How I Teach Match Quarters – Pt. 1

A clinic on the pedagogy of match quarters. Pt. 1 — Teaching the CBs.

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Teaching the Corners

Four Read (Sky)

The corner’s alignment in Sky should be front toe at six yards and shaded to the “inside eye” of the receiver. The term “inside eye” means if the CB were to walk up to the WR his outside eye should look directly into the inside eye of the WR. This allows the CB to hold inside alignment without giving up too much space in between. Six yards is a good depth because it is not too deep that it automatically gives up the underneath and not too close that the CB ends up in “no man’s land.” The CB’s stance is an “open” stance or the inside toe on the01-stance heel of the outside foot. I’m not a big proponent of getting the butt to the sideline and shuffling out (basketball style) because match quarters is different than true zone. It is essentially a hybrid man scheme, where the CB takes the #1 WR a majority of the time (and the safeties bracket the #2 WR with the outside linebackers). I like to keep my corners square in order to break on the out and slant routes. I find that as players shuffle out basketball style and butt to the sideline, they start working to the sideline and give up the advantage of inside alignment. The point of match quarters is to force the least percentage throw, the fade or deep comeback, thus, I keep them square and we “slide” out.

The initial step of the CB is to slide out, or step-replace for three steps. Most offenses will attack quarters in the soft underneath zone. The slide technique is essentially a three-step read. We are pushing off with the front foot and stepping back with our inside foot. These are quick steps and our feet are never too far off the ground. The corner should have “hot” feet and stay in his “tuck.” This positioning allows the CB to drive on any ball underneath, essentially off-man. After the initial three-step read, the CB transitions into his regular backpedal, reading the WR’s departure speed.

The CB’s eyes are looking at the #2 WR through the QB. This completes his “triangle.” It is important for the corners to be able to see through their entire peripheral vision. Keeping an eye on the departure speed of #1, while reacting to the route of #2. In Sky coverage, the CB is the deep player. His responsibility is to “top” the deepest route or drive on anything underneath by the #1 WR. The only route combination that changes the assignment of the CB is a stop/corner, or China/Smash route. In that case, the CB would give a “stop” call, flip his hips to the sideline and mid-point the stop and corner route (same as in Cloud or Two Read). If the team is running a stop/bender concept to hold the OLB in the curl, the CB should drive on any ball thrown to the #1 WR. Everything is predicated on the #2 WR. In the video below you will see a good example of sliding out and keeping inside leverage by the field corner.

Continue reading “How I Teach Match Quarters – Pt. 1”

Utilizing Tex Stunts to Combat Zone

Twist the line to gain an extra man in the box.

One of the easiest ways to add a player to the box, and keep the outside linebackers in their cover downs can be to use a Tex stunt, or Tackle/End twist. Against heavy zone teams, the Tex stunt can be a great way to add numbers to the box without inserting a LB or spinning a safety. In the diagram below, a double Tex stunt is shown. By twisting the defensive lineman, a defense is able to gain an extra man because the play side tackle is literally blocking air. In a zone scheme, the line works together and blocks their zone. In inside zone, many teams will use “team” blocking and head-up to outside principles. This allows the defense to take advantage of zone principles.

The Tex Stunt

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In the diagram above, the defense is running a double Tex stunt with a Two-Read scheme in the secondary. The Nose and the Tackle are pushing vertical through the “B” gaps, and if possible, reach the cut-off, or “C” gap. Both Ends take vertical steps then wrap inside, inserting themselves in the “A” gaps. The OLBs are holding the curl and attacking anything that bounces outside. The Mike is still responsible for the RB and inserts himself in away-side “A,” depending on which way the offense zones. The play side DE is the “free” player. The most likely scenario is the Center climbs to the Mike leaving a vacated play side “A” gap. The DE that is folding should hit the gap cleanly and make the tackle in the backfield.

The most likely scenario versus zone is the Center climbs to the Mike leaving a vacated play side “A” gap. The DE that is folding should hit the gap cleanly and make the tackle in the backfield. The away side DE should react to the zone movement away along with the Tackle. As the 3 tech. steps vertically he should notice the guard leaving him and react by closing off his backside and hold his “B” gap. The folding DE should see play away and work back down the line (cutback-QB-reverse). In theory, the Mike LB should be gapless to the backside and be able to react late to a QB pull. As the Center climbs to take him, the Mike should insert himself on the away side “A” gap shoulder. If for some reason, the Nose can’t get to cut off and the play bounces, the Will should be there to take “C” gap. Playing a Two Read behind the front allows the OLBs to hang in the curl and attack “C” gap when the ball is handed off.

02-vs-zn Continue reading “Utilizing Tex Stunts to Combat Zone”

MQ’s Four and Two Read Pass Distributions

Match Quarters pass distributions explained.

When implementing a quarters scheme, Four Read is the Day #1 install coverage and a DC’s most likely first down call. The Cover 4 scheme allows the safeties to be ultra aggressive to the run, yet hold a two-high shell and keep the defense balanced versus multiple formations. Defensive coaches lean on the Cover 4 scheme because it allows the defense to essentially create a nine-man box versus spread sets. For most spread teams, the OC does not account for the two safeties (they are not physically in the box, or fold players). This is where teams running a quarters scheme gain an advantage. DC’s used to rely on a true Cover 2 scheme to gain the hard edge of the CBs against the run. This left the defense vulnerable on the edge of the box, passing lanes in the middle of the field (high completion throw), and put the Mike in a run/pass conflict. As modern football has turned to the spread (and RPO style), more DC’s are turning to the variations of match quarters to answer their run and pass distribution problems. In a previous article (The Art of Match Quarters), I touched on the basics of pass distributions of Four and Two Read. In today’s article, I will go in-depth on the intricacies of each versus popular route combinations.

Continue reading “MQ’s Four and Two Read Pass Distributions”

Defending Stack and Bunch Sets

Theories on attacking the Spread’s cluster sets.

One of the hardest sets in football to defend is the cluster or stack set. Spread offenses utilize this set to get the defense’s outside linebackers in run/pass conflicts. Unlike a traditional 2×2 set, the defense has to adjust to the width of the receivers. Stacking them creates width, and width creates the conflict.

Spread teams rely on the open “B” gap to build their RPO’s into their offensive gameplan. By stacking the receivers out wide, the defense is forced to adjust. In a two-high system, the player in conflict (usually the Will LB) has to choose, cover down to his receiver or hold tight to the box. If he stays close to the box, the offense is going to throw the quick screen and create a 1-on-1 open field tackling matchup with the safety or corner. In most cases, the defense wants to avoid this as much as possible.

On the other end of the spectrum, if the defender widens to the cluster set, the offense has a 4-1 box and a clear running opportunity. Versus a two-high system, there is a great chance for the offense to part the field like the Red Sea for a big gain. Ask any offensive coach, a 4-1 box is a magical thing.

In the image below, Penn St. is running an Under Front and “hips” it’s Sam LB to the strength (“hip” refers to the OLB aligned on the outside hip of the DE). In most RPO style offenses, this is a clear pass read. The Sam has to honor the run read and step to his gap. Even with zone away and a gap exchange with a “heavy” DE (in this set the DE has dive), the Sam has to take a step towards the box. The QB is taught to read the Sam’s path and throw the screen.

Penn. St. is most likely in a “Cloud” coverage (Two Read) and the safety is bailing on the snap. Easy pickings for any decent offensive coordinator. It’s a conflict of philosophy; the offense wants 1-on-1 matchups and the defense wants a plus-one. In order to create a six-man box and protect against the run, the defense has to spin to single-high, but to keep a plus-one in pass distribution it has to stay in two-high, something has to give. MatchQuarters explores the options.

Continue reading “Defending Stack and Bunch Sets”

MQ’s 3rd Down Calls from a 3-4

Stop calls for 3rd down from a 3-4. Don’t just “drop 8.”

There are two main trains of thought on 3rd Down when defending from a 3-4: 1) drop eight, sit back, play it conservative and tackle the ball in front of the sticks; or 2) blitz the QB, put pressure on him right now and force a quick errant throw. Either philosophy can work, but it is important to know what the offense is trying to do.

Obviously, the opponent breakdown is a huge key to how a team attacks 3rd Down. When a defense gets a team into passing situations it can attack by blitzing or attack the passing concepts an offense uses. 3rd Down is when most offensive coordinators get conservative and predictable. They want to move the chains, that is obvious, so instead of attacking a defense, they get conservative and just, “Try and get a first down.” Tempo is also seen less frequently which gives the defense time to adjust.

On obvious passing downs, it is important to have a plan. What is the offense trying to do in 3rd and Medium situations? Is the offense an “all stops” team, a “clear out/HBO” team, or do they run a “levels” scheme and sprint out? The big question on 3rd and Medium is if the offense is attacking down the field, or attacking the “sticks.” Many times in 3rd and Medium situations, the offense is trying to attack the marker by running quick hitting routes that can turn into first downs.

The question that needs to be answered for 3rd and Long is, do they attack vertically, throw screens, or use the draw? Once a defensive coordinator has an idea of what an offense likes, he can attack the tendency. Every defensive coach knows, win 1st Down consistently and win the game, but a defense needs to have a plan for 3rd. Continue reading “MQ’s 3rd Down Calls from a 3-4”

The 3-4 Tite Front

The “new age” Double Eagle is taking over Spread defenses and “squeezing” out the Zone.

Speed Kills

Finding defensive lineman is hard, especially at smaller enrollment high schools. The trend from four-down to three-down is always fluctuating and relies heavily on the athletes at hand. As more teams turn to the Spread because of the lack of lineman, it is only natural for defensive coordinators to go “small” as well. Adding athletes to the field is never a bad thing, and if the “heaviest” formation a defense will face is a two-back 20 personnel set, then why not keep a faster defense on the field? The trend is playing out on Saturday’s too. Look at any conference that is heavy spread and the defenses are getting “smaller.” Why? Because they have to be. The phrase, “Speed kills,” has more validity than ever before.

The Big 12 is usually on the forefront of the modern Spread game and continues to push the envelope for what offense can do and defenses have to defend on the field. Starting in 2016, Big 12 defenses began to tinker with their defenses and fully blossoming into the scheme in 2017. The backbone of this defensive transition was the Tite Front or 404/303. Iowa State went from 103rd in 2016 to 32nd in 2017 according to BCfToys.com’s Defensive Efficiency ratings. Texas rose to a top 10 defense (#6 overall) from #45 under first-year coach Tom Herman utilizing the Tite Front and a unique Dime package created by Todd Orlando. Ian Boyd for Football Study Hall wrote an article recently that highlighted how the Tite Front has taken over college defenses when defending the Spread. Even the heavy hitters in the SEC and Big 10 are turning to the front to defend the Spread teams on their schedule. The reasoning is simpler than one might think.  Continue reading “The 3-4 Tite Front”

Defending Split Zone

Ideas on combating a simple yet effective play.

Inside zone is not a new play to defensive coordinators; neither is the split zone, but it can give defenses fits if not fit up correctly. In its simplicity, it is a creative play to challenge a defense. Unlike its zone counterpart, the split zone creates an extra gap. The play itself is much like the counter without the pulling guard. When offenses run counter the linebackers can react to the pulling guard and fit the extra gaps. The split zone forces the linebackers to fit their gaps. This puts pressure on the secondary (mainly the safeties) to ensure their fits are correct.

In the clip below, Iowa St. runs a gap plug blitz and the defensive end to the H-back runs up the field to hold the “C” gap. The out block by the “H” creates an extra gap. The safety to the play should have fit the inside shoulder of the “H” because the DE was taking the outside. Instead, the safety stays outside and is blocked out, leading to Baylor’s first score of the day. Bottom line, Split Zone has to be treated as though it is a gap play (think power/counter) or a defense will be gashed.

Teams that run inside zone are looking for the cutback. Versus a zone play, the linebackers have to fill their gaps (there is no puller). The offensive line creates a wall and allows the running back to cut back to the open weak side. In the clip above, ISU was running a run stop blitz, but because the safety didn’t fit his gap, it led to a touchdown.

Teams that run split zone and the read-option offshoot, need to be played as though they are gap scheme heavy teams. Add RPO’s to this play, and it puts tremendous pressure on a defense, all from a simple zone scheme. There is hope, much like the Zone Read, a defense can attack this play on the principles of the offense. Continue reading “Defending Split Zone”

Leveraging the Boundary

Using the boundary CB and Safety to confuse RPO and check-with-me teams.

Basing out of a defense that has split field coverage has its advantages when it comes to 2×1 and 3×1 sets. Many spread offenses split the field themselves, only reading one side of the formation. This allows defenses to take advantage of the one read RPO systems that many spread teams utilize. No matter what the defense throws at a split field match quarters team, it can align in the correct coverage. Another way to protect the defense is to formation the defensive play calls.

The single receiver and slot receivers are the main targets for RPO spread teams. They use the leverage of the secondary against the defense, reading dropping safeties and the depth of the corner. The single WR side usually sees the quick hitch or slant off of play action. Teams like Baylor use the leverage to RPO vertical choice routes. A defense can confuse the QB by playing with the leverage of the secondary pre-snap. This may seem like single-high to the untrained eye, but with a split field coverage scheme, a defensive coordinator can change the leverage to the boundary (single receiver side) and still run the base quarters scheme.

Continue reading “Leveraging the Boundary”

Three Run Down Stop Calls

Establish a plan for attackig run downs.

The best option on the first play of a drive against most offenses is to line up in your base and see how the offense is planning on attacking the defense for that series. The objective for any defense is to stay ahead of the chains on 1st Down and make the offense work for the rest. Calling a defense is easy when the offense has its back against the wall on 3rd and Long. It is the in-between downs (2nd/3rd and medium), that a defensive coordinator earns his paycheck.

The medium downs are truly the “gray area” of football. Blitzing on these downs is crucial to staying ahead of the chains. Get too aggressive and the defense can give up a big play through the air. A missed gap assignment could lead to an explosive play on the ground. Stay too passive/static and a defense can watch as the offense slowly trots down the field. Like anything, there has to be a happy medium.

All blitzes are not designed the same either. There is a blitz for every situation, and it is the role of a defensive coordinator to call them at the correct time. The focus of this article is to highlight three run-down stop calls every DC needs to have on their call sheet.  Continue reading “Three Run Down Stop Calls”

Weekly Defensive Practice Plan

Have a plan and execute!

Having a set routine throughout the year alleviates the stress of creating a practice plan every week. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel every on a weekly. Even if an opponent’s scheme changes drastically from week to week, it is in the best interest of the staff and players to keep a consistent thought process throughout the season and build towards “Game Day.” When creating a weekly schedule a defensive coach should approach it much like teaching a class.

The early part of the practice week should be focused on getting to know the opponent’s base plays and formations while reviewing how the defense’s base alignments and calls line up against an opponent’s scheme. Towards the middle of the week is when the pressures and “stop calls” designed to shut down a particular offense are worked, and later in the week slow it down and review before the final test – Friday Night. There should be a build up of knowledge, all built off the foundation – the base defense.

Each day should also be set aside for a certain theme (1st down, 3rd down, Red Zone, etc), all accumulating on the Thursday walkthrough (think of it as the review before the test). By Wednesday there should be no more tweaking of the call sheet. The worst thing a coach can do is create doubt by changing alignments or add calls the day before the game. The only thing that should be changed is the elimination of calls that the staff doesn’t trust or the players couldn’t execute during the week. Below is a sample work week for a defense. Continue reading “Weekly Defensive Practice Plan”

How to Package Your Blitz Calls

Offenses are packaging their plays, why can’t the defense?

Packaged plays are all the rage right now in the world of offensive football. The emergence of the RPO has created a disparity between the offense and defense. As offenses find ways to package their plays and react off the alignment of the defense, it is putting tremendous pressure on defensive coordinators to call the correct pressure at the right time.

Spread teams are constantly looking to create matchup problems with formation into the boundary (FTB), wide splits, and tempo, the defensive schema must begin to change in concerns to playcalling if the defense is going to keep up, especially in regards to how defenses line up and attack formations. Defensive coaches who call plays/pressures by field/boundary or strong/weak need to adjust their theories.

Calling plays to a direction is no different than guessing and is short-sighted because no-huddle teams can run several different formations, and get into different personnel sets without subbing. In reality, by calling a “strong side” blitz a defense could be running it right into the exact thing it doesn’t want to, an extra blocker or puts their coverage into a critical situation. When offenses play with a tight end, or H-back, they can run a Spread set one play (10p), TE set the next (11p), and switch to a two-back power formation to finish it off (20p); all this while the offense tempos and the defense must adjust on the fly.

Defenses that don’t adjust their playcalling to formations have a tendency to call blanket coverages and blitzes. This can work for a while, but once an offense realizes the defense isn’t necessarily adjusting it can take advantage of the “country” coverages or un-formationed pressures. In the case of the diagram below, TCU had to defend an 11 personnel, 10 pers., and finally a 21 pers. set back-to-back-to-back with tempo. If a DC is not formationing his calls, he could get into something that is fatal or even worse not call anything and ends up predictable (static).

3plays

If a defense doesn’t package its blitzes, or formations its calls, then it is at a huge disadvantage. Guessing against tempo and RPO teams is deadly. On paper, the best way to approach calling blitzes is to allow the offense to get set and then call the blitz. That sounds great, but against tempo teams, it is impossible to wait. How does a defense call blitzes that react to the offensive formation? Simple, package the blitzes that come from the same blitz or movement tree.

Offenses combine different plays all the time. By combining several plays into one call, the offense can quickly react off the “box” numbers, defensive alignment, and/or coverage scheme. Essentially they can run a different play every time the ball is snapped without subbing (or even changing formation). One of the best examples of packaged plays by an offense was seen in the 2013 BBVA Compas Bowl in 2013. Ole Miss stays in the same formation, yet runs four different plays.

Combine this scheme with changing the formation and the defense can get off kilter fast if not structured right. Defenses can package calls or pressures too. One way is by packaging blitzes from the same tree and keeping the base defensive structure and rules. See the example below. The diagram illustrates the same blitz, “America“, but run to fit what the offense gives it. Like a defensive RPO. In this case, the blitz reacts off of the formation (2×2 and 3×1).

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Continue reading “How to Package Your Blitz Calls”

Defending Power Football From A Hybrid Defense

Transition seamlessly from defending the Spread to stopping Power football.

Multiplicity

There is not a more difficult time than the present to be a defensive coordinator. The amount of offensive formations, schemes, and alignments has never been greater. Present day defensive coaches can see an offense that bases from an Empty set (3×2/4×1) one week to a Power set (2×1 with two backs) the next. When changes in the offensive scheme are so drastic week to week it is easy for a defensive coordinator to find himself changing his base every week. Below is a look at a modern day “Power” formation – 21 personnel with the two backs stacked strong.

Pro Right Strong

With the explosion of spread offenses around the country, the Power sets are becoming less prevalent. It is difficult for a 4-2-5 team to play a wide-open Spread team one week, only to turn around the next week and face a smash mouth Power/Counter team the next. It’s not only a completely different offense but mindset as well. With a good set of base rules, a DC can seamlessly maneuver the nuances of defending modern football any of the multiple formations thrown his team’s way.  Continue reading “Defending Power Football From A Hybrid Defense”

Defending the Power Read

Defending one of the Spread’s toughest plays.

The Power Read is one of the Spread’s hardest plays to defend because it stresses the techniques taught by most defensive coaches, and stretches the field horizontally (stretch) as well as vertically (Q-Power). Any time an offense can attack both planes of a defense it is going to stress the defense’s core principles. Unlike a basic QB power, where the RB blocks out on the defensive end and a guard pulls for the ILB, the Power Read plays on the flow read of the ILB.

The RB takes a stretch path and heads for the edge. This “flow” stresses the discipline of the ILB’s eyes. Most defensive coaches will teach the ILBs to read the guard while stepping to their gap. As the ILB sees the guard pull, his eyes go to the flow of the RB, which is horizontal and fast (Stretch!). This flow “tricks” the ILBs to think the play is heading to the edge, but the offense is reading elsewhere. Instead of reading the backside end like the Zone Read, the Power Read uses the front side DE as the read man and attacks his fit. The “inverted veer,” as some call the Power Read forces the D-line to play smart and stay sound and disciplined in their option fits. Below is a look at an 11p Power Read:

 

Continue reading “Defending the Power Read”

Defending Tight End or Pro Spread Formations

Making adjustments versus TE sets in 4-2-5 or hybrid defense.

The game of football is a constant pendulum. As defenses move to hybrid players to combat the spread attacks proliferating through all levels of football, offenses are turning to tight end/”H-back” sets and a more traditional run game (Power, Counter, and Iso). An easy way for Spread teams to create an extra gap and keep their Spread principles is to add a TE to their formations.

More and more, if a team has access to a TE or “H-back” they are opting for a pro-style Spread look, basing out of 2×2 (Pro Twin) and 3×1 (Trey) formations, even running pro-style two-back sets (20p). This can stress a 4-2-5 defense because the hybrid Sam, or a true Nickel, can be exposed to a larger, stronger bodied TE and depending on how the defense chooses to align can put a safety in primary support of an interior gap.

In recent years, Oregon has used Spread TE sets with devastating effect, and even the typically receiver happy offenses similar to Baylor have opted to add more 11 personnel formations to their arsenal over the past few years to beef up the run game and force defenses to spin. Take a look at how Bret Bielema (former Wisconsin and Arkansas Head Coach), a constant critic of the Spread, recruits running backs against Spread teams across the country. He is not the only one in his corner.

Football, unlike any other sport, is a constant chess match. The fluidity of the game from TE sets to Spread sets and back again puts stress on hybrid defensive coaches. It is important to have a plan when facing teams with TEs or H-backs. One play can have a formation that creates an extra gap on the line, the next is a Spread formation, and then finally the offense puts the H-back into the backfield again or lines him up out wide. All this can be carried out in one series. The defense must have a plan to defend every single formation without the ability to sub.

In a perfect world, defenses could insert a traditional linebacker against tight end/traditional formations, and substitute the traditional player for a hybrid/nickel against Spread formations. With the advent of the Spread, even the TE position is changing into a hybrid player, one that can flex out, play fullback, or line up and block in the box as shown above. Defensive coaches have found out subbing against tempo teams can be impossible and puts the defense at risk of a big play (or penalty). It is also not realistic.

In order to be great at something, a team must have consistency. Constantly subbing players in and out, while trying to teach box techniques and coverage skills can be a daunting task, and many times unrealistic for the lower level coach. It is important for a defensive coach to have a set of rules and a plan for any formation. When an offense goes from a spread set to a pro-style set, the defense must react quickly and decisively with no hangover. Another question that must be asked when defending Pro Spread teams is if they are an RPO or traditional run offense because this changes how a defense aligns immensely.  Continue reading “Defending Tight End or Pro Spread Formations”

Three RPOs – Three Stop Calls

Defending the Spread’s three top RPOs.

It is never too late to look for innovative ideas to stop RPOs. The game of football is changing on a yearly basis for defenses. Offensive coaches are finding interesting ways to combine plays, all while simplifying the playbook. It is amazing to think that one simple read-arc play shown below can have four different outcomes. The multiplicity that is a simple 20 personnel read-arc play combined with tempo can stress even the most experienced coordinator.

RPO 1

Defensive coordinators in the modern game have to prepare for all four plays shown above when deciding how to attack the formation shown. Add tempo into the mix, and to the untrained eye, it looks like the offense is running multiple plays. Offenses can even use the H-back and a hybrid slot to align in 11, 10, 20, or 30 pers. looks without subbing one play. That is a lot for a defense to handle.

A great example of how this particular formation and play can be used was seen in the 2013 BBVA Compas Bowl between Pitt and Ole Miss. Following a touchdown by Pitt in the 2nd Quarter, Ole Miss came out and ran one formation and the same play five times in route to a quick strike touchdown. Pitt never adjusted to the tempo and Ole Miss hit every available option on its way down the field (Inside Zone, Hitch, QB Keep, Bubble, & finally the Hitch read for a touchdown).

Defensive coaches need to have simple adjustments that can combat a multitude of different plays and formations. When facing tempo a DC needs to have simple, one word calls that can help the defense quickly align and attack. Tempo forces the defense to be vanilla and if reacting slowly, can get them out of alignment. It is important to have counters to the Spread offense’s top RPO play.

Continue reading “Three RPOs – Three Stop Calls”

Building a Better [Zone] Blitz

Evolving the age old Zone Blitz.

America’s Blitz

Walk into most defensive staff rooms, ask what their #1 blitz is, and it will most likely be some variation of this:

.01 AM BLITZ

The image above is “America’s Fire Zone Blitz.” A Sam/Mike edge blitz with full line movement, and the defensive end to the boundary dropping to the low hole (replacing the Mike). A “Fire Zone” is simply a blitz that sends five men and plays three under-three deep behind it (Cover 3).  Many times a defensive lineman is used to drop to the low hole (MOF), or to replace a blitzing linebacker (curl/flat). Other variations, like the one below, drop the safety into the box and have the DE sink to the curl/flat.

The emphasis for a defense in this type of blitz package is sending more players than an offense can handle to a certain side. Most offenses have hot routes to counteract a blitzing LB. To counter this, defenses started to drop D-lineman, or exchange the LBs responsibilities, into the vacated spots or rolling secondary players to the hot receivers. Here is an example of a Cross-Dog blitz (the term “dog” = LBs) with the DE to the boundary replacing the Will’s coverage responsibility.

Bill Arnsprarger is considered by football historians as the Godfather of the Zone Blitz. In 1971, Arnsparger began using a hybrid DE named Bill Matheson in coverage. This created a de-facto 3-4 and would eventually lead to a new era of defensive football in the NFL. The schemes relevance was solidified in ’72 with the only undefeated season in NFL history. The “No Name” defense ushered in the “Zone Blitz Era.”

The reason Fire Zones are so prevalent is they are easy to run and can use any player on the field. They are also considered a “safe” way to blitz. Arnsparger, considered the blitz safe because he was still playing zone behind a pressure. Legendary DC Dick LeBeau visited Arnsparger early in his career to gain knowledge about the scheme. The words “safe pressure” resonated:

Bill’s catchphrase was that he wanted to get ‘safe pressure,’ on the quarterback, and that expression stuck with me because that was a very succinct way to summarize exactly what I was looking for. Safe pressure. I walked out the door saying those words to myself.” – Dick LeBeau

To run a Fire Zone, a defense has to have two curl/flat players (or seam players), a low hole player (MOF), and three deep third players. This allows a defensive coordinator to get creative because the blitzers can come from anywhere on the field. If looked at as a numbers game, the offense should be able to handle the rush. Where Fire Zones work is by overloading a side, forcing the quarterback to move, and creating short inaccurate throws to hot WRs. The dropping D-lineman assists in the overload by trying to bait the nearest O-lineman into taking him, only to drop and leave a gaping hole for an oncoming rusher. Continue reading “Building a Better [Zone] Blitz”

The Not So “Odd” Front – The 3-4 Okie

The evolution and application of football’s most multiple front.

When Phil Bennett took over the Baylor defense in the Spring of 2011 he was taking on a massive overhaul of a traditionally porous defense. Baylor was coming off a 2010 campaign that witnessed a 6-7 season and an abysmal showing in the Texas Bowl, losing to a then 6-6 Illinois team 14-38. Though the season was a success by traditional Baylor standards and the first bowl game since 1994, Coach Art Briles wanted to take the program to take the next level and knew in order to do that he needed to hire someone to clean up his defense.

In steps Bennett, currently the interim Head Coach of Pitt, and coming off a bowl victory over the Kentucky Wildcats, was also looking for a job. Briles that winter approached Bennett to revamp the Baylor defense. With a future Heisman at QB (Robert Griffen III), Briles needed just enough from his defense to get the Baylor program moving in a historic direct and he felt Bennett had enough experience to get the job done. Bennett, a Texas native, signed on to the task and the rest is history.

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Phil Bennett’s historical Defensive Efficiency rankings according to BCfToys.com (’08 – ’15).

In 2015, and coming off of back-to-back Big 12 Championships, Coach Bennett ran into a serious issue during the season – lack of defensive line depth. Through both Big 12 Championship seasons, the D-line had been one of the star units for the unexpected rise to respectability of Baylor’s defense. Anyone who watched Baylor under Bennett’s tenure (and even his time at Pitt) knows that Bennett based heavily out of a four-down 4-2-5/4-3 structure. Faced with little D-line depth and injuries to key players during the 2015 season, Bennett was forced to turn to a three-down front.

The transition, for the most part, was a smooth one. The ’15 Baylor Bears were able to end up in the top 50 in Defense Efficiency (44th according to BCfToys.com), and the Bears ended up ranked #13 overall with a 9-3 record culminating the season with a 49-38 victory over North Carolina (with no QB). How was Baylor able to keep a steady hand on the defense while completely changing their defensive structure? They just switch to a hybrid Under Front, replaced the boundary defensive end with an outside linebacker/hybrid in Taylor Young, and kept their run fits and pass distributions the same. Something defenses have been perfecting since the ’70s. Continue reading “The Not So “Odd” Front – The 3-4 Okie”

“How do you play Trips?” – Pt. 2

MQ explains the top Trips coverages.

The Trips formation creates a dilemma for any defensive coordinator and the problems usually start in the box. The major issue with any 3×1 formation is how a defense chooses to defend the #3 receiver. Regardless if a defense runs an Under Front or Under, the Mike either has to cover down to the #3 WR or the defense has to spin a safety to gain a cover down. If the defense uses the Mike as a cover down, it loses a man in the box and makes the Mike a “fold” or conflict player. To alleviate the issue some defenses drop the boundary safety into the box, but that leaves a defense susceptible to the back side post. Below is an example of Nick Saban’s “Rip/Liz.” The sinking backside safety allows the frontside ILB to vacate and cover down to #3.

02 r-l 3x1

A “fold” or conflict player is susceptible to the Spread’s deadly weapon, the RPO (run-pass option). The run-pass conflict created by Mike’s width and assignment can cause him to hesitate. Play a team like Baylor under Briles, who spreads their Trips formation past the hash, and the Mike will struggle to get to the #3 and fold into the box. In theory, the Mike is always wrong. That’s pretty depressing news for a DC. Below is an example of the Over Front versus a 3×1 formation with no adjustment from the defense.

v. Over

If a DC wants to keep a 6-man box and put the 3 technique (DT) to the Trips it creates a problem for the Mike who has to plug the strong-side “A” while reaching #3 in pass. That’s not an easy thing to do for even the most elite ILBs. The answer for most coaches is to kick the coverage (bring the backside safety across), or spin to some kind of Cover 3 (illustrated above in Saban’s Rip/Liz scheme). In order to make it hard on the offense, a DC must change-up the coverage or move the gaps. It is important to have a base coverage. One that protects you from the most harm. To stay ahead of the offense, a defense must be multiple in its looks, adding pressures, blitzes, and a change-up in coverage if need be. Part 2 of “How do you play Trips?” will explain the multiple coverage pieces to Trips Open.

Continue reading ““How do you play Trips?” – Pt. 2″

Attacking the Zone Read

It’s one of the simpelist plays a Spread team can run, but devistating if not held in check.

When looking at the Spread’s most basic run, the Zone Read, one has to admire the simplicity of the play and how effective and efficient it is. Defenses for decades had the advantage against offenses because it was an 11 on 10 game (the offense minus a QB). The popular West Coast and Power “I” offenses of the ’80s and ’90s took the QB run out of the playbook, and defenses feasted as a result. As the Spread began to proliferate through the football ranks the defensive stranglehold started to show some cracks. The large “pluggers” that defenses had accumulated were now obsolete when put into space.

Coaches like Urban Meyer and Rich Rodriguez (see video below) began to tear through defenses in the early 2000s, and Vince Young ran to a Rose Bowl and National Championship behind the simplest of plays, the Zone Read. It is one of the first plays a Spread offense installs when putting together a playbook, and after close to two decades of Spread dominance, it’s still a defense killer. As football moves further into the age of the Spread offense, two things are clear; football has become a game about space and hybrid players. The Zone Read highlights this evolution greater than any other play. Ask a traditional Triple Option coach and when they watch a Spread option attack they see the Dive Option, just with the players spread across the field.

Continue reading “Attacking the Zone Read”

Zero the Mike & “What’s a ‘Belly-Key’?”

Double gap the Mike in a single gap scheme.

Zero the Mike

In a single-gap defense, the initial thought is to align the defender responsible for a given gap head-up in that particular gap. In theory, this makes it easy for the defender to read his keys and react to the ball aggressively. Offenses play on this alignment rule with zone blocking, particularly the Zone Read. As the ball snaps the offensive line steps in a certain direction, with the understanding that by moving the gap, the defenders will move too. In order for defenses to combat this, the defensive line and linebackers must react off each other (anchor points) and utilize gap exchange. By playing off anchor points (or D-Line gaps), the defense can confuse the offense and stay one step ahead.

Continue reading “Zero the Mike & “What’s a ‘Belly-Key’?””