Under these circumstances, the question might well be raised, as to why the offense do not always assume an open formation. In answer, although the player in kicker's position does cause a widening of the defensive line so that they can be in better position to block a kick and cope with sweeps as well, yet the removal of the player in question robs the offense of an interferer who in a close formation is of vital importance. Again, unless the quarterback fills in the position vacated by the kicker, many strong plays cannot be used, and if he is removed from under center several other plays of equal value must be sacrificed. In either case the backfield (those still remaining in close formation) lacks sufficient weight to supply the necessary "punch" to make line plays consistently successful.
Furthermore, the defense are always alive to the tactical situation, i. e., the down and distance to be gained, so that they do often anticipate the nature of the ensuing play and take position accordingly. Therefore although a great variety of tactics may be employed from the open formation which stretches the defense in width and depth, yet by taking flexible positions with respect to the probable play, the defense are able to cope with it.
The duties and theories of defensive backfield play are so numerous and complex, especially against forward passes, that the author feels the reader can best refer to the descriptions with reference to the diagrams A, B, C, and D, at the end of Chapter I. The diagrams show the chief formations for a defense against close, open, loose and wide formations, but perhaps a few words should be added regarding a defense against an offensive wide formation.
The mere fact that two or three of the offensive team are stationed across the field some ten or fifteen yards usually strikes terror to the hearts of the defense. In fact, the author knows of coaches who believe that twelve men are necessary to cover the ground against the various plays which can be launched from this formation. There is no question but that the defense are stretched, both in width and depth, and that over-emphasis to meet a forward pass lays the defense open to an effective running game. But this has its compensations: (1) When two or three men are removed fifteen or twenty yards away from the rest of the team, its close running attack against the opposing line is materially weakened. (2) Defensive ends can become halfbacks by dropping out and off the line of scrimmage as drawn in the diagram. From this position they can still stop end runs with the help of their tackles, who are now not flanked by offensive men, and can also cover what are termed lateral passes. (3) Wingbacks, relieved of their duty against forward passes of this nature, can play their positions normally. (4) If two defensive backs are placed at full distance, say twenty to twenty-five yards, they can cover all long passes as they do punts, because the longer the pass the more time the defense have to get to it. For this reason such plays are seldom successful and are bound to be haphazard in results.
Besides the standard defenses which have been mentioned, some teams, when driven within their own ten yard line, adopt certain defensive tactics which for want of a better name may be termed a goal line defense. It should be borne in mind that the offense when they reach this territory are somewhat averse to using wide sweeps on the first two or three tries for fear of incurring losses. Rather do they tend toward obtaining the coveted first down through the medium of powerful plunges and slants.
To combat this "savage attack" the defense contract the length of the scrimmage line and move a wingback into the second line of defense, thus re-inforcing both tackle positions. The fourth line, usually the quarterback, takes the place of the wingback just removed, thus apparently leaving ten yards of territory beyond the goal line exposed to forward passes. Again, the reader must bear in mind that if a forward pass is "grounded" within this narrow space, it constitutes a touchback and the ball becomes the property of the opponents on their twenty yard line. It is only necessary for the defense to bat a forward pass to the ground to accomplish this result. Therefore, when a play of this nature is attempted the defensive backfield simply follow the various possible receivers with the sole object of spoiling the play for them. Being relieved of any idea of catching the ball themselves, they are the better able to fulfill this assignment.
There are, of course, many variations not only in all the defensive formations mentioned but in the tactics employed. To illustrate, when it is assumed the opponents are going to punt, the usual assignment of the defensive line is to force a development of the play, and with this in mind all seven linemen endeavor to get at the kicker's foot as quickly as possible. Quite different tactics are sometimes used if the opposing kicker gets his punts away very quickly and when the tactical situation is such that a kick will in all probability ensue. Instead of trying to block the kick, the defense now devote their attention to preventing the offensive line from getting downfield to cover the punt. Each player from tackle to tackle blocks the offensive player opposite him. In order to check the ends, especially if they take wide positions, it is necessary for the defensive ends to drop back about five yards from the scrimmage line. When the ball is snapped they must judge quickly whether or not a sweep will ensue, and thereafter devote their efforts toward impeding the offensive ends. They are soon joined by their wingbacks, so that each offensive end has to contend with two adversaries. It can readily be seen that when such methods are used, the catcher of the punt has a better chance of running back the kick, or if he muff it, he has more time and opportunity to recover it.
Old-time players are prone to believe that present-day tackling is far inferior to that which prevailed when they were in college. It is true that today not nearly as much time is given to the teaching and practice of tackling as formerly. It can't be, because many other equally important departments of the game must have their full share of attention.
These critics do not realize how much the art of interference has developed. In the old days interference was placed ahead of the runner and the defense could see what they had to contend with. Today, in addition to this there is added a flanking interference which comes from unexpected quarters. This is especially true with respect to the second and third lines of defense, who often are set for frontal interference, when without warning they are sideswiped from the flank by a lineman whom they never even saw approaching.
This practice constitutes a bone of contention among the rule makers, who must see that tactics which endanger the welfare of the players are curbed, and who must at the same time preserve practical methods of merit.
Another phase of the game of today which did not exist in the "good old days of yore" is the quick defensive adjustment necessitated by an unexpected forward pass. Even against the simplest form of forward pass the defense are uncertain for some time as to the ultimate direction and speed necessary to prevent the successful completion of the play. Added to this uncertainty is the player's further indecision whether to try for the ball or the opponent after he has caught it. His final decision which often neces-' sitates change of action, must be almost instantaneous, with the result that he is often found in an awkward position at the moment when he is called upon to perform a skillful act, i. e., tackle the runner. No wonder he does not tackle as low as his father did in 1890, nor with that deadly precision, for he has not time for either.