Welcome to Katy, Texas home of the Tigers and to one of the most dominant defensive schemes in the state. The Houston suburb has become somewhat of a “football Mecca” and even has the facilities to match. In 2017, Katy ISD completed the most expensive high school stadium to date, Legacy Stadium. The whole complex even has naming rights which were snatched up by locally based Academy Sports + Outdoors (for a mere 10 years, $2.5 million deal). Needless to say, football is important in Katy.
The Tigers’ football program is one of the most storied in the state and has had only two coaches since 1982, the latest being Gary Joseph who took the helm in 2004 and had previously served as the schools defensive coordinator. Since Joesph’s ascension to the helm of Katy Football, they have not failed to win 10 games with the “low” point coming in the 2016 campaign where the Tigers only went 10-3. The program hasn’t failed to make the playoffs since 1990 and only once since that time have they failed to go further than the 1st Round (1993’s 8-3 campaign). Katy Football, as a program, has won 8 State Championships in its history, with half of them coming under Joesph’s leadership.
Katy ISD is not a “one-horse-town” district like other dominant programs in the state. The most notable is Allen HS in northeast Dallas who was 2017’s 6A D1 state champ and has won four of the last six in the top division of Texas HS football. Until Katy’s new stadium was built, Allen had the most expensive HS stadium in the country. The other one high school town dominating the landscape is QB factory Lake Travis HS, 2016 6A D1 state champs, and lost to Allen in the 2017 state final. Needless to say, Katy ISD’s flagship program, Katy HS, has found a niche within suburban Houston and has dominated the football scene at the top levels of Texas High School Football on the back of a clock churning Power I offense and the Tigers’ own take on the 3-4.
What has set Katy Football apart from other programs in the state of Texas has been its dominant defensive play in a state that has fully embraced the Spread (Allen and Lake Travis are both Spread schools). Ask most defensive coaches at the upper divisions (4A-6A) of Texas High School Football and they will know something about the Katy 3-4 or have a concept they stole from them. Outside of the 3-4 Tite Front backed by a 2-Read coverage scheme, variations of the 4-3, or Gary Patterson’s 4-2-5, the Katy 3-4 might be the most popular defense in the state. Even if a team isn’t running the scheme as their base, the Katy 3-4 has influenced defensive coaching all over the state of Texas.
The Tiger defense is one of the most unique cultural aspects of Texas High School Football and is a staple in defensive talk around the state. The scheme is a mix between a “broken” Stack, a 3-4, and an Over Front. The three down linemen are responsible for gaining penetration and spilling gap plays to the LBs. The Tigers can line up in several different fronts, but base out of a 404. When teams insert a TE or H-back the front morphs into an Okie Front, one DE is going to be a 5 tech. (T), while the other will end up as a 4i (A). The front descriptions go as followed:
- Anchor End: Bigger of the two DEs and similar to a 3 tech. Must be able to take on the double team of a TE.
- Nose: Controls the center of the defense. Must be able to take on double teams and read the departure of the Center.
- Weak Tackle: Considered the best athlete on the front. Plays the edge as a 5 tech. and takes the QB on option weak. Must be able to pass rush.
There are four LBs behind the front, but it is not a traditional 3-4. The Sam is basically a mix between a 4-3’s Will and a hybrid 3-4’s Jack/Joker ‘backer. The Sam must be athletic enough to play in space versus a Spread team but can function as a standup 9 or 6 tech. to a TE/H-back. The two ILBs are true box fitters. They never move, regardless of the formation. They usually line up in 30’s and read the guards through to the RB. The Drop or weak OLB is a usually a converted safety and can play coverage if called upon. Below are the LB descriptions:
- Sam: The stronger of the two “hybrids.” Must be able to pass rush and hold up against a TE either as a 9 or 6 tech. Versus Spread teams, he has to be able to cover. This would be similar to a traditional 3-4’s Jack ‘backer.
- Drop: Converted safety or the most athletic of the LBs. Will play like a “box” safety versus the Spread but must be able to align in a 9 tech. versus TE sets into the boundary. Smart, flexible, and will be asked to cover WRs in man-to-man situations. Truly a Jack-of-all-trades because he will be asked to be a half-field or Quarters safety against certain formations. This is akin to a hybrid 3-4’s Nickel Sam.
- Mike: Must be a playmaker and be able to carry a RB in man coverage (in most Quarters defenses the Mike relates to the #3 who tends to be the RB outside of 3×1 sets). The Mike will be asked to defeat blocks and contain the QB on scrambles.
- Will: More athletic than Mike. Will be asked to hold down in coverage as a curl/flat dropper from a four-down (4-2-5) look. Like the Mike, the Will must be able to carry the RB in man-to-man coverage.
Where most hybrid defenses protect the Nickel by putting him to the field, the Katy 3-4 does the opposite, putting the Drop, or Nickel, to the boundary away from the offense’s strength. The Katy 3-4 looks and functions much like a traditional Okie Front 3-4 until the offense puts a TE on the field or aligns in a 3×1 formation. When a TE/H-back is introduced, the front is usually set away to the open side because the Sam acts like a “wide-9.” This is no different than a typical hybrid 3-4 versus a Pro Spread offense. A typical Okie Front will act like a four-down Under Front, but Katy flips their alignment so the front acts closer to an Over Front. Where Katy changes drastically and is unique is the way they rotate their coverage to match an offense.
The true uniqueness of the Katy defense is found in the secondary. Versus a 2×2 formation, regardless of personnel, the coverage stays relatively the same. When offenses move to a 3×1 formation, the secondary will rotate to the three-receiver side. This rotation is why the Drop has to be able to play safety and cover WRs (alignments will be discussed later). Like the front seven, the secondary is also broken up into specific specialized positions.
- Free Safety: One of the best football players on the defense. Will be free versus two-back sets and will align to the TE. Think of him as a “box” safety.
- Rover: Must be able to cover the slot WR. Aligns to the open side.
- Strong CB: Stronger and more physical of the CBs. Will align to the TE’s side.
- Cover CB: Plays to the opponents #1 WR. True CB and will be asked to play man coverage.
Overall, the defense relies on heady players that can tackle in space. The alignments to formations create predictable outcomes and the players are asked to rally to the ball. The front is built to mash everything in the middle and spill to the LBs or alley safeties. Even the LBs are asked to spill pullers.
Like a typical 3-4, Katy brings pressure from all over the front seven and will stunt their line in certain directions depending on the formation. The objective is to look static but keep the offense guessing. The pressures are designed to force quick throws underneath the coverage. The secondary acts like a safety net; sitting back on the sticks, rallying to the ball, and making tackles near the LOS. The Tigers want to make a team drive the ball, figuring that OCs are going to get greedy and make a mistake either throwing into coverage or turning the ball over.
10 Pers. 2×2
Most hybrid 3-4s will set their true Nickle to the field and protect him by setting the front (Okie = 5 tech.) to the field side. This allows the Nickel to gain a full cover down and the defense has a three-over-two advantage to the field. Katy’s 3-4 scheme is the opposite versus a Doubles set. In the Tigers’ version of the 3-4, they set the Sam and Anchor DE to the strength. This allows the Drop safety to be out of the box and forces the offense to decide to throw the bubble or hand the Zone off when running a simple Zone Read. Sometimes predictability can play into a defense’s hands.
Below is a look at how a typical Okie 3-4 sets their front to a 10 pers. 2×2 set for comparison. The main difference is in how the defense’s strength is called. The Sam in the Tigers’ 3-4 is similar to the Jack in an Okie Front. The Drop is now the Okie’s Sam. What Katy has done is flip the front seven to create an Over Front instead of an Under Front. In the Katy 3-4, the run fits are typical of an Over as well.
Just like a strong side DE in an Over Front, the Sam will take the QB if he were to pull on any option or read plays. The Mike and Will tandem together to take the RB. The Drop ‘backer is to the boundary for outside support and will box anything back into his help. The whole point of the front is to spill everything to free players (OLBs and safeties). The Will is essentially free because the DE to his side will pinch down the line versus any down block (“heavy”). All box players are to spill, even the LBs on pullers are going to spill the pull. As stated above, instead of opting to be built like an Under Front, the Tigers have created a pseudo-Over Front with a loose or “wide-9” in the Sam ‘backer.
The secondary is playing what is referred to as “Sticks” coverage. The safeties align at 10-12 yards depending on down and distance with inside leverage. They will carry any vertical of #2 or drive on an out by the slot. The CBs are aligned outside the #1 WR at about 6-7 yards. The Sam is more aggressive to the run, so the Rover (strong side safety) has to be a better cover player. The Free Safety away from the strength will work in tandem with the Drop ‘backer – staying high and then inserting against the run. The pressure is really put on the field secondary players to be sound and tackle in space. In the picture below, the secondary players are all aligned deep along the “sticks” (or D&D marker).
10 Pers. 3×1
When teams get out of even sets (2×2), the Katy 3-4 shows its uniqueness. Most defenses will adjust with the LBs, but the Tigers opt to adjust with the secondary. Usually, when teams use the secondary to rotate to the passing strength they are rolling to single-high and playing some derivative of Cover 3. This can cause problems on the backside of the defense because the “kicking” safety is vacating the weak alley and can’t support the boundary CB.
Katy solves this issue by traveling the backside safety overtop of the #3 WR. In order to keep the front seven’s integrity and give the backside CB support, the Tigers “drop” their weakside OLB (Drop) to about 8-10 yards. The Drop ‘backer will handle the post-hole and also fill the alley if there are any runs weak. This keeps the front the exact same as if the formation was a 2×2 set. The Sam is still a wide-9 and the front is set away from the strength (see below).
The coverage is similar to “Kick” Coverage except Katy goes one step further and just places the FS over top of #3. The coverage over #1 and #2 can be “Sticks” or two-read (Cloud). The FS is a quicker trigger on any out route by #3, playing as though he was a “Sky” safety. The Rover stays high to be the “topper” in coverage and helps with any vertical routes. The Drop ‘backer plays his technique similar to a “Sky” safety and will fit the weak alley, but from depth to protect the “post-hole”. The heavy 5 tech. to the boundary helps the Will be “free,” adding a flow player to the boundary.
The whole design of the defense is to create a suffocating run defense while keeping everything in front of the secondary. The structure is similar to what teams in the Big 12 are using to stop the Air Raid, except Katy has been running and perfecting this defense for years. Much like the Tite Front used by many in the Big 12 to complement their 3-Safety Dime Package, the Katy pseudo-Over Front with a “heavy” 5 tech. squeezes the O-line and forces everything to bounce. Below is an example of how Iowa State structures their Dime package with Katy’s positions.
The main difference between the schemes discussed above is the front and secondary coverages. Iowa St. will play a Tampa 2 from the secondary and cut the CB to the strong side. The alignments are very similar though. Both CBs are outside leverage. The FS is deep instead of the Rover, but both will function similar to their Katy counterparts. The Drop ‘backer is deep and tucked inside the box. In the image above, Iowa St. is using a Buck Front (505), unlike the Katy front that will set the strength to the boundary to create an Over Front. The Cyclones will utilize several different fronts to change the fits for the offense, but the Tigers will choose to blitz if they want to change the fits.
11 Pers. 2×2
When teams insert a TE into the formation, the Katy 3-4 reacts very similarly to a 4-2-5. In fact, the Tigers will sub out their Sam in and place a DE their when they go to their four-down package. The Sam always lines up to the run strength, and in the case of a TE, he will align in a 9 or 6 tech. depending on the call. The FS will also travel with a TE/H-back and the Drop ‘backer (Nickel) stays to the passing strength. The alignment (shown below) is similar to a “Cheat” scheme used by hybrid four-down defenses.
In a “Cheat” scheme (below) the defense shifts the ILBs to the passing strength. This allows the defense to stay in an Over Front to the TE while gaining a full cover down to the field. In Katy’s defense, the FS is like the boundary or “Down Safety” in a 4-2-5 and is going to be involved in the run fits. The Sam sets the edge and will attach when a TE is present. Again, this is similar to how a defense that bases out of an Okie Front would align to a TE. This alignment protects the defense from RPOs to the two WR side while still gaining a seven-man front.
11 Pers. 3×1
Trey is treated like 10 pers. Trips. The Tigers remain in an “Over Front” and the Sam will attach to the TE. The FS follows the #3 WR, this time being a TE. The Mike and Will never move from their base alignment. By treating formations by numbers (sets) the defense can align quickly and the coverage and front schemes stay the same. As stated prior, if the Tigers want to give a different look they will send pressure or stunt the line.
The FS is responsible for the TE and will fit inside the box versus the run. The Tigers spill everything in the box to allow the secondary players time to react and fit. This also allows the FS, Drop, and Sam fold in to make plays around the LOS because the offense is forced to go East and West.
Coverage wise, the CC and RV never change when they have two WRs. The FS and Sam always travel with a TE and when aligned in Trey, the FS and Drop play like they would versus Trips. The Drop aligns at 8-10 yards and stays in the “post-hole” while fitting the outside alley. Katy attempts to keep everything simple, only asking a few positions to adapt and be flexible. This helps against tempo Spread teams because alignments never really change. The “strong” roll by the secondary, doesn’t hinder run fits and actually creates an eight-man box.
20 Pers. 2×1
There are two ways Katy will defend 20 pers. depending on if there is an H-back or not. If there is an H-back in the backfield, the defense will treat the “H” as a TE and align the FS accordingly, basically “traveling” with him. If the “H” is to the two WR side, the alignment will look similar to Trey/Trips minus the extra gap. The Drop even sinks back into the “post-hole” (below). This helps streamline the rules of alignment for the defense.
If the “H” aligns to the single-WR side, the FS will align to the backside and the defense will look similar to a 3-4. Versus teams that motion, the FS will travel with the H-back and adjust. If any slot motions, the Rover will follow. The FS treats the “H” like a TE and never leaves him. The front is also set to the H-back (Sam/Anchor to strength).
Defending the Spread: Katy vs Westlake (2016)
One of the most anticipated games of 2016 was the matchup between Katy and the (Austin) Westlake Chaps. The Chaps were coming off a 2015 campaign that saw them lose to Houston North Shore in the state championship and the Tigers were coming off their own state title. Needless to say, people around the state were looking forward to the matchup of the smashmouth football of Katy versus the “Suburban Spread” of Westlake. The Head Coach for the Chaps is a Texas High School legend in his own right, Todd Dodge, who made a name for himself at the storied DFW program Southlake Carroll. At one time the Dragons won 48 games in a row. The battle between the Chaps and the Tigers highlights how the Katy 3-4 aligns to the Spread.
The Chaps come out in a Trips Open formation and run the ball weak to challenge the soft spot in the Tigers defense. This will be a theme all night and the Chaps, at times, will have success running weak. Below, the Chaps run a single-back Power (“Kick”). The Tigers open up with a strong slant and the Nose is able to grab the RB in the backfield. This clip also highlights how the Tigers fit pullers. The play side ILB hits the inside of the guard, spilling to the Mike wrapping over top. The slant inhibits the ability of the Chaps line to climb to get the Mike, leaving him unblocked for the assisted tackle.
On the second play of the game, the Chaps run a Shallow concept from a Trips formation. The Tigers counter by inserting the Sam on a blitz and cutting the Mike to the #3 WR. A Shallow is a simple vertical stretch Air Raid concept with a cruise route (5 yards) and a Dig (10-12 yards). The Mike easily takes the cruise that is coming into him and the secondary is designed to collect the Dig (FS and RV will clamp). With #2 going underneath, the RV can work on top of #3 allowing the FS to sit in the curl (right where the Dig is going to come into the MOF). There is nowhere for the QB to go and is taken down for a minimal gain.
Here is a look at the previous play’s pass distribution:
Katy earned a three-and-out against Westlake to start the game. On the second drive, the Chaps turn to their 20 pers. split-back look. Katy answers by treating the formation as though it was a Trips set and rolls the secondary to the field. This puts the defense in an “Over Front” and the FS as the Nickel to the field. The FS is aligned on the outside shoulder of the OT about 7 yards off the ball. He is reading the RB to him.
To the back side, the Tigers have “walked” there Drop ‘backer out to press the #1 WR to the boundary. This functions very similarly to a trapping CB, except in Katy’s defense the CB deepens and plays over top and inside the WR while the weakside OLB walks out to the single WR. By cutting the Drop ‘backer, the Tigers can roll the FS to the field without losing pass distribution and run fit integrity. Even in this “walk” alignment, the Tigers still have eight players near the box. The only weakness is the snag route to the field, which is demonstrated by Westlake in the clip.
By “walking” the Drop ‘backer out into coverage, the Tigers have eliminated him from the offense’s box read. This makes him a free hitter near the box. Many teams will use a trap CB or invert the secondary to the boundary to gain a “free” player near the weak side of the box. By utilizing this scheme, a defense has established an overhang near the outside that is hard for offenses to block. In the next clip, the Chaps run Power Read to the boundary. The lead blocker for Westlake doesn’t see the trapping Drop ‘backer who makes the player near the LOS.
This “Walk” alignment similar to how the Iowa State’s defense functioned in their four-down Nickel defense in 2017. The same coverage issue was present for the Cyclones, the soft area where the slot aligns. This can be exploited by an accurate QB and a patient OC. The Cyclones in 2017 tried to negate that soft area by trapping the CB to the two WR side. This is a departure from what Katy would run out of their base.
The main difference between Katy’s scheme and Iowa St. is how they chose to play the secondary. In Katy’s scheme, the strongside overhang (FS) is aligned closer to the box and just outside the shoulder of the OT. In the Cyclones scheme, their MS (Katy’s FS) aligns deeper (10 yards) and will shoot to the strongside seam/curl if the coverage calls for it.
In the three-down look, the Cyclones will utilize a Nickel Sam and cover him down on the slot. The secondary for the Tigers will stay deep and plays “Sticks” coverage where the Cyclones in their base will trap the two WR side and press the single WR. Finally, the Cyclones also choose to base out of an Under Front which is opposite of the Tiger’s Over look. Below is an example of how Iowa St. runs the four-down Nickel.
On the very next play, Westlake stays in their split-back look and runs a Q Counter to the weak side. Katy opts to align in their base 3-4 look and places the Drop ‘backer in his normal 3-4 alignment. The front is aligned in an Okie Front with the strength set to the field. The secondary aligns in their normal spots. On this particular play, Katy brings a five-man pressure utilizing the Drop and the boundary CB. The Anchor DE crashes into the “A” gap while the Drop inserts outside. This particular pressure allows the ILBs to be free. Even when blitzing, the ILBs will spill a puller.
Below is a diagram of the play:
Katy’s backend, even when playing Sticks coverage functions much like a Quarters defense. Facing a long yardage situation, the Chaps move to a 10 pers. 2×2 set and run an Air Raid Y-Over concept. Below, the weak slot is running the Over route. For a brief moment, the route looks to be open as the slot flashes open as he works underneath the boundary safety. The QB throws the ball and the WR is struck by the field safety and the ball is dropped.
This clip is a great example of how a Quarters defense can defend itself from Air Raid concepts when taught right. The field safety most likely won’t be able to help if the #1 WR runs a fade. The #2 WR is running an out route and is quickly covered by the dropping Sam LB. Instead of sinking and covering grass, the front side safety needs to get his eyes back to the field. In many Air Raid concepts, the vertical route is meant to push a secondary player out of a zone, in this case, the Chaps are anticipating the field safety will work in tandem with the CB and cone the fade. Instead, the field safety gets his eyes back to the MOF and helps the boundary safety with the Over route. This simple technique can allow a Quarters team to “steal” a man versus Air Raid concepts.
When Katy wants to put four pass rushers on the field, they will bring in their Nickel package and sub out the Sam ‘backer. This puts four D-lineman on the field and the defense functions like a 4-2-5. The transition is seamless because the Drop ‘backer is technically a Nickelback, to begin with, and is usually protected by the how the Tigers set the front.
In the clip below, the Tigers come out in their Nickel package, moving the Drop to the Nickel Sam position. The rest of the secondary doesn’t change and is still playing their normal coverage. The Chaps run a similar play as before, but run a deeper out cut by the field slot (Sail). Katy uses an interior twist and inserts the Will for a five-man pressure. The QB is forced to scramble and throw an incomplete pass.
As stated prior, one weakness in the Katy defense is the soft spot right outside the box. Many Spread teams will attack this area by running Snag routes, or hitches, by the slots. With so many people near the box and focused on stopping the run, this is a great counter for an offense with an accurate QB. Below, the Chaps hit the boundary slot on a Snag who breaks several tackles, scampering for a first down.
The clip below is another example of how the Katy secondary is set up. The “sticks” coverage used by the secondary allows them to drive on balls and protect the first down marker, but an accurate QB can dink and dunk the ball (But, how many HS QBs can make a living on accuracy? Katy plays the averages). Most offenses aren’t patient or disciplined enough to be satisfied throwing 5 yard passes all game. Westlake on several occasions during the came ran simple Snag and Stick routes to combat this blanket coverage. In this particular clip, the Chaps are able to get a first down on a simple “All Sticks” route combination.
During the eighth drive of the game, Westlake takes a deep shot using the same concept except sending the field slot deep. The Katy secondary is designed to absorb and contain everything thrown or ran in front of it. In this clip, the Chaps isolate the field Rover and the WR runs right past him. The Tiger secondary is in pseudo-man coverage or MOD – Man On Demand, much like Quarters coverage. The major issue with sticks coverage, and really any pure Quarters scheme, is that the safeties can easily be isolated on the slots and if they aren’t prepared or don’t read the departure speed of the WR they can be beaten on a deep shot like shown below.
Later in the 3rd drive, Westlake attacks the weak side of the Katy defense by running a Power Read. The Tigers counter the Chaps 20p GS Twin Open formation by using a 3-4 alignment with a strong shift in the secondary. 3-4 teams have leeway in the coverage because of the hybrid OLB to the weak side. The Drop ‘backer in Katy’s defense can cut underneath #1 allowing the FS to move anywhere the coaching staff wants to put him.
In the clip below, the FS moves to the field like Katy would have him if treating the formation like Trips. The difference here is the box structure stays true to their base 3-4. The clip is also a great example of how the ILBs spill pullers. As the Will spills the backside Guard, the Mike wraps around him and the play side Guard can’t get to him until it is too late.
Below is a diagram of the run fits:
On the 4th drive of the game, the Chaps continue to test the weak side of the Katy defense. Below, the Chaps use a clever Dart Follow that acts like a Q Counter (TA). The Weak Tackle sets the edge and the Will spills the guard. Unlike the previous Power Read, the play side guard is able to get to the Mike and wall him outside. A natural crease is created and the RB leads the QB up the hole. It’s now 2nd and 5 and the Chaps are ahead of the chains.
Four plays later, the Chaps find the end zone on a Buck Sweep. The Tigers go back to the Drop/CB blitz they ran against a Counter earlier in the game. This time, the Westlake RB is able to find a crease. The Mike spills the pull by the away-side guard, but the Drop ‘backer fits too wide and misses the tackle. As stated before, the weakness in the defense is to the weak side and is evident by Westlake’s gameplan. This particular play shows the ILBs are spilling, but in this case, the person they were spilling to wasn’t there.
To open up the ninth drive of the game, the Chaps continue to work the soft curl created by the Katy secondary. Below is a clip of a “Drive” combination. The slot will work vertically clearing a hole for the #1 WR to “drive” into the curl. The Chaps utilize a slant route to quickly strike the curl zone. In Katy’s secondary, the CBs are aligned outside and deep. This makes it hard for them to drive on slant routes. Usually, there is an overhang, even in 3-4 schemes, but the Tigers use the Sam as a hybrid OLB/DE. In the case below the Sam inserts and is responsible for the peel of the RB while the Mike LB blitzes, leaving the curl area vacated.
The very next play, the Chaps run a Power Read play-action. The WR runs a crack-n-go aiming for the Drop ‘backer then shooting upfield. The Katy defense is in their strong shift aligning to the GS Twin Open formation as though it were a Trips set. The Drop, who is responsible for the alley outside never reacts and the CB hesitates on the run read. The result is a big play for the Chaps.
This was a much-anticipated game in the state of Texas featuring two teams that many thought would vie for the state title in December. The Westlake Chaps would finish the year 11-3, eventually losing to fierce rival Lake Travis who would go on to win the 6A-D1 state title. The QB for the Chaps is none other than Sam Ehlinger, starting QB for the Texas Longhorns. Katy would finish 10-3, a 15 year low, and would get bounced out of the state tournament in the third round by North Shore HS.
Regardless, this game is a great study of how the Katy 3-4 reacts to a true Spread team and demonstrates the uniqueness of the Katy defense. The Tigers used a mix of coverage shifts, simple pressures, and umbrella coverages to keep the vaunted Westlake offense from going off. Eventually, the Chaps were able to find chinks in the armor, but the film shows the uniqueness of the Tiger hybrid 3-4 whos whole objective is to make the offense earn every yard. It took the Chaps until late in the game to finally break away, eventually winning 32-29.
Defending Pro Spread: Katy HS vs Cibolo Steel HS (2015)
To demonstrate how the Katy hybrid 3-4 reacts to a Pro Spread offense, the 2015 matchup of Cibolo Steel HS and the Katy Tigers was used. This was the Semi-Final for the state championship. Steele uses a multitude of formations and utilizes a TE in many of their sets. Katy would dominate and go on to win 38-0, and eventually beating Lake Travis for the 6A-D2 State Championship. The 2015 Tigers were historically great on defense that year, racking up 10 total shutouts! Katy Seven Lakes had the high water mark of 8 points during the regular season and Cypress Ranch was able to score 20 during the Tigers second-round matchup. Needless to say, the Katy 3-4 was showing its strength in the ’15 campaign.
From the beginning of the game, Steele attempted to use motion to combat the way the Tigers structure their defense. The Sam always goes to the TE or strength call and travels with the FS. The Rover will adjust to where ever the #2 WR is. In the case of Trey (first clip below), the FS aligns on the TE and the Rover on the slot. The Drop will adjust to the formation. If the offense aligns in a 3×1 set, the Drop will sink back and hang in the post-hole fitting outside the box (like a boundary safety in a 4-2-5). In the clip below, Steele uses a Y-trade shift to change the strength. Instead of flipping the front mid-play, the Tigers roll the secondary and adjust. The FS travels with the TE and the Drop moves down onto the LOS.
The play is a simple “Snag” concept similar to the Air Raid’s Y-Corner. The TE attempts to clear a void by working vertically. The Drop cuts to #1 reading the QB’s eyes. This cutting action allows the Drop ‘backer to zone over the RB as well. The angle of the Drop closes the window for the QB and he almost throws the ball right to the Drop ‘backer. The result puts Steele behind the chains with a 2nd and Long.
To start their second drive Steele continues to use Y-trade and motions to attempt to get the Tigers in an unfavorable alignment. As with early examples, the Tigers don’t wholesale change if there is change-of-strength motion. The players shift roles instead of shifting positions. This can be advantageous to the Tigers because no one moves or gets out of alignment. The Sam drops back and assumes the role of the Drop ‘backer in Trips while the FS travels with the TE. This is not a departure from their base scheme.
Later in the 1st Quarter, Steele comes out in a “traditional” 20 pers. with a sniffer/H-back and a RB. This is different than the split-back look that Westlake gave the Tigers. Katy treats the H-back set to the field as though it is a Trips look and places the FS on top of the “H.” As he motions to the other side of the formation, the Drop and FS exchange and the Drop moves down near the LOS. The FS is still tracking the H-back and inserts once he moves towards the LOS. The Drop holds the outside and will fold in late. As shown in prior clips, the Tigers are in a pseudo-Over Front and will spill any pullers. Steele runs a same-side Power for little gain.
Below are the run fits for the previous play. Both the Will and the FS spill the pullers leading to the wrapping Mike and folding Drop to take on the RB. This gave the Tigers a plus-one versus the Power. This way of defending the run with a high middle hole player is similar to the Dime based defenses in the Big 12. The FS’ insertion and subsequent spill creates open lanes for the Mike and Drop.
When teams try to motion to get the Tigers to shift they stay within their base rules. The FS never leaves the TE and the Rover takes the #2 WR where ever he goes. Steele motions from Trey to Pro Twin. The Drop moves down to create a 3-4 look because the formation is now 2×2. The Rover chases the slot from one side to the other. Even if the QB were to flip the ball to the bubble, the Drop is there to react with a CB sitting at the sticks and a Rover hurrying over there and on top of the coverage. The FS, reading run, inserts in the back door of the Dart and makes a play for minimal gain.
Take a look at a similar play diagram. If the RB were to fit behind his puller, the Mike and Drop are able to make the play on the edge. In the clip, the RB cuts back to open space and is collected by the free-hitter in the FS. The Tigers have designed a way to gain a plus-three on both pulling plays. Regardless of where the back inserts, he will be collected for minimal gain. This aligns with the Tigers philosophy of making the offense earn it.
The Tigers use their trio of safeties to adjust to every formation the offense throws at it. The established rules allow the players to flow from one formation to another without making exotic calls. The FS will always go to the TE while the Drop goes away from the strength call. This eliminates any confusion versus multiple formation offenses or tempo Spread. The only player that must adjust is the Rover, who just has to find the #2 WR away from the Drop ‘backer. “This rock-n-roll” method eliminates the issue of being out-leveraged by motion.
Like most 3-4 hybrid defenses, the two OLBs are the real hybrids. Katy just does it a little different. The Drop is actually the Nickel and the Sam is similar to the typical DE/LB types aligned as the Jack. Going from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5 is seamless as well. The “Over Front” alignment used by the Tigers makes it easy to insert a D-lineman for the Sam. Instead of being flexed off the line, the new DE is now attached and rushing the passer or fitting the run like a traditional 5 tech.
The production this defense has given the Katy Tigers in undeniable. It is simple, yet adaptive, which is what a modern defense should look like. The simplicity allows the Tigers’ players to fly to the ball without the need to make too many reads. The defensive staff can change the look from down to down by going from a 3-4 to a “broken” 3-3, and then to 4-2-5, all without wholesale changes. This gives the Tigers an advantage week to week and even series to series in a game.
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