Each offseason, we take a look at some of those football nuances that we may not fully understand. These are those terms that we all know, but about which we could use a better understanding, thus giving us a better understanding of the game. We return to the Phinsider classroom this afternoon in an effort to better understanding the "Wide-Nine" technique for defensive linemen.
We have touched on this topic previously, when, in 2014, we took a look at the entire defensive line gap techniques. We started with the offensive line gaps, which start at the "A-gap" on either side of the center, the "B-gap" between the guard and tackle, and the "C-gap" outside the tackles. From there, we can align the defensive line and linebackers. Essentially, each gap needs to be filled by a defender, whether that is an offensive lineman or a linebacker. The defensive linemen then align themselves either directly over the offensive lineman he is opposing, or shaded to the inside or outside of his shoulders - giving us the defensive lineman's "technique."
Running through the techniques, an even number, including 0, aligns the defensive player directly over the offensive lineman. For example, a 0-technique defensive tackle would be aligned directly over the center - a true nose tackle. A 4-technique defensive end would be lined up directly over the tackle. Odd numbers are the outside (away from center) shoulder of an offensive lineman, so if the 0-technique defensive tackle slides to the outside of the center (either direction), he moves into the A-gap for the offense and becomes a 1-technique. The defensive end, if he slides to the outside of the tackle, becomes a 5-technique. The inside shoulder of an offensive lineman is typically designated by an "i" for the defense, for example the defensive end slides to the inside shoulder of the tackle, he is now a 4i-technique.
The numbering continues out to the tight end, where a 6-technique would be aligned directly over the tight end, a 6i-technique would be between the tight end and tackle, and a 7-technique would be outside the tight end. To get to the 9-technique, imagine an additional lineman on the outside of the tight end, which would be the 8i-, 8-, and 9-techniques, from inside to outside. (The 9-technique continues on the non-tight end side of the line as well.)
(Note: Some teams transition after the tackle to the tight end being the 6-technique, his inside shoulder being the 7-technique and his outside shoulder being the 9-technique (keeping odd numbers as the shoulders). In that case, the "wide-9" is still the furthest outside gap for the defender.)
Typically, the "Wide-9" technique player is a pure pass rusher, and usually a speed rusher to be more specific. He aligns himself out wide, angled back toward the quarterback, and has limited run responsibility on the play. His whole job is to get to the quarterback. These are the defensive ends who excel at getting off the ball, blowing past the tackle, dipping their shoulder around the turn, and reaching the quarterback as he completes his drop.
The technique clearly gives the defensive end an advantage in pass rushing. He is able to get a couple of extra steps, and momentum built, before the tackle gets in the way. If he has the speed, the tackle may just be trying to push him further back, rather than actually getting in front of the defensive end.
It can have its struggles against the run, however, because, unless a linebacker is stepping into the offense's C-gap, there is no one there to defend the off-tackle run. Opposing offenses can try to take advantage of the defensive end's use of the technique by running off tackle, even running read-option type of plays into the gap or audibling into a running play to exploit the potential opening that is there. Running a defensive end in the Wide-9 takes some adjustment by the defense, but it should not be difficult to account for the C-gap with a linebacker.
New Dolphins Senior Defensive Assistant/Pass Rush Specialist Jim Washburn is a proponent of the Wide Nine and will likely look to use it in Miami to increase the pressure on opposing quarterbacks. A player like Cameron Wake, who suffered a season ending Achilles tear last year, could be a monster lined up out wide (we have seen Wake use the technique in the past, to be honest), and having Mario Williams on the other side of the line should increase the team's ability to utilize the style. The Dolphins will have to ask the linebackers to step up and into the gaps more, to prevent runs, but, with Ndamukong Suh in the middle and the defensive ends firing off the sides, a Wide Nine defensive pass rush could lead to a more dominant defensive line than Miami had last year.
(H/T bbickley for the Wide Nine topic idea.)