Mark Schofield’s Coaches and Defense to Defend the Planet


Lawrence Taylor, Brett Favre, Bo Jackson, and Gale Sayers, like Moss, are exceptions to the rules and that creates consternation for the J. Evans Pritchards within us. Photo by John Corbett.

Photo by John Corbett.

Team Overview

Given one game to save humanity, assembling a roster with a combination of players that have achieved the highest success in the game of football and a certain intimidation factor is no easy task.. The majority of these players have played in one or more Super Bowls, so they will not shy away from the spotlight of what is truly the biggest showcase in football history. The theme of this squad is situational football with an edge.

Go here to read about Schofield’s offensive unit.

Rules

I’m selecting the “pre-Bill Polian whining to the Competition Committee” rules of the 1990s and 2000s. Defenders are allowed to be physical with receivers in the passing game until the ball is in the air. This will allow our talented and aggressive secondary to play to their strengths, and our receiver corps is skilled enough to handle the level of contact when our offense is on the field.

Head Coach

Bill Belichick. Provided, of course, that the football genius often likened to the Emperor of the Dark Side is not prowling the opposing sideline.

In this scenario we have 90 days to assemble a team and prepare for the biggest game in football history. Belichick laughs at such a notion. After the New York Giants upset the San Francisco 49ers in the 1991 NFC Championship Game, Belichick crafted a game plan – beginning on the flight back east – to slow down Jim Kelly and Buffalo’s famed K-Gun offense. This game plan, which resides in the Hall of Fame, focused on adding additional defensive backs to take away the deep ball and instructed the secondary to be physical with receivers. Belichick also convinced his charges – the No. 1 rated defense against the run that season – that if Thurman Thomas ran for more than 100 yards the Giants would win. Both came true.

Finally, let us deal with the elephant in the room: If there were one football coach anywhere in the galaxy who possessed practice and/or game footage of this alien squad and their tendencies, it is Bill Belichick. In fact, it’s probably on a shelf in his office next to the tape titled “Trap Blocking in the Single Wing Offense.” Such footage might come in handy.

Defensive Overview: Athletic and aggressive on the edges, with big thumpers up the middle with a track record of stopping the run. We will be an attacking defense with our front seven, relying on the coverage ability we have assembled in the secondary to hamper the opposition’s receivers.

Defensive Coordinator: Rex Ryan. The son of legendary defensive coach Buddy Ryan is an evil genius when it comes to orchestrating a defense. His schemes have confounded quarterbacks for years, particularly Tom Brady. We will take a bit of a gamble here, but an educated one. Given the technological capabilities of this alien race, I am assuming they have spent some time scouting today’s NFL. They have probably seen lots of four-man fronts, lots of nickel and big-nickel alignments, and lots of sub packages. Which is why we will run a base 3-4 system at them with fast, explosive and talented athletes at all levels.

Ryan’s creative genius should flourish with this group.

DEFENSE

LE Howie Long

Before his ill-fated movie career and current gig as a host for Fox NFL Sunday, Long destroyed opposing backfields as a defensive end in the Raiders’ 3-4 scheme. After a collegiate career at Villanova, Long was selected in the second round of the 1981 NFL Draft by the Raiders and embarked on a 13-year career in the Silver and Black that included a win in Super Bowl XVIII. He tallied 91.5 sacks in his career, and changed the way defensive ends played the game in the 3-4 scheme. While 3-4 DEs traditionally were not feared pass rushers, Long developed a fearsome rip move, about which John Hannah said “[h]e’s so strong he can pick you right up off the ground with it.” Hannah also had this to say about his new teammate: “[h]e’s relentless. Shoot him in the head is the only way to stop him. If Howie’s alive and still kicking, he’s coming.”

NT Vince Wilfork

A stout 3-4 defense begins with the guy with his nose across from the football. The nose tackle in the 3-4 scheme is responsible for both A Gaps and needs the strength and leverage to occupy double- and triple-teams, allowing linebackers to flow to the football. Some have argued that the position is the most demanding in all of football.  While many defenders have excelled in this position, for my money the best 3-4 tackle on this planet is Vince Wilfork. He has ideal size for the position, and the elite strength to fight off a blocker (or two) with one arm and use his other to bring down a ball carrier. While strength and girth are his game, he is a tremendous athlete for a man of his size.

Bill Belichick had this to say about Wilfork:

There may have never been anyone at his position with as much strength, toughness, intelligence, instinctiveness and athleticism. He is the best defensive lineman I ever coached.

RE Bruce Smith

SmithII copy

Opposite Long aligns Smith, one of the most productive 3-4 defensive ends in history. His 200 career sacks still stand as the NFL’s career high, and the only player in NFL history to notch that many QB takedowns. While Smith was best known for his ability to pressure the quarterback, he was also stout against the run. Many recall his sack and safety of Giants’ QB Jeff Hostetler early in Super Bowl XXV, but it was his fourth down stop of running back Ottis Anderson late in the game set up Buffalo’s final drive – and the wide right field goal attempt. As his former defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell noted when introducing Smith during the defensive end’s enshrinement in Canton:

“Most people don’t realize. Bruce was a run defender also. They tend to think of him as a sacker. He can sack the quarterback. But this man had over 1,000 tackles in his run defense. He was a very stout run defender. He prided himself in that. He prided himself in stopping the run. Because he wanted to be a complete football player.”

With Wilfork next to him and Long on the opposite side of the line, Smith will find plays to make

LOLB Lawrence Taylor

“Hey baby, let’s go out there like a bunch of crazed dogs.”

For more than a decade, Taylor terrorized quarterbacks and gave coaches nightmares all week long. He tallied 132.5 sacks in his career, not counting the 9.5 he notched as a rookie before sacks were counted as an official statistic. Considered the best defensive player in history, Taylor revolutionized the linebacker position and changed how offenses structured pass protection schemes. Joe Gibbs, who saw LT hunt down Washington quarterbacks over many seasons, utilized two-tight end sets and a new alignment – H-Back – to try and slow down Taylor. “We had to try in some way to have a special game plan just for [him]. Now you don’t do that very often in this league but I think he’s one person that we learned the lesson the hard way. We lost ball games.” Or as John Madden stated:

“Lawrence Taylor, defensively, has had as big an impact as any player I’ve ever seen. He changed the way defense is played, the way pass-rushing is played, the way linebackers play and the way offenses block linebackers.”

One more night under the bright lights for this crazed dog to save the world.

LILB Jack Lambert.

Given the structure of this defense, we will need an inside linebacker who is adept in pass coverage. There was none better than Lambert. As the middle linebacker in Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain defense, he prided himself on his ability to hit and intimidate opponents. But Lambert also transformed the way linebackers play defense in Bud Carson’s “double-rotating zone” defense, a precursor to today’s Tampa 2 coverage. In this scheme, the middle linebacker drops into coverage to handle seam routes, very similar to the MLB in a Tampa 2 scheme. With his size and athletic ability, Lambert was perfect for this job. In our scheme and with our defensive lineup, Lambert is tasked with dropping into coverage on most snaps and destroying any receiver who dares get near him.

RILB Ray Lewis

Say what you want about his flamboyant pre-game entrance dance, or his transition to broadcaster (and adapting to cold weather while in a suit) but Lewis was one of the finest inside linebackers to put on pads. After a tremendous collegiate career at the University of Miami, Lewis was drafted by the then-expansion Baltimore Ravens and immediately became the heart and soul of that team – and that city. During their run to Super Bowl XXXV, Lewis spearheaded a defense that is arguably the best in league history. The Ravens set single-season records for points allowed (165) and rushing yards allowed (970) and during a five-game stretch in the regular season where the offense scored only field goals, the defense was stout enough that the Ravens won two of those games, and carried Trent Dilfer to a Super Bowl win.

ROLB Derrick Thomas

On October 22, 1988 the Alabama Crimson Tide hosted the Penn State Nittany Lions on a game broadcast by CBS to a national audience. The Crimson Tide held on to a narrow 8-3 victory, due wholly to the effort of their standout defensive end, Derrick Thomas. He notched eight tackles, one knocked-down pass, three sacks (including one for a safety) and hurried the Penn State QB eight times, including one on the final play of the game which resulted in an interception. Storied broadcaster Brent Musburger, calling the game for CBS, stated at one point “[F]olks, this is the greatest individual defensive effort I have ever witnessed.”

The Chiefs selected Thomas in the first round of the 1989 NFL Draft and he was named the Defensive Rookie of the Year, tallying 10 sacks in his rookie season. In his 10-year NFL career – cut short by a tragic car accident – Thomas brought down the opposing QB 126.5 times, and still holds the NFL single-game records for sacks with seven against Seattle in 1990. The player who is second on that list? Thomas, with six against the Raiders in 1988.

I have no idea how an offense can game plan for Taylor off one edge, and Thomas on the other.

Secondary Philosophy: Briefly on the secondary and our philosophy. I am envisioning playing a lot of Cover 1, with three impressive coverage players and a premier free safety behind them to assist. With two Hall of Fame cornerbacks, and a strong-safety who earned All Pro honors at the cornerback position, I have no problem moving any of these corners into the slot against 11 personnel, and I imagine Ryan would have a field day drawing up coverage schemes and blitzes for these four players.

CB Dick “Night Train” Lane

DNightrain copy

Despite playing in an era with fewer passes and shorter seasons, Lane still holds the NFL single-season record for interceptions with 14, a mark he set as a rookie with the Los Angeles Rams in 1952. Over his 14-year NFL career he tallied 68 interceptions, and scored five touchdowns on INT returns. Lane was a master at the “bait-and-switch” technique, playing off his receiver to bait the QB into thinking the offensive player was open, before breaking on the throw for an easy interception.

In addition to his prodigious coverage, Lane was a feared tackler named the second most-feared tackler in league history by NFL.com. His trademark move was the clothesline, aiming for the head and neck of the ball carrier. While he would likely incur a targeting infraction or two in the modern NFL, but for this game I’m willing to eat a few flags in exchange for trying to intimidate the alien opposition into turning tail and heading back home.

CB Deion Sanders

Before “Revis Island” there was Sanders Atoll. Similar to his counterpart, Sanders excelled at loose man coverage, playing off receivers before reading the quarterback and stepping in front of throws. He was one of the fastest players in NFL history and the first defender known for taking away half of the field from an offense. As described by former teammate Ray Horton: “I think Deion really did revolutionize the man-to-man football game of taking half the field away. What he did in essence was outrun the football. If you threw the ball his way, he would outrun the ball.”

Sanders was also “instant offense.” Once he got the football in his hands, he was looking to score. He scored nine touchdowns on INT returns during his illustrious career, and not one was shorter than 48 yards. Over those nine TD returns he racked up 617 yards, for an amazing 68.5-yard average. To this day he is the only player to have both a reception and an interception in a Super Bowl, as he caught a 47-yard post route from Troy Aikman in Super Bowl XXX. Should this alien squad throw his way, there is a solid chance that Team Humankind will be putting up six points on the scoreboard at the conclusion of the play.

SS Ronnie Lott

Over the course of his 14-year career, Lott terrorized opposing receivers from all three secondary positions. He broke into the league in 1981 and became an immediate starter at left cornerback for the 49ers. After four seasons – and one Super Bowl victory – at cornerback, Lott switched to safety in 1985, and during his tenure in the league he earned All-Pro honors at CB, SS and FS. He was best used as a free safety, where his instincts allowed him to flow to the football and anticipate plays from the center field position.

In this defense, Ryan will treasure his versatility, but Lott will be used most often as an in-the-box strong safety to bring some thumping run support. While many picture Lott delivering ferocious hits on wide receivers, it was his hit on a running back that might have changed the course of Super Bowl XXIII. On Cincinnati’s first offensive drive Ickey Woods, their young star running back, was enjoying success against the 49ers on the ground. According to Ray Rhodes, then the secondary coach in San Francisco, Lott returned to sideline and let everyone know “[d]on’t worry about Ickey. I’m going to put his fire out.”

Then, this happened: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mg96IqYdjiE&t=0m13s

The 49ers held Woods to 79 yards on the ground, the first time in the postseason Woods was held under 100 yards. As Rhodes put it, “it just knocked Ickey’s spark right out of him. The game turned right then because Ickey just didn’t run with the same authority after that.”

FS Ed Reed

Behind this trio of tremendous coverage players lurks the greatest free safety to ever play the game. Don’t take my word for it, take the word of his coach on this squad, Bill Belichick: “You’re the best free safety that has ever played this game that I’ve seen. You’re awesome.” Like Sanders, Reed is also instant offense on the defensive side of the football., scoring 13 regular-season touchdowns in his illustrious career, including two INT returns of 106 and 107 yards. With Lott, Lane and Sanders in front of him, he is free to lurk deep in Cover 1 schemes and just read the quarterback’s eyes, a talent that he displayed better than anyone ever to play the position.

K Adam Vinatieri

It would be easy to just link to the two Super Bowl game-winning field goals and call it a day. Vinatieri has a proven track-record of making clutch kicks so I doubt any team – even a squad composed of translucent-skinned aliens – could ice him. But ice is exactly what I have in mind placing the former Patriot on this squad. He delivered two of the most impressive field goals I have ever seen in the 2001 AFC Divisional playoff game between New England and Oakland. First, the field goal to send the game into overtime, and then the eventual game winner, both made in a driving blizzard. What a perfect selection for this exercise: A kicker who can deliver clutch kicks on the Ice Planet of Hoth.

P Ray Guy

The only punter ever selected in the first round of the NFL draft, Guy transformed the position and was a true threat for the Oakland teams he played for. His statistics are incredible, but the one that stands out the most  is that he placed 210 punts inside the 20-yard line, with only 128 touchbacks. The league began tracking hang time because of Guy, whose booming, sky-high punts forced countless fair catches. As his teammate Fred Biletnikoff said of him:

“Ray could have been considered our most valuable player every year, as he was the one constant whose performance in every game gave us a chance to win. Statistics didn’t do him justice, as Ray sacrificed those for good of the team. If the situation called for him to boom a punt long and high, he would. If it called for a coffin corner kick, he would. Ray was also one of our team leaders who would do anything necessary to help the team win. He was a weapon and had the ability to flip the field.”

Gunner Steve Tasker

Serving as a gunner for Buffalo’s punt teams during their great teams in the 1980s and 1990s, Tasker was another special teams player who was a true weapon for his team. In the 1987 season, Tasker notched 20 tackles with three forced fumbles on punt coverage alone. He was named to seven Pro Bowls during his career and is the only special teams player to ever be named the MVP of the Pro Bowl, in 1993. The combination of Guy’s booming kicks and Tasker’s ability to elude blockers and arrive first to the returner is a dangerous one for our squad.

Mark is a reformed lawyer who is excited to work on something more important than two insurance companies fighting over money: Football. He graduated from Wesleyan University where he was a four-year letter winner as a quarterback and situational wide receiver. He lives in Maryland with his wife and two children. You can find his work at Inside the Pylon.

Read more RSPWP Teams to Defend the Planet at the directory page.

Categories: RSP Writers ProjectTags: , , , , , , , ,

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