. Matt Wilhelm would man the middle because of his ability to play in space and react to quarterbacks in distress.

The corner positions would be manned by the usual suspects. Quentin Jammer presses receivers at the line as much as the rules allow and Antonio Cromartie has the speed and leaping ability to recover even if he misses his jam.

Eric Weddle would play strong safety, as he already plays a safety-linebacker hybrid role in the dime defense. Clinton Hart would slide back to free safety by default, although Steve Gregory would probably be the better choice because of his range and ball skills.

This defensive formation completely stacks the box in a manner that is almost impossible to run against. And by forcing offenses into near-obvious passing situations, it allows Merriman, Phillips and Castillo to come on a jail break from the weak side of the formation.

Of course, this kind of strategy is vulnerable to the quick pass. However, with the talent in San Diego's front seven, opposing quarterbacks would have to get rid of the ball in approximately two seconds. And with Jammer and Cromartie manning the flanks, opposing passers would dole out more bad decisions than big plays.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.

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