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