Football is littered with specialized terminology. From bull rush to NASCAR front, commentators rarely get to explain everything you need to know before the next play. Inside The Pylon’s glossary was developed to give fans a deeper understanding of the game through clear explanations, as well as image and video examples. Please contact us with any terms or phrases you’d like to know more about.
Set The Edge
Set the edge is a descriptive phrase and coaching term/point used to describe the ability of a perimeter defender – most often a defensive end or outside linebacker, but can also be a defensive back – to keep a ball carrier from running outside of the offensive tackle. Within the fabric of a defensive front, these edge defenders are often referred to as force players that have contain responsibility on running plays in their direction. A force player is the player on Defense responsible for stopping the run from getting to the edge. He must keep the outside arm free and force the runner to cut back inside. Usually it is an OLB, DE, or occasionally a CB.
The force defender sets the edge by maintaining outside leverage / body positioning in relation to the ball carrier, often doing so while taking on a block from the playside offensive tackle and/or tight end. If the force defender is unable to make the stop himself, he will – by setting the edge – funnel the runner back inside into the teeth of the defense. Conversely, failing to set the edge – whether through losing outside leverage and/or being kicked out wide by the blocker – can lead to running lanes both to the outside and inside of the force defender.
Living On The Edge
New England Patriots outside linebacker / defensive end Rob Ninkovich demonstrates how to set the edge on the following play against the New York Jets. With the opposition operating out of the i-formation using 20 personnel, the Patriots counter with their nickel defense in a 4-2 alignment with a safety dropped into the box. The Jets will attempt a power run concept:
The run is designed to split the center and left guard on the defensive weak side. While at first there is a significant running lane through the A gap, the interior tackles ‒ Vince Wilfork and Chris Jones ‒ are able to push their single blockers back and across the line of scrimmage to close the hole. The linebackers will still face second-level blockers, but now at a shallower depth due to the push up front. The interior defenders do their jobs and spill running back Chris Ivory to the outside:
With Ivory bouncing laterally to the defensive strong side, Ninkovich becomes the force/contain defender on the play. By staying square to the ball carrier and not straying too far wide, Ninkovich is able to set the edge and even shed the block of the right tackle:
Although not a factor in the end result, Chandler Jones demonstrates a near perfect example of setting the edge on the opposite side as he squeezes the hole and maintains leverage to the outside on the backside of the play:
The work of Ninkovich limits the running lane between him and the nearest defender. The alley is then quickly filled by safety Patrick Chung, who takes on Ivory in the hole. The end result is a minimal 3-yard gain.
Losing The Edge
The linebackers, drawn to the initial press up the middle by Ivory, are caught sagging back and left to pursue the ball carrier from the backside, but not before Ivory gains 16-yards on the play.
On this play, the San Diego Chargers were gashed for a big gain by the Green Bay Packers when a defensive back failed to set the edge. With Aaron Rodgers lined up under center, the Packers use 21 offense personnel out of an i-formation with slot alignment to the left. The Chargers have their base 3-4 defense in the game and show Cover 1 in the secondary:
To the left side of the offense, Jason Verrett (#22) establishes inside alignment over the outside wide receiver, while Brandon Flowers (#24) moves to the opposite side of the formation to line up over the slot WR, also with inside leverage. This is a pre-snap indication of Cover 1 in the secondary. But, to the backside, strong safety Jahleel Addae (#37) lines up deep, almost like a safety in Cover 2. Without an additional cornerback outside him, however, this is not Cover 2, but rather an indication of something about to shift in the secondary:
Now this could be Cover 1, with Addae just giving the tight end a big cushion in off man coverage, but just after the snap the two CBs indicate a shift to zone:
Verrett is dropping into a deep outside area, while Flowers jams the slot WR before sliding to the flat. This is an indication now that the Chargers are rotating to Cover 3. But if that is the coverage… what is Addae doing backside?
Returning to the pre-snap look, if San Diego is using Cover 3 on this play, then the backside defensive back’s primary responsibility against slot formation is run support. He needs to work through his run/pass cues and, once he reads run, set the edge and force any runner back toward the middle of the field where there is help. If, however, the offense is throwing the ball, he needs quickly to sink deep to the outside ⅓ zone:
Returning to the play, Addae does a tremendous job of recognizing run and exploding forward, but his route to the football leaves a lot to be desired:
Starks hits the left side and interior penetration has collapsed any hole. But the RB is still upright and, as he looks to bounce to the backside edge, Addae is eight yards away in the middle of the field. So when Starks makes his move:
There is no one there to stop him. Addae gets caught up in the traffic inside and cannot make the play. From there, the RB simply outruns the rest of the defense for a 65-yard run.
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Brian Filipiak and Mark Schofield wrote this entry. Follow Brian on Twitter @Brian_Filipiak. Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.
All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.