Packaged plays are all the rage right now in the world of offensive football. The emergence of the RPO has created a disparity between the offense and defense. As offenses find ways to package their plays and react off the alignment of the defense, it is putting tremendous pressure on defensive coordinators to call the correct pressure at the right time.
Spread teams are constantly looking to create matchup problems with formation into the boundary (FTB), wide splits, and tempo, the defensive schema must begin to change in concerns to playcalling if the defense is going to keep up, especially in regards to how defenses line up and attack formations. Defensive coaches who call plays/pressures by field/boundary or strong/weak need to adjust their theories.
Calling plays to a direction is no different than guessing and is short-sighted because no-huddle teams can run several different formations, and get into different personnel sets without subbing. In reality, by calling a “strong side” blitz a defense could be running it right into the exact thing it doesn’t want to, an extra blocker or puts their coverage into a critical situation. When offenses play with a tight end, or H-back, they can run a Spread set one play (10p), TE set the next (11p), and switch to a two-back power formation to finish it off (20p); all this while the offense tempos and the defense must adjust on the fly.
Defenses that don’t adjust their playcalling to formations have a tendency to call blanket coverages and blitzes. This can work for a while, but once an offense realizes the defense isn’t necessarily adjusting it can take advantage of the “country” coverages or un-formationed pressures. In the case of the diagram below, TCU had to defend an 11 personnel, 10 pers., and finally a 21 pers. set back-to-back-to-back with tempo. If a DC is not formationing his calls, he could get into something that is fatal or even worse not call anything and ends up predictable (static).
If a defense doesn’t package its blitzes, or formations its calls, then it is at a huge disadvantage. Guessing against tempo and RPO teams is deadly. On paper, the best way to approach calling blitzes is to allow the offense to get set and then call the blitz. That sounds great, but against tempo teams, it is impossible to wait. How does a defense call blitzes that react to the offensive formation? Simple, package the blitzes that come from the same blitz or movement tree.
Offenses combine different plays all the time. By combining several plays into one call, the offense can quickly react off the “box” numbers, defensive alignment, and/or coverage scheme. Essentially they can run a different play every time the ball is snapped without subbing (or even changing formation). One of the best examples of packaged plays by an offense was seen in the 2013 BBVA Compas Bowl in 2013. Ole Miss stays in the same formation, yet runs four different plays.
Combine this scheme with changing the formation and the defense can get off kilter fast if not structured right. Defenses can package calls or pressures too. One way is by packaging blitzes from the same tree and keeping the base defensive structure and rules. See the example below. The diagram illustrates the same blitz, “America“, but run to fit what the offense gives it. Like a defensive RPO. In this case, the blitz reacts off of the formation (2×2 and 3×1).
Blitz to Formation (BTF)
Blitzing to the formation is nothing new. For decades the top coaches in the NFL and college have done this. Rex Ryan, Belichick, and Saban all use BTFs in their systems. How does a BTF work? Simply put, a blitz/pressure is called, the offense comes out and the defense adjusts to what it is given. Either running the blitz or “Omahas” it depending on the call and the rules established by the DC. This is no different than a QB stepping to the line and viewing a defense’s “box” numbers and the secondary’s leverage points before running an RPO or packaged play. The thought that a defense can’t do this is imperceptive.
Defenses can, and must, formation their calls in order to keep up with tempo teams. Want to run an “edge” blitz? All the defensive coordinator has to do is signal in the call, and the players adjust to the offense and run the specific edge blitz made for that formation and built on rules the defensive staff has set forth. This can be used in about any call a defense may have. As long as the DC has set parameters and rules for the call, the players just react to the offense. Many teams formation their defense and don’t even know it, especially when it comes to coverages.
More and more colleges and high school teams are switching to split-field Quarters coverages to deal with the different formations teams run from play to play and week to week. Technically this is formationing a call. The DC can call the signal for the base defense, and the players adjust to their side of the field. That is formationing at its simplest. The question now is how can a defense start packaging their calls? The answer again, blitz the formation, or BTF.
Creating a Packaged Blitz
The fear for defensive coaches when the topic of formationing blitzes and calls is the defense ends up aligned in the same defense over and over. This is why defenses should care different calls to change the leverage of the secondary or bring pressure on the offense. Predictability is never a good thing. By packaging blitzes, a defense can get the right call whenever it needs it.
Want to run a cross-dog? The DC can call it, and guarantee that no matter the formation, the strength will be called right, and the right people will cross-blitz every time. The key to packaging is to go through all the formation scenarios. For instance, most DC’s don’t want to run an edge blitz into a TE. The offense can easily absorb it. The check to this would be to send the LB to the open side off the edge. If not packaging blitzes, a DC might call an OLB edge blitz into the one thing he didn’t want, a TE or extra blocker. The “checks and autos” system establishes a set of rules or a base. The players learn this from day one and become comfortable. As long as all the checks are from the same tree, the defense can naturally react to any formation.
How It Works
The first order of business is to select a blitz that you want to run and create a set of base rules. Blitzes/pressures from the same “tree” should be used. A blitz “tree” in the are the same blitzes, but they might go in a different direction or are adjusted for formation. This can be a simple single-dog (one LB) edge blitz or a Zone Fire. In this case, a basic Zone Fire will be run – “America’s Zone Blitz”:
Each blitz is unique to the formation but is still the root blitz. All the DC has to do is call “America” and the defense knows that if it is called, an outside linebacker and the Mike are going on a blitz and the back end is running a fire zone or Cover 3. When creating a package, the first blitz drawn up should always be against an offense’s base formation. In modern football that might be a 10 pers. 2×2 formation or an 11 pers. Twin formation.
Once drawn up, the defensive staff needs to create a base set of rules. For instance, if the defense wants the blitz to go to the back to attack slide protection. That means, against (10p) 2×2 the Sam and the Mike are going. The defense shouldn’t want to blitz into a TE, but that will discuss that later. Staying with 10 personnel, the following is the 3×1 adjustments. The safety to the OLB leaving becomes the dropper. In this particular defense, there is a Cover Safety (field) and a Down Safety (boundary).
In order to let each other know who is spinning the safeties need to tell each other who is going down (Cop – CS, or Drop – DS). Saban in his Match 3 concept use the words “Rip” and “Liz” to signify who is dropping. Either is easy terminology and doesn’t make the call wordy. The DC doesn’t need to tag the coverage because it is built into the blitz. In the case of “America,” the defense wants to run the blitz to the back (check rule – a key part of a BTF). In this case, Mike and Will have their numbers called. Take a look at the 3×1 adjustments:
Versus a near back, and keeping with the 4-2-5’s base rules (a defense wants to look the same at the snap of the ball to not tip off the opponent), the Sam stays in the cover down, and the Mike takes his position while the new “Mike” (the Will) takes the wrap blitz.
Against a far back (GF Trips Open), the Down Safety is the OLB in regards to distribution and run fits since the Will technically is now the Mike. This makes the blitz look completely different to the offense, but to the DC, and his players, it is the same call. By bringing the DS the pass distribution to the Trips side stays the same. The point with packaging is to change as little as possible within the base rules, yet look complicated to the opponent. If you have to change the base rules, then “Omaha.” Here is the “America” blitz to 3×1 Gun Far:
Blitz vs. TE Sets
Against TE sets, a defense wants to run blitzes to the open side so the extra blocker can’t absorb the pressure. The beauty in packaging plays is, to the offense, it looks like the defense is running something completely different. For instance, in “America” the defense wants to run the blitz to the back, so in 3×1 Gun Near (shown earlier), the Mike and Will blitz. When a TE enters the game, the rules change to blitzing to the open side.
This adjustment makes the Sam and the Mike the blitzers versus an 11 pers. Twin formation with the TE into the boundary. Just like the blitz versus (10) 2×2 (in a true hybrid system, to keep the Sam out of the box he always goes to the passing strength or the field), the 11 pers. version mirrors the same movement. Even if the RB is set to the TE, the TE rules call for the blitz to run to the open side. Versus an 11 personnel 2×2 set, the blitz would look like this regardless of where the RB is:
When teams run a Trey set or 3×1 with a TE, the open side is where the blitz should attack – rules call for it. Again, stealing from (10) 3×1 Gun Far, the DS and the Will come off the edge. The defense so far has seen four formations and has adjusted with one call. To the offense, it looks like the defense has run three different blitzes. Think about that? With one call, “America”, the defense was able to run three different blitzes to four formations and stuck to the rules of the defense. Plus, it didn’t have to “Omaha.” This is no different than an offensive coordinator calling a packaged play and running what the defensive alignment calls for. Take a look at the “America” versus an (11) Trey set:
Even against a 20 personnel 2×1 set, the base rules don’t change. In the base rules for “America,” the blitz states it wants to attack the back. In the diagram below, the back is set weak. That tells the Will to go off the edge, and the Mike takes the wrap blitz. If the back was set the other way, the Sam would take the edge, and the Mike would again have the wrap blitz (a defense could, in theory, regard the “H” as a TE and run the blitz away from him to make it even simpler on the players and align with the base rules). Take a look:
In the end, if a defense is not formationing its call sheet, then it is guessing. Plain and simple. The saying, “We’ve always done it that way,” gets a staff beat more times than not. The purpose of a BTF is to ensure that each call is run to its maximum potential. It is foolhardy to think that defensive players cannot adjust to every formation. An offense can only give a defense so many sets (2×2, 3×1, 2×1, etc), as long as a staff teaches each player to line up against the base sets, they can line up to anything. In a Quarters scheme, as long as a player can count to three they can line up correctly (illistrated below).
Blitzing is no different. A defense needs to create a base, expand on the rules for each call, and ensure it has what it wants when a formation is given. Guessing gets a team beat. Coaches ask their kids every day to be flexible, so why can’t the coaches (or even the scheme)? Why can’t a defense flex and adapt like the offense? Use their own cat and mouse game against them. Formationing calls will make it hard for the offense to react to what a defense is doing. Beat the offense at their own game.
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