Billy Davis, the ‘Predator’ And the 4-3 Under

We learned yesterday that Chip Kelly has pegged Cleveland Browns linebackers coach Billy Davis to be his defensive coordinator.

Hopefully, we’ll hear from Davis soon, but until then, it doesn’t hurt to discuss what type of scheme he might be bringing to Philadelphia.

There’s one article making the rounds in which Davis (then with the Arizona Cardinals) explained his scheme to Eric Edholm of Pro Football Weekly.

“Everybody puts us in that 3-4 category, but what we are is an ‘under front, a 4-3 ‘under’ defense,” Davis said. “The ‘under’ is almost a 3-4. As 3-4 [defenses] go, it’s not really what we do here.”

The guess here is that we’re going to be hearing the term “4-3 under” quite a bit in the coming weeks and months. It might even be the new Wide-9, who knows? But what exactly does Davis mean? Let’s take a deeper look into the hybrid front that is used by teams like the Seahawks and the Ravens.

Here is an All-22 shot from a Seahawks-Rams game last season. We’ll focus on the five defensive players at the line of scrimmage.

Let’s start with the nose tackle.

As Davis explained it, the nose tackle lines up between the center and the guard (the 1-technique) on the strong side. Pete Carroll offered the following description of what he wants out of the nose tackle.

“At Nose Tackle you have to find a player who likes to mix it up,” he said, per “We want a big guy in there who likes to get down and dirty. He is going to get doubled a lot on the run and pass and is going to get down blocked a lot. He has to be a tough player. This guy can be a short and stubby type of player.”

The Eagles very well could add a nose tackle in the draft or free agency. The options on the roster would be Mike Patterson or Antonio Dixon.

Part of the nose tackle’s responsibility is to occupy the center. If he does that, the other defensive tackle (lined up at the 3-technique between the guard and tackle) should get a one-on-one opportunity, in this case against the right guard.

“The 3-technique player should be your premier interior pass rusher,” Carroll said. “He is going to get a lot of one on one blocks as it is hard to double team him because of where he lines up.”

If you’re referring to this front as a 3-4, the player described by Carroll is considered a defensive end. If you’re talking about a 4-3, he’s a defensive tackle. Either way, this sounds like it could be a good fit for Fletcher Cox.

From the Davis article referenced above:

But in the 4-3 ‘under’ front, like the Cardinals use as their base defense which looks similar to the 3-4 to the naked eye, the biggest difference is in the outside linebackers. The strong-side linebacker is still outside the tight end. But the other outside guy – the Cardinals call this player their “Predator” – is almost always rushing the passer, although the Cards will occasionally drop him into covers to mix things up.

Here’s another look at the All-22 shot, highlighting the two players he’s talking about.

One linebacker (to your right) is lined up across the tight end. This would be your typical outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. You need a player who’s capable of rushing the passer or dropping back into coverage. Chike Okeafor filled this role for the Cardinals in 2008. According to Pro Football Focus, he rushed the QB about 70 percent of the time and dropped back about 30 percent on passing downs.

Perhaps someone like Brandon Graham or Vinny Curry could fill that role for the Eagles, although projecting their coverage skills is a complete guess at this point.

And then there’s the pass-rush specialist on the other side. This is the player Davis referred to as the “Predator.” For the Cardinals, that spot was occupied by Bertrand Berry and Travis LaBoy. Per PFF, Berry rushed the passer 94 percent of the time and dropped back just 6 percent. For LaBoy, the exact same percentages applied.

As for the Eagles, Graham or Trent Cole (even though he had a down year in 2012) would seem to fit the bill. Or perhaps a player who’s not currently on the roster. Remember, ideally, the guard is blocking the defensive tackle. And this is the side without the tight end, meaning there’s not a lot of help for the tackle to block the pass-rusher.

Carroll refers to this player as the LEO:

“The best pass rusher on the team is usually the defensive end to the open side of the field. That puts him on the quarterback’s blind side and makes him a C gap player in this defense. We often align him wider than this in order to give him a better angle of attack and allow him to play in space.”

“(He) has to be one of your best football players. Size does not matter as much. We want an athletic player who can move around.”

While Chris Clemons has his hand on the ground in the image above, this player could just as easily be in a two-point stance, which would create the appearance of a 3-4.

Meanwhile, the other defensive end (to the strong side) won’t get as many advantageous pass-rushing opportunities and needs to be able to play the run well. Cullen Jenkins? Cedric Thornton?

And finally, the other two linebackers have defined roles. The middle linebacker may have to get away from the guard on the strong side (in this case, the LG). Davis referred to him as a “thumper.” DeMeco Ryans, coming off a very strong season, would likely be the primary option.

The scheme would likely benefit second-year player Mychal Kendricks. Karlos Dansby played weak-side LB for Davis in Arizona.

The way the defense is set up, he has a nice protective shield to keep potential blockers at bay. “What we’ve done with Karlos is put him behind a three-technique, so basically – we call these anchor points – he’s got a wall in front of him,” Davis said. “So he can run and use his athleticism. The center can’t get him because the nose is on him. The guard can’t get him because the end is on him. And the tackle can’t get him because the predator is on him. So this is your athlete that can run, go cover ground and make plays.”

If you’re wondering about blitzing, Davis’ defense liked to send one extra defender. They rushed five 29.9 percent of the time in 2010, sixth-most in the league, according to Football Outsiders. They rushed three just 4 percent of the time (24th).

In 2009, Arizona rushed five 33.8 percent of the time (third) and three 5.6 percent (16th).

So those are some concepts and roles to keep in mind. Davis will meet with Kelly to determine what kind of defense they want to employ and which pieces fit. We should get some pretty good clues of what they’re thinking in the coming months as the roster is shaped.

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