Say No to Tweeners! A Look at Defensive Tackles in the NFL

Thomas Moore IIIContributor INovember 18, 2008

It's not a big secret that a team that controls the line of scrimmage has a strong chance of winning a football game. On the defensive side of the ball, that starts with the defensive tackles.

I firmly believe that you need at least one player that can occupy two blocks from the offensive line.

A good push from the line means the quarterback can’t step up in the pocket to avoid pressure, which will eventually lead to bad throws and turnovers. It also protects the middle linebacker and frees him to make plays.

I remember Brian Urlacher coming into the league behind Keith Traylor and Ted Washington and we thought he was the next Dick Butkus. A few years later, he was a placemat for Jerome Bettis with a bad back.

Oddly, some coaches still don’t get this. I’m from the Philadelphia area, and 1/3 of all strokes in Pennsylvania are related to Andy Reid.

Ever since the playoff game against the Saints a couple of years ago, one of my eyes has developed a twitch and it won't close all the way.

Andy, like many modern coaches, employs a rotation of “tweeners:” four or five linemen too big to be traditional ends and too small to be every-down tackles which is like eating at McDonald’s, finding a finger in your French fries, and being compensated with a coupon for more French fries.

What makes it worse is that teams are going for smaller, faster linebackers. They can pile up tackles, but being undersized in the middle usually means plenty of injuries too.

The big guys have to be helped out by their offenses too. Teams that can’t keep the ball on offense skew the stats, as do teams that throw up handfuls of turnovers. With this in mind, let’s look at the league and select a handful of teams.

“The ‘What Were You Thinking? Teams”

Indianapolis Colts

I can almost understand the Colts, actually. Tony Dungy ran a beautiful Cover 2 with Warren Sapp and Booger McFarland in Tampa, and so they gave it a college try and got stung horribly by Corey Simon, who was so fat his knee disintegrated or something.

They brought in free agent after free agent and then they said "screw it," they’re starting a DT that’s 255 pounds and another that’s 265 pounds in front of 5’11, 235 pound Gary Brackett.

Their run defense is ranked No. 25, and the only reason people don’t just go 1960’s Green Bay Packers on them is because Bob Sanders plays one game out of three and you simply can’t risk it.

Dallas Cowboys

Tried to run a 3-4 defense without a true nose tackle. Jay Ratliff is active, but he can’t hold up for a season at barely 300 pounds, and his backup is Tank Johnson, who was the pass rushing tackle in Chicago.

Behind them is Zach Thomas, who now specializes in shoestring tackles from every angle. (Seriously, I’ve been watching them and he keeps trying to clock people like he used to and its kind of like trying to hitstick Earl Campbell with Deion Sanders in Madden).

Also, Wade Phillips is the guy who had the miracle season in Buffalo with Doug Flutie at QB and then does the all time dummy move by yanking him for the last game of the season and the first round of the playoffs for Rob Johnson. He will always be on the ‘What Were You Thinking?” team.

Detroit Lions

Ever since Bobby Ross decided that the problem with his offense was Barry Sanders, Detroit has been cursed. This year, they decided to ship off Shaun Rogers and replace him with undersized but overpaid Cory Redding, who was formerly a defensive end.

They have two tackles under 300 pounds in front of Paris Lenon, who is barely 230 pounds. That is why any team that wants to run goes through them like General Patton went through Europe. They are the worst-run defense in the league.

Philadelphia Eagles

Reid strikes again. I remember when they drafted Mike Patterson, and everyone was talking about how explosive he was, and what great leverage and all I could think of was was why did they draft a defensive tackle an inch and a half short of six feet?

They did start Broderick Bunkley, but they made him lose weight. They get away with this because MLB Stewart Bradley is a 255-pound tackling machine, but if anything happens to him, Natrone Means could take a handoff and reach Brian Dawkins before he got touched.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Technically, they still have John Henderson, but Del Rio is such an idiot that he had to be included. He had Henderson next to Stroud and last year rotated them with Grady Jackson, which meant that trying to run on them was like trying to trade blows with Brock Lesnar. You might land your shots, but he probably didn't even feel it.

The big guys couldn’t pass rush, but quarterbacks couldn’t step up in the pocket, and couldn’t see any passing lanes, and Paul Spicer and Reggie Heyward actually looked decent on the ends.

So he replaces Stroud with Rob Meier, who had six good games last year. It jacks up his pass rush, and the play is on Mike Peterson a lot quicker than it used to be. The run defense ends up rated No. 20.

He blames Peterson, the team’s leading tackler in a game where Peterson’s big sack and dance fired the defense up and they made a furious comeback and nearly won.

He decides to embarrass him in the locker room in front of the team, which isn’t old school, exactly. Vince Lombardi didn’t chastise Ray Nitschke in public, he did it in his office because Nitschke wouldn’t have put up with it. The point is, great coaches know how to treat their playmakers.

Denver Broncos

Mike Shanahan picks defensive lineman like Eminem picks women. Around February, you can see Coach drinking a tall stein of Coors Light and telling anyone that will listen that he thought he had it this time.

Denver runs a 3-4 with a barely 300-pound nose tackle that didn’t start last year as the pass rushing tackle in a 4-3 with two interior linebackers around 230 pounds. Denver is ranked 26th in rush defense.

He’ll get away with it because…

Kansas City Chiefs

Drafted undersized Glenn Dorsey and stuck Tank Tyler next to him, completely neutralizing his effect. There should be a fine for misusing your talented rookie. Much like...

St. Louis Rams

Have Chris Long and Leonard Little next to 35-year-old, 290-pound La’Roi Glover and a rotation of tweeners.

Their coach is Jim Haslett, the guy who let Willie Roaf AND Grady Jackson go from the Saints, compromising both lines at the same time while milking Mike Ditka's personnel decisions for a year or two until it fell apart.

Plus, he has this thing where he always looks confused on the sideline no matter what is happening. Never a good sign.

The Tweeners

Some teams love tweeners in front of small middle linebackers and it’s easy to run through them. They either have bad run defenses, constant front-line injuries, or they keep their guys off the field by winning the time of possession battle on offense and getting turnovers on defense.

The Bears, the Texans, the Saints, the Bucs, and the Skins. The Bears should know better. The Bucs are just happy to be competitive and the Skins firmly believe in building their back seven and then running out of money when they reach the defensive line.

The Guys Who Get It

The Steelers have Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke to spell him. I always thought their uncanny ability to replace Pro Bowlers with more Pro Bowlers was the tandem of Tom Modrak (who has done a good job in Buffalo) and Tom Donahue, but they’re still doing it.

The Ravens get it, with Bannan and Divens in front of Ray Lewis and Bart Scott. The Packers and Vikings get it, although the Vikes' guys got busted taking Starcaps trying to lose weight. That’s like when Jlo’s handlers told her her butt was too big. Running on the Steelers, Ravens or Vikings is like cutting off your leg with a penknife, and that's how it should be to go up the middle against a professional football team.

The Titans, Falcons and Panthers get it. If Haynesworth wins MVP this year, twenty Hall of Famers will drop dead simultaneously of joy. And he should. If he gets hurt, their season is over.

The guy next to him is under 300 pounds, the linebacker behind him isn’t even six feet tall, Bullock and Hope would have to make every tackle and the whole team relies on the defense for a spark.

Haynesworth is so good, he stomped a guy's face in with his cleats and his team didn't dump him. That's saying something.

The Patriots, Jets and Chargers get it. Notice that these are all winning teams. It’s not a coincidence. Vince Wilfork actually replaced Ted Washington, Kris Jenkins made the Jets forget they lost Vilma, and Jamaal Williams is one of the best especially considering he's next to Castillo.

The Exceptions*

Teams with a lot of turnovers or time of possession woes keep their big guys out there too long. The Bengals have a good-looking player in Peko, but they’re –7 in turnovers and 26th in time of possession.

The Raiders have Tommy Kelly and Gerald Warren, but they’re 28th in time of possession. And they're the Raiders.

I think behind closed doors Al Davis wraps himself in a scarf and talks like Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard. Wouldn't you have loved to have been back there when Lane Kiffin started cutting up?

The 49ers have Sopoaga and Franklin but are –10 in the turnover battle. The woeful Seahawks are –3 on turnovers and dead last in time of possession.

Isn’t it funny that everyone wants Bill Cowher right now, but Holmgren is only taking a year off and he hasn’t been mentioned? Does anyone know if Shaun Alexander is tearfully sticking pins in a Steve Hutchinson voodoo doll right now?

At some point in the future I’ll talk about the offense, more reasons why I hate Jack Del Rio (that press conference when he benched Leftwich, and he got all emotional and teary-eyed like Terence Howard...ugh) and other crap.

 * Turnover stats are of 11/7


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