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Vance’s Pet Defense: the 4-2-5?

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

When the Cardinals made the move Monday to sign UFA SS Shawn Williams (who played for Vance Joseph in CIN) and to re-sign WS Chris Banjo in order to unite them with arguably the most talented defensive group on the team, a unit that includes Pro Bowl WS Budda Baker, up-and-coming star SS Jalen Thompson and quickly-ascending nickel FS Deionte Thompson, the following thought came to mind:

Like many of you, I have been wondering how Vance Joseph is going to account for the free agent defection of 34 SAM OLB Haason Reddick. One way to do that, for a team that is deep at safety, but now no longer as deep or athletic at OLB, is to switch over to a 4-2-5. Here is what the defense looks like on paper:

Note: The “R” player is the ROVER and while he is lines up opposite the SS in this diagram, as a ROVER, he can line up anywhere in the box or in the secondary.

I think there are two basic ways in which Vance Joseph could fit his personnel to the 4-5:

1 —- Budda as ROVER

SDE (6i tech): J.J. Watt

SDT (3 tech): Zach Allen

WDT (1 tech): Leki Fotu

WDE (5 tech): Chandler Jones

SS: Jalen Thompson

MIKE: Jordan Hicks (Tanner Vallejo)

WILL: Isaiah Simmons

ROVER: Budda Baker

SCB: Malcolm Butler

FS: Chris Banjo (Deionte Thompson)

WCB: Byron Murphy

2 —- Jalen as ROVER

Jalen flips over to ROVER, with Shawn Williams jumping in at SS and with Budda Baker at FS.

4-2-5 Coverages:

COVER 4: The 4-2-5 defense is tailor made for teams who like to run a Cover 4, which is 3 Under, 4 Deep. Cover 4 offers the maximum protection for not giving up the deep pass.

COVER 3: As you can see from the diagram, a 3 Deep, 4 Under zone is made to order, where the ROVER and SS cover the flats and the MIKE and WILL cover the hook zones (4 Under) and then the SCB, FS and WCB have the deep thirds (3 Deep).

COVER 2: This 2 deep coverage is often disguised at the snap as Vance Jospeh did sometimes last year, where on the snap the WILL (Isaiah Simmons) will race back to cover the deep half, while the FS will cover the opposite deep half. What this allows the defense to do, is play 5-Man Under, or 5-Zone Under, with a deep safety on each half of the field.

COVER 1. The typical man to man coverage options out of the 4-2-5 begin with the SS covering the TE with the WILL typically covering the RB. The CBs take WRs to their side and the ROVER covers the slot. The FS (1 Deep) protects deep and reads the QB.

What Vance Joseph loves to do is send a 5th rusher (blitzer) from this alignment, be it the ROVER, the MIKE, the WILL, the SS, the SCB, the WCB or the FS. Typically, the FS will pick up the blitzer’s man, or they will zone the play in a Cover 2.

Outnumbering receivers to both sides of the offensive formation is a trademark of the 4-2-5 defense, made most popular in the college game by TCU’s Gary Patterson. Here’s a fabulous explanation of the built-in outnumbering of the receivers concept that is the bread and butter philosophy of Patterson’s attack-style defense: (don’t miss this fantastic tutorial!)

One can just imagine the kinds of conversations that Kliff Kingsbury and Vance Joseph have had about the 4-2-5 defense, and in particularly, Gary Patterson’s model of it. During Coach Kingsbury’s stint at Texas Tech he and Gary Patterson squared off in a number of hotly contested affairs. Here is a brief summary of those games:

This past season Gary Patterson and the Horned Frogs boasted two of their best safeties in school history with the 2020 Jim Thorpe winner Trevon Moehrig and his diminutive, yet super quick to the ball counterpart, Ar’Darius Washington. You might recall the article I wrote recently about Moehrig and what a superb fit he would be in the Cardinals’ defense. Like Budda Baker, Moehrig can play all three positions of “the triangle” (Rover, SS, FS) with equal aplomb —- plus Moehrig has the coverage skills to play CB. if you watch this video you can get a clearer sense of Moehrig’s versatility and the way in which Gary Patterson loves to run his 4-2-5 defense. Patterson himself was a safety at Kansas St. His head coaching record at TCU is 178-74, and 11-6 in bowl games.

While there a numbers of star players the Cardinals are evaluating in this year’s draft, particularly in which prospects the Cardinals are considering in Rounds 1 and 2, one can imagine that Trevon Moehrig has garnered a good deal of attention and discussion among the Cardinals’ GM, scouts and coaches.

If Vance Joseph is especially keen on running his version of the 4-2-5 as one of his primary defenses and perhaps even as his base, then what the Cardinals continue to do at the safety position is worth keeping a close eye on.

Of course it might help too if the Cardinals address the MIKE LB position. The best MIKE that Gary Patterson ever had was this guy (you might remember him):

What’s impressive about Gary Patterson’s 4-2-5 is that it is predicated on speed and sheer aggressiveness to the football, a similar type defensive philosophy that Vance Joseph would like to keep building on in Arizona.