Finding defensive lineman is hard, especially at smaller enrollment high schools. The trend from four-down to three-down is always fluctuating. As more teams turn to the spread because of the lack of lineman, it is only natural for defensive coordinators to go “small” as well. Adding athletes to the field is never a bad thing, and if the “heaviest” formation a defense will face is a two-back 20 personnel set, then why not keep a faster defense on the field? The trend is playing out on Saturday’s too. Look at any conference that is heavy spread and the defenses are just smaller. They have to be. The phrase, “Speed kills,” has more validity than ever before.
The spread offense is based on the inside and outside zone, plus the reads and RPO’s that go along with them. Many add gap plays, but the offense is predicated on the cutback. This can be a devastating play to defenses that have an immobile defensive lineman or linebackers that over pursue. The point of a zone play is to engage the point of attack, allow the defense to commit, then wall off the over pursuit. The cutback lane is the sweet spot for the offense.
In this day and age, the great defensive minds turn disadvantages into their own advantage. If a team is zone heavy, why not plug the middle and force the cutback early, if not drastically? Most high school offenses rely on a speedy back to hit the outside or cut it all the way to the backside. Again, why not make that an advantage for the defense? The 3-4 Tite Front can be a simple way to eliminate the inside zone, make the read for the QB harder, and force the teams that like to run outside to run outside to open defenders.
3-4 Tite Front (404)
The Tite Front has some great advantages. First, it hinders the offense’s ability to pull a guard, thus eliminating a player that can create an extra gap. The defense can also be run out of a 303 front (3 techniques and a shade Nose) or a 404 front (4i’s and a shade Nose). The advantage to a 404/303 is in the 4i/3 techniques themselves. The 4 techs cover the guards and make it hard for them to pull. This alignment can hinder the power read, fold, and counter plays the offense has in its arsenal. The 4i/3’s also hold the “B” gaps. The “B” gap is the holy grail for most spread teams. Plug this gap, and everything has to bounce, which is exactly what the defense wants. Sitting outside the box are two linebackers that resemble outside nines. The Mike is also available to the strength as a plus-one, holding down the “C” gap. The simple beauty in the Tite Front is that to the Nose’s side, the ILB is technically the “C” gap defender. Depending on how a defense plays its outside LB (wide-9), he can be a “free” player.
The front essentially fits like an under front. Instead of waiting for the snap of the ball to get a gap exchange, the Tite Front creates it off the bat. The 4i, or 3, plugs the “B” gap and allows the Mike to shade outside. As stated earlier, the point of this defense is to force everything outside. By plugging the inside gaps the back either has to cut back drastically to an open Mike and Sam or take a stretch path. Even versus stretch to the weak side, it is difficult for the offensive line to climb to the Will. The tackle has to either push out to the wide Jack (forcing a cut back) or pin the End and get pushed off by the guard to the Will. The Will essentially versus stretch is a free player (the Mike will overtake the vacated weakside “A” – “pull-the-chain”). Unless attacked downhill “right now,” the Mike can run sideline to sideline unabated. Versus a 2×2 set, demonstrated above, the defense is not only plus-one in the run but in the pass as well. Even the Sam is allowed to cover down for the RPO because the Mike is in charge of the “C” gap. This flexibility of the “wide-9’s” cover down and the coverage ran behind him is what gives the Tite Front its unique adaptiveness.
Other Spread Sets
The Tite Front really is special against 3×1 sets. Not only does a defense gain an extra defender in pass distribution, but it helps the Mike versus the Spot Draw RPO and gives the defense an extra defender to the single receiver side. The big play in a 3×1 set is the Power Read. The Tite Front makes it difficult for the offense to pull a guard. If the play is run to the Trips side, the Center must block back on a 4i (which is difficult) and the 4i has the advantage as it crashes down off the butt of the puller. The alignment to the three-receiver side makes it hard for any lineman to climb to the Will (the 4i forces the Tackle/Guard combo to stay on the double team). As before in the 2×2 set, the Will is a free player. The Mike is allowed to slow play the stretch read, or rock back for the QB pulling for the power. The Mike aligned in a “50” muddies the read because he can slow play the stretch. As long as he widens, he can have the angle for the stretch while still holding the outside shoulder of the puller.
Against a 2×1 set, an offensive coach may argue that the Mike is in a precarious position. Even if pinned, the Sam and CS can close the gap. This is the beauty of running quarters behind it. The counter play is eliminated by alignment. The Nose and the 4i’s make it difficult, if not impossible for the offense to run the play. Power is difficult as well. The 4i to the weak side hinders the offense’s ability to pull. Again, the 4i crashing down on the pulling guard is exactly what the offense does not want. The block-back by the Center is next to impossible. Split zone would be the likely adjustment, and the read off of it, but even if the Will got pinned by the Guard, the DS is there to clean up the mess.
The New Age Double Eagle
To the untrained eye, this looks like a new defensive front, but the Tite front is nothing new. It is a bastardized form of the Double Eagle. In the Double Eagle, a defense has a Shade Nose, two 3 techs, and two wide-9s. What the Tite Front does is eliminates the defensive ends (nine tech’s) and replaces them with OLB’s or hybrid players (especially the Sam). The front, and how it reacts to the offense is the same. The Mike is a little different as well because the Sam is covered down for the pass and is responsible for the “C” gap. In a Double Eagle, the Mike is a free player. In the video below, the Tite front fits up nice against the offenses Zone Lead play. Though the Jack goes too far up the field, he is able to rock back on the cutback and make a play. The beautiful part of this film is the Mike. The Will buries himself in the “A” gap, but because the Mike is essentially a free player on a cutback, he is able to make the tackle on the opposite side of the play. A great vice tackle and a gain of very little.
If you run a 3-4, then you have some variation of the Tite front or Double Eagle. Most DC’s don’t think of using the 303/404 Front as a run stopper against spread teams, but it can be a great adjustment to combat spread runs. The front truly is a multi-dimensional scheme. It helps versus heavy packages and is a good changeup to spread attacks. There are very few fronts that can say that.
In my state of Texas, this defense has become very popular. Talking with my offensive line coach recently he told me they have yet to see a game without this front being run against them. Paired with Quarters this front can do some real damage. Most teams I have seen run this defense use a four-lock scheme (much like four press – man by the CB unless WR releases inside), or Two-Read scheme to allow the “wide nines” to sit and attack the ball if handed off.
The Tite Front is a very versatile front that can do some real damage to an offensive scheme. The 4i/3 techniques don’t allow the guards to pull or climb on zone. This frees up the ILBs and makes them essentially “free” players. What DC doesn’t want that? Another advantage is in the passing game. The Tite Front allows the defense to gain its cover downs to the field while adding an extra defender to the boundary. The Mike being “hipped” allows him to flow freely to the Spot Draw RPO versus 3×1 and defend the stretch much easier. By plugging the middle with the Tite Front a DC can effectively force the play outside to his “free” players.
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