Defending Power Football From A Hybrid Defense

Transition seamlessly from defending the Spread to stopping Power football.


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. 

Base Rules for Power Sets

The key to any good base defense is a solid set of rules for lining up against any formation (formationing a defense). One way to ensure a base defense can survive the multiple offenses of modern football is to establish a set of rules based on formation sets. The offense can only give a defense so many different looks (2×2, 3×1, 3×2, 2×1, 1×1, etc.), by establishing a base set of rules for each set a defensive coach can help his players line up correctly no matter what is thrown at them.

Rule number one for any base defense should be to formation the calls. When facing Power sets, the offense is bringing everyone in the box and creating new gaps with a TE or H-back, while creating one-on-one matchups with the outside receivers. By formationing calls, a traditional two-back/TE set is nothing more than a 2×1 set, and the defenders react according to the coverage, front, and alignment rules created by the DC.

In a base 4-2-5, the Nickel Sam linebacker is the adjuster to any formation, always aligning himself off of the #2 receiver. If a team lines up in a Power set, the DC must decide on what to do with him. In most 4-2-5 defenses, the Sam is a hybrid safety/LB type, and many coaches would prefer to keep him out of the box. If that is the case, a “Solid” alignment would be a great choice, and keep the smaller ‘backer out of the box.

In Solid, the Sam would walk down on the line in a 9 technique, and set the edge, in the case of a play away it is possible for him to fold back into the box and look for the cutback. This is no different than his regular responsibility in a Spread set (aligning off the split of the #2 receiver). The Mike and Will, like in any two-back set, align themselves in their base positions (if an “over” front, Mike in a “zero”/Will in his gap). Some teams will put their ILBs in 30s to help the Mike on the front side.

If the Sam is physical enough to play in the box, the DC can choose to line the strong-side end in a 9 or a 6 and play the Sam in the “bubble” (or “C” gap), By doing this, it allows the puller in Power to hit the gap a little early instead of stringing it out. Plus, if the Sam is a smaller ‘backer, it may be better to keep him outside aligning with his base rules and have him box everything back to the ILBs. A Solid alignment is shown below.

.01 Solid

The Over Front

In most defenses, the strength versus a Power set is usually called to the TE. The Over Front coupled with a Solid alignment by the Ni Sam creates a nice wall to the strong side (9/5/3, with Mike in the “A” gap). In a Quarters scheme, the safety to the strong side will take the “O” gap and make the Sam right or insert versus a play away (ex. – Counter) for cutback or reverse. This is also no different than the safety’s Spread technique.

To the weak side, the Nose anchors the “A,” while the Will secures the “B.” The 5 technique to the weak side holds the edge or can play a heavy technique to negate the “B” gap, requiring the Will to gap-exchange. The weak side safety holds down the “O” gap or outside alley. In a Quarters scheme, it is not ridiculous to think that the defense actually has an eleven man box. The true question is whether to run an Over Front or an Under Front. Both give the defense equal protection, but each one brings something a little different to the table.

In an Over Front, the second level players (the LBs) are shaded away from the strength. The Mike is in a “zero” alignment and the Will is in the “B” gap to his side. If a team likes to run weak side stretch, this alignment allows faster players to have the freedom to chase the flow. The Over Front protects a defense against Power by making the guard’s pull longer. In a typical Power play, the offense will kick out the Sam with the FB and block down with everyone else. This creates an open gap in the “D” gap. The Mike tracks the Guard and “boxes” the puller on the outside shoulder. The Will has to see the pull of the guard and climb over the offensive lineman who is sifting up to him (he has to win this block – no excuses!). As the puller turns up the open gap, the Mike should “box” and the Will should hold the inside. The safety, who is untouched, should make the Will right. If the Will gets caught inside, the safety is the plus-one (see diagram below).

.02 Sld v PWR

The Over Front makes the pulling Guard fit further from the downhill path of the back and allows the Will time to overtake the sifting lineman. The real ace in the hole is the safeties, Each one can add in as the plus-one or defend the cutback or “A” gap Power. The Nose’s alignment is key too. Playing a “G” technique (2i), allows the Nose to chase the Guard on the pull, and have enough time to climb over the Center on a block back, this technique wrecks havoc on teams trying to hit the Power in the “A” gap. Below is an example of how the Solid Over Front can be used against an unbalanced T-Over Twin formation. The alignment is the same as if it were versus a basic Pro formation.

Defending Counter

Versus Counter, the Over Front is also a good option. The Center’s block back is tougher against a 3 tech., and the “zeroed” Mike allows for a quick exchange once the Guard pulls. Plus, in a Quarters scheme, there is always the safety to fit off the ‘backers. If the defense has a smart player at Sam, the DC can use him as a fold player with play away guarding against a cutback. Below is a diagram of Solid Over versus a Counter weak.

Over Solid vs CTR Wk

The Under Front

The Under Front is a seamless pairing with Quarters coverage and a Ni Sam. Running an Under Front gives the defense two linemen to the weak side and creates a solid structure against the run, essentially spreading the anchor points evenly against the offensive line. In an Over Front, the defense has a three-man surface to match the offense’s three-man surface, this tucks the Mike in the “A” gap, and can leave the defense susceptible to Stretch strong, or Option to the field. If this is a concern a defensive coordinator can rely on the Under Front. As with the Over Front, a DC can opt to keep both ILBs in a 30 to allow the Will to get outside against stretch or option.

.04 Sld Under

The Under Front allows the defense to be evenly distributed on both sides. The Sam and the DE to the TE set the edge, while the Mike holds the “B” gap. Away from the TE the 3 and 5 tech. hold the edge to the open side, and the Will is now the “zero” player in the middle of the formation. The 3 tech. creates a hard block back for the Center, discouraging some OCs to run Power. The Mike can now attack the puller downhill. The Will from his “zero” alignment also has time to clearly see the puller and the sifting Tackle.

.05 Under v PWR

Versus a Counter, the Under Front holds its own as well. Though it is a short edge for the wrapping FB, the Will is essentially untouched and can attack the wrapping FB downhill. The Mike should be able to see the Guard pulling from his gap, climb over the double team, and hit the FB on his inside shoulder (plus-one mentality). Again, in a Quarters scheme, the Safety is the extra man and should fit off the LBs in front of him. The away side Safety can insert into the box for the cutback.

Under Solid vs CTR Wk

Here is an example of Baylor running their “Big” 3-4 Nickel defense (Under Front) versus a tradition (21p) I Pro Power. The Bears utilize line movement to free build a natural wall frontside and create a cutback. Notice the Mike and especially the Will rock back expecting the RB to cut back. The CB does a great job of adding on a “crack-replace.” Though “light” in their scheme/package, the movement frees up the ILBs and the play is stopped for a 3 yard gain. Another example of how a hybrid defense can play “small” versus a “big” set.


Three Stop Calls vs. Power Sets

  1. Full line movement. In particular towards the TE. This builds a natural wall to the play side of Power and doesn’t allow the offensive line to climb on a Counter. With the D-line moving to the strength, the LBs can rock back on any Counter play. Against Power, it muddies the hole to the play side and the frees up the ‘backers for any cutback as shown in the prior video.

2.  Nose/Will stunt. Against Power, the crossing Nose creates a plus-one, the Will blitzing off the puller’s backside is a hard block for even the most experienced O-lineman (the Will is the responsibility of a play side lineman). This creates a “free” hitter in the box. Even against the Counter, the Will can block the pulling Guard from doing his job, eliminating the kick out and freeing up men at the point of attack.

3. Gap plug blitz. This blitz is a great run blitz because it sends more than the offense can handle. The key here is to pair it with line movement and create a guessing game of where the LBs will attack. By plugging each gap a defense ensures that every hole is accounted for, and the LB blitzing off a pulling Guard is always problematic for an offense as stated previously.


When creating a defense it is important to create simple rules so the players can align themselves no matter what the formation. By formationing the defense it is possible to align correctly and still make slight adjustments during games. Power formations are difficult in the age of the Spread because they are rare in some areas.

When facing a team that powers the ball it is important to have a plan and use the Safeties as extra fit players. Basically, use all eleven. The debate between an Over versus Under Front is about what the offense adds to their playbook. If it is a zone-based offense, the Under Front gives you an even look and allows the ‘backers to flow off the RB. Versus a traditional Power/Counter team, an Over Front might do the job by making it difficult to run the play that gives this offensive style its name – Power. No matter what a defense must have “stop” calls. Full line movement is always a great call to disrupt pulling plays and free up the LBs, and Nose/Will is a traditional stop used at every level of football.


Looking for more Power resources? Click HERE to view MQ’s 2-back Power article.


© 2016, 2018 | Cody Alexander | All rights reserved.

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Author: MatchQuarters


9 thoughts on “Defending Power Football From A Hybrid Defense”

  1. Coach,

    I’m all in on running “Solid” to the field against a 21 personnel Pro Set, but what do you normally do when the formation is flipped to the boundary? Do you just run a 4-3 and put your Sam in the “B” gap to the field? Also, I’m really interested in how you teach your overhangs/coverdowns, safeties, and corners formation recognition. Do you just say, “If we get a TE and a flanker to the field in 21 personnel we will check to Solid, and if we get the same formation but into the boundary we stay in our Base alignment.” I hope you get what I mean.

    P.S. Wish I would have known you were going to be at MIZZOU, would have definitely loved to pick your brain in person. Maybe you could do a mini clinic when you come back to visit Liberty.

    1. The Will would be the Solid ‘bacer vs FIB. Sam aligns in the B.

      The key to identifing formations is reps & teaching them to count. Find their # – CBs = #1, Saf/overhangs = #2, & Mike #3. No need to flip or change drastically vs FIB. Just pull the chain.

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