5 Tips for Defending Spread Option Teams

MQ details 5 things to remember when facing a Spread Option team.

One offensive play that has not lost its power in modern football is the option. Spread offenses utilize option principles to test the mettle of a defense’s structure. An option offense forces the defense to play assignment football. Each player on a defense must stay gap sound and understand how the structure of the defense adapts versus each option play. When defending an offense that runs a variation of the Triple Option from Spread formations, a defense must have three main components: 1) a Dive player, 2) a Quarterback player, & 3) a pitch-man. Add pulling guards and trap plays and a Spread Option offense can inflict a lot of damage if the defense is not disciplined.

One of the main keys for defending Spread Option teams is eye discipline. It is imperative that each position on a defense understands his fits and read keys. When option teams motion it creates eye “candy” and distractors for defenders, especially at the linebacker level (Jet or Orbit motion). Spread Option teams also make it difficult to blitz. When applying pressure to an option offense the defense can expose itself to being a man short if the players do not understand how the pressure changes option responsibilities.

Many defenses choose to stay in base and fit the option. This can work if the defense has better players than the offense, but in most cases staying static helps the offense learn how to pinpoint a defense’s weaknesses. Understanding how Spread Option teams want to attack a defense’s structure is crucial in defending option offenses. Below are 5 tips for defending these types of teams: 

  1. BGapKnow where the “B” gap is (“Open Gap” philosophy): It is safe to say that most offenses want to find and attack the open gap. This is not different in option offenses. Open gaps allow the offense to have a soft spot in the defense. Understanding this principle will allow a defense to predict where offenses are going to attack. The structure of the defense and the open gaps allow option teams to predict who will carry the ball. In the Spread Option, offenses most likely put their best athlete at QB and want him to run the ball on the edge. The open “B” gap will help the offense call plays. In most defenses, the defensive end to the Nose’s side (open “B” gap) has the Dive and the LB behind him will scrape, or take, the QB. Teaching a defense’s players to understand this, and having this knowledge as a coach, will allow a defensive coordinator to predict what he will see from the option.
  2. Make sure everyone knows who has the Dive, QB, and Pitch: Option football is designed to confuse the defense and punish it when the players are not disciplined. In order to defend the Spread Option, a defense must have clearly defined rules and the players must understand how they all link together. If running a base 4-3/4-2-5 or an Okie Front (3-4), the open “B” gap will help define who on the defense has the three options: Dive, Quarterback, and Pitch. If utilizing natural gap exchanges in its base, a defense should already have the foundational Responsibilitiesprinciples of defending the option. Using the “Open-Gap” principle, the defensive end to the strength (where the 3 tech. is set) will have the QB. He cannot close the “B” gap because the defensive tackle is anchored in that gap. The Sam LB, who is not in the gap fit will accept the role of the pitch player. The Mike, who is responsible for the “A” gap will take the Dive. To the weak side (Nose/5 tech.) the DE is the Dive player and the Will LB will take the QB responsibility. The pitch will be taken by the backside safety. The wildcard to the weakside is the Mike. If playing a team that is running Zone Option, the Mike can scrape all the way to the inside shoulder of the QB. His initial step will be to his gap, but if the Nose crosses his face (and the DE chasing the Dive – closed “B” gap) the Mike can scrape to the outside. Each player has a role and must attack their responsibility in order for the defense to work and fit correctly. Like links in a chain, each player works off the next and must make their anchor point right (fit support).
  3. Teach gap exchanges to naturally fit the option: As stated above, teaching gap exchanges will create natural fits for a defense’s players and alleviate confusion when it comes to defending the Spread Option. Gap exchanges can create a numbers advantage against zone heavy teams. One way to utilize the gap exchange model is to adjust the alignment of a defense’s DEs. To the strength (3 tech. side), the DE can widen to a “wide 5” alignment. This allows the DE to build a wall with the play to him and have a clear view of the QB (or down the line for pullers) with play away (shoulders should stay parallel and shuffle down the line). To the weak side (Nose/5 tech.), the DE can play a “heavy” technique. In a “heavy” technique, the DE tightens his alignment on the offensive tackle, almost to a 4. This allows the DE to attack the “B” gap quicker. If the offensive tackle steps out to him (play to) he will rip inside to plug the “B” gap. This movement allows the Will to hang in his position and keep eyes on his responsibility, the QB. Versus a 2×2 spread set, this technique helps the Will cover down to the #2 WR (pitch). If the play is away, the DE is already aligned in a position that will allow him to quickly attack the dive and run down the heels of the offensive lineman. Gap exchange is not a revolutionary concept, but utilizing it can make a huge difference in run fits and defending the Spread Option.
  4. Change responsibilities to create muddied reads: Playing static will get a defense beat against a good Spread Option team. Once an offense has figured out where a defense will align, even if using gap exchange, they can quickly formulate ways to attack the scheme (like arc releasing the OT to the “heavy” 5 tech.). Changing responsibilities by using “Hold”/”Up” calls, inserting players in gaps, or using line movement to change responsibilities can muddy the read for an option QB. Most offenses want to run the ball to the open gap. By changing the open gap a defense can force the OC to guess. Changing the read by changing the responsibilities of the defensive players can create havoc on an option offense. When changing the reads and responsibilities it is important to make them simple enough for the defensive players to understand. One example is to “hold” the DE to the open side. The “hold” call tells the DE that he now has the QB and the OLB will fold in to take the Dive. During the course of the game, the QB will assume the DE to the open gap will be the Dive player. With a “hold” call, the QB might pull it and run right into the DE. Changing the responsibilities as the game goes along keeps the offense guessing while the DC can control who gets the ball. Another example would be to flip the interior linemen by using movement. Going form an Over to an Under Front. This changes the way the entire front seven fits and a defense can find a stunting lineman running unblocked. Utilizing these calls within a defensive game plan can force the lesser ball carrier to tote the football more than the offense wants them to. These techniques can be used to defend RPO offenses that rely on Zone Read, Arc Read, and other plays tagged with WR screens.
  5. Set up for Speed Option: Defending the Zone Read, or Spread Triple, is tough enough, but if a defense does not align properly it can expose itself to Speed Option. The most utilized formation to attack a defense with Speed Option is a 3×1 set. If a defense aligns to a 3×1 formation with an Over Front (3 tech. to the 3 WR side), the Mike will be tucked into the “A” gap and cannot help with full flow to the strong side. Utilizing an Under Front versus Trips or Trey formations allows the Mike to gain access to the edge of the box and cover down to the #3 WR. To the backside, if a defense spins to single-high or “kicks” the coverage to the 3 WR side, the weak side can be exposed to Speed Option. When defending teams that have the ability to run Speed option (especially from Pistol – two-way-go) it is important the defense aligns evenly distributed so it will not get outnumbered.

Speed Option Fits vs 10p 2×2

One adjustment that is not illustrated in the picture is to set the front away from the RB if the offense utilizes Speed Option from a 2×2 formation. Another adjustment could also be to align the Mike in a 20 (head up on the guard) to the RB’s side. This would give him a “plused” alignment to the Speed Option side. Below are two base examples of Speed Option versus 10 pers. 2×2 from a 4-3 and a 4-2-5 (full cover down):


SpdOpt (4-2-5)

Staying in a two-high shell, even versus 3×1 formations, allows the defense to stay even and have a pitchman to either side. When defending a team that utilizes Speed Option from a 3×1 formation it is important to set the front away (Under) from the 3 WR side. This allows the Mike to cover down and vacate the box versus full flow. The same concept can be used against 20p teams that run Load or Speed Option from two-back sets.

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11 thoughts on “5 Tips for Defending Spread Option Teams”

      1. I have always been a run and shoot flexbone coach. love both of them. best way to implement both into each other is too match the options with the correct correlated pass concept. X or Z slide, smash, read, switch, and streak are great with the triple to either side on 2 x2. 3 x 1 is Go, Slide, and Hook with the triple to the trips side with orbit return motion. Speed option and Choice/Choice special blend together perfectly as well. The concept structure is the same as it is in Mouse Davis’s shoot, it is just going to look a little bit different. Red Faught and Tiger Ellison would love this perfect blending of the Run and Shoot and the Flexbone option.

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