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Changing the Picture: 2-Roll Coverage

MQ breaks down a popular way teams change the picture post-snap from MOFC to MOFO.

Over the past few seasons, there has been a lot of talk about coverage presentation and contours. Primarily, the discussion has been over the influx of two-high alignments in the NFL. Starting with the Rams and Broncos in 2020, the NFL has seen a steady increase in the usage of two Safety contours. Former Broncos Head Coach Vic Fangio is the original architect of the systems that dominate the two-high philosophy. But that doesn’t mean they run Quarters.

At the college level, the use of Quarters as a way to stop the Spread has been well documented. In the early ‘10s, defenses began relying on Quarters to cap vertical routes and combat the QB run games off Zone Read. As an extension of the Triple Option, the Zone Read forced defenses to play in space and hold to option principles. As the Zone Read and the Spread became more popular, offenses evolved to use RPOs that utilized quick screens on the perimeter, a modern-day Triple.

Related Content: Defending the Zone Read

Fast forward to today, and offenses have become much more complex. Play-action and passing on early downs have proven to be effective ways to stay ahead of the chains. As more defenses have moved to “lighter” personnel groupings, offenses have begun to stockpile hybrid players like TEs or “power” Slots that muscle out smaller defenders. We have seen this story before with the Tampa 2, but this time around, Spread principles have won out. We aren’t going back.

Using an EXIT stunt to combat a zone heavy offense. (Liberty vs Arkansas ’22)

Liberty has been one of the best G5 defenses over the past few years. Their mix of Tite Front and Peso (2-4-5) alignments makes it difficult for offenses to plan cohesive attacks, as the fit structures can morph from odd to even on any given down. The ability to bounce in between structures forces offenses to “vanilla” up their run scheme as they do not know how to approach the defense.

Regarding efficiency (FEI), Liberty’s defense comes in at 45th overall, which is weighted against their schedule. When looking at Points Per Drive, the Flames come in at 27th and come in 25th in yards per play, according to BFC Toys. Diving into EPA, Liberty is slated 15th in EPA/play and in the top 25 in EPA/rush (25th) and pass (14th). The Flames have created a unique defensive culture under former Head Coach Hough Freeze (Auburn), former DC Scott Symons (SMU), and former DC Josh Aldridge (now Auburn’s LB Coach).

The system in place in Lynchburg is not a pressure-heavy scheme. The Flames only blitzed on a third of their plays this past year. As a Tite/Peso-based defense, one would figure that Liberty has a Sim/Creeper-based philosophy, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Liberty ran Sims on ~15% of their snaps.

Looking at PFF’s data from this past season, the Flames brought five defenders on ~66% of their plays, with ~60% of their blitzes using a box ‘backer in the rush. For most hybrid defenses, the snapshot of Liberty’s blitz tendencies is about what you would expect. Keeping your percentages around 33% is an excellent place to hold steady; that is a third Base defense, a third blitz (any kind), and a third movement/stunt.

One trend that started to pop up last year concerning blitzing was using five-man rushes to gain favorable one-on-one matches in the box. As more offenses lean into the analytics of passing more on early downs, it makes sense for a defense to utilize a five-man rush to clog the running lanes while still having numbers to create a pass rush. Forcing the RB to block has always been a philosophy for defenses to maximize numbers in coverage. If you can get the RB to stay in the protection, that is one less man a defense’s coverage has to guard.

Though it may sound counterintuitive to send an extra man on early downs, defenses figure that if the offense uses play-action or RPOs, the RB will not be in the route concept. The math is now in favor of the defense, especially if they can win a one-on-one up front. It is a simple five-versus-four game, a plus one for the defense. The chess match comes in what coverage rotation to use to combat your offensive opponent’s favorite early down schemes.

In true hybrid fashion, the Flames run multiple coverages to match their various looks up front. Though single-high (MOFC) dominant, Liberty does run Quarters (17.5%) and other MOFO schemes (~12%). Cover 3 is run ~28% of the time and is paired alongside Cover 1 at ~23%. Most “good” defenses at the major college level use multiple ways of attacking offense while trying to keep the fits and coverages as simple as possible. The Flames are in-step philosophically with the best defensive schools in the country.

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Dec. ’22 – Blitz of the Month – Georgia’s “Pod” Alignment

The “Ameba” front is nothing new to defensive football. However, the thought process behind the alignment is that because there is no proper structure, the offensive line will struggle to decide how to divvy out the blocks. So what you usually get is some kind of Double-Fan to the edges.

Usually, defenses will stand everyone up in the box, with all the players still contained inside both Tackles. However, in Georgia’s ameba look, they combine width as an element to create space. The Bulldogs can also pair ameba looks with pre-snap shifts to add another level of complexity to the offense (below).

In the clip above, the Bulldogs mass their alignment around the Center and then shift pre-snap with a “move” call. The sudden movement does two things. First, it can cause a false start by the O-line, especially if Georgia has hit home on a few pressures. Second, it forces the O-line to recalibrate its protection once the shift has moved. Forcing any athlete to think critically while people are running at them can spell disaster, particularly against the Georgia D-line. Another example from last year is shown below.

The ameba alignment and move shifts were widespread in the Georgia scheme last year. Self-scouting in that system is a priority, and every off-season, they look at new ways to attack or change the way they did something the year prior. Like the ameba front, Georgia’s defensive staff doesn’t want opponents to be able to get them into predictable situations off their prior history.


The Bulldogs eventually finished in a BOSS alignment in the two prior clips (above). BOSS stands for Bigs On Same Side and stresses the offense’s protection by placing the anchor points or D-line all to one side of the Center. The alignment has become popular at the higher levels of football as a way to manipulate protection. Often, an offense will slide their protection toward the “bigs,” opening them up for manipulation.

Related Content: The BOSS Front (Bigs On Same Side)

The BOSS alignment is referred to as a “load” front. The popular Saban NFL” presentation simulated pressures use a “load” element in their root design. In short, it is a best-practice way to attack protections. When combined with width, a defense can stress the protection even more. I have written several times about how width can be a great tool in isolating weaker O-linemen in protection.


The width element of the alignment comes from a front I call BLAZERS. In this particular alignment, the defense places two defenders outside the Tackles. By doing so, the defense forces the Guards to play like Tackles. Usually, when looking to attack protections, the defense will attempt to attack a Guard with speed. In most offenses, the Guards are run-first blockers. Just as offenses use space to attack a “bad” athlete on defense, the same applies to attacking protections. Make the Guard play like a Tackle.

Related Content: The BLAZER Front

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Off-Season Study Guide ’22

It is the time of year when coaches start to hunker down and begin to plan what they want to study for the following year. In a sea of information, coaches can get lost when looking for teams to choose to study. One piece of advice I always give is to stay away from antiquated metrics like rushing and passing yards and focus more on advanced analytics. Unless you plan on visiting a nearby staff, try and look outside your region for teams to watch. We all live in different ecosystems, so if you are looking for “new” ideas, look outside your typical worldview.

One of the things I look for when deciding on defenses to study is overall efficiencyFootball Outsiders has given us their DVOA stat in the NFL that many pundits use to rate units. In the college world, we have BCF Toys, which is run by Brian Fremeau, who uses a similar formula as DVOA to rate college units. If you have followed me at all, you have seen his ratings.

Another great site I use to pick teams and track them throughout the year is CFB Graphs which breaks down the EPA for every FBS team (Follow Parker on Twitter!). EPA stands for Expected Points Added and focuses on field position and Down & Distance. I like this stat because it utilizes historical context and evaluates each play concerning where it is on the field. For example, a 3-yard play on 1st & 10 is not equal to a 3-yard play on 3rd & 2. Add the value of the field position, and you get a clearer picture of how teams are earning or restricting yards.

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Blitzing from the Odd Stack vs a Pro Style offense (Ole Miss vs Kentucky ’22)

MQ looks at the Ole Miss-Kentucky match-up from early October.

The 3-3-5 started creeping into the college football landscape following the 2017 Iowa State campaign that saw them go 8-5. In ‘16, the Cyclones had a newly appointed Head Coach in Toledo’s Matt Campbell and struggled to match the talent in the Big 12, especially on defense, going 3-9. Defensive Coordinator John Heacock and Campbell knew something had to change.

Iowa is not a recruiting hotbed, and Iowa State is considered the little brother to Iowa, losing many battles for the top talent in the state. The Cyclones needed to maximize the hybrid talent they had on their roster and create a unique defense that would challenge the Air Raid systems within the league. Before the schematic switch in ‘17, Heacock had been a base 4-3 coach. That wouldn’t cut it with the talent on the roster and the offense in the league. So in the offseason, the Cyclone Stack was born.

Related Content: Running a 3-Down/3-Safety Dime as Your Base (2017)

Ironically, Oklahoma would have a historical offensive year in ‘18 on the back of Heisman winner Baker Mayfield (Panthers) and under the tutelage of USC’s current Head Coach Lincoln Riley. Oklahoma State would also have a tremendous offensive year, finishing behind the Sooners in OFEI (BCFToys). But, the Sooners’ only loss in the regular season came to the Cyclones 31-38. The Cyclones would finish 28th in DFEI, and people around the Big 12 were starting to take notice.

My first experience with the system came at February’s Lone Star Clinic (‘18). Following a 10-4 season where Gundy felt the defense held them back, he moved on from Glenn Spencer and replaced him with Ohio State’s current DC, Jim Knowles. Safety Coach Dan Hammerschmidt had the task of doing a defensive clinic talk without knowing exactly what the Cowboy defense would look like. Instead, he told the coaches in attendance that something was going on in Ames; their defense was unique, and Gundy hated it.

Though Iowa State went 7-6 in ‘19, they had close games with the top teams in the league. Coaches around the country were taking notice and trying to reverse engineer the Iowa States defense. Inspired by the Cyclones, Baylor made a wholesale switch to the Odd Stack after they struggled to a 7-6 in ‘18. Even Georgia was studying the concepts. Fast-forward to 2022, and numerous teams are featuring the 3-3-5, even in the vaunted SEC!

Related Content: Evolution of the Odd Dime Pt. 1 – Coverages (2019)

Looking at current college football efficiency ratings, you will see multiple Big 12 3-High teams in the top 25: Iowa State, Kansas State, TCU, and Tech. The defense has become part of the fabric for many teams that can get hybrid players and develop them. In leagues such as the Big 12, American, and many other G5 conferences, the diversity of offensive schematics lends itself to the system.

The scheme first developed as an “Air Raid” killer has become a suitable concept for many teams to use as their base defense. Even the SEC, which features NFL talent on every roster, has seen teams turn to the 3-high system to match the offensive evolution in that league. As a result, half the league is in the country’s top 25 of the most efficient offense. One of the best examples of the scheme receiving legitimacy was how teams played the ‘19 LSU Tigers’ historic offense. Even Georgia experimented with the Odd Stack alignments after watching Auburn use a variation of the scheme to hold the Tigers to 23 points (by far their lowest total of the year).

Related Content: Auburn’s 3-1-7 vs LSU (2019)

Once thought of as a gimmick, it is now a mainstay in the college football landscape. As I wrote in Hybrids, following the ‘18 season, the cyclical nature of the football would eventually lead to offenses moving away from four-open formations and back to bigger packages. In ‘22, many offenses at the higher levels are creating 12 personnel packages that feature a WR and a blocking TE. The evolution is similar to the last two times the defense got the jump on the offensive side of the ball.

In the ‘80s, the Hybrid Fire Zone 3-4 became all the rage, and Lawrence “LT” Taylor changed the game forever. The EDGE position was in its infancy, and the sack was king. So teams began drafting and developing rush ends. To counter the Giants’ LT, Washington Head Coach Joe Gibbs invented the H-back or moving TE position. The H-back allowed the receiving WR to escape into a route while the H-back did the dirty work on the Fire Zone pressures.

In the 2000s, the Tampa 2 defense overtook the NFL to counter the passing attacks. Defenses within this scheme needed lightning-quick LBs and D-linemen to attack the pass. A result of this was the defenses, in essence, got smaller. The natural answer to a lighter package for offenses is to get big, as the NFL regressed into its three-yards-and-a-cloud of days.

We now sit in a time where the Spread has won, but the defense is using hybrid schemes to counter. Modern offenses are going with 12 pers. to place the defense into difficult personnel decisions. At the NFL level, many defenses are packaged base, and offenses take advantage by using 12 pers. looks to run Spread concepts. At the college level, TEs are becoming increasingly important. The best example of this is Georgia, which features Soph. sensation Brock Bowers (#19) and the massive Darnell Washington (#0) sitting at 6-7 270.

Ole Miss vs Kentucky

The trickle-down of the McVay/Shannahan offense that features 11 and 12 pers. groupings with pre-snap motion and a Wide Zone run game have begun. An excellent study of how 3-High defenses choose to attack the Pro-Style attack from the NFL was seen in October, as Ole Miss defeated Kentucky, whose last OC is currently with the Rams, and this year’s OC, Rich Scangarello, hails from the 49ers.

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Nov. ’22 – Blitz of the Month

Not all 3rd Down pressures need to be exotic. Sometimes a best-practice stunt can do the trick. However, I do believe that to win on passing downs, the defense needs to manipulate the protection. One of the best ways to do this is utilizing a 5-O front to create man-blocking.

When presented with five defenders on the line of scrimmage (LOS), most offensive lines will check to some kind man blocking scheme or Combo pass protection that slides one way and has man blocking to the other. Either way, a defense can manipulate the matchups and get a defender free by utilizing a 5-O front and understanding how an offense reacts.

From left to right: ED Melvin Ingram, ED Jaelan Phillips, iDL Christian Wilkins, LB Jerome Baker, and ED Emmanuel Ogbah.

In the diagram above, the Dolphins have presented the Vikings with five defenders on the LOS. I call this particular 5-O alignment BOSS (Bigs On Same Side) or an overload front. Sometimes, an offense may choose to slide to the “bigs” side. In that case, pressures that attack away from the slide side can be used. When teams go to man-blocking, defenses can use simple line stunts to devastating effect.

The goal for a 5-O front is to create a mismatch to win one-on-ones. The Dolphins move their EDGE Jaelan Phillips (#15) inside and place him in a 4 technique on top of the Tackle. The placement of a hybrid player inside and using width in his alignment puts pressure on the Guard. Not only does the Guard have to fan out to block the defender, but now has to play in space, similar to a Tackle. To isolate the Guard, even more, the Center is occupied with a “zeroed” Nose in #94 Christian Wilkinson.

Related Content: Attacking the Guard in Pass Protection

Away from the “load” side, the Dolphins have a mugged ILB on top of the RB and another EDGE outside him. An offense that sees this look with no off-ball LB will either release the RB to check the mugged ‘backer or have him chip the most dangerous edge. If an off-ball LB is present, the RB will likely be responsible for him in the protection, scanning the LB to the edges for any blitzer.

The Dolphins have set themselves up for success by utilizing two main concepts, a 5-O front, and a BOSS alignment. Both concepts will help Miami attack the protection with a simple NOT stunt. In a NOT stunt, the Nose will work to the A-gap to the side of the 3 tech. (in this case, 4 tech.) while the DT will wrap to the opposite A-gap. I call this pressure RAVENS because the BOSS Front and NOT stunt will come from the field (in the NFL, the passing strength). The concept is shown below.

In my language, a “bird” means field. Birds fly, so we use the “F” to signify the field side. Another popular example of an “F” Sim pressure is FALCONS, which attacks the offense with an overload to the field as well as a Ni blitz into the B-gap. The sister pressure for Ravens would be BENGALS (which will be shown later). The BOSS Front and NOT stunt in Bengals would now come from the boundary or away from the passing strength (NFL). “B” equals boundary.

Simple pressures like a NOT stunt can be used to “pick” O-linemen as they attempt to block. The width of the 4 tech. will assist Phillips in defeating his block and crossing the Center’s face. The goal is to use a quick interior defender to wrap around before the O-line can respond.

Opposite the wrap is a mugged LB on top of the RB. For Miami, the LB is responsible for the RB and will stand in front of the Guard, reading the RB’s intentions. If the back stays in, the LB will be a decoy, so the Guard doesn’t work back to the looper. Any flare action by the back and the LB will take him man-to-man. Against weak Guards that do not play well in space or chase defenders, a defense can stab-and-drop the LB and play true zone behind the stunt (as illustrated in the diagram above).

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5 Things Defenses Hate in the Low Red Zone

Have you ever heard of the “four-point play?” In football, that is a third down stop in the red zone that forces the offense to attempt a FG. On first down within the 25-yard line, the EPA for an offense is +4. So if a defense can force a FG within the Red Zone, that can be a net gain of points from one to four depending on where the defense gains a stop.

Defenses and offenses change the way they play once they cross this magical line, which is why both sides of the ball spend time in practice working situational football. For both sides, the field is restricted. At the 25-yard line, the offense only gets 35 yards to work with, and as the ball moves closer, the space disappears.

DB play becomes tighter, and techniques change once you pass the +25. For example, some DCs get over-aggressive and “take the fight” to the offense, while others become more passive and flood the underneath zones. Regardless, it is vital to have a plan for how an offense likes to attack each area of the Red Zone.

I like to break the Red Zone into three parts: High, Low, and Goal Line. The “High Red” begins at the +25 and goes to the +15. Usually, in this area, the offense will take one shot within the first two downs that will attack the middle of the field (MOF) because there is not much room to throw a high-arcing Fade route. The goal in this area is to get the next first down while the defense is trying to earn a long 3rd Down and tackles for loss (TFLs). Doing so puts the offense out of FG at the lower levels.

The “Low Red” is from the +14 to the +5 and will be the main focus of this article. In this area, offenses will use all means necessary to get into the end zone. Crossing and mesh routes, restricted or condensed formations, and motion all assist them in their goal to score. Defensively, a coach cannot get overly aggressive and expose the defense. Space is important, and there isn’t much to earn.

Finally, the Goal Line stretches from the +4 to the end zone. In this area, offenses must decide to get big or condense the formation. If going big, they have to match the weight by the defense.

Attacking the edges of the box is a premium if relying on lighter packages with condensed formations. If going big, boot-action, off-tackle runs, and pop-passes are usually the got too. Gap schemes are limited because an offense doesn’t want to get tackled behind the line of scrimmage (LOS). The slightest mistake on either side could spell disaster with everyone in a tight space.

1) Condensed formations:

You don’t have much space to work with in coverage in the low Red Zone. Lack of space can be a blessing and a curse when the defense is backed up. In the Red Zone, defenses must be highly aware of communication, and condensed formations stress the defense. Everyone must be on the same page because there is no room for error.

Condensed formations also force the defense out of playing man; they can easily get picked if they choose to do so. Another factor here is that many DCs don’t like to blitz condensed formations because it can create windows, and the ball can get out quickly in the Red Zone to the voided space. Finally, as we know, predictability for defenses in the modern era is a no-no.

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Has the Rams’ defense gotten “soft”?

Why the way LA plays their coverages has become a major concern & what it means for the rest of the league.

In recent weeks, a lot has been made about the Rams’ “soft” zone coverage. However, for many, the cover piece to the defense is the (non-offense) root cause of LA’s struggles in the first half of the season. Currently, the Rams sit at 22nd overall in passing DVOA, which measures efficiency (Football Outsiders). Since Head Coach Sean McVay was hired, the Pass DVOA of the Rams has never dipped under 11th.

McVay hired Wade Phillips as his original DC, opting to move on from him after the ’19 campaign. In the three years Coach Phillips was at the helm; the Rams finished 4th, 11th, and 8th in passing DVOA. The Rams hired Brandon Staley in ’20 to revamp the defense and usher in the two-high boom we are seeing now as more teams are moving to a Fangio philosophy in coverage. The ’20 rams would finish 9th in passing DVOA. Raheem Morris took over from Staley after he left for the Chargers and had a Pass DVOA of 6th overall and a Super Bowl.

Related Content: The Argument For A Light Box (Fangio System/LA Rams Defense)

Fast forward to the ’22 campaign, and the wheels have fallen off the secondary. Ironically, the run defense is one of the best in the NFL. LA currently sits at #3 in Run DVOA and #2 in run-stop win rate. The defense designed in LA puts a premium on winning match-ups at the line of scrimmage. Doing so allows the defense to commit more bodies into coverage, and in a coverage first world, you want plus numbers in the backend. Kirby Smart of Georgia has turned this philosophy into a defensive juggernaut (below).

Images via Coach Smart’s 2021 Nike Coach of the Year Clinic.

So, could the Rams’ struggles in the secondary be attributed to a significant lack of pass rush? If LA is doing a great job against the run, maybe they need another elite EDGE to place opposite (or beside) Aaron Donald. The loss of Vonn Miller in free agency stung, but looking at the numbers, it hasn’t affected their pass rush.

One of the significant anomalies for the Rams’ defense is that they sit second overall in team pass rush win rate (ESPN) yet are dead last in pressure rate (PFF). Let that sink in. In reality, the Rams are winning their one-on-ones up frontsomething this defense was designed to maximize (they still have Donald). The main issue is that they are not creating any pressure off those victories.

Now, let’s revisit the “soft” coverage element and put it into context. First, the Rams are a Cover 3-based defense that tends to play off-ball CBs. According to PFF, the Rams run the highest rate of Cover 3 at 48% of their snaps. Only the Colts run more at 49.5%. In all, they run a variation of Cover 3 on about 57% of their snaps. Finally, they run Cover 1 at the lowest rate and only have 59 snaps of press. The next closest (Broncos) has almost 100 more reps of press. So your eyes are not deceiving you; the Rams’ coverage is, in fact, “soft.”

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Attacking early-downs with an A-gap 5-man pressure

Off-ball “sims” and five-man pressures attacking the A-gaps have become a popular way to attack spread offenses. Regardless of whether zone or gap scheme is dominant, the popular path is considered a utility pressure. I define utility pressures as paths that can be used on any down and in most situations outside of 3rd & Long.

Off-ball sims “float” the Center and attack the interior of the offensive line. “Floating the Center” refers to the movement of the defense post-snap. The interior defensive line will stunt the B-gaps (or “pin” if in a 3 technique), leaving the A-gaps exposed and no one for the Center to block. Essentially, letting him float in space as the ILB blitzes into one of the A-gaps (below).

Before we go any further, let’s define an off-ball simulated pressure. I separate simulated pressures into two categories, off-ball and presentation. In an off-ball sim, the ILBs are at regular depth and alignment. Post-snap, one of them (or both) will attack the Center, ripping into one of the A-gaps. The pressure looks like an internal blitz, only for one of the DEs to drop out into coverage, creating a four-man rush.

Presentation sims are what you generally see on 3rd Down. The defense presents the offense with five or more defenders on the line of scrimmage (LOS), only to rush four. Defenders outside the box can be added in, but no more than four will rush the QB. In many cases, these pressures are designed to attack the pass protection of the offense.

Simulated pressures are different than Creepers within my definition. Creepers, or replacement pressures, attack the edges of the box (A- or B-gap) and drop a DE opposite the pressure. The technical term “replacement pressure” illustrates the see-saw action of the defense post-snap. Pressure from one side of the box from a second- or third-level defender and a first-level defender dropping into coverage opposite. One of the more popular versions of a Creeper is the Brady (boundary) or Whip (weak) path shown below.

Creepers and off-ball sims are designed as run-stopping pressures that can provide a pass rush if the offense decides to pass. Analytics has changed how offenses play on early or “normal” downs (1st-2nd & 7). Passing on early downs allows the offense to stay ahead of the chains because it is more efficient than running the ball.

Play-action, especially from under the center (UTC), has proven to be a successful way of attacking defenses stressed by uncertainty. To counter the doubt, defenses have turned to off-ball sims and Creepers to attack the run-action while also establishing a pass rush.

Don’t confuse Creepers and off-ball Sims for pass rush. The design and usage of these defensive tools are to mitigate the run while maximizing the coverage ability of the defense. One trend across the higher levels of football is to utilize off-ball ‘backers in the rush more often than bringing secondary players.

Another trend is using five-man pressures (“Adds”) instead of opting for replacement pressures or off-ball Sims. The reason is best described by the Creeper/Sim guru himself, Baylor’s Dave Aranda, in an interview he did with 247Sports in June,

“…you’re getting your d-linemen one-on-one blocks when you’re sending five. You’re trying to get a mismatch there and give them an opportunity to win.”

Aranda is referencing a trend he noticed last season when studying the defending National Champion Georgia Bulldogs, who, in his words, are “a big creeper outfit.” Five-man pressures can be paired with several different coverages. Regardless if a MOFO or MOFC dominant system, adding an extra defender to the rush can create matchup issues and attack the run scheme. Adding a rusher also increases the likelihood that the defense will cause pressure against a play-action scheme.

Fire Zone (3U/3D), Half-Field Zones (Saban Big12s), Trap 2, and Cover 1 are generally the coverages teams pair their five-man pressures with. Fire Zones and Cover 1 are probably the most used pairings. Half-Field Zones require more communication, but if a defense is Quarters dominant, the defense has a man side and a zone side with an automatic “take-back” rule for the #3 defender. Trap 2 is great versus teams that like to run 2×2 formations because, in reality, you are only losing your low-middle-hole players.

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Digital Pre-Order for “A Complete Guide to the Hybrid 4-2-5”

»» If you plan on buying the digital copy of my new book, the pre-order is live!

Amazon doesn’t do pre-orders for paperback, but it will be available no later than November 14th (probably the weekend prior). So, yes, there will be a hard copy of the book, but it will be out around the 14th. The digital copy will drop to your Kindle on Tuesday, November 15th.

I’m excited to get this out to you guys. Here is a peek at the Table of Contents:

The book ties everything together from Anchor Points and puts the philosophy into an actual system. The pedagogy behind the book has been developed over the past decade of teaching the game, coaching at all levels of football, and pulling from the best practices around the country.

Not only does the book cover concepts, but it breaks down how installs are built and the philosophy behind them. As always, MatchQuarters provides the how and the why behind the scheme. In short, you get the whole process. The book is for all defense. A 4-2-5 looking to modernize or a 3-4 looking to add a “Peso” package, the book combines both philosophies in a concise way.

Though the book has a 4-2-5 label, the demand for fluidity in the modern game is illustrated. Odd and Even spacing are discussed along with coverage. Simple doesn’t mean simplistic. The modern football team has less time to work on schematics yet faces more diverse environments. How does a defense combat the modern iteration of the spread?

By being like water… adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it.”

Bruce Lee

Whether a coach, player, fan, or student of the game, MatchQuarters’ “A Complete Guide to the Hybrid 4-2-5” allows you to build a base knowledge of how a defense is built. More importantly, the book dives into understanding why defenses are running specific schemes and how the elite teaches them—pedagogy and planning over everything.

»» Click HERE & score your digital copy today!

Thank you for your continued support of MatchQuarters.

– Coach A.

Oct. ’22 – Blitz of the Month

Head Coach Todd Bowles has done a fantastic job over the several years he has been with the Buccaneers. Defensively, Tampa Bay has had a Top 10 DVOA (Football Outsiders) for the past two years, and the 2022 campaign has them on track to finish in the Top 10 again. Bowles has shown a knack for evolving his defense to fit his personnel and the changing ecosystem within the NFL.

When Bowles got the Defensive Coordinator job in ‘19, the Bucs’ defense was coming off an ‘18 campaign that saw them ranked 32nd in DVOA. In one off-season, Bowles raised the level of play to a Top 10 defense, finishing 9th in DVOA. Primarily a 3-4 Cover 1 defense in his first two years, Bowles has transitioned into more of a Nickel (2-4-5) hybrid zone defense, which matches the trend around the league.

In ‘19 and ‘20, the Bucs’ secondary ran primarily Cover 1, but the past two seasons have seen Tampa Bay shift to a zone scheme that bases in Cover 3 with Cover 2 (and some Quarters) as a change-up. Bowles’ willingness to pressure the QB on passing downs is one constant within the scheme.

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Attacking the Guard in Pass Protection

When defenses are looking to attack an offense’s pass protection, the first order of business is to find the “donkey.” Where is the worst offensive lineman, and how can we get him in a bind or one-on-one with our best player? Once the worst O-lineman is identified, the staff can look at how the line attempts to protect itself in various scenarios.

Does the offense slide to a specific part of the field? To or from a RB or TE? These are all factors that matter when attempting to design ways to attack protection. Most teams at the lower levels focus on Big-on-Big (BOB), Slide, or Combo (half-slide) protection.

Images from Anchor Points.

For many teams, an easy way to get a one-on-one matchup is to align in a 5-O Front structure to create man-blocking. When defenses place five defenders on the line of scrimmage (LOS), they are creating a natural one-for-one alignment. In many cases, this will create man-blocking; you have the guy in front of you.

A double A-gap presentation will usually create combo protection with the RB responsible for one of the mugged linebackers. A 5-O front, like the one illustrated below, with an off-ball LB for the RB, is the typical way to get the man protection needed to create a one-on-one. The alignment is illustrated with “X’s” across the board because the defense can place any of its players at any technique across the line.

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Defending the Air Raid (Apple Cup 2019)

MQ takes a look at how the Huskies defend a pure Air Raid system in Wazzu.

Though Mike Leach has never won a major championship as a head coach (he’s won two divisional titles in ‘08 and ‘18), his legacy as an offensive innovator is unquestioned. The Air Raid which, along with Hal Mumme, Leach helped create used to be a fringe system that wasn’t taken seriously by “real” football coaches. Fast forward to today and the system is everywhere from youth football to the pros.

The blending of West Coast, Air Coryell, and a simplified playbook has made the Air Raid the choice base offense for many coaches across the country. Numbers within the system and the plethora of successful offshoots have established the system as the present and future of football. What started at little Iowa Wesleyan has risen to be a dominant form of offense in the country. The Spread movement is over and it has won, no thanks in part to the athlete and kid-friendly system Leach helped create.

This isn’t a story about the Air Raid or even Leach, rather the focus is on a dominant defense that has had tremendous success yet is not talked about outside of PAC 12 country. Chris Petersen made a name for himself as a giant killer at Boise St. When he took the job at Washington nearly everyone felt it was a perfect fit. It took Petersen two years, but Washington was back to winning 10+ games from ‘16-’18. Throughout that time, the Huskies dominated their in-state rival Washington St. In fact, the average score since ‘13 for the Apple Cup has been 35-14. Really, no contest.

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© 2020 MatchQuarters.com | Cody Alexander | All rights reserved.

Go deeper than just X’s and O’s. Have a philosophy.

MQ’s other books are available on Amazon and Kindle:

Cautious Aggression: Defending Modern Football

Hybrids: The Making of a Modern Defense

Match Quarters: A Modern Guidebook to Split-Field Coverages

As always, support the site by following me on Twitter (@The_Coach_A) and spreading the word to your coaching friends by liking and retweeting the articles you read (even sharing them via Facebook and LinkedIn).

Do not hesitate to contact me with questions through the site’s CONTACT page or through my DM on Twitter. I enjoy speaking with you guys (iron sharpens iron).

– Coach A. | #ArtofX

Aaron Rodgers & Pre-Snap Motion

The use of motion has been one of the major trends facing defensive football in the past several years. Analytically, the use of motion by offenses has a distinct advantage. Defenses are reactionary in nature, so moving someone pre-snap can give the offense an edge or throw the defense off balance. Seth Walder, ESPN Sports Analytics, tweeted this about the Week 1 NFL usage of motion:

EPA/P is the average “Expected Points Added” divided by the number of plays. This stat illuminates how efficient an offense is as they go down the field. EPA as a stand-alone stat rates how many points an offense is expected to gain (or lose) depending on the yard line and Down & Distance. Each play is rated against where they started and where they finished. That number is the plays EPA. Since yards gained is a flawed stat, EPA uses expected points from historical data to calculate how effective the play was at creating scoring opportunities. Did you put money in the back or take it away? Defensively, this can be used to measure the effectiveness of calls during a drive.

For Week 2 usage rates, click HERE

Two types of motion are studied by analysts. Pre-snap shifts (everyone is set) and motion as the ball is snapped, or what ESPN refers to as “Snap Motion.” Shifts are when a player moves from one spot and establishes himself in another. He is not moving when the ball is snapped. Snap Motion is when the offensive player is moving horizontally as the ball is snapped.

Football is about leverage. Motion uses speed to leverage the defense. Since NFL defenses are so man heavy, it is not surprising that the use of Snap Motion has led to higher EPA/P success.

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MQ Pressure Tape: LSU vs Texas (’19)

Though Todd Orlando’s (DC, USC) time at Texas came to a screeching halt after the 2019 regular season, one thing is clear, the man can create pressure. As I wrote in early 2019 after Texas defeated Georgia, Orlando’s defense uses hybrid players and different alignments to put pressure on offenses. In that game, the Longhorns consistently confused a seasoned and well-coached offensive line, garnering two sacks and seven tackles for loss (TFLs).

In the concluding 2019 Pressure Tape review, MQ will breakdown three Longhorn pressures against the now-famous LSU offenses (one of the best in history). Texas didn’t do much to stop the onslaught late in the game (no one did), but there are some definite takeaways. The Longhorns created four total sacks (averaged 2.33 a game).

Related Content: LSU vs Auburn ‘19

Orlando now resides in Los Angeles with the USC Trojans and it will be interesting to see how the PAC 12 chooses to attack the Orlando system. The Longhorns seemed to never really find a “home base” on defense. Their “camp D” was a 3-4, but once the season hit, the packages started to proliferate. Orlando has always been multiple, but it seemed like in the end there was just too much going on which was evident by Head Coach Tom Hermans decision to go with Chris Ash as the DC who is known for a simpler style reflecting Ohio State (with more of a Quarters base).

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Defending Trips With Stump Coverage

MQ talks about the sister coverage to Stubbie/Special

Most people that are familiar with MatchQuarters know what my favorite Trips coverage is, Stress. A very close second is Stump. In the Cover 7 (Saban) vernacular, Stump is the sister coverage to Stubbie or what I refer to as Special. In Special, the CB is locked on the #1 WR in what is referred to as MEG coverage (Man Everywhere he Goes). If the #1 WR were to run all the way across the field, the CB would take off and trail him all the way across. This is what is referred to as man-match. The CB does not have a “no cover zone” or a ceiling in which the CB will “zone-off” if the WR doesn’t cross this point.

Special features a triangle coverage over the #2 and #3 WRs. This allows the defenders to play a 2-Read concept over those two WRs. The Nickel (Ni/Sam) and the Mike will wall the edges of the triangle with the field safety (FS) as the “cap” defender. Cap just means the Safety will take the deepest of the two routes. Versus a concept where #2 and #3 both go vertical, the Safety will take #3 up and back. This allows Mike to hang near the box as a zone player.

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© 2020 MatchQuarters.com | Cody Alexander | All rights reserved.

Go deeper than just X’s and O’s. Have a philosophy.

MQ’s other books are available on Amazon and Kindle:

Cautious Aggression: Defending Modern Football

Hybrids: The Making of a Modern Defense

Match Quarters: A Modern Guidebook to Split-Field Coverages

As always, support the site by following me on Twitter (@The_Coach_A) and spreading the word to your coaching friends by liking and retweeting the articles you read (even sharing them via Facebook and LinkedIn).

Do not hesitate to contact me with questions through the site’s CONTACT page or through my DM on Twitter. I enjoy speaking with you guys (iron sharpens iron).

– Coach A. | #ArtofX

Tite Front Essentials

If you are going to run the Tite Front you need some tools in the box…

The Tite Front is here to stay. Starting in 2015 the trend to defend the Spread from a three-down front began to grow popularity. In the early 2010s, the 4-2-5 or 4-3 hybrid was all the rage mainly basing out of an Over Front. The issue with four-down fronts is that there is always a B-gap defender in conflict. At the turn of the decade, many Spread teams were still tinkering with the pure Air Raid that featured four wideouts. This gave birth to the Zone Read-Bubble which was made famous by Rich Rodriguez at West Virginia.

Realted Content: Defending the Zone Read

The B-gap bubble created issues (and still does) for four-down defenses. How do you defend the gap while still defending the pass. A defender can’t be in two places at once. Hence the term conflict. One way teams running a four-down closed the “B” was to use a HEAVY technique by the 5 technique to the Nose’s side. If the Tackle were to base out on the DE he would rip into the “B” gap. When the OT stepped down away from the DE he would shoot the heel line to take the Dive or spill any puller. This technique allowed the defense to be “fluid” in the B-gap and essentially eliminate it by reading the OT. The overhang to that side just needed to fit off the DE.

The explosion and creativity of Run-Pass Options (RPOs) took advantage of the rules by the defense. Since there is always a bubble in a four-down, offenses found clever ways to manipulate it. First, teams started running Pistol out of 10 pers. formations. This allowed the QB to check to the bubble’s side to manipulate the read. Second, teams began to “swipe” the Tackle (arc to next man) or run Zone Lock with the OT pass setting to create space for the RB and forcing the LB to fold. Finally, offenses started to “flop” the read away from the RB (below).

Continue reading…

© 2020 MatchQuarters.com | Cody Alexander | All rights reserved.

MQ Pressure Tape: Texas A&M vs Georgia (2019)

Sims & EYES pressures from the Bulldogs.

Georgia plays defense. I’m pretty sure everyone is on the same page with that statement. Since Head Coach Kirby Smart’s arrival in Athens, the Bulldog defense has been one of the top units in the country. Outside of Smart’s first year (2016), the Georgia defense has been in the top 10 in Defensive Efficiency every year. Within that four year span, Smart has led the Bulldogs to a 44-12 record, with five of those losses coming in ’16.

Georgia’s matchup with Texas A&M illustrates how the Bulldogs defend (and pressure) a Spread offense. A&M’s Head Coach, Jimbo Fisher, is one of the better offensive minds in the country and has produced numerous NFL QBs in his career. He is also part of the Saban tree and understands the Saban system. The battle of Smart and Fisher is a great look at two titans in the industry.

Georgia carries a plethora of pressures into every game, including Fire Zones (5-man), EYES or HOT blitzes (6-man), and of course Simulated Pressures (4-man). All of these combined give the offense a robust scheme to try and stop. Georgia’s scheme is built on manipulating the pass protection and layering the coverage in different ways to make the offense left-handed. MQ takes a look at the Bulldog’s package versus the Aggies.

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Find more of this series on MQ’s LINKS page.


© 2020 MatchQuarters.com | Cody Alexander | All rights reserved.

Go deeper than just X’s and O’s. Have a philosophy.

MQ’s books are available on Amazon and Kindle:

Cautious Aggression: Defending Modern Football

Hybrids: The Making of a Modern Defense

Match Quarters: A Modern Guidebook to Split-Field Coverages

Breaking Down Your Offensive Opponent

As always, support the site by following me on Twitter (@The_Coach_A) and spreading the word to your coaching friends by liking and retweeting the articles you read (even sharing them via Facebook and LinkedIn).

Do not hesitate to contact me with questions through the site’s CONTACT page or through my DM on Twitter. I enjoy speaking with you guys (iron sharpens iron).

– Coach A. | #ArtofX

3rd Down Study: Wisconsin vs Oregon (2020 Rose Bowl)

MQ reviews this years Rose Bowl and the top 3rd Down defense in the country.

Jim Leonhard, the Wisconsin Defensive Coordinator, has risen to one of the top defensive minds in the Big 10 in a short amount of time. This should come as no surprise though. Madison, WI is his home turf and Leonhard has received a first-class education in football. Leonhard started his college career as a walk-on DB for the Badgers and would leave as a legend, garnering back-to-back-to-back All-American honors (Yes, that’s a three-peat). Even though he had tremendous success as a Safety and punt returner in college, Leonhard went undrafted and was picked up by the Buffalo Bills were he played for three years.

Enter defensive guru Rex Ryan (son of 46 legend Buddy Ryan). In 2008 Ryan was the DC for the Baltimore Ravens and signed Leonhard away from Buffalo where he would start 13 of 16 games. Ryan would take him to New York (Jets) following the ’08 season where Ryan took the HC job. Leonhard would have three solid years as a starter in New York before he was let go following a knee injury. 2012-14 Leonard would sign year-long contracts and bounce around from Denver, back to Buffalo, and finally the Browns.

At the conclusion of his 10-year career, Leonhard went back to where it started in Wisconsin, asking Head Coach Pual Chryst to help with the defense. During 2015, Leonhard worked closely with current Baylor Head Coach and former LSU and Wisconsin DC, Dave Aranda. With the exit of Aranda to LSU in 2016, Leonhard joined as a DB coach under current Cal Head Coach Justin Wilcox. Leonhard would ascend to the DC position with the exit of Wilcox in 2017. The three years as DC have seen success under Leonhard, ending the 2017 season as the #5 team in Defensive Efficiency. Though there was a dip in 2018 (Wisconsin finished 8-5 and #35th in DEff), the Badgers were right back in the top 10 in DEff, finishing ninth in 2019.

Related Content: Lone Star Clinic Notes – Dave Aranda

With a defensive pedigree and a solid NFL career, Jim Leonhard is primed to be one of the top defensive minds going forward. Leonard’s professional mentor, Rex Ryan, is considered by many a great defensive mind along with his college mentors in Wilcox and Aranda (who just won a National Title). One area of interest is the Badgers’ ability to get off the field on 3rd Down. Wisconsin led the nation in 3rd Down Defense, only allowing 27% of 3rd Downs to be gained.

In this article, MQ will take a look at Wisconsin’s defense against Oregon’s offense highlighted by a traditional Spread offense and an NFL prospect at QB. Though Wisconsin would lose (by one point) to the Ducks, the Badgers held Oregon to 3-of-10 on 3rd Down. MQ takes a look at Leonhard’s philosophy on attacking the Ducks by highlighting five of those stops.


Under Leonhard, the Badgers have been able to get off the field on 3rd Downs. As stated, in 2019 Wisconsin was tops in the land, holding opponents to 27% efficiency. 2018 was a down year overall for the Badgers, but in 2017 (under Wilcox), Leonhard’s first year as a full-time DB coach, the Badgers finished in at #5 in the nation on 3rd Down with 29% efficiency. The 2016 Aranda led Badgers to finish 4th at 27.9%. Needless to say, Leonhard has received a masterclass on stopping people on 3rd Down.

Similar to Aranda, Leonhard attacks offenses in a multitude of fronts, but not exotically like some other DCs. The Badgers opted to attack the Ducks from three main front structures: Jet (5s and 3s), Mug (ILBs in “A”), and Bear (Jet + Mike mugged on the center). Wisconsin runs a base 3-4 with two EDGE players as overhangs. EDGE is the “new” term for hybrid OLB/DEs. The boundary EDGE should be able to at least zone over the RB or cut the single WR. The field EDGE is a little more athletic but still tasked with being the primary force. This is similar to what Georgia is doing in their “Base” under Kirby Smart and other 3-4 hybrid DCs around the country.

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MQ Chess Match Ep. 9 – Packers vs 49ers (NFC CG)

In this episode of MQ Chess Match, Coach A. breaks down the NFC Championship game between the Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense versus the 49ers defense. Though Rodgers had a decent game on paper (31/39 330+ & 2/2), the ‘9ers were able to keep him relatively in check. Most understand the dominance of the 49ers’ front line, but the ability to manipulate coverage helped them in the game as well. Coach A. goes over each sack (3) and interception (2) thrown in the game.

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© 2020 MatchQuarters.com | Cody Alexander | All rights reserved.

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