The 46 Comes to Baltimore

The talk in Baltimore these days centers on new defensive coordinator Rex Ryan dusting off one of his father's family secrets and bringing the 46 defense to town. When most people think of the 46 defense, their memory takes them back to 1985 and the dominant defense the Chicago Bears rode to a Super Bowl victory. The Ravens are hoping that their version of the 46 will bring them similar success this season.

Since the announcement that Ryan would be using some 46 defensive looks this year, analysts have been comparing this Ravens' defense to the 85' Bears. Let's put an end to that right now. The 2005 Baltimore Ravens are not the 1985 Chicago Bears and comparing the two teams is unfair. While the Ravens' have talent all over on defense, the Bears had arguably the greatest defensive units ever assembled. If people want to compare a Ravens' defense to the '85 Bears, it should be the 2000 version and not the 2005 defense.

The first thing a coach has to decide when implementing a new system is whether or not his team has the right players to run it. Back when the 49ers ruled the NFL, fans often asked why other teams didn't just do what they did. The answer, of course, was that other teams didn't have Joe Montana, Roger Craig, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Brent Jones and the best offensive line in football. So while running a havoc-causing defense like the 46 sounds good in theory, an aggressive defense like that will get torched if the team doesn't have the right mix of players to run it. The basic MO of the 46 is to flood the line of scrimmage with more players than the offense can block. This allows one or two players to run free. In the Ravens case, those players would preferably be Ray Lewis and someone pressuring the quarterback.

As with any offensive or defensive scheme, the 46 focuses on certain things in order for it to be successful. Here is a look at what makes the 46 defense go and if the Ravens have the players to make it run.

Versatile Safeties – Most people focus on the front seven when talking about the 46 defense but the biggest key to the success of the defense is to have safeties that can both cover and play near the line of scrimmage. Buddy Ryan actually named the 46 after safety Doug Plank because of his role in the defense. It just so happens that the Ravens have the NFL Defensive Player of the Year playing free safety for them. Ed Reed is the perfect player for this kind of defense. He is the best cover safety in the NFL and a very good blitzer. While the Ravens like to keep Reed back in coverage, expect to see Ryan trying to get him free on some safety blitzes in the 46. Will Demps is a physical safety who will take over the Doug Plank role for the Ravens. That means in the 46, Demps will often move up and become another linebacker. Demps will be an asset in stopping the run in this defense and he will also be called upon to blitz from time to time. The Ravens are strong at the safety position so they should have little trouble adapting to the new defense from this end.

Good Cover Corners – With so many defenders playing close to the line of scrimmage and all the blitzes the 46 calls for, it is imperative that the team running this defense has good cover corners because they will be playing man-to-man defense virtually the entire time in the 46. The Ravens are fortunate enough to have arguably the best set of corners in the league. Chris McAllister, Samari Rolle and Deion Sanders all excel in man coverage. A main goal of the 46 is to get quick pressure on the quarterback but good corners are essential in case the blitz doesn't get there in time. If a team doesn't have fast corners that can lock up receivers, there is no way they can run this defense. All three of the Ravens' corners are good at jamming receivers at the line and fast enough to run with them down the field. How the Raven corners hold up in single coverage will go a long way in determining how much of the 46 the Ravens will use throughout the season.

Push up the Middle – Most of the pressure in the 46 comes straight up the middle. One of the keys to this defense is to collapse the interior of the offensive line. This helps stuff the run and break down the pocket on passing downs. Some analysts have argued that this is where the Ravens are going to struggle in the 46. They argue that the Ravens don't have great defensive tackles like the Bears and Eagles had. While Baltimore may not have Jerome Brown or Steve McMichael manning the middle, they do have underrated Kelly Gregg. Gregg is a good fit for the 46 because he is a good run stopper and because he can tie up two offensive linemen, allowing others to run freely into opposing backfields. The other thing about getting push up the middle is this is where a lot of the blitzes in the 46 come from. Linebackers and defensive backs often rush up the middle, allowing outside pass rushers to get a free run at the quarterback. While defensive tackle may not be the Ravens strongest position, having a powerful player like Gregg in the middle of the line will help the Ravens collapse and control the interior of the offensive line like the 46 calls for.

A Dominant Middle Linebacker – Just as they do at safety, the Ravens have this one covered. The elder Ryan originally created the 46 defense to keep blockers off middle linebacker Mike Singletary and allow him to run unabated to the ball carrier. For Ray Lewis, this is just what the doctor ordered. While Lewis had another stellar season in 2004, he never really fit into Mike Nolan's 3-4 scheme. Lewis was too often tied up with offensive linemen, which limited his ability to run around and cause havoc. In the 46, other defenders will be occupying blocks, allowing Lewis to do what he does best: run down opposing running backs. The six man front will make it more difficult for guards and fullbacks to get to Lewis. Lewis and Reed are the two players this defense will center around and the Ravens can't ask for anything more than that. Also, expect Lewis to have more sacks than usual. The 46 defense calls for a lot of pressure and Ryan must be licking his chops coming up with blitzes that allow Lewis to get to the quarterback.

Explosive Edge Rushers – Defensive ends and rush linebackers are often the beneficiary of the pressure up the middle from the 46 defense. As stated earlier, the 46 is predicated on getting defenders free. With all the pressure that is sent up the middle, many times the players that get free are the outside pass rushers. Terrell Suggs, Anthony Weaver, Adalius Thomas and rookie Dan Cody are all players who should excel in this defense. Suggs could have a monster year in this system. When Buddy Ryan used this defense, Richard Dent and Reggie White saw a lot of one on one blocking and that usually meant bad news for opposing offenses. When an offense faces the 46, their blockers need to make quick reads and this frequently leaves only one offensive lineman to block the guys coming off the edge because so many defenders are coming up the middle. There aren't very many offensive linemen in the NFL who can handle Suggs by themselves. Once again, Baltimore looks to have the pass rushers who can succeed when the team goes to the 46.

Rex Ryan is doing a smart thing. He is implementing a defensive scheme that fits his personnel and not the other way around. The Ravens have good cover corners, safeties who make plays, fast linebackers and guys who can put pressure on the quarterback. On paper, it appears that the Ravens have all the ingredients to cause offenses a lot of trouble with their version of the 46 defenses. The Ravens won't use the 46 defense exclusively but the more success they have with it early in the year, the more it will be used as the season goes on. It won't take Baltimore long to test out their new toy. First up: Peyton Manning and the high-flying Colts' offense. What a way to kickoff the season.

Tom Casale is a guest writer to Look for more of his articles as we move towards training camp.

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