Sunday, March 19, 2023

The 1951 Rams Foray Into a 4-3 Defense

 By John Turney

The 1951 Los Angeles Rams won the NFL Championship by beating the Cleveland Browns 24-17. It was a franchise noted for a record-setting offense and rightly so.

Their defense was not nearly as good. They were average, at best.  They ranked ranking right in the middle in the fewest points allowed (sixth of twelve) and eighth in fewest yards allowed. 

Teams had to do a lot to try and keep up with the Los Angeles scoring machine because their defenses were going to be in for a long day.

The Green Bay Packers were attempting to build a passing game. 

Head coach Gene Ronzani hired Ray "Scooter" McLean as a backfield coach. They'd been teammates with the Chicago Bears in the 1940s. 

While the Pack still ran the T-formation they also ran a one-back offense and became more-pass happy than even the Rams. 

They set an NFL record for most passes and led the NFL in completions and were second in passing years to only Los Angeles. 

That was needed because no team was worse at running the football. Their leading runner was quarterback Tobin Rote with 523 yards. 

No other back ran for more than 190 yards on the season.

It worked pretty well, they were 3-3 at midseason though did not win a game after that. But they generally moved the ball and teams had to take notice.

In week four the Rams traveled to the outskirts of Milwaukee to take on the Packers and the new-fangled passing offense. 

The Rams countered with a 4-3 defense when the Pack spread it out. When they were in the T, the Rams stayed in their usual 5-2.

Here is the Rams 5-2 with linebackers Don Paul and Tank Younger near the line of scrimmage and the middle guard, Stan West over the center and rookie Andy Robustelli at right defensive end.

In the one-back, the Rams used the same personnel but shifted to this alignment—

Robustelli dropped to a wide linebacker position, Paul moved from outside to middle linebacker. Stan West stayed at defensive tackle but didn't drop like he sometimes would do in the 5-2. He stayed on the line of scrimmage as a rusher, either over the center or like here shaded on the center creating a form og and overshift to the three-receiver side of the Packers formation.

Here is another shot of the 5-2, Packers in the T—

And the 4-3, we'll call it an overshift, with the line moved to the tight end (three-receiver) side—

Here are the four players who would move depending on the formations of the Packers—

So it was an innovative way to use the same personnel to run either scheme. 

Most games if the Rams wanted Younger to be out wide, essentially as a corner then West would drop back at the snap or just after and play the middle—essentially the precursor of the middle linebacker that most of the teams did.

In this alignment, to prevent shot passes over the middle West might be asked to drop in the middle. 

The linebackers Paul and Younger are wide so the only way to cover the short middle was to have the middle guard drop after the snap. The only other option would be to have him stand there presnap which is what eventually happened in the NFL but that left the middle vulnerable to short runs, at least in the minds of coaches at the time. 

Here is the same idea in the second Packers game of 1951, Paul and Younger are out of the shot—

Again, 5-2 linebackers are wide so in this case West could be asked to drop

In this case, with a split end to the right, Tank Younger, the left linebacker walks out to him and would sometimes run with him in man coverage, other times he'd sit in a zone and read the quarterback and break to the ball.

In these two shots Paul is in the middle and to a lesser degree so is Younger and in this case West would not drop—he'd be a rusher or run defender, not a cover guy—

The Rams were a 5-2 team with some wrinkles of where the two linebackers would aline. Sometimes Don Paul was more in the middle sometimes outside over a tackle or end.

Younger could be in the inside shade of a tight end or walked out to a de facto cornerback position.

Stan West was aligned over the center but could drop at the snap or hit the center with a blow then drop. Andy Robustelli was the right defensive end in all cases.

But versus the Packers in Milwaukee, they pulled out a 4-3 to combat a one-back offense and they used it a good deal of the time - and shut the Pack out.

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