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How Buddy Ryan defense changed the NFL forever

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The architect of the 1985 Bears defense may seem like an odd pick for such a monument. After all, he seemed to have personal vendetta against all things offense. That included the coaches and, obviously, the quarterbacks.

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Ryan’s entire defensive philosophy was built around punishing the quarterback. This passage from his 1993 Houston Oilers playbook perfectly sums up Ryan’s approach to the game:
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Ryan’s famed 46 defense was the result of that “relentless desire to get to the quarterback.” Unlike the 4-3 defense and 3-4 defense, the 46 did not represent the number of linemen and linebackers along the defensive front. It was, instead, the number worn by strong safety Doug Plank, a defensive back with a linebacker’s mentality and the key to the entire scheme.

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Ryan deployed Plank near the line of scrimmage and used what is called a reduced front (that’s three defensive linemen aligning over the center and guards on the offensive line) to clog up any running lanes.



With future hall-of-fame defensive linemen Dan Hampton and Richard Dent dominating up front, linebacker Mike Singletary was free to inhale running backs. Running was not an option against the ’85 Bears. Passing was an equally terrifying option. With eight possible blitzers on any given play (and Ryan never shied away from sending them all) offensive lines had no way of knowing who was coming and how to pick them up.

This was back when the fullback played an integral role in every team’s offense. The three wide receiver sets that are the norm today were saved for desperate times back then, so Ryan didn’t have to worry about one of his linebackers or safeties getting matched up on a slot receiver, as he would today if he played the 46.

In a response to the 46’s domination, offenses around the league started to spread things out. The fullback was replaced by a third receiver, drawing a linebacker or safety away from the line of scrimmage, making it harder for the defense to disguise who was coming on a blitz.

One of Ryan’s most famous moments on the sideline was his fight with Oilers offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. The two clashed throughout the 1993 season. Gilbride was a hot coaching prospect thanks to his “Run and Shoot” offense — one of those one-back offenses that became more popular after the dominance of the ‘85 Bears — and that didn’t sit well with Ryan.

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