Explaining the “Wide Nine” & How it Could Revitalize Miami’s Defense
The notorious “Wide Nine” defensive scheme is often credited to Bear Bryant and Bum Phillips. It describes the technique of aligning the defense’s two ends outside of the last offensive players on the line of scrimmage (this could either be the offensive tackle or a tight end). They then angle themselves directly at the quarterback, and often set up in a track position. The linebackers are tasked with filling the holes that are created due to the extra space between the defensive tackles and defensive ends. This is becoming an increasingly common defensive alignment, and has been used in the past by the Philadelphia Eagles, the Detroit Lions and, to a lesser extent, the Seattle Seahawks. Jason Babin is particularly well known for his success in the technique, having recorded 18 sacks as an Eagle in 2011.While the overall success of the scheme remains a topic of discussion, it seems to have a few obvious benefits and drawbacks for a defense.
“Wide Nine” is, in short, designed to improve the pass rush. It puts defensive ends in prime position to get upfield and create pressure in the face of the quarterback by creating more difficult angles for offensive tackles to block It is specifically successful on passing downs, and long distances. If the offense is likely to throw the ball in a certain situation, it makes it extremely less probable that the gaps between the defensive tackles and ends are exploited by the running back. The play below exemplifies this perfectly, as it is a 4th and 20:
In addition, it not only decreases the amount of time that the opposing quarterback can go through his progressions, but it also increases the likelihood of a mistake, whether it is taking a sack or committing a turnover. If the blockers happen to overcompensate, the ends have the ability to cut back in side. In the play below, Jason Babin utilizes a spin move out of the “Wide Nine” to get around the offensive tackle and tally the strip sack:
Babin uses a similar move on this play, and once again gets the sack:
These plays perfectly display the hope of those who employ this strategy. With the help of the “Wide Nine”, the Dolphins could have a lot of success rushing the passer in 2016.
The obvious negative attached to the “Wide Nine,” is the belief that by inching the defensive ends further to the outside, large running lanes are produced for the offense to identify. It puts more pressure on the interior linemen to eat up space, and forces the linebackers to make the plays that develop in front of them. In theory, it makes it rather difficult to limit running plays to short gains, which could undermine the goals of a 4-3 defense. Notice the hole created in the play below, which allows Justin Forsett to run close to seven yards untouched:
In addition, this defensive scheme can backfire in the passing game as well. Defensive ends are tasked with putting everything into the pressure they’re applying, which will often prevent them from getting proper jams on the tight ends. Letting a tight end get a free start off the line is a dangerous proposition. This is especially worrisome for teams that have difficulties in coverage. Lastly, defensive coordinators must be careful not to line up the defensive ends too far to the outside, as the farther they are moved, the more distance they will have to cover on their way to the quarterback.
Fit in Miami:
There has been speculation that new defensive coordinator Vance Joseph will attempt to incorporate the “Wide Nine” into his defensive schemes. A former defensive backs coach for both the Houston Texans and Cincinnati Bengals, Joseph will do his absolute best to take pressure off of his cornerbacks and safeties. Considering the performance of the defensive backfield last season and the turnover that could occur at the position this offseason, this could be absolutely essential.
This also could explain the Dolphins’ interest in free agent outside linebacker/defensive end Bruce Irvin. Irvin has the skillset to excel in this technique. In fact, many draft pundits believed that he would only be a pass-rushing specialist in the NFL. While he has shown that he is undoubtedly a three-down player, the fact that scouts identified his pass rush as his best attribute shows that he can successfully replace Olivier Vernon, if need be. Irvin was a top performer in various drills during his NFL Combine, including the 40-yard dash, broad jump, three-cone drill, and 20-yard shuttle. These performances displayed both his explosiveness and agility, which would make him a welcomed addition to a Dolphins’ squad tied for 26th in the league in sacks this past season.
One potential concern that Dolphins fans could have about the “Wide Nine” is the linebacker corps. Miami’s linebackers struggled mightily against the run last season, and were equally as weak in their coverage of tight ends. As explained previously, this particular alignment will make it even more difficult to succeed in these two aspects. Joseph will have to be confident in his talent manning the second level of the defense in order to consistently employ the “Wide Nine” next season.
Overall, the prospect of using the “Wide Nine” alignment as a situational defensive scheme is extremely interesting. It provides the potential for the pass rush that Joseph longs for. It is quite obvious that he hopes to transition to a 3-4 defense at some point, and a strong pass rush is a lynchpin to that scheme. While the Dolphins’ front office expressed their desire to remain in the 4-3 for at least a season under Vance Joseph, it makes sense for him to begin the transition as quickly as possible. It remains to be seen how successful the technique truly is, and how the limitations of the alignment will affect the rest of the defense. But for right now, the “Wide Nine” seems like a great way to force the offense into mistakes and make some necessary progress on the defensive side of the ball.