Breaking Down Opposing Defenses With StatsBomb Data

By Matt Edwards | June 17, 2022 | 1 min read

Breaking Down Opposing Defenses With StatsBomb Data

Much of what we have written so far has focused on the offense, with a little bit about special teams. Today, let’s take a look at the other side of the ball: the defense! How can offensive coaching staff utilize the StatsBomb data to break down opposing defenses? Let’s take a look at each of the three levels of the defense (defensive line, linebackers, safeties), as well as something to get a feel for how it all ties together.

Defensive Line


For decades coaches have labeled the defensive lineman position by the alignment width based on the offensive player. Labels like shade, 3, 4i, and 9 technique tell coaches a lot about the alignment of the defensive lineman. But it is missing a key ingredient, depth! Are all the defensive lineman at the same plane? Are some further upfield than others? How close can people get to the line of scrimmage? With our formation information at the snap we are able to show, not just precise line techniques (don’t get me started on the debate of what head up on a tight end is called), but player depths as well. On the left, you see 40 is closer to the line of scrimmage than 95. On the right 95 is closer to the line of scrimmage than 40 is. This information is easily found, and will save Offensive Line coaches hours of time trying to find tips and tells for stunts, twists, and blitzes a defense does.

Linebackers


If you followed the 2020 NFL Draft to any degree you probably remember hearing about what a flexible player Isaiah Simmons was/is. He lined up all over the field for Clemson and was a menace for opposing offenses to deal with. In 2019 I was working as the Director of Football Analytics at UVA and we played against Clemson in the ACC Championship. Much of my time spent the week before the game was looking for where he lined up, and seeing if there were any tendencies we could get based on pre-snap alignment. I had to watch hours of film, looking for where he lined up, and figuring out what he did. What I would have given to have that in data for me already!


Below is a chart of pre-snap alignment for a linebacker from the 2021 season. If you read some of our previous posts, this chart might look familiar as we shared a similar chart, but from an offensive player point of view. Using this data, I would have had hours back in my day to work on actually analyzing film and coming up with a better gameplan.

Secondary


Similar to above, we have talked about the pre-snap alignment charts in previous articles. Let’s talk about how you would utilize the charts to break down an opponent secondary based on the following chart.

Three questions that are commonly asked by offensive coaches, and our data can help answer, are:

  • How does a backside corner play with a solo attached Tight End?
    In this play, 6 yards deep, and just outside!
  • How does a defense defend stack formations?
    Low man is outside, and the deep defender is inside. This play is most likely man with the low guy taking the outside route, and the deep defender taking the inside route.
  • What about the remaining safety? Middle of the field, or middle of formation?
    Here #26 is lined up almost exactly to the center of the formation.

Having this information easily accessible and searchable will help save even more time!

Pre-Snap Motion


Now that we have looked at each level of the defense, and gotten some really interesting tendencies and information, let’s look at something that can tell us how it all works together!

The play above includes both a shift, and a motion. These two things can tell an offensive staff so much about the defensive structure.

  • Does the defensive line change techniques based on the tight end shifts?
  • Do the linebackers move around based on the shift? Do they bounce with the motion?
  • How does the secondary react to all of the offensive chaos going on?

Each of these by itself would give you a lot of information, but all three together can give you a really good idea of what is going on with the defense. And this doesn’t even account for the information we collect after the snap! Linebacker reactions, secondary rotations, blitzes, green dogs, etc. It’s a good thing our data is saving coaches all this time…they’re going to need some extra time to dive into the deepest dataset on the market!!

Matt Edwards
Head of American Football Analysis – StatsBomb
matt.edwards@statsbomb.com
@thecoachedwards on Twitter

By Matt Edwards | June 17, 2022