Keying the H-back Versus Y-off or “I” Formations

One simple coverage tweak can add numbers into the box and free up your LBs versus Y-off offenses.

I learned about using a “key” read on an offset TE (H-back) in 2017 when I heard Don Brown speak at the Lone Star Clinic in College Station. In his words, he stated, that without City Check (Cover 1 with keying safeties), he didn’t know where he’d be as a coach. Those are powerful words from one of the best defensive coordinators in college football. Sometimes you need an extra fitter on the H-back, especially as more Spread teams base out of 11/20 personnel sets (Y-off), and this was exactly what I was looking for.

Don Brown’s City Check or “Key/Fox,” as Dave Aranda (LSU)/Todd Orlando (Texas) refer to it, is a Cover 1 adjustment to any two-back formation, and can also be used if the H-back turns into a traditional TE on the line of scrimmage. Both safeties are aligned 8-10 yards deep at the edge of the box and are keying the FB or offset TE depending on personnel grouping. This is a great way to give a two-high look pre-snap (Quarters), then add numbers post-snap (gapped-out single-high). Below is a diagram of Michigan running the scheme versus a 21p “I” Twin formations.

01 Key vs 21p

Both safeties are slightly tilted in and focusing their eyes on the FB. Whichever way the FB inserts or moves, the safety to that side will trigger down to “cap” the box fit. Most defensive coaches want plus numbers in the box. The term cap refers to the third man responsible in the fit. There should be an inside and outside shoulder player on the ball carrier. The “capper,” or third fitter, caps or tops the fit.

Inside the box, the LBs are focused on the RB, and if the back were to go out for a pass (more likely versus a Shotgun offense), the LB to the RB’s side would take him. The rest of the secondary is locked on their man. In terms of pass coverage, the safety away from the inserting FB will work “through the Post,” creating a Cover 1 look. Below is a clip of the play illustrated above, a simple Iso from 21 pers. I Twin.

The motion by the Badgers’ FB triggers the safety to the nub-TE’s side to start working down. Wisconsin is used to seeing City Check from Michigan and understands how to manipulate the trigger. The open “A” gap is actually away from the motion, and the FB works back to it on the snap of the ball. Inside the box, the LBs must understand the leverage of the secondary and how the FB’s movement will trigger one of them. In the clip above, the ILB hits the FB away from the dropping safety (referred to as “boxing” the block), essentially forcing the ball carrier to the safety. The overall result is a short gain. Continue reading “Keying the H-back Versus Y-off or “I” Formations”

Playing Dime as Your Base Pt. 2 – The Front

MQ checks in on the Cyclones after 2 years of running their “broken stack” defense and discusses their front structure.

Iowa State is much more than Tite Tampa. That is the front (404) and the coverage (modified Tampa 2) that is most associated with the Cyclones defense. When I first heard about what the Cyclones were starting to do defensively in the Spring of 2018 I was instantly intrigued. The defense in Ames was once touted as a gimmick but has quickly become somewhat of an Air Raid killer and a major influence in college football over the past two years. The defensive prowess of the Cyclones has enabled Head Coach Matt Campbell to become a coaching commodity (had some NFL interest this year) and has put Ames, Iowa on the map. A stage the program has rarely been on in its football history.

Ironically, the Big 12 is not known for its defense, but this is where you will find some of the most innovative schemes in college football. Especially when it comes to defending the Spread. Todd Orlando at Texas has become a big name around college football with his use of the Tite Front, simulated blitzes, and use of Nickel and Dime packages in the backend. Texas’ recruiting in 2018 saw them scoop up 6 DBs (all in the top 150 in the country according to 247 Sports) to add to their hybrid defense. This aligns with what is going on in Ames, Iowa as well, where the Cyclones defense has taken football schematic fans by storm. The defensive coordinator Jon Heacock’s defense is something to behold. He has basically created an Air Raid “killer.”

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 1.15.39 PM.png

One could argue the Cyclones have grown in the three years since Campbell and Heacock came to Ames. Their record versus the top Air Raid offenses in the Big 12 isn’t stellar (6-6), but the numbers also don’t suggest they are a bunch of pushovers either. Outside of Oklahoma St., the Cyclones defense has consistently been able to hold the four opponents shown above under their season average. One thing that makes the Cyclones ability to stop these high powered Big 12 offenses, even more, impressive is the fact they don’t recruit at the same level as many of the teams listed.

For instance, Oklahoma’s offense has been the #1 or #2 ranked efficient squad in the country last three years. When they face the Cyclones, they have consistently scored their season lows; even in a victory. The 2017 Memphis Tigers were the 2nd ranked offense in terms of points per game (45.7), the Cyclones held them to 20 points. In 2018, the Cyclones went up against the Mr. Air Raid himself, Mike Leach, in the Alamo Bowl. Though the Cyclones lost, they held Washington St. to 28 points. Only one other team, Cal (16), held them to less.

Analytics

2018 was a coming out party for the Cyclone defense. They finished the year ranked 21st in Defensive Efficiency and in the top third (#33/1.82) for Defensive Points Per Drive (DPD) and Total Defense (#33). Iowa St. was among the top defenses in stops when teams started on their side of the 50 (-20 to -40), which is called DMD (Defense Medium Drive). If you are going to win in the Big 12 you must eliminate scores from your opponent. Iowa St. did just that in 2018, finishing the year as the #1 scoring defense in the Big 12 (23 points per game). Efficiency speaking, the Cyclones were on the rise in 2018 making a jump into the top 25.

Over the past two years, the Cyclones have been consistent when it comes to limiting offenses in the DMD arena. Meaning, if an offense gets the ball between their -20 to -40, the Cyclones were in the top 25 when it came to limiting TD drives from this area on the field in 2017 and 2018. Most offensive possessions will start in this area, so it is important to win on their side of the field.

Another stat that paints a bigger picture is DDS (Defensive Drive Successes rate). DDS, as explained by BCfToys.com (where I get most of my analytics data), “…is the percentage of opponent offensive drives that generate value greater than the starting field position value of the drive.” This translates to the Cyclones making offenses “earn” their yards and not allowing offenses to steal plus yards on offense. Basically, it is hard to move the ball efficiently against the Cyclones.

Recruiting wise (trust me, I’m not big on recruiting sites, but it does give you a point of reference on talent), the Cyclones have been in the bottom half of the Big 12 consistently (never higher than 7th) under Matt Campbell, and have never cracked the top 50 nationally until this year (2019 – #48) according to 247Sports. The composite recruiting score (average player rating) has consistently gone up every year: 2016 – .825, 2017 – .839, 2018 – .848, and 2019 – .859. These recruiting ranking give us context to the on-field play. You could argue Iowa State is punching outside their weight class. In fact, the Cyclones haven’t had a player drafted since 2014 (this changed in 2019 with WR Hakeem Bulter and RB David Montgomery being drafted in the 3rd and 4th rounds respectively).


The question now has to be asked, is this a legitimate scheme, or is its unique success limited to the Cyclones? I’ve talked before about survival bias and how we need to look objectively not only at our own schemes, but other schemes as well. The ultimate goal of football, or any game, is to win. Iowa State hasn’t put back-to-back 8 win seasons together since the ’70s when they won 8 games three times from ’76 to ’78. That’s a 30-year drought! The Cyclones have only won 9 games TWICE in their history, 1906 (9-1) and 2000 (9-3). What Matt Campbell has done in Ames cannot be overlooked.

Defensively, the Cyclones have had a meteoric rise without the help of top-level recruits, going from 103rd in DEff to 21st in three years. DPD has dropped significantly too, going from 2.88 in 2016 (that’s almost a FG a drive!) to 1.82 in 2018. The real test will be in 2019 and if the Cyclones can maintain their consistency and continue to rise in defensive prowess. The 2019 Cyclone defense will need to replace only three starters, a LB and two CBs. Is the scheme legitimate? It is for the Cyclones and what they need to win games in the daunting offensive gauntlet that is the Big 12.

At the end of the day, a team is judged on wins and losses. The Cyclones have stayed consistently at 8 wins a year for the past two seasons but in order to become legitimate, a team needs to be winning 9+ games at a constant rate. Against the top offenses (ranked #30 or higher in Off. Efficiency), the Cyclones are 6-6 the past three years (3-1 in 2017). That’s not bad for a growing program, but one stat that can’t be ignored is the 3-6 record versus teams in BCfToys’ top 20 in overall team efficiency (0-4 in 2018).

In order to legitimize the scheme, the Cyclones are going to need to consistently win against top-tier teams. Only time will tell if Matt Campbell and the Cyclones can become a consistent threat to the Big 12 and college football’s elite. As for now, they have an intriguing defense that is gaining a cult-like following and a schematic foothold across the country. Campbell was even rumored to have been a target for some NFL teams this offseason.

Is the scheme legitimate? I would argue yes, but like any scheme, it has deficiencies (which can be said about all schemes!). Teams across the country, and at all levels, are toying with the three-safety scheme. The concepts used by the Cyclones have been used by many teams in their long yardage package. Most have had it in their packages, but never thought to base out of it. As stated, only time will tell if this scheme can have a foothold in mainstream football or if it is unique to the Air Raid-centric Big 12.


The 3-3-3 Defense

01 Base 3-3-3

The Cyclones base, in Heacock’s words, is a 3-3-3, or a derivative of the Odd Stack. Unlike a true 3-3-5, where all three LBs are stacked on their anchor points (D-line), the Cyclone defense will “break” the stack in order to keep the look of a two-high shell at all times. The ability to break the stack comes from, what I refer to as, the Joker or Middle Safety (JS). Continue reading “Playing Dime as Your Base Pt. 2 – The Front”

MQ Quick Hits Ep. 15 – Expanding the Vision of Your DBs

Game like drills for your DBs.

In this clinic, MQ explains how to use game-like scenarios in your drills to create an expanded peripheral vision for your young DBs. This drill also adds a RB to help the DBs understand RPOs. The QB’s shoulders (intentions) are also discussed. Finally, the departure speed and where routes break off can all be crucial to understanding the chaos that is defensive football. In order to be elite, you need to be great in chaos. MQ helps.

For more drills and clinics like this, make sure to visit MQ’s YouTube Channel. Plus, make sure to bookmark MQ’s DB Resource Page. Everything you need in one place.

 

© 2019 MatchQuarters.com | Cody Alexander | All rights reserved.


Go deeper than just X’s and O’s. Have a philosophy. MQ’s books are available on Amazon and Kindle:

Cautious Aggression: Defending Modern Football

Hybrids: The Making of a Modern Defense

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– Coach A. | #ArtofX

Lone Star Clinic Notes – Mike Elko Texas A&M (2019)

Mike Elko talks building a championship defense & defening RPOS.

Building a Championship Defense

I thought it was refreshing to hear a coach talk about the overvaluation of the defensive scheme as it refers to winning games. As coaches, we can get hung up on trying to be something that we are not, searching for the latest blitz or coverage package, or too focused on what other (“better”) teams are doing schematically. When we do that as coaches we lose sight on what defensive football really boils down to, tackling and pursuit.

Yes, there are some schemes that are better than others, but there are no “catch-alls” in football. What may work for Mike Elko at A&M might not work for me at Midlothian HS. That being said, we can all find value in fundamentals, and it is important to understand survival bias and how it affects the way we approach our work as coaches. Schemes will always evolve, but no defense can be great without relentless pursuit and great tackling.


The opening line in Elko’s clinic was a statement regarding the overall defensive scheme, “Forget it,” he stated. As long as defenses line up correctly and there is an overemphasis on the little things (fundamentals), any defense can be successful. Elko suggested there are five objectives of a championship defense:

  1. All out effort
  2. Angle of pursuit
  3. Tackling and turnovers
  4. Eliminate fatals (80% of TD drives have an explosive play of 20+)
  5. Don’t sacrifice fundamentals and focus on stopping the run

The overall effort of a defense has to be cultural and cannot be compromised. This is something that you see from all the top defensive minds. Belichick has his “Do your job” mantra, Saban talks about an unrelenting commitment to excellence, and Don Brown has a “no tourist” policy. Elko follows suit when regarding effort and talked about how that culture has to be created. It’s human nature to seek the path of least resistance, but it is the coach’s responsibility to push his players to do better.

Elko talked of a story about his first practice at A&M. It took the 1’s 11 tries to get the effort he wanted during his most basic pursuit drill (5-cone pursuit). It is a non-negotiable for him and starts with what he refers to as a “Smart Swarm.”

Pursuit comes down to a few simple things, judging angles and using your leverage (where is my help?). Leverage is something that is tremendously important and players must know where they are on the field and how others are reacting off of them. For example, it isn’t smart for a CB to rip inside when he has to keep outside leverage. Understanding how each link on the chain reacts to each other is important when creating a swarm mentality. Continue reading “Lone Star Clinic Notes – Mike Elko Texas A&M (2019)”

MQ Quick Hits Ep. 14 – Quarters Clinic

Learn the ins and outs of Quarters coverage in this MQ Install.

Looking to install Quarters, or need a clinic or refresher course? MQ has you covered.

In this clinic, MQ details how the basics of Quarters coverage and the different variations found within the scheme. Quarters has been a go-to for many defenses when facing run-heavy opponents because it gets the safeties involved in the box. Think about having a 9-man box instead of 7. Not a bad plan when facing the run game on early downs. This clinic by MQ is designed to take you through the install process and gives you the tools to input this scheme in your coverage toolbox.

Continue reading “MQ Quick Hits Ep. 14 – Quarters Clinic”

Simulated Pressures From a “Positionless” Defense (2019 Sugar Bowl)

MQ takes a look at Texas’ 3rd Down pressure package versus Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

The Spread offense has touched every corner of college football. The SEC used to be one of the sole holdouts with only a few teams, namely Ole Miss and Texas A&M, embracing the shift. Saban has finally embraced the change as well, throwing the ball more than he ever has before with Tua Tagovailoa. The 2019 National Championship saw a battle of Spread teams that featured two of the most efficient offenses in the country (and two of the best QBs as well).

Even the NFL saw many of its teams embrace a more open style of play. Defenses in “the Leauge” were getting scored on at a historic rate. Sean McVay and his 11 personnel under center (UTC) offense has taken over the league en route to a Super Bowl appearance. In McVay’s offense, the use of quick motions, multiple formations, and what seems to be an Air Raid-ish passing game has given NFL defenses fits all year. Even further, turn on a Cowboys or Seahawks game and you are likely to see multiple ways to run the Zone or Arc Read. The trickle-up effect is in full swing. Even former Big 12 Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury got a head coaching job with the Cardinals on nothing more than his offensive acumen.

One key element I talked about in my latest book, Hybrids: The Making of a Modern Defense, is the use of a more positionless defensive gameplan going forward into the future. Rigid positional structures are giving way to a more fluid style of play. For example, to counteract the speed of the Raven’s Lamar Jackson, the San Diego Chargers went uber-small and put up to SEVEN DBs on the field at a time. This is something, until this year, fathomable only on a 3rd and Long or an end of a half situation in the NFL. The Chargers based out of it for a whole game!

This positionless style of play allows hybrid players, primarily at linebacker and defensive back, to play a larger role. In the NFL, the increasing use of 11 pers. groupings are being countered by many defenses basing out of a Nickel defense. Since L.T. in the ’80s, most NFL defenses also carry a hybrid DE, regardless if basing out of a three or four-down defense. The use of “small ball” to counteract the space created by Spread offenses is understandable. Hybrid players allow an almost endless amount of ways to blitz and pressure an offense without losing coverage ability (you’re dropping a speedy LB/DB instead of a rigid D-lineman).

The Big 12 is not new to the concept of “smaller” faster players playing on the defensive side of the ball. The notion that the Big 12 doesn’t play defense is false. Innovation comes from desperation, and in the offensive gauntlet that is the Big 12, it has created an evolutionary playground for defensive (and offensive) football. It comes as no surprise that in a league that is at the forefront of the evolution of the Spread would feature unique defenses within the league to counter the offensive onslaught.

Though Iowa State and their base Broken Stack that features a three-safety Dime Robber scheme has become the most popular scheme within the league, in truth, it is Todd Orlando at Texas that has made his mark around the country behind his use of a positionless defense and defending the wide-open schemes found in the league. I wrote about Orlando’s prowess as a DC in my article discussing how teams attack the Tite Front, the Longhorn’s base defense, but it is his use of multiple personnel packages within a game that truly shows his knack as a DC.

00 Base

The Longhorns base out of a 3-4 that utilizes the Tite Front (404) and a stand-up hybrid DE to the weak side, or away from the passing strength (this is “Mint” in Saban-speak). The inside LB corp consists of a Mike and what is referred to as a “B” ‘backer. In Orlando’s scheme, the Mike is the plugger and will go away from the Nose. This allows the “B” ‘backer to be a free player and essentially “go get the football!” The Longhorns base with a true Nickel as well, and align him opposite the Jack, primarily with the passing strength. The image above shows the Longhorns base look against the ever prevalent “Y-Off” 20 pers. looks seen in many Power Spread offenses.


“Positionless” Defense

Like Iowa State, Texas has a three-safety “Dime” package that they utilize against pass-heavy offenses (think Kingbury’s Tech) or in obvious pass downs where Orlando wants to drop eight and flood the zones. The beauty within Orlando’s use of interchangeable players allows him to stay within packages, but get different pre-snap looks. It also gives him the ability to put players in situations to take advantage of deficiencies within an offensive scheme or weaker/slower players. Continue reading “Simulated Pressures From a “Positionless” Defense (2019 Sugar Bowl)”

MQ Quick Hits Ep. 13 – 2-Read Clinic

Want to install 2-Read? MQ has a clinic for you.

In this 30 min clinic from MatchQuarters, learn the intricacies of installing 2-Read coverage. Some refer to the coverage as Cloud, Palms, or just Cover 2, but there is more to the coverage than just breaking on out routes. MQ discusses how to install the coverage and the pedagogy behind it.

Continue reading “MQ Quick Hits Ep. 13 – 2-Read Clinic”

MQ Film Study: Defending Unbalanced Trips (2018 Michigan State)

Using Quarters to adjust to one of the most popular ways the Spread goes unbalanced.

The use of unbalanced formations is nothing new. Whether it is a simple Tackle-over to create a four-man surface or the use of an unbalanced open set (no attached TE) to get the defense to roll its coverage, unbalanced formations challenge a defense to stay sound and keep its numbers even on either side of the ball. One popular Spread unbalanced formation is the two-back Unbalanced Trips set that places three WRs to one side, yet keeps a two-back structure in the box. This can be a great way to out leverage a defense because it creates conflict.

The two-back set forces defenses to acknowledge the offense’s ability to run the ball. Adding three WRs to one side forces the defense to leverage the secondary to a perceived passing strength. This conflict is what leads to issues when facing a team that utilizes this type of unbalanced formation. In an earlier article, I highlighted ways to defend the top Spread unbalanced sets. One of them was the 20 pers. “X-off” formation usually paired with Jet motion to gain a Quads look to one side (below).

01-20p

This formation, in particular, forces a defense to acknowledge the leverage of the two WRs while challenging the defense to see that one of them is ineligible. The backside “X” WR now has the ability to go in motion. By using a quick motion like a Jet motion, the offense can now conflict the defense. One great way to do this is by using a BAsh, or “back-away,” run scheme. This split-run action can have a devastating effect on a defense’s run stopping ability if the defense over rotates the secondary or is overly aggressive to the direction of the motion.

01 Unbal 20p Q CTR Bash Jet

In the above diagram, the Jet motion challenges the defense to honor the fast pace of the WR. If the defense overreacts, the Q-Counter will hit home. Pop motions are great eye-candy used by offenses to gain leverage on the defense. In the play above, the QB can either read the DE or the Mike ‘backer depending on who is more aggressive. Either read works well, and the offensive coordinator can switch the read at any time. If an offense has a “box read” (counting the number of defenders between the tackles), the QB could see an apexed Sam and throw a WR screen, especially if the CB is backed off. The key to defending these plays from an unbalanced set is understanding numbers. Continue reading “MQ Film Study: Defending Unbalanced Trips (2018 Michigan State)”

MQ Film Study: Oklahoma vs Alabama (1st Half – 2018)

Let’s talk about that dominant first half by the ‘Bama defense.

The 2018 Orange Bowl was the most appealing contest of the two playoff games. The matchup put the greatest defensive mind in college football (Saban) with arguably the greatest offensive one (Lincoln Riley). It also had one of the more intriguing QB matchups of the bowl season. The efficiency at which both Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray and Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa play it is astonishing. Both are built completely different as well, with Murray listed at 5’10 and Tua 6’1″.

Murray is an absolute legend in the state of Texas, finishing his high school career at 42-0 while competing in the highest division in the state. Tua has become a legend in his own right, taking over for Jalen Hurts in last years Championship Game, and seemingly never looking back. The Tide’s offense is just different when he is in the game and has been steamrolling ever since. Overall, the game was a matchup of the two most efficient offenses in the country and one of the best defenses in the country. There was only one thing that didn’t fit into the game, Oklahoma’s defense, as I pointed out in this pre-game tweet:

Alabama’s defense has dominated the last decade of college football. Outside of Saban’s first year in Tuscaloosa (#36 in Defensive Efficiency), the Tide have been a mainstay in the top 10 defenses in the country. The only outlier being the 2010 team that finished #13 in defensive efficiency. Defensive efficiency is a great way to monitor how well a defense is playing overall because it accounts for every down and judges a defense on whether they stay ahead of the chains. One player that stood out over any during the game was Alabama’s interior lineman Quinnen Williams. He consistently was camped in the backfield and early on made it hard for Murray to step up into the pocket. Oklahoma’s redshirt freshman Center, Creed Humphrey, played valiantly, but there were multiple times Williams did whatever he wanted and single-handedly blew plays up.

On the other sideline, one could argue, Lincoln Riley is building the Spread of the future. I saw an interview where Bud Foster, long time Defensive Coordinator for Virginia Tech, stated that 12 personnel is the new 21 pers. Except it is much more versatile because of the two TEs. I agree with the 4-2-5 legend. The addition of multiple TEs into the game is something the NFL has been doing since Bill Belichick went to it in early 2000. The major colleges are moving towards it too as defenses are getting “smaller.” Hybrid TEs are a completely different animal, and Oklahoma has two of them.

The Sooners offense looked dominant all year, only stumbling to the Texas Longhorns in the annual Red River Rivalry (it’s hard to beat a good team twice). Only Army and their slow-paced Option offense were able to keep the vaunted Sooner offense under 30 points. The Iowa State Cyclones and their three-safety Broken Stack were able to even keep Oklahoma under 40 points in Big 12 play. Something no one else did. Needless to say, the offense in Norman was electric all year long. The Sooners based out of 12 personnel for most of the game against the Tide. Riley’s combination of Air Raid pass concepts with a power run game has been devastating for defenses. Below is a basic 3×1 look for the Sooners offense, which they ran numerous times versus the Tide defense.

01 OU Base

For several years now, Riley has been staying in a 12 pers. look for better parts of most games. This allows the Sooners to have a hybrid TE in #80 Grant Calcaterra (So./6’4″ 220) and a blocking TE in #45 Carson Meier (Sr./6’5″ 254 and is actually listed as a FB). Both can catch the ball, but Riley uses Calcaterra mainly flexed out at WR (what is referred to as a “Joker” TE). Both accumulated over 300+ yards of receiving throughout the 2018 season. By having two larger hybrid players on the field, Riley doesn’t have to sub and can use timely tempo to challenge defenses that choose to go small versus the high powered Sooner offense. As stated prior, the Sooners lived in 3×1 for most of the game and mixed in different 2×2 looks as well as some 12 pers. Wing Twin to load the box.

Last year (2017), Riley used two current NFL players in the same way, current Jacksonville FB Dimitri Flowers and Ravens’ TE Mark Andrews (who had 500+ yards receiving). This is a trend that is probably not going away. Riley’s adaptation of the Air Raid offense to one that has a power run game has paid dividends for the Sooners since his arrival on campus. This year alone, Murray and RB Kennedy Brooks (#26) both had 1,000 yard rushing seasons. Trey Sermon (#4) would accumulate just under 950 yards for himself as well. To see the Oklahoma offense as one that is pass heavy is to miss the mark on what Riley is doing in Norman. In the passing game, Murray threw for over 4,000+ yards and Marquise Brown (#5) and CeeDee Lamb (#2) both had 1,000+ yard seasons. The former in Brown was hurt during the Big 12 Championship and looked off all night against Alabama, being held to ZERO catches on the night.

Limiting Brown (who was averaging over 100+ yards a game) to no production was a coup for the Tide and hindered the Sooners ability to attack through the air early in the game. Riley chose to attack the Tide with multiple 3×1 formations using several different personnel groupings (10/11/12) and moving his “Joker” TE, Calcaterra, around. Lamb would end the night with over 100+ yards receiving, picking on ‘Bama’s freshman CB in Patrick Surtain II. The Tide would also stifle the Sooners run game, only allowing Murray over 100 yards rushing (Brooks – 35/Sermon – 19). Needless to say, Bama forced Murray to beat them passing, and it paid off in the first half.

Take away the abysmal first quarter for the Sooner offense and the game was evenly matched. A team cannot spot a Saban team 28 points and figure to win the game. This is why the game is played a full 60 minutes! Riley adjusted to the lack of explosion from Brown and a nonexistent run game starting in the second quarter. It was too little too late.

The Sooners couldn’t get the stops they needed down the stretch on defense and lost 45-34. Overall, the game was a look into the future. Riley’s hybrid Air Raid scheme and Saban’s masterclass in adaptability highlighted where football is headed. As I wrote in my latest book, Hybrids: The Making of a Modern Defense, the pendulum is constantly swinging back and forth between offense and defense. As defenses get smaller to counteract the high powered Spread attacks, offenses will eventually get “bigger” to push them around. The Sooners are the epitome of this cat-and-mouse game. The use of two hybrid big-men is evidence that the top offensive minds are beginning to go back to a power game.

The basis of this MQ Film Study is to see how the greatest defensive mind in college football (Saban) chose to attack the vaunted Oklahoma offense (#1 or #2 in O. Eff since 2016). Outside of the first quarter, the Tide really didn’t stop the Sooner offense. One thing the Tide did well all night was inhibit the power run game of the Sooners, forcing Murray to do it all by himself. Below is a breakdown of every play the Sooners offense ran during the first half of the Orange Bowl (outside of the last drive of the half). The Orange Bowl was a look into the future of football and how modern defense will defend the “Power” Spread going forward. Continue reading “MQ Film Study: Oklahoma vs Alabama (1st Half – 2018)”

Three Coverages Every Quarters Team Needs in Its Toolbox

Go beyond static Quarters and be aggressive in your coverage schemes.

Split-field Quarters is one of the most adaptive and flexible defenses a modern defensive coordinator can base out of. It molds and flexes to fit whatever an offense can throw at it. Offenses can only throw so many different numbers on either side of the center; up to four eligible receivers at the most, and Quarters can adapt to all of them. At the fundamental level, Quarters is based off a numbers system. The corners always relate to #1, the safeties and outside linebackers #2 (bracket), and the Mike always relates to #3. If a player can count to three he can play Quarters.

Utilizing split-field coverages takes the Quarters scheme one step further, creating even more adaptiveness and flexibility. Being able to tag a base defense with small coverage manipulations can transform a static Quarters look into a robber, invert (Sky), or trap coverage. Pressure doesn’t always have to be the answer either. The defensive coordinator doesn’t have to outsmart his coaching counterpart on the other side of the ball, just the young QB trying to run the offense.

Many coordinators want to focus on pressures as a way to combat offensive schemes. Don Brown, the Defensive Coordinator for the University of Michigan puts the words “Solve your problems with aggression,” in his install playbooks. Pressures are a great way to force the issue with offenses, but sometimes a defense needs to sit back and run its base. When sending five or more, a defense loses a man in coverage and can get overexposed or become deficient in a certain zone if the blitz coverage is not structured correctly. On early downs, many top DCs like to sit in their base defense. Being static can have its own set of issues too, but adding coverage tags to change leverage points and run fits can be just as “aggressive” as a pressure and force the QB to beat the defense and not the OC.

Aggression can mean a multitude of different things when it comes to defense. The obvious answer is to blitz, but defenses can manipulate the secondary to be aggressive in their pass distributions and against certain receiving threats. Every offense has counters built into their scheme to take advantage of a defense vacating zones or spinning to single-high. Not every problem can be fixed through blitzing. Sometimes you have to play your base. Below are three ways a split-field Quarters team can tweak their coverage while staying sound and aggressive in nature. You know, Cautious AggressionContinue reading “Three Coverages Every Quarters Team Needs in Its Toolbox”

Hybrids: The Making of a Modern Defense

The the second full-length book from MatchQuarters.com:

In order to see the future, we must first view the past. The second book by author Cody Alexander dives into the evolution of the modern defense. From Bill Arnsparger’s hybrid 3-4 to the three-safety defenses found in the pass-happy Big 12, Alexander details the path taken to get to where we are today. One primary element in all modern defenses is the use of hybrid players and the move towards a more position-less game. Coach Alexander explains how modern defenses are taking from the past to recreate what we are seeing on the field today.

Defensive football is under attack by the proliferation of the Spread offense through all levels of football. The NFL currently is under attack by young coordinators turning to Spread schemes to destroy NFL defenses. Alexander creates a pathway in which fan or coach can clearly see the evolution to where the game is today and gives suggestions on what the future might look like. One thing is clear, concepts and techniques are much more important than rigid positions.

The use of multiple fronts and pattern-matching coverages are the key to unlocking what future defenses might look like. Coach Alexander’s latest book, Hybrids: The Making of a Modern Defense, illustrates the recycling of ideas and gives you the HOW and WHY many of the top defensive minds are choosing to coach defense. Come learn the “Art of X.”

Below are some of the images taken from the book:

 

Get the second book by MQ – Hybrids: The Making of a Modern Defense

Paperback: https://amzn.to/2EkIrXk

Kindle: https://amzn.to/2UO0fzG

 

… and don’t forget MQ’s first book Cautious Aggression: Defending Modern Football. If you have already purchased the book, make sure to leave a review! As always, I appreciate you guys and thank you for the support. #ArtofX

 

© 2018 MatchQuarters.com | Cody Alexander | All rights reserved.


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– Coach A. | #ArtofX

The Morris/Clemson Offensive System

It’s one of the most popular offenses in the country. MQ helps you understand it.

Stephenville High School (TX) is located about 100 miles southwest of the DFW metroplex and is the birthplace to two of college football’s most dominant offensive systems. The modern dominance of Yellowjacket football began with the hiring of Art Briles in 1988. For 12 years, the offensive guru haunted the minds of fellow Texas head coaches and defensive coordinators winning four state titles (’93-’94, ’98-’99) during his tenure. Briles would leave the sidelines of Stephenville after his last set of back-to-back state championship campaigns to join the college ranks in Lubbock, Texas under former Texas Tech and current Washington State Head Coach Mike Leach. The meshing of Briles “high school” offense, adapted from his former Houston Head Coach Bill Yeoman, and Leach’s pure Air Raid developed at Tech speaks for itself.

A few years after Briles’ departure to join the Red Raiders, Stephenville would turn to a young, up and coming coach in the name of Chad Morris. Morris would come from the storied program in Bay City, Texas to try and regain the glory created by Briles. After a first rough season, Morris needed answers and turned to a coach who was racking up points and making noise in a neighboring state. That coach was none other than Gus Malzahn and his unique brand of no-huddle Spread. Briles had proven the Spread could be a success in Stephenville, but Chad Morris’ brand needed an update after falling on hard times. Morris’ career and Spread offense would explode after his meeting with Malzahn.

The Yellowjackets under Morris’ tutelage would real off four consecutive 10+ win seasons with a high water mark in 2005 at 13-1. Morris’ success would take him to Lake Travis High School and two consecutive Texas State Championships, going 32-0 before moving on to the University of Tulsa in 2010 and then Clemson the following year (2011). His tenure at Clemson would solidify him as one of the top offensive minds in college football, eventually landing him the Head Coach title back in Texas at SMU.

The QB Whisperer

Morris has a knack for developing elite quarterbacks (…outside of his tenure at SMU). Starting with his stint in Stephenville, Morris would help develop former Texas, Ole Miss, and Prep All-American QB Jevan Snead. At Lake Travis HS, Morris had two of the top high school quarterbacks in the country with Garrett Gilbert (Texas/SMU/6th Round) and Michael Brewer (Texas Tech/Virginia Tech). Both prep QBs had video game numbers, with each throwing for over 4,000 yards while rushing for over 600 yards on the ground (and 65+ total TDs each!).

During Morris’ brief one year stint at Tulsa, the Hurricanes would real off a 10 win season with QB G.J Kinne passing for 3,500+ yards, 31 TDs, and accumulating over 500 yards on the ground. After the 2010 season in northeast Oklahoma, Morris would leave the region for Clemson where he inherited Tahj Boyd (three seasons of 3,800+, 30 TD seasons/6th Round) and helped elevate the Clemson Football program to national prominence under current Head Coach Dabo Sweeny.

In his final year at Clemson, Morris would oversee a young Deshaun Watson (1st Round) lead the Tigers until he tore his ACL during the season. During Morris’ tenure with Clemson, Tiger offenses were consistently ranked in the top 25 in offensive efficiency. The program would also see four consecutive 10 win seasons (something that hadn’t happened at Clemson since the late ’80s: ’87-’90). He also introduced America to the now infamous “Philly Special” (below).

Continue reading “The Morris/Clemson Offensive System”

The Katy HS (TX) Hybrid 3-4

Nestled in suburban Houston is one of Texas’ most storied football programs backed by its own unique take on the Hybrid 3-4.

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.


The Personnel

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.  Continue reading “The Katy HS (TX) Hybrid 3-4”

Attacking the Tite Front

The Tite Front is becoming a popular way to defend the Spread; it’s important to understand how teams are going to attack it on the ground.

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.

Tite vs PWR READ (W)

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.  Continue reading “Attacking the Tite Front”

MQ Quick Hits Ep. 12 – The 3-Down Dime

MQ breaks down the rising popularity of the 3-Down Dime package found in the Big 12.

The 3-Down Dime package has become an intriguing challenge for Spread offenses and is becoming the way many Big 12 defenses are choosing to defend the high-octane Air Raid offenses seen predominantly in the league (or at least have a package to get into it). MQ breaks down the scheme and helps you understand the HOW and WHY teams around the country are turning to the “Dime” package to defend the Spread. Many Odd Stack disciples will see familiarity in the scheme. If interested in learning more about the scheme, be sure to visit MatchQuarters.com’s article on the Iowa St. and Oklahoma St. Air Raid killer defense.

Continue reading “MQ Quick Hits Ep. 12 – The 3-Down Dime”

MQ Quick Hits Ep. 11 – Naming Formations

MQ breaksdown how to name opponent formations.

What’s in a name? Everything if you want to keep your opponent breakdowns efficient and clean. In this edition of Quick Hits, MQ discusses easy ways to name formations. 10, 11, and 20 pers. formations are discussed covering everything from where WRs line up to how to name the backfields. It’s all in there.

Continue reading “MQ Quick Hits Ep. 11 – Naming Formations”

MQ Film Study: Defending 20p – Minnesota vs Michigan (2017)

MQ takes a look at how Don Brown’s defense handles 11/20 pers. formations.

One of the toughest personnel groupings in football to defend is the 11/20 personnel Spread offense that utilizes an H-back/TE hybrid to create extra gaps and a multitude of formations. Teams that have a hybrid TE can line him up in the backfield, at slot, or on the line. The flexibility that an H-back brings to a multiple Spread offense is evident in the way the college game is evolving. More and more offenses are turning to hybrid “big” bodies to give defenses different looks on any given play. Going form a two-back three WR formation one play and a Pro Spread TE formation on the other.

One formation, in particular, is the weapon of choice for many teams that run Bash concepts, or “back away” runs, the 20 pers. “sniffer” look. One advantage offenses have by using a “sniffer” H-back is that he has a two-way-go. He can insert into an open gap (Iso), kick out the end man on the line (Power), pull along with another lineman (counter), or arc to seal a linebacker. There are a plethora of ways an offense can attack a defense using this grouping and formation. The addition of an extra blocker into the box also forces some teams to spin the secondary to add extra men in the box (which allows the offense to blow open the top on an isolated secondary player).

Don Brown, the Defensive Coordinator for the Michigan Wolverines, used a unique style of defense (shown below) to combat the Minnesota Gophers multiple 11/20 pers. running attack. The Gophers were entering the game 4-4 and looking to bounce back after a close loss to Iowa (10-17), while the Wolverines were looking to continue their winning ways having beaten Rutgers the previous week (35-14). Minnesota’s offense under new head coach P.J. Fleck is a mixture of TE sets and Spread sets.

When looking at the scheme Brown chose to defend the Gophers 11/20 pers. formations, one will notice the ultra aggressiveness towards the run and the lack of “coverage” for the H-back. Brown also had several change-ups and automatics to motion and the different formations the Gophers threw at the Wolverines. Below is a diagram of how Brown blitzed the Viper anytime the H-back motioned away.

01 [MIvMN] Base DEF

Coach Brown during his clinic talk at the 2018 Lone Star Clinic noted the absence of the TE in the passing game during the Big 10 season. Outside of Troy Fumagalli at Wisconsin and Mike Gesiki at Penn State, one will be hard-pressed to find a TE that merits an extra man in the passing game. This allowed the Wolverines to add an extra defender in the box against most Big 10 opponents without worrying about an “H-Pop” or a TE streaking down the middle of the field.

Throughout the game, Brown’s defense was able to contain the Gophers running game, limiting them to just under 100 yards. As stated, Minnesota rarely used the TE/H-back in the passing game allowing Coach Brown to be ultra-aggressive to the run. Though the lack of an extra defender opened his secondary up to deep shots outside (and some did hit home), the Wolverine defense was able to limit Demry Croft, the Gophers QB, to a measly stat line of 5/12 for 74 yards passing. Below is a film study of how Coach Brown and the Wolverine defense defended the Gophers multiple 20 pers. looks.  Continue reading “MQ Film Study: Defending 20p – Minnesota vs Michigan (2017)”

THSCA Football Lecture – Kirby Smart (2018)

Learn how one of the top defensive minds evolved his defense.

One great thing about being a coach in the state of Texas is “Coaching School” at the end of the summer. The Texas High School Coaches Association (THSCA) puts together a massive conference that covers everything from professional development to sport specific clinics. If you have ever been to football’s national convention held by the AFCA, then you have an idea of what this convention looks and feels like. There are regional meetings to elect representatives for leadership positions in the association as well as rule committees for each sport. The association functions as the voice of coaches across the state and works with the UIL (Texas’ athletic governing body).

The convention isn’t just about football, though it is dominated by football coaches. That shouldn’t be a shock in a state that worships the game. Most head football coaches in the state are either the athletic director for the district or coordinate the campus they are on. This means that most decisions about sports for a district or high school are centered around the head football coach. As with college football, many times you are “hired to get fired” in Texas. Every head coach in the state has a crucial role even outside of football. They basically make sure every high school runs smoothly in the athletic arena.

This year’s convention in San Antonio saw a record number of coaches from all sports. There were lectures and clinics for everything from swimming to soccer, track to football. It is one of the greatest transfers of knowledge in the state and everyone is invited. For many staffs, this is the last days of summer and many spend it as a time to come together for fellowship and plan for Fall Camp. Arkansas Head Coach Chad Morris and Georgia’s Head Coach Kirby Smart were the two main football speakers for this year’s convention. Below are my clinic notes for Coach Smart, which was one of the best I’ve been to. This will be different than my Don Brown clinic notes in the fact that I will add a little more commentary (and no PDF). Continue reading “THSCA Football Lecture – Kirby Smart (2018)”

MQ Quick Hits Ep. 10 – The Tite Front

MQ’s clinic on the Tite Front explains the theory behind this popular front.

The “new age” Double Eagle is taking over Spread defenses and “squeezing” out the Zone. In this episode of Quick Hits, MQ explains how the Tite Front can be a great alternative to stopping the Spread. It makes the offense work for every yard and can be a great counter to Spread zone and gap plays.

Continue reading “MQ Quick Hits Ep. 10 – The Tite Front”

Adapting Quarters – Red Zone & Goal Line Coverages

As the field gets compressed, all you need is Quarters.

Much like formation into the boundary (FIB), the Red Zone and goal line can be a tricky place for defensive coordinators. As the field is reduced for the offense, the likelihood of deep throws or play-actions is limited. In a FIB set, the offense puts a majority of their players into the boundary. By doing so, the offense is trying to get the defense to overcompensate for the speed, or strength, into the boundary. If the defense overcompensates, the offense can now take advantage of the space (or match-ups) to the field. The Red Zone/goal line area is no different. Offense change once they enter the +20, changing as they get closer to the goal line. Whether it is cluster/bunch sets or bringing WRs closer to the box, modern offenses have numerous ways to challenge a defense (and don’t forget going big with extra linemen).

Most modern offenses are looking for space to get their best athletes in one-on-one situations. Inside the defense’s +20 (Red Zone) is no different. As the field is reduced many offenses tighten the splits of their receivers (Bunch/Stack sets) or try and get their best man in one-on-one coverage versus a corner (Fade/Comeback). If the defense plays man coverage the offense will use rub/pick routes and cluster/bunch sets to combat this. If the defense is using zone, the offense will most likely create high-low concepts to try and bait a defender, only to throw the ball over or under his alignment depending on the play.

The objective of any defense is to force low percentage throws or throws into tight windows. This is where Quarters comes to play a pivotal role in defending modern offenses, especially in the Red Zone. Outside of powering the ball over the goal line, modern spread offenses try to reduce their splits to force the defense to play sound pass distribution and communicate. When the formation is reduced, it is important for the defensive personnel to understand where everyone is aligned and how the multiple rub/pick routes are to be distributed. Even the slightest misstep in the Red Zone can open a gaping window for the QB to throw into (If looking for a resource on Stack/Bunch formations click HERE).

The main objective of Quarters coverage is to force the most difficult throw for the QB. Whether basing out of 4-Read (Sky/Quarters) or 2-Read (Cloud), a defense must understand how the reduction in field space changes the coverage and distributions. Red Zone and FIB situations should be treated with respect and different than a normal situation. The defense must adjust to both scenarios without overcompensating and leaving leaky spots on the field. Overcommit to the pass, and offense will run it down the defense’s throat. Overload the box, and the defense becomes susceptible to play-action and Run-Pas Options (RPOs). The key to a great Red Zone defense is to understand what the offense is trying to accomplish, who they are trying to get the ball to, and how they react inside the +20 and inside the +10. Continue reading “Adapting Quarters – Red Zone & Goal Line Coverages”