With six men on the line of scrimmage, including three plugging the middle, run fits, reads, and keys within the 46 defense can vary from other more traditional fronts. In his DVD, “Coaching Football’s 46 Defense”, Rex Ryan uses two chapters to discuss the keys and reactions of the Mike linebacker and strong safety within this defense including the use of former plays to demonstrate how these concepts can be put into action.
Like players in many systems currently in place, linebacker’s in the Ryan 46 will key the fullback. On the snap Ryan teaches them to take their first step with the foot nearest the fullback’s direction. At this point they will use what Ryan calls his “pointer system” to to determine their reaction to this initial key.
Let’s assume the defense is defended a straight I formation and the fullback takes his initial step towards the tight end side of the formation. At this point Mike will attack the line of scrimmage while stepping to the inside leg of the Sam linebacker. Mike’s job is to make Sam right by staying inside Sam if he goes outside or going outside of him if Sam gets inside. While filling to Sam, Mike will continue to read through the line for an “alarm”. Ryan defines these alarms as being a high hat (pass) or pull to the backside (counter). If there is no alarm Mike can continue to fly downhill to the play.
At the same time during this play the strong safety is making his backside reads by stepping to the fullback while looking to the playside guard for an alarm. Again, if there is no alarm the strong safety is free to play fast downhill. Since he is the backside player his job will be to make the zero technique right. So, if the zero jumps the backside A gap, then the safety will flow over the top of him to the strong A. Meanwhile, if the zero jumps the strong A gap, the safety will fill through the backside A. See the following diagram for run fits vs a traditional strong side lead run play.
These keys remain consistent if the play is a weakside run. The safety will look to fill inside the end while reading through the line for alarms. At the same time Mike will get his eyes onto the split side guard to look for any alarms. If there are no alarms he will fill off the zero technique. Below is a sample of these fits against a split side lead play.
Those keys are fairly basic, but what happens if there is a pull away/counter read? Ryan claims that to stop any counter play you need to have a man outside the #1 puller, outside the #2 puller, and inside the #2 puller. The end or outside linebackers (Jack and Sam) will serve as the player outside the #1 puller as it is most likely that one of these players will be the attempted kickout block. On seeing the alarm Mike or the safety will yell “pull” while rocking and rolling back to the pointer on the other side of the formation. These players will serve as the players outside and inside of the #2 puller. Keep in mind that it becomes difficult to run traditional GT counters due to the placement of the double three techniques with a zero covering the center. This is where it becomes extremely important for the three techniques to follow their rules. As long as they do not allow a reach or jump through the linebackers should be able to play free.
For more on the 46 Defense check out these resources: