The Tite Front was all the rage during the 2017 season. From Georgia in the SEC to the Longhorns and Cyclones in the Big 12, the “new-age” Double Eagle took flight as one of the top ways to contain high powered Spread offenses. Georgia and Texas used the front and similar coverage schemes as a base, with both finding themselves in BCfToys.com’s top 10 in Defensive Efficiency (adjusted for the strength of opponent offenses faced – UGA was #5 and Texas #6).
The Iowa St. Cyclones rose from #103 in 2016 to a respectable #32 in BCfToy’s efficiency rankings in 2017. The Cyclones and Longhorns most notably did it while using a 3-safety “Dime” package for parts of the season. The Cyclones used the “Dime” look as their base defense for the entire season, leading to victories over high-powered offenses like Oklahoma (#1 in BCfToys’ Offensive Efficiency) and Memphis (#16).
The Tite Front works because it forces the offense to bounce everything outside. The two DEs (4is) in the “B” gaps close off the lifeline for every Spread team, the “conflict” gaps. Spread offenses search for the “B” gap because that is where the conflicted player usually is for a defense. By closing both “B” gaps, the offense has to either plug it up the “A” gap (which most Spread teams won’t do) or run it outside. Defenses that base out of the Tite Front don’t mind the bounce because their speedy (and usually “free”)LBs can now chase down the RB while its overhangs box everything back inside (think of them like the Double Eagle’s wide-9s). The diagram below illustrates the front’s usefulness versus a popular Spread play, the Power Read.
The 404 alignment does several things for the box: 1) the offensive line can’t climb because of the 4is, and 2) it frees up at least one of the inside linebackers (if not both). In the illustration above, the play side offensive tackle will either have to handle the 4i by himself or rely on the guard for a double team. If the guard decides to climb for the Mike (illustrated), the 4i can easily get penetration and maybe even block or negate the pull (I have a clip of this later vs TCU’s 11p single-back Power).
If the guard stays on the 4i (double team), both the Mike and Will are left free to flow with the play and what DC doesn’t want is ILBs free-flowing to the ball? In this particular instance shown above, the Jack ‘backer walls the play by climbing to the RB. The defense has numbers and is plus-one on the pulling guard. One thing to not overlook is the away side 4i who has leverage on the away side tackle. Once the guard pulls (the 4i’s key), he can chase and climb to the mesh. The play is ultimately killed.
Texas and Georgia, in particular, had great success all year running similar schemes from a base Tite Front. In this year’s (2018) THSCA Football Lecture, Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart attributed his use of the Tite Front and how he played the secondary behind it to his meeting with Texas’ own, Todd Orlando. Most defensive coaches can recognize the usefulness of the front, but one thing is clear, Spread offenses will try and figure it out. It wasn’t all about the front either, the use of Match 3 (Rip/Liz) and the rebirth/redesign of the (Dime) Tampa 2, was a big contributor to how teams attacked the Longhorns, Cyclones, and Bulldogs.
A Texas Resurgance?
Texas used to be good on defense. A decade ago (2008), the Longhorns were ranked in the top 5 in defensive efficiency for three of the next four years, ending their elite run in 2012. Needless to say, it has been a while since Texas has had an elite defense. According to BCfToys’ Defensive Efficiency ratings, you have to go back to the 2011 season to see a Longhorn team in the top 10 (#5 according to BCfToys). That was current Univ. of Miami Defensive Coordinator Manny Diaz’s first year in Austin. The last time Texas was in a National Championship, a 2009 loss to Alabama (21-37), the defense was again elite and led by current South Carolina Head Coach Will Muschamp. Texas was ranked #3 by BCfToys in defensive efficiency that year.
2017 was a landmark year for Todd Orlando and the Texas defense. Though the overall record in Head Coach Tom Herman’s first year wasn’t spectacular, 7-6, the defense was historically good for the Longhorns. “Historic” because the last time a Texas team was tops in the Big 12 defensively according to BCfToys’ in efficiency ratings was the 2009 team. That’s almost a decade!
The past five years have seen Texas futility on defense and in the win column. The Longhorns are coming of age and creating quality depth in the secondary, all at the right time. The 2017 season saw only four senior starters on the depth chart: NT Poona Ford, LB Naashon Hughes, Safety Jason Hall, and NB Antwuan Davis. P.J. Locke III, who has 17 starts to his name will replace Hall at safety and Gary Johnson (6 career starts) will replace the drafted Malik Jefferson (3rd Round/Cincinnati). The cupboard isn’t bare. Year two under Orlando will be interesting with a plethora of young talent returning, coming onto campus, and the entire Big 12 working to figure out his defense.
The Tite Front Study
The teams chosen for the study represent a wide range of offensive styles, but all base out of the Spread. The Sooners and Oklahoma St. Cowboys were ranked #1 and #2 respectively in offensive efficiency last year according to BCfToys. Though Texas lost both those games in back-to-back weeks, it wasn’t because of its defense. The Sooners were held to a season-low point total (29) as were the Cowboys (13 pts.).
The Iowa St. Cyclones (ranked #32 in Off. Efficiency) were used because they practice against this type of defense on a regular basis. Their inclusion in the study was to see how they would choose to attack their own style of defensive play. Finally, the Texas Tech Red Raiders, a true Air Raid Spread team that bases out of 10 personnel and has a propensity for major offensive outputs (ranked #37 in Off. Efficiency), was chosen to round out the list. Overall, the four teams give a diverse look at how Spread offenses attempted to attack the Tite Front.
A great way to see how an offense plans on attacking a team is to look at the first 10-15 plays from scrimmage. Most offensive coordinators script their starting drives. This can be dated back to Bill Walsh and his creation of the West Coast offense. Walsh used to script his first 15 plays every game. Some coaches are strict about their script, while others will change it up if ahead of schedule. Regardless, OCs will refer back to their script seeing what worked and what didn’t to call the rest of the game and especially after half-time. The script sets the gameplan going forward and can make playcalling easier later in the game.
Understanding how an offense starts the game will give a defensive coach insight into what to expect if running a similar style of defense. Each of Texas’ opponent’s first 15 plays was broken down. If the drive continued after 15, each subsequent play was broken down until the end of the drive or the offense scored. Only the Sooners stayed relatively balanced between run and pass (9 runs/7 passes). Of the 64 plays broken down, only 21 were runs (a third of those coming from OU). This can be attributed to the success of the Tite Front stopping the run.
Attacking the 2017 Longhorns (and the Tite Front)
In order to defeat the Tite Front, an offense must be able to gain numbers on the edge. Whether using Stretch Leads from two-back looks (Oklahoma St.), running Split Zone and creating a cutback (Iowa St. and Oklahoma), or gaining numbers with Counters weak (Oklahoma) an offense must find ways to vacate the box. As stated prior, the Tite Front inhibits the ability of the offense to run inside or between the tackles, especially when the defense has solid defensive lineman.
Game #4 – Iowa St. Cyclones
The two main ways Big 12 offenses attempted to attack the Longhorns’ defense on the ground was to run Split Zone (below) and Counter. Each play attacked the weak side of the defense. Where the Counter tried to gain numbers, the Split Zone was used to create angles on the free hitting Mike, forcing him to hold the “C” gap from depth. The use of a true Nickel (full cover down) by the Longhorns made the Mike (Texas puts their true “Mike” in the open gap) the force player on the “C” gap.
In the clip, the “B” ‘backer (or “free” ‘backer in Texas terms – traditional Mike) hits the pulling H-back “thick” or head-up. This allows for H-back to seal the ‘backer and the RB to bounce the play wide. The full cover down by the Ni doesn’t allow for an immediate force player to correct the LB’s fit. Though the backside safety is scraping over the top, he is late because of his alignment and coverage responsibility.
The other ILB is late too. Aligned to the open “A” gap, he must fit his open gap first, especially versus Zones. In Split Zone, there is no pull from the guards, forcing the LBs to step and insert into their gaps, only later being able to react to the flow of the RB. Though the play is not an explosive one, this illustrates how offenses will try and attack the Longhorns throughout the year. Illustrated below, is the run fits shown in the clip.
Split Zone can work both directions versus the Tite Front. The Jack to the weak side must be able to hold the edge and force the play back into the free-flowing LBs. Like the play shown above, if the force player hits the H-back thick, or peeks inside, there is an opportunity for the back to bounce and cause damage.
To open up the game, the Cyclones used motion to play with the Longhorns Cover 3 scheme. One of the main issues with running single-high is that a defense can get easily out-leveraged by motion. Iowa St. aligns in a standard two-back look, but opts to put the formation (two WRs) into the boundary (FIB). Iowa St. utilizes an orbit motion by the slot and forces the field safety to spin down and push with the motion.
The motion exposes the defense to a bounce by the RB. The Jack hits the H-back’s block thick (or square) and the RB bounces it outside. The centerfield safety is forced to run the alley and make a tackle near the first down marker. The zone action makes the LBs fit their gaps, only reading out of them too late. By rotating to a single-high look, the defense essentially stayed in a 4-4 alignment.
On the 3rd play of the 3rd series, the Cyclones come back to Split Zone. In the first 15 plays of the game, Iowa St. only ran the ball three times, each being some variation of Split Zone. On this particular play, the Longhorns are running Cloud (2-Read) over the receivers. This allows the Sam to be fast on the run read because the CB will trap the bubble screen. The Mike hits the H-back on the outside shoulder as well. The look of the two defenders crashing from the edge made the RB cut up behind the “H.” This allowed the Will to scrape unblocked into the newly created gap. The result was a gain of 3 yards and a 3rd and long for the Cyclones.
Game #6 – Oklahoma Sooners
If you watched Oklahoma at all last year you can probably guess that Lincoln Riley liked Counter. This held true against the Longhorns’ Tite Front, but Split Zone was also a run of choice. Of the nine runs that occurred during the first two drives of the game, five were some variation of Counter with three Split Zones in a row to start the second drive. Counter worked in the first drive, racking up 31 yards in three carries, but stalled in the second producing -5 yards rushing.
To open the game, the Sooners ran Counter against the Longhorns’ Over Front, but the second play saw Texas get into their Tite Front against a Pistol Ace Trey formation. Below, Oklahoma runs a Counter GT to gain a first down on 2nd and 3. The Jack, to the “nub-side” boxes the kick-out by the guard. The Will either expected the Jack to spill the pull or missed the fit, scrapes outside. This leaves a void for the tackle to fold into the open gap. Luckily the CB folded into the box, but the Sooners gained a 1st Down.
Two plays later the Sooners go back to Counter GT, only this time from a different formation. The prior clip was from a 12 pers. look whereas the clip below is from a 10 pers. Trips alignment. Oklahoma shifts from Gun Far Slot Twin to Gun Near Rack (Trips) Open. The Longhorns counter by sinking in the backside safety, bumping the ILBs, and blitzing the Jack and boundary safety off the edge.
By pushing the Mike ‘backer out of the box and using full line movement, the Longhorns were easily out-leveraged by the guard and tackle pulling for the Counter. The box by the safety created a gap for the guard to pull up. The Jack, instead of working down the line, ripped inside the down blocking tackle (who had eyes on the Will). This mistake put two players in a gap because the Will was looking to fill the void. Will scraped and spilled the wrap by the guard. This left Texas a man short at the point of attack (see below).
Had either the Jack worked down the line and spilled the guard or the Will boxed the guard, the Longhorns would have been okay. The Mike to the field was removed because of the Trips formation but should have stayed closer to the box, even with a screen threat. He can be late because the Nickel and CB are building a wall to force the screen back inside. The field safety should trigger on a ball thrown as well as the Mike. If the Will would have boxed, or Jack eliminated the puller, then Mike would have had time to get back into the play (This is why I like boxing pullers – it forces a cutback and gives time for the other ILB to work back, especially versus spread sets).
Game #7 – Oklahoma St. Cowboys
Outside of the Sooners, every team in this study chose to attack the Longhorns through the air. The first drive saw limited success on the ground for the Cowboys. The play of choice was a Stretch weak. The Tite Front did its job by forcing the offensive line to stay on their blocks. The open lanes allowed the speedy LBs of the Longhorns to make the play at the line of scrimmage. One aspect that can’t be overlooked is the trapping CB to the boundary. Had the Mike not been there for the run through, the CB would have made the play (see below).
The 2nd drive saw a three-and-out for the Cowboys. Stretch Lead and a Split Zone were the choices for run plays on 1st and 2nd Down. On the 3rd drive, the Cowboys came out swinging, turning to the pass and connecting on back-to-back passes over 10 yards. It wouldn’t be until the seventh play of the drive until Oklahoma St. decided to run the ball, turning to a long trap, or “Kick” scheme.
The “Kick” scheme shown above is used by Spread teams that want the same action of Power but without the TE. Oklahoma St. turned to tempo as the Longhorns decided to sub. Texas ended up in their 3-down Dime look. The “Kick” scheme put a guard and a very athletic LB in Malik Jefferson. The LB was able to rip inside for the tackle. This play is very similar to Dart, which is another scheme that can easily be used against the Tite Front.
The next play in the series would see the Cowboys go to the air, this time connecting on a 20-yard bomb into the Longhorn’s Red Zone. To finish the drive, Oklahoma St. turned back to the stretch schemes they used earlier, only this time to the strength. This switch in the Cowboy’s tactics gave them a numbers advantage to the front side. The slot successfully cracked the Sam while the FB handled the alley running safety. The Tite Front’s design allowed the play-side tackle climb and pin the Mike. Man-on-man.
Game #12 – Texas Tech
Texas Tech was selected because it is a pure Spread Air Raid offense, which the Texas defense was designed to stop. Of the 16 plays broken down to start the game, four of them were run plays. None were successful. The highest gaining play is shown below, a Counter (GT) during the 3rd drive of the game, which netted a decent 3 yards. The next two runs came near the goal line after a 46 yard gain through the air by the Red Raiders.
Above, Texas is aligned in their 3-down/3-safety Dime package. This is technically a 3-1 box. With no one to “kick” the guard pulls up on the Mike, the tackle does so as well, wasting two on one. The Sam LB triggers and is unabated to the RB. The Middle safety triggers as soon as he sees pull (watch him “pop” his feet and see the pullers). Texas now has a man for each side of the RB and the play is stopped for a 3 yard gain. Not bad for a 3-1 box.
Maryland has had tremendous success attacking Texas’ defense the past two season racking up 51 points in 2017, 34 points in 2018, and consecutive wins. Below are two plays the Terrapins used to attack Texas’ Tite Front. Throughout the beginning of the game, Maryland used shifts and motions to get the Longhorn secondary moving. Fly sweeps were either given or faked to create doubt in the Longhorn back seven. Below is a TD by the Terrapins on an Unbalanced Fly Sweep. The zone action by the RB holds the two ILBs and allows the two TEs to the unbalanced side to arc and reach the second level. They wall the outside secondary players and the safety overruns it. The result is a quick strike TD.
The next clip is a clever use of motion to get the MOF safety to trigger down to the overhang. This leaves a five-man box versus a six-man Split Zone. The result isn’t a first down, but the Terrapins are now ahead of the chains. This play also highlights a way offenses might use jet or pop motions to get the Tampa safety to trigger down to the overhang exposing the box.
One major issue with the Tite Front and especially if utilizing a 3-safety Dime package behind it is the QB run game. Even though the front allows for a free LB in the box, that can be negated if the QB has a lead blocker (or two as shown in the clip). Below is a clever play design by TCU. At first, it looks similar to Oklahoma State’s simple Stretch Lead, but TCU has the QB pull the ball and follow two lead blockers. Texas shows the versatility of the backside overhang. With the play away, the OLB folds back in. This technique is hard for offenses to counter and both safeties are also there to make the tackle.
Any time a defense is going to base out of a 3-down front, it needs to be prepared to defend TE sets. The addition of a TE plays on the fact that some Odd Front teams don’t have an adjuster, or it forces the Odd Front to look like a 4-down scheme. Below TCU runs a simple same-side single-back Power. The design of the play is very similar to two-back Counter in the sense that the TE will kick the overhang and the backside guard will wrap to the second level. In the clip below, Texas uses line movement from what appears to be an Okie Front. The TE bypasses the DE rocking out. One thing to notice to is the CB trapping from the boundary. This is an easy way to get a weakside overhang from a 3-safety Dime package.
Finally, TCU uses the basic “go-to” tackle-arc Zone Read that many teams use when defenses utilize a 4i. This is something that a defensive coordinator should work on. Using simple option rules and a “lag” technique by the Nose (“zero” Nose allows himself to be zoned and occupies the cutback – allows the ILBs to free flow to the RB), the backside 4i does not chase and takes the QB. That forces a handoff and allows the backside ‘backer to flow with the ball, negating the T-arc and crack by the slot. The Nose does a great job of working to his “lag” and then crossing face as soon as the RB crosses his. If running a Tite Front against a Zone Read heavy team, this will most likely be the counter from the OC.
One conclusion from this study on the Tite Front is clear if a defense can successfully handle the run with the front be ready to defend a ton of passing. If clamping the box like Texas and using a Rip/Liz Match 3 concept you are likely to get outside isolation passes (Fades/ inside 9’s or “skinny” Posts) and perimeter screens (TCU used a multitude of stack sets with simple Switch screens). Outside of Oklahoma, who arguably had the best personnel to run behind and Maryland (who had more success rushing the ball in 2017 but still had 46 rushes in 2018), every team leaned towards the pass. The Sooners had two major contributors to their running success, TE Mark Andrews was a 3rd Round draft pick for the Ravens and FB Dimitri Flowers was signed as an undrafted free agent for the NY Jets, so it makes sense that Oklahoma wanted to run the ball. The Oklahoma running game was stout too, ranking 27th in rushing at the conclusion of the 2017 season (tops in the Big 12 with 217 yards per game).
What is also interesting to note is the selection of run plays used to counter the Tite Front scheme. Split Zone and Counter were prevalent in most of the run games. Only Oklahoma St. used the Stretch scheme, though TCU and Maryland used it with some success (but not from traditional schemes). If you’ve ever watched the Cowboys offense, the Stretch from Pistol is a big part of what they do and has been for quite some time. If a defense is going to tinker or base out of the Tite Front it better get ready to defend these plays. Others that might be used are Dart because of the lack of 5 techniques on either side of the box.
Four-Down Coaching Point:
If you are a four-down coach and like the basic principles of the Tite Front, you actually have it in your back pocket. Any time a defense uses a “heavy” five technique to the Nose’s side, there is potential to get into a pseudo-Tite Front. Though most four-down coaches will have a way to get into an Over or an Under front depending on formation, the “heavy-5” or even going to a shade Nose and a rubbed DE (put into the “B” gap). By “shading” the Nose the defense has now forced the Center to take on the Nose inhibiting the center’s climb to the second level. The 5-tech. to the 3-tech.’s side can even stand up and widen his alignment to box anything his way. It’s a similar structure, just flipped.
Tite Front Clinic
If interested in the whole breakdown I’ve provided the PDF below:
Looking for ways to efficiently break down your opponents? Check out these MQ articles:
- Breaking Down an Opponent
- Breaking Down the Run
- Breaking Down the Pass
- Building a Hit Chart (…and get your own in MQ’s SHOP)
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