How SEC Defenses Should Scheme to Stop Alabama's Bulldozing Offense

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How SEC Defenses Should Scheme to Stop Alabama's Bulldozing Offense
Dak Dillon-USA TODAY Sports
Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon (left) and QB AJ McCarron

Alabama gets a lot of attention from its stifling defense—a unit that has finished in the top five nationally in total defense in each of the last five seasons. But while the defense has dominated headlines and opponents during the course of the Crimson Tide dynasty, its offense hasn't been half-bad.

Head coach Nick Saban's crew has finished in the top five in the SEC in total offense in four straight years, on the heels of a physical offensive line, punishing rushing attacks and marvelously efficient passing game.

It's an offense that, for the most part, isn't creative. 

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Alabama head coach Nick Saban (left) with offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier

Former offensive coordinator Jim McElwain (2008-11) and current offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier (2012) generally kept the the same script of establishing the run and using the play-action off of it for big plays.

You know it, I know it and everybody in the stadium knows it—including the opposing defense.

Stopping it, on the other hand, is tricky.

Despite massive roster turnover, specifically along the offensive line, you have to imagine that the offense will look the same in 2013?

How do you stop it?

 

Make Them One-Dimensional

Alabama is one-dimensional by design, so the trick against the Tide is to flip the script and make them a passing team—something that's much easier said than done.

In its last five losses, Alabama has averaged just 85 yards per game on the ground—118.7 fewer yards per game than its overall average during that three-year span.

How do you stop the run?

Over the last few years it's been next-to-impossible thanks to talented running backs and offensive linemen, and that may not change with a healthy stable of running backs chomping at the bit behind presumed starter T.J. Yeldon.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Alabama RB T.J. Yeldon

The path of least resistance is to jump on them early and force them to play from behind.

That's what Texas A&M did in 2012 and South Carolina did in 2010. Generally, Alabama stays pretty patient with the game plan. Testing that would be a good idea.

Easier said than done, and if you have to stop Yeldon, the key is to limit the big play.

Going for the big hit against a running back as fast and quick as he is will only lead to disaster. A two-yard gain is much better than a 20-yarder, so stay disciplined, wrap up when you get the chance, and when all else fails, wait for your friends.

 

Get After the Quarterback

The rising senior signal-caller for the Crimson Tide shed the label of "game manager" last season in favor of the more complimentary "gun-slinger" (at least by Alabama standards). As a junior, McCarron completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 2,933 yards, 30 touchdowns and only three interceptions.

It's a label that suits him well. He has always had the ability to sling the ball all over the field, but to his credit, he has scaled back his desire to sling the ball all over the field for the greater good of his team.

McCarron is a tough customer and is not easily rattled, but taking your chances and coming after the Mobile, Ala. native is about your only shot. Otherwise, he'll pick you apart.

Scroll to the 0:17 mark

In the clip above, Texas A&M gets some push up the middle, he wasn't able to fully step into the throw, threw into traffic and was picked off by linebacker Sean Porter. This is, admittedly, nit-picking a bit since McCarron doesn't make many mistakes.

 

Confuse the Offensive Line

This was next-to-impossible over the last few seasons, but with center Barrett Jones, guard Chance Warmack and tackle D.J. Fluker all gone, there's going to be an adjustment period for the 2013 edition of the Alabama offensive line.

One way to do that is to disguise where the pressure is coming from.

Scroll to the 1:01:54 mark

In the clip above, LSU shows a corner blitz from the top of the screen before the snap. The corner drops back into the zone and defensive end Barkevious Mingo, who's standing up along the line at the bottom of the screen stunts and brings pressure inside. 

For the most part, Alabama's offensive line handled this blitz well despite the fact that McCarron was sacked on the play. There's no guarantee of that happening in 2013 with three newcomers taking over.

 

Stop McCarron on 2nd and Long

Most people look at third down statistics as the barometer for how successful a team is on defense. 

That argument can certainly be made for Alabama; but second down is a critical down in the Crimson Tide passing game.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Alabama QB AJ McCarron

In 2nd-and-long (six or more yards) situations in 2012, McCarron was a on fire, completing 46-of-60 passes for 534 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. A 76.7 percent completion percentage isn't too shabby the last time I checked.

McCarron's success on second down helped Alabama move the chains or, at the very least, put them in a good position to do so on third down.

So how do you stop him on second down?

Pressuring him would be a good start. Don't assume Alabama is going to go run, run, pass during each set of downs. Take chances on second down so the odds are in your favor on third down if you're successful.

 

Don't Miss Tackles

In other words, don't pull a "Manti Te'o." 

Manti Te'o vs. Alabama

Te'o missed seven tackles in Notre Dame's 42-14 BCS National Championship Game loss to Alabama.

Did that make a difference in the overall outcome of the game? Nope. Alabama was going to take Notre Dame behind the woodshed anyway. It wouldn't have hurt though.

When you're in position to make a tackle against Alabama, you have to take advantage. Keeping that offense off the field allows your defense to stay fresh and prevents the fast and physical downhill rushing attack from taking it's toll.

Stopping Alabama's offense is no easy task, and that will continue in 2013 with a veteran quarterback, stable running game and a talented group of wide receivers. Stopping the run and disguising pressure against the inexperienced offensive line will be two items at the top of the list for every opposing defensive coordinator this season.

 

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