Horton cover

A brief guide to Ray Horton defensive fronts

One of the things I wrote about back in February when I did the positional analyses was new defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s front alignments. For those posts, I relied on a very small amount of 2013 Browns watching and more watching of the 2012 Cardinals. Since that time, I’ve watched some more of the 2013 Browns and wanted to try to demonstrate with visual evidence some of what I wrote about.

These images are from one of the Browns games I had not watched when I wrote those posts but one which I have since watched, the Browns’ Week 11 loss to the Bengals.

As I noted in February, Horton has run a base 4-3 scheme. Here’s a fairly typical alignment:

Horton_04 Base

The Bengals are in 12 personnel, with two tight ends on the offensive right. The Browns are in their base 3-4, with LE #71 Ahtyba Rubin over the right (strongside) tackle, NT #98 Dan Williams in a 1-tech alignment to the strong side of the center, and RE #92 Desmond Bryant over the outside shoulder of the left (weakside) guard. Both outside linebackers are on the line of scrimmage, while both inside linebackers are off it.

If that sort of image looks familiar, it should. I compared Horton’s base 3-4 look to that of Wade Phillips. To see why, here’s a shot of the Texans defense from their Week 11 game against the Oakland Raiders.


The Raiders are in 21 personnel with a fullback offset to the strong side rather than 12 personnel, but the principle is the same and the defenses have aligned the same way. There are some minor alignment issues, notably the positioning of the inside linebackers, but they’re basically the same.

As I noted back in February, though, Horton and Wade don’t run exactly the same defense or in the same way. Let’s compare another pair of plays. First the Browns.

Horton_03 Base

Now the Texans.


The Bengals and Raiders have both now aligned with the strong side to the offensive left, bringing two tight ends to that side. Both defenses have responded to the alignment in the same way, basically turning into mirror images of what they were before, with the strongside 5-tech and 1-tech and the weakside 3-tech. Both defenses have the same personnel on the field. One of the things I noted in February, though, was that Wade flipped his personnel according to the strength of the offense. This is apparent in the screen shots-#99 J.J. Watt is playing 5-tech in both positions but is playing LDE in one shot and RDE in the other. Horton generally does not flip his personnel-#71 Rubin is playing LDE in both shots, but is aligned at 5-tech in one and 3-tech in the other. #92 Bryant is playing RDE in both shots and similarly flipped between 3- and 5-tech. OLBs #51 Barkevious Mingo and #99 Paul Kruger have also stayed on the same side, unlike the Texans’ #58 Brooks Reed & #59 Whitney Mercilus. When Paul Kuharsky asked in a recent post whether the Titans OLB roles were distinct or similar, these shots (and I could have used different ones; this was not the only time the Browns shifted techniques but not personnel) suggest that if Horton continues to do what he has done in the past, the Titans will play left and right sides rather than strong and weak sides.

Since I wrote that stuff back in February, the Titans have added a couple defensive linemen, notably free agent Al Woods and draft pick DaQuan Jones. One of the things they’ve talked about with both players is a like for their versatility. I plan to dive more into both players before training camp starts, but I wanted to illustrate one of the things a Horton defensive front brings.

Horton_05 Base

Note in this shot #71 Rubin, who was the LDE in the two prior shots of the Browns defense, has now aligned as an NT, which is something I don’t recall ever seeing a Texans defensive end do in the too many hours I’ve watched them. If the question is “what position will Player X” play on the defensive line, the answer may be “potentially any of them.” Horton’s a smart coach and will put his players in the best position he can to succeed, but what he’s done in the past indicates he won’t pigeonhole players into distinct and separate parts. That’s definitely something for all of us to keep in mind in thinking about how the defensive line rotation (and Horton showed in Cleveland last year he likes a rotation) will go.

One of the other things I noted about Horton in comparison to Wade’s Texans is a greater willingness to use more creative alignments on third down sub package situations. First up, though, here’s a fairly typical 4-2-5-like alignment.

Horton_01 Nickel

This isn’t absolutely typical-often, both of the defensive tackles as 3-techs over the outside shoulder of the respective guard, but the 1- and 3-tech alignment common to four man fronts is something he’ll show as well. Note the two inside backers off the line of scrimmage and the two ends/outside linebackers both aligned wide. Often, one or both of those ends will be standing up. Judging by hand in the dirt, it could be a 2-4-5, 3-3-5, or 4-2-5, but it’s basically the same thing.

Then again, Horton also does things like that.

Horton_02 Nickel

A couple things about this shot. There are still six “front seven” players on the field, just as there were in the previous shot, but only one of them is a defensive lineman while the other five are all linebackers in base situations. Note three of them-#51 Barkevious Mingo, #97 Jabaal Sheard, and #99 Paul Kruger are outside linebackers who would line up on the edge in pass situations. Here, there is none of that 4-man front from the previous shot, and not necessarily much clarity for the offensive line in terms of who’s rushing and who’s dropping, especially from normal inside linebackers #52 D’Qwell Jackson and #53 Craig Robertson. Especially if a player like Zach Brown can get on the field in nickel situations, Horton could have a lot of fun drawing up some protection-breaking blitzes.

More to come on Horton’s defense and other Titans-related subjects I’ve neglected lately when I have time for it.