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Opponent Defense Preview: Crimson Tide

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Oh baby.

So. Here we are.

At this point it feels like little more than a formality to write a big old thing on Alabama’s defense. Let’s be real, this preview could consist solely of the words “Oh s***” and it would tell you all you need to know. And even that would be redundant because “oh s***” is already how we all feel regardless of whether or not that’s what I write down.

Regardless, here’s some actual thoughts on the famed Bama defense:

Personnel

If there’s just one thing to take away about the Crimson Tide’s defense, it’s the depth.

Yes, they have five-star starters, and yes, they have five-star backups and, unlike half of those teams that always seem to be touted as breakouts *coughtennesseecough*, Alabama’s potpourri of talent is developed by one of the best college football coaches ever. Period.

DE Dakota Ball shot himself in the hand (literally) on a hunting accident? No problem, we’ll just throw Da’Shawn Hand, the nation’s #6 prospect from the class of 2014, in there. Shaun Dion Hamilton is out with a torn ACL at linebacker? Whatever, consensus five-star Rashaan Evans will get the job done.

Now consider there’s multiples like that for the healthy guys. At each position. Two and three and four deep. And perhaps the only liberal thing in Alabama is the rotation of these players.

Yeah.

Oh s***.

Let’s start where it’s scariest. (Did you guess the front seven? ‘Cause it’s the front seven.)

This is where I feel redundant because I’m pretty sure there’s nothing I can say about guys like DE Jonathan Allen or LB Reuben Foster that hasn’t already been said. I mean, I suppose you might not know they tend towards a base 4-3 but will also do some 3-4 and nickel as well?

Seriously though, whether it’s the pass rush or stopping the run, the Bama defensive line and linebackers are killer. While the aforementioned Allen is on everybody’s radar, Dalvin Tomlinson compliments him on the other side, plus their playcalling is more than happy to send a linebacker or two up the gaps on occasion especially out of a 3-4.

Another name to remember is 250 pound OLB Ryan Anderson, who helps contribute to the magnitude of their edge rush potency. With all this in mind, it makes sense then that the Tide are 8th in the country in tackles for loss per game (8.1) and 5th in sacks (3.46). The latter is particularly impressive, given that the typical SEC offensive playbook is known for dropping back to pass less frequently than what we’re used to out west. I haven’t been able to find a stat for percentage of opponents’ dropbacks sacked, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it leads the nation.

I guess the secondary would then have to be the relative weakness. Relative, I say — most schools would kill for these backs.

This claim is mostly based on the loss of some players to injury, including last year’s National Championship Defensive MVP, Eddie Jackson. Still though, they’re loaded with talent such as S Minkah Fitzpatrick, emerging CB Anthony Averett, and All-American future first-round draft pick, CB Marlon Humphrey. The latter injured his hamstring earlier in the season but according to him and Nick Saban, expect to see him in the Peach Bowl.

I also am inclined to call them that because, after checking out some game footage, there’s some instances of the secondary being the most vulnerable; off the top of my head, the most obvious example of this was in the Ole Miss game, where they fell for some shoddily-executed pitch trickery and left a receiver without anyone within 10 yards of him. That was Mississippi’s second touchdown of the game.

However, getting these guys messed up like that is so few and far between, Jake and Co. better take advantage of that when it comes up because the Alabama defensive backs rarely make the same mistake twice.

Other factoids?

The Crimson Tide’s defense contributes on average 5.4 points per game off defensive touchdowns alone and this doesn’t even factor in turnovers that result in offensive points.

They’re 24th in the country in turnovers gained, with 24. How pleasantly congruous. (Washington is 1st, with 33.)

They’re then 6th in 3rd down conversion percentage defense, with an opponent conversion rate of .296. Is anyone else around here a bit depressed?

Bottom Line

The thing that stands out to me, beyond any given playmaker, is the depth available with a minimal drop off in talent. Bama tends to strike in the second half of games, when their opponents begin to tire out and their still relatively fresh from rotating players frequently (combined with what I can only assume is a world-class conditioning program).

Given that, I’m interested to see how Jonathan Smith and Coach Pete utilize some up-tempo, both to get Browning in a rhythm and to help combat the relative physical freshness that Alabama is able to continually beat opponents down with.

Also, their ability to stuff the run is... frightening. Or at least it is when they know it’s coming and don’t have to worry about a true passing threat. Watching some game footage, I noticed that many of their opponents’ playbooks seemed to consist of little more than fly sweeps or fake fly sweeps and throwing deep every once in a while — and no, Bama fans who are reading this, I’m not saying your defense isn’t any good. Obviously I’m being hyperbolic; SEC offenses aren’t really that simple and you’d have to be an absolute moron to deny Bama’s defense is crazy good. However, after watching them versus Arkansas, Ole Miss, Auburn, Tennessee, TAMU, and LSU (the latter of which had a game plan which consisted of run, run, “piss it, go long,” and “oh crap that didn’t work I guess we should punt now”) I only really saw Bama having to be honest against the Razorbacks and Rebels, both of whom were the only FBS opponents of the Tide to not score less than their points per game average.

Mississippi scored 11 points more than their average scoring offense, and Arkansas was even. To put that in perspective, Alabama on average held and FBS opponent to 17.88 ppg less than their opponents’ average, the USC game not withstanding because of the drastic difference Browne - Darnold makes. In comparison, Washington’s offense scored on average 13.98 points more than their opposing defenses typically gave up. Just a fun fact for the day.

I’d put money on the difference between the Huskies’ offense getting crushed by the Crimson Tide defense versus them pulling an Ole Miss and surprising Bama comes down to the line being able to survive against Allen, Tomlinson, and the occasional added pressure from guys like Ryan Anderson and Reuben Foster. If — and that’s a big “if” — they can do that, that likely will give the Huskies the freedom to strike that offensive play-calling balance between Jake being able to get off some mid-level passes, forcing the Tide defense to play it much more straight and giving some more leeway on the ground for the Washington run game.

To any Bama fans who made their way over here, feel free to chime in with your thoughts or agreements/disagreements in the comments!

Do good things, don’d do bad things, and bow down to Washington.