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.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Using the Under Front to gain an edge versus Trips.
The 3×1 Dilemma
While working at Baylor, one of the first questions the defensive staff would get from visiting coaches was, “How do you defend Trips?” The Trips formation stresses the defense to the max. By using a 3×1 scheme, offensive coordinators have a plethora of options to attack a defense. If the defense stays in an Over front and tucks the Mike in the strong side “A” gap, the offensive coaches know that the defense is either in man or spinning to single high coverage.
By kicking the boundary safety to the field, the offense gets a guaranteed one-on-one match up with the boundary corner. Even if the defense is dropping an end, or slinging the weak side backer under the single receiver, the top can easily be blown off if the offense has a stud “X” receiver. Against RPO teams a tucked Mike gives offenses the option to read the field safety. This is where the “Spot Draw” can give fits to a defense that is playing an Over front.
Some teams will stay in an Over Front and “sink” the back side safety into the box. This is still the same concept of kicking to the Trips side, but inverted. Though the Mike is now able to cover down for the “snag” route, the defense has introduced a safety into the box, creating a third level conflict player. When teams do this they are exposing themselves to an even bigger play, the backside post shot. By creating a conflicted player in the secondary, the defense has put a CB in isolation. Most modern defenses are trying to find ways to stay in a two-shell to combat one-on-one matchups in the secondary. By sinking, the defense has eliminated a 5-yard route to replace it with a deep shot.
The power run game is not dead. As spread offenses proliferate through all divisions of football, the “Power” play is still a staple of many offenses. Defenses must be able to adapt to any formation without subbing players because of the tempo being thrown at them. This can cause a dilemma when a defense’s base scheme is a 4-2-5. When teams insert an “H”, or fullback, a defense does not have to spin to a single-high in order to gain an extra man in the box. Instead, use the natural structure of the 4-2-5/4-3 Hybrid to the defense’s advantage.