The End of Saban-style Defense?

"Offense sells tickets; defense wins championships."

This is one certainty that Alabama fans have held since the beginning. Even though Bryant made that statement decades ago, today the program is experiencing a golden age of success. The Nick Saban school of defensive football has been the answer for strategists who seek a perfect system. The problem is, there is no perfect system. Not now; not ever. Football is a game of defenses reacting to new offenses and offensive coaches finding a way to score a bunch of points again. Eventually, Nick Saban's Alabama defense will be beatable--it is only a matter of time. How long? The answer might come sooner rather than later. In fact, it might have already happened.

In the 2012 BCS National Championship game, LSU was absolutely destroyed 21-0. The Tiger offense was incapable in every aspect, and an Alabama offense, which usually focused on the run, wound up being both explosive and effective against LSU's top-ranked defense. Media personalities would point out that the Tide had a superior game plan, while the Bayou Bengals came with more of the same. The details which are lost in this simplistic analysis contain the answer to the original question: Alabama's offense might have killed its own defense. How in the world could an offensive coordinator create a scheme to defeat a Saban defense? AJ McCarron knows. Ask him. Ask his tight ends, his wide receivers, or the running back behind him.

Jim McElwain successfully countered LSU's defense because it utilized the same philosophy that Saban's lived by: stop the run on first and second down with cover-1; zone blitz in passing situations. McElwain's offensive plan countered this at the basics: pass first, pass again, and maybe after a little while, run some. He put tight ends in motion, borrowed basic West Coast-style passing routes, and the defense was stretched from the get-go. Just when things were getting comfortable, a vertical pass was dialed up, and big plays were made with receivers one-on-one with their defenders. For LSU, it was pure chaos, but Alabama fans should hold off on the celebration, because their own defensive philosophy was just nullified in front of them.

How to Attack Nick Saban's Defense 101, taught by every single coach who watched the championship game. Step 1; recruit "tweener" tight ends to use as an H-back, who can block, and who can function as a receiver. By challenging with the run, he will have to keep linebackers in the box. This can be countered by your tight end, who is faster, motioning out to the slot for a mismatch. If the linebacker is replaced with a defensive back, have your tight ends motion from the slot to function as linemen and cram the ball down their throats. Keep moving men around to create plays, and only use the run when needed to counter the defense. This is what Alabama did to LSU on Jan. 9, and it is what anyone can do, with much effort, to counter Nick Saban's Alabama defense. Step 2; after creating a headache like this, it comes down to where to throw the ball, which is simply a question of making correct decisions based on the coverage. Of course, this is much easier since you have continuously denied the defense an opportunity to disguise its coverage by motioning your men. Lastly, Step 3; package your plays to where you have an answer during blitzing situations, but this should have already been done from the beginning.

With that, the defense which so many have love and respected is in full chaos mode, and Alabama fans have a major crisis. If there is any hope at all, it will be that Saban does not cling to his philosophy that was successful in the past. He can reverse defeat by forging another answer to a new challenge. Adapt and overcome.

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