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Rob Ryan's Defensive Fronts: The 46, Psycho, and Cloud | The DC Times

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Rob Ryan’s Defensive Fronts: The 46, Psycho, and Cloud

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Jonathan Bales

I recently came across an awesome post at Code and Football that captures a few of Rob Ryan’s defensive looks during his time in Cleveland last season.

In short-yardage, Ryan uses regular goal line looks and the “46” defense that his father made popular.  You can see the “46” below.

The “46” defense utilizes “regular” 4-3 personnel, with a twist (literally).  Check out the alignment below.

You can see the all of the down-linemen are shifted to the weak side of the formation.  The three linebackers are all lined up over the strong-side offensive tackle or even further out.

Ryan generally uses the defense only in short-yardage situations, although he will dial up zone variations of the “46” in other situations which are meant to confuse the quarterback.

In addition to Ryan’s traditional three and four-man fronts, he also uses alignments that invoke just two, one, and even zero down-linemen.  As Code and Football writes:

Nickel fronts arise when, from the 3-4 you replace a defensive end with a rush linebacker. Psycho fronts happen when both defensive ends in a 3-4 are replaced with a rush linebacker. You can also go from a 4 man front to a nickel front by replacing both defensive ends with rush linebackers. I’ve seen substitutions that look like 4-3 over and under defenses where the weak side DE has been replaced with a rush linebacker. These end up appearing as if they are very shifted 3-4 fronts.

  • Nickel Front: Two Down-Linemen

Likely Cowboys’ personnel: “Regular” with worst pass-rushing defensive end replaced with Victor Butler (or whoever the No. 3 rush linebacker might be this season)

  • Psycho Front: One Down-Linemen

Like Cowboys’ personnel: “Regular” with both defensive ends replaced by Victor Butler and another rush linebacker

  • Cloud Front: Zero Down-Linemen

You can see Ryan’s cloud front at the 1:13-mark here.  You can see an abundance of rush linebackers and defensive backs “floating” around before the snap, giving Drew Brees no indication of who might be rushing.

You can also see the nickel front at the 1:35 mark and two variations of the “Pyscho” front at the 16 and 45-second marks of that same video.

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14 Responses to Rob Ryan’s Defensive Fronts: The 46, Psycho, and Cloud

  1. JJ says:


    While I look forward to the schemes used by Ryan, I am far more curious of how intends to use players in the scheme. For example, Phillips seemed more inclined to trust veterans even if they were slower or less athletic. I can imagine more from Butler, Lee and maybe even Williams at LB.

    Unfortunately, I am working very hard to convince myself that we have DEs and enough depth/talent/youth at ILB (i won’t even go safety) to create a havoc defense. Ratliff and Ware cannot be the sole pressure players.

  2. craig says:

    this might be my favorite post so far

  3. Tyrone Jenkins says:

    Excellent, excellent, excellent.

    It is assumed that these type defenses are utilized when a run is expected. The one MAJOR question is – what if the offense passes? At tha point, I understand the object of the defense is to bump and run w/ the corners and hope they stay engaged/cover long enough to allow the sack. This also presumes you have a centerfielder type FS who can cover the TE adequately and/or read the QB and make plays on slants, TE giant/seam routes and the RB (if he goes in motion into the slot).

    Dallas, right now, does not possess the defensive secondary personnel to run this effectively against the pass IMO.

  4. Mont Seventeen says:

    The Cowboys don’t have the DBs to play that 46 but that alignment is archaic… Even that diagram showed it v. Slit backs. I like the other sets but do the Cowboys have the talent to run that? I like spears in some of those 2 down sets but not Rat, and I’m not a Spears fan…

    I think the reason why Wade didn’t run stuff like that was bc of the personnel… See the Ravens game from 08, our guys don’t get off blocks well enough, to run exotic fronts.

    Wade knew his Xs n Os… His problem was developing talent.

  5. Mark Sands says:

    JB– Excellant article. I have to agree with the rest of the group that we don’t have the personnell to pull this off. It does really look good though. To go a step farther, I can’t say that I’m sold on the 3-4, which I blame for much of last years dismal play (If you give the QB enough time, he’s gonna find someone open). We couldn’t get any penetration to hurry the QB. If you double team Ratliff, and make sure that Ware doesn’t turn the corner on your best Offensive lineman—you’ve got all day.

  6. JJ–Same here. I think you’ll see A LOT more Butler, particularly in the fronts above. Butler, Spencer, and Ware on 3rd and long is scary, particularly with the uncertainty of which rushers will be coming.

    Tyrone–Only the 46 is a run-oriented front. The others will be used primarily on 2nd and 3rd and long (5+).

  7. Mont–Good points, but I have a hard time believing the Browns’ talent on D surpasses that in Dallas, even with the down year. I think you’ll see the Cowboys target different sorts of players this year with Ryan in at DC, particularly in the secondary. I also don’t think Phillips was as innovative as other coaches around the league. Good coach who knew Xs and Os? Yes. New school, aggressive, unique approach? No.

  8. Devon Gilliamil says:

    Have to agree with the above post. First and foremost Wade Phillips, as much as he showed the positives in being a master 3-4 wizard, but in the end of it all he demonstrated a laid back aproach when it came to the team, and the team responded in kind. The didn’t perform for him when he asked them to do more exotic things, only because how he asked…our whole team suffered for it.
    Then you have to look at the Clevelend Browns…if that defense measures in any degree to our DALLAS COWBOYS, then you are not a real fan. When Garret demanded more from this team, and did as Jimmy Johnson did, which was play all the players on the TEAM, and made them play with more fire and attention to detail. The team responded. We will be a better team all around for some of these moves Garret has made. Enlisting Rob Ryan and his demanding, yet cunning approach, will light a fire under these guys. Campo should be gone, but, at the same time you can’t deny what that same core of corners did in 09, with the right safeties, we can bring it all together again.
    Ryan will demand more of his defense than Wade even could muster, and with a good draft and free agency…we are in the thick of things, especially defensively.

  9. Devon–Well said. I’m very excited to watch Ryan’s fiery, yet cunning approach, as you point out.

  10. Eddie Hushfield says:

    We have personnel that have performed well in the past, just not the recent past. Not all players (safeties particularly) will be expected to step into this defense. Some guys are going to have to be left behind (again, safeties particularly). Most of the rest, if they train well, and respond to the discipline with discipline of their own, we will have a much improved defense because they will like the attacking style once they learn it. Go out and make plays rather than hope to not make a mistake is a much better style of play, don’t you think?

  11. No doubt, Eddie. I have been in support of this style of defense for awhile and I’m thrilled with the Rob Ryan hire. It was painful to watch the Cowboys line up in the same defensive alignment play after play, showing exactly what they planned to do well before the snap.

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