Writing about Charlie Strong, Kevin Flaherty discusses the Psycho front Strong used at Louisville. The Psycho front is Strong’s name for the package he uses where the defensive linemen stand up and walk around, jumping from place to place before the snap without taking a stance. Louisville used it well against Miami in the 2013 Russell Athletic Bowl.
Flaherty’s thesis is essentially, look at this success at Louisville; it might be something for Strong to try at Texas. He explains the front and how it worked using the Miami game as an example. It’s an interesting article.
To piggy back on what he is talking about, the point of these stand up fronts is to sow confusion among the offensive line. Then, the more sophisticated schemes combine the stand up front with a traditional pass rush technique. Sometimes that means at the snap the pass rush overloads one side of the offense with more rushers than blockers. Other times it may mean having a fast player come around the edge.
This front doesn’t always work, and sometimes it can be downright problematic. Flaherty notes:
Why? For a couple reasons. The first, as mentioned above, is the spread. Not every team in the Big 12 runs the spread (it only seems that way), and not every league team’s spread is created equal. But even with a safe pressure of sending four players, it can become difficult at times for a player showing blitz to rally back to his assignment.
The second, and potentially bigger reason? Some Big 12 teams like to go for it on fourth down.
I’d add another reason. Defensive lineman get in stances for a reason. The reason is that at contact, the low man almost always wins. If you don’t start low, you have to get low. Stand up fronts sacrifice this advantage in hopes of creating a different advantage, but that other ‘advantage’ disappears if the offensive line is coherent and undistracted.
Most of these fronts are going to be run against pass protections on passing downs. Pass protections are based on rules, and if the players are following their rules rather than watching the shiny object across from them, they’ll usually be in the correct position. If the particular pass protection scheme doesn’t work, then they can change it. A pass protection that works well against the defense is slide protection, which is sorta like zone blocking for passes.
The keys to success are not running the front too often. If you’re predictable the pass protection will usually beat you. It must be run in such a way that once the ball snaps, you’re not reliant solely on confusion. There must also be a coherent strategy to employ.