One of the questions MCMers have tossed around for the past two offseasons now is the types of formations Jerry Gray wants to use. The Titans are still primarily a 4-3 team that will use plenty of nickel and dime (what team doesn't nowadays?) but one of the most intriguing formations Gray employed last year was the "Ruby" formation. The Ruby package is a 3-2-6 lineup that features three safeties. I first became interested in learning about the formation after NewsToTom correctly pointed out that Gray wants to be able to use three safeties in some packages. According to Tom, we were in the Ruby package 8% of the time last year. In my next post on this formation, I'll look at how well our players, particularly some of the new additions, fit into it. For now, let's take a look at what each position will require and how it'll work.
For those of you who follow college football closely, you'll recognize that LSU sometimes uses what they call the Mustang formation. It's the same 3-2-6 lineup, but consists of two safeties and four corners. For a Titans-related connection however, it was used frequently by Gregg Williams, who had Jerry Gray as his defensive coordinator in Buffalo. That should put a smile on your face, because we know that those defenses are famous for bringing pressure on the quarterbacks. With a variety of ways to bring pressure, the opposing QB will need to make sure he has enough blockers, or more importantly, the blockers positioned correctly. It allows the defense to manipulate the offense before the snap.
The Three Defensive Linemen
Most of the time, their jobs will be really simple. They're responsible for hitting their gaps and pushing the pocket. Their roles will see very little change from any other formation. It gets a little more complicated when you start asking the linemen to cover. For instance, in Tom's post he links to two previous National Football Post articles. Each details 3-2-6 blitzes from the Saints. They can be found here and here. Last year we saw Gray drop linemen into coverage occasionally to mixed results, but I expect to see it again this year. In that first NFP post, you can see that the DE is responsible for the TE on that play.
The Two Linebackers
They've got a tough job. When Gray spoke about the hybrid defense, I think a lot of us got confused into thinking he would run a hybrid 4-3/3-4. That wasn't the case last year, and I don't think we'll see it this year. What I think is closer to the truth is Gray wanting to use more hybrid players. This is a dime package, but in order to run it properly the linebackers are going to need to be able to do a variety of things. With only two linebackers on the field, the responsibilities of each will be amplified. The players here need to be fast. When in coverage, they'll have a lot of running to do, often lining up at the traditional linebacker spots and moving into spaces vacated by the blitzing defensive backs.
The Six Defensive Backs
This is the fun part, especially for a secondary guru like Jerry Gray. All these defensive backs can be asked to do many different things, but some will do more of one thing (coverage/blitz) than others. The top corner will still spend the majority of time in coverage, usually left on an island when you bring a lot of pressure. The other corner has a lot of the same responsibilities. Gray's creativity should really show from the four players that play closer to the middle of the field. He has a free safety, strong safety, nickel corner and extra safety to work with. The extra safety can play like a dime corner. Pat Kirwan recently discussed the push to a "big" nickel package last week. In this case, we can classify this as a "big" dime package. He wrote:
The Big Nickel safety has to be able to play as a linebacker when the offense condenses the set, and of course, he has to match up on a flexed tight end when they spread out the formation.
This role can be applied to the big dime safety as well. The nickel corner and safeties can be moved all over the place before the snap, providing an 'organized chaos' look. With so many weapons at your disposal, the offense will be left guessing where the pressure's coming from. For an example of how this works, think of the role Finnegan played for us as the nickel corner (even when not in the Ruby). With this formation, we can have more of those types of players. The strength of this defense lies in the potential for so many different looks and blitz calls.
The weakness of this defense is the running back and run game. A run play has the opportunity to go for a long distance if they can avoid the blitz and put the back in a one-on-one situation. As with most blitzes, if you can find the soft spot with a hot route there's a potential for a big gain as well. This formation is used almost exclusively on passing downs.
Let me state another obvious fact- if you don't have the personnel for this package, you're going to get burned. With that in mind, the follow-up post to this will look at how our current roster fits into this formation. What do you guys think of this Ruby formation? What could the offense do to beat it? Let me know in the comments!