Nose Tackle: The Least Important Position In The 3-4 Defense?

Barring something unforeseen, Sweet Ron Edwards will be the Chiefs starting nose tackle the next time they play a football game.  It’ll be his sixth year as a Chief (assuming he re–signs), and fifth as a starter.  I’m not sure what thats a testament to.  He’s never been an especially dynamic player for us.  Never recorded more than three sacks or passes batted down in a season.  Never forced a fumble.  Never been part of our plans for the future.  And yet, he remains.  He endures.   We’ve somehow never been able to find anyone better.

Thing is, we haven’t exactly been looking.  Every year the fan base proclaims nose tackle a huge need, and every year Scott Pioli chooses not to address it.  I wrote about this a couple months ago.  Here was the conclusion:

We’ve all been assuming ever since Pioli got here that NT would be his top priority.  So far, it hasn’t been.  If a third offseason goes by without a significant upgrade, the only logical conclusion is that Pioli agrees with me: NT is important, but not all-important.  The key to a good defense is good players, regardless of where they line up. 

In the past, it was common knowledge that a good nose was key to the 3-4 defense.  It was also common knowledge that running back by committee didn’t work, and you needed one full-time back to carry the load.  Truth changes quickly in the NFL.  Good GMs adjust to the times.  Maybe, just maybe, Pioli has figured out that you can get away with a Ron Edwards at nose if you have good players around him. 

I think three years worth of drafting is a pretty significant sample size.  And in that time, Pioli picked three cornerbacks, three defensive ends, two safeties, and three pass rushers before he ever touched a nose tackle.  Jerrell Powe was a nice pick, and I think we’re all pretty psyched about it.  But the guy was taken in the sixth round; he’s not going to change things for us this year.  In fact, the odds are against him ever starting a game.  This pick was a gamble (and a worthy one), but not a solution. 

Gabe Miller, the projected UDFA that Merlin labelled this year’s “WTF Pick”, was higher than Jerrell Powe on the Chiefs’ draft board.  Something to remember. 

more after le jump:

After last year’s draft, we heard a lot from the Chiefs brass about how this was a pass-first league.  While I realized that was true, I questioned the wisdom of addressing that predominantly in the secondary.  This year, the defensive focus was on the pass rush.  Chiefs picks recorded 24.5 sacks last year (Matty likey).  It appears the “pass-first league” talk wasn’t just meaningless GM-speak a la the ridiculous “team speed” meme.  Stopping the pass really does seem to be this defense’s top priority.

So where does that leave the NT position?  Out in the cold, somewhat.  These guys aren’t pass-rushers.  And as much as Beast Nation LOVES to lecture about the subtleties of 3-4 block eating, when it comes to passing downs a lineman’s job is to get the quarterback.  The guys who can’t obviously aren’t as valuable in that part of the game.  Essentially, for over half the plays in a given game, a 3-4 nose tackle is not going to be a useful player.  Our defensive substitutions on passing downs bear that out. 

I don’t want it to sound like I have some sort of grudge against a position, because that would be pretty weird.  I think my affection for Sweet Ron is well known at this point, and I really liked the Powe pick.  But I’ve been hearing for years about how the nose tackle is key to the 3-4 defense, and the evidence is stacking up that that simply isn’t the case.  Or at least, that our GM doesn’t believe it is. 

We all want to have great players everywhere.  But most of us also realize that isn’t possible, particularly when your owner isn’t willing to spend as much an other owners.  The Chiefs have limited resources (they’ve decided).  There are going to be a few positions where they just have to stick a journeyman or a stopgap.  For the third straight year, Scott Pioli has decided nose tackle is going to be one of those positions.  Is that pure coincidence?  If that position was really so vital, surely he would’ve pushed for an upgrade at some point, right? 

Aside from the epic failure that was the 2009 offseason, I like the way this defense has been designed.  Pass rushers, secondary.  It would be nice to have a Vince Wilfork in the middle, but I don’t see that as absolutely necessary, and apparently neither does Pioli.  Hey, if you’re going to pick one position to be satisfied with mediocrity, it should be the position that spends the least time on the field.  Makes sense, right? 

But it isn’t just that.  Think about what all of these guys actually do.  What’s going to happen if you consistently send a mediocre corner out there?  He’ll get beat in coverage.  A mediocre safety?  He’ll give up the deep ball.  Outside linebackers?  The quarterback will have too much time and pick apart the defense.  Inside linebackers?  They’ll fill the wrong lanes and give up big runs a la Corey “The Pacifist Predator” Mays. 

But what happens when you phone it in with your nose tackle?  What, he eats an average of 1.1 blocks per play instead of 1.2?  Sweet Ron may not be a playmaker, but he carries just as much mass as any other 325-pound man and he lines up right in front of the guys he’s supposed to initiate contact with.  His job may be hard physically, but it isn’t brain surgery, and most of the time it isn’t especially high-impact either.  A mistake won’t break your back.  Even in the worst case scenario, he’s still in the way, and he’s still noshin’ a blocker.  Isn’t that pretty close to what he’s supposed to be doing even on a good play? 

I say we feed Sweet Ron a steady diet of carbs and energy drinks for the next five years and just keep sending him out there until he expires on the field.  Then we can raise a mound over him where he falls, and when the opposing offense is near that part of the field, it’ll be like he’s playing defense for us even after death.  Our enemies will learn to fear the Mound of Edwards.  Or, as the Elves would say, the Haudh-en-SweetRon. 

So what say you, Addicts, is your boy Big Matt off his rocker here, or is he onto something?  If you had to pick one position to settle for mediocrity, which would it be?

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Tags: Jerrell Powe Ron Edwards Scott Pioli

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