Defending 11 Personnel from a 3-4

How to adjust to TE sets without a natural adjuster.

Spread and Pro-Style offenses utilize a Tight End versus three-down defenses because the defense lacks a natural adjuster. Unlike a four-down defense that can distribute their anchor points evenly across the formation, the 3-4 lacks the extra lineman to defend the extra gap (hence the name “Odd Front”). When faced with an 11 personnel formation, many 3-4 defensive coordinators choose to spin to single-high coverage to gain an extra man in the box. Another adjustment for many DCs in this situation is to attach the outside linebacker to the TE’s side. With the loss of a coverage man and overhang, the DC is forced to spin. When defending an 11 pers. offense from a 4-2-5 or 4-3, these little adjustments aren’t needed because the anchor points are evenly distributed and don’t need to be created.

In a four-down scheme, the defensive ends act as the walls of the box. When a TE is introduced into the formation, the DE to the TE’s side moves to a 9 technique (unless it is Trey and then he is in a 7 or 6i). The four defensive lineman allow the defense to stay even and adjust with the linebackers and secondary. The evenness of the four-down is why many spread teams attack 4-2-5 and 4-3 defenses from 20 pers., utilizing an H-back. In 20 pers., the offense can use the “H” to attack either side of the defense, reading the overhangs to determine what play to run. If the “H” was attached to the formation (TE) he would lose his two-way go.

Defending 11 pers. formations from a 3-4 boil down to understanding how certain fronts react to the extra gap. From a single-gap fit 3-4, a defense can easily adjust to TE sets and stay within a two-shell scheme. The lack of an adjuster is an issue, which is why many 3-4 teams that face the spread, and Pro-Style spread, choose to defend from an Okie Front because it reacts much like the four-down Under Front. Using the offense’s formations as a guide, it is easy to build simple rules within the defense, setting the strength and when to attach the OLBs, to alleviate the issues seen in many 3-4 defenses. Combining an Okie Front with a match quarters scheme can adapt and flex with any formation an offense throws out, it just boils down to how a DC chooses to line up.

Continue reading “Defending 11 Personnel from a 3-4”

Summer Book Review

Urban Meyer’s “Above the Line”

In honor of my book being published (Cautious Aggression – click the link to get your copy), I figured I’d review the book I read to start the summer, Urban Meyer’s “Above the Line.” I believe that reading allows us to open our minds and truly think critically about the actions we have taken. Reading pushes us to redefine our reality and forces us to take a critical eye on our actions. Fiction books allow us to escape, highlighting the things we are trying to run away from. Non-fiction and coaching books, in particular, force the reader to look inward and inspires us to do better than we have been. As Harry S. Truman once put it, “… all leaders are readers.” Maybe you are looking for more ideas on leadership or a new way to approach the game of football, reading helps us grow. Meyer’s says it clearly at the beginning of his book, “Leaders are learners,” (p. 7). Continue reading “Summer Book Review”

Cautious Aggression

Defensive schemes to combat spread offenses.

Introducing MQ’s first full-length book, Cautious Aggression: Defending Modern Football.

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Buy it on immediately on CreateSpaceAmazon, and Kindle. Click the provider below and order your copy today (Links open in new window).

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Description: As the spread becomes more of the norm in all regions of this country it is important for coaches everywhere to have a resource for defending the modern spread offense. Cautious Aggression: Defending Modern Football is that resource for coaches. The schemes described in this book are tried and true methods for defending some of the best offenses this country has ever seen.

Starting with “The Why” and ending with “The How.” Cautious Aggression gives coaches a defensive philosophy they can trust. Using diagrams and concise explanations, the book lays out a formula for success for coaches to utilize in their own schemes. Below are the chapters:

  1. Argument for Two-High
  2. Defending the Modern Spread Offense
  3. Defending Run/Pass Options
  4. Systematic Creativity of a Quarters Defense
  5. The Art of Match Quarters
  6. All About the Cover Down
  7. Designing a Modern Defense
  8. Setting the Strength
  9. Defending Formations into the Boundary
  10. Defending Motions

Coaching at the lower levels of football bring its own issues to the table that many Division I football teams do not face. Cautious Aggression: Defending Modern Football is written for all coaches. The experiences Coach Alexander gained while coaching for Baylor Football combined with his experiences at the high school level has given him a unique perspective on defensive football. Many of the concepts and theories in this book have been adjusted to fit the needs of high school and small college coaches around the country. Come learn “The Art of X.”


Thank you to all that support the site, this book would not be possible without you.

-Cody Alexander

Defending 3×1 Formations – Solo Coverage

Kick the coverage with out the spin.

The biggest issue facing defenses when defending 3×1 formations is the run/pass conflict of the Mike. No other player in a 3×1 formation has more on their plate than the leader of most defenses. In modern football, the age of a “plugger” at Mike is over. Each LB must be able to cover underneath routes and understand how their run fits relate to their pass drops. Defenses can no longer afford to drop their LBs to “zones” or landmarks. Each player is a link in a chain. As the spread becomes a permanent fixture in most regions’ football cultures, defenses are turning to match schemes to help alleviate the issues seen in traditional defenses.

Traditionally, teams have spun to the three-receiver side to allow the Mike to stay in the box, switching his responsibility of relating to the #3 receiver to “plugging” the middle of the formation. Eliminating this run/pass conflict helped defenses against the “spread-to-run” offenses but it opened them up to high percentage throws that could easily become fatals (TDs) when those offenses ran play -action. In the diagram below, an Over Cover 3 scheme is shown:

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Right away, the main issue with Cover 3 or “kick” coverage to Trips is the backside corner is in man-to-man coverage with the single WR. Offenses traditionally have left their best receiver at the “X” because of this defensive scheme. The best offensive receiver on the field is lined up across from a player with little to no help. This can spell disaster for defenses. As the spread as evolved, offenses have developed reads for the third level. If a defense spins to a 3×1 formation (“kick”) the offense can easily check to a backside choice route depending on the leverage of the corner. For most, this is a post route ran right off the back of the kicking safety. This is a high percentage throw that can spell disaster for defenses.  Continue reading “Defending 3×1 Formations – Solo Coverage”

MQ’s Defending RPOs Clinic Tape

Defending RPO’s from a 3-4 Okie Front.

The clinic includes detailed explanations on how to combat RPOs by pre-snap alignment and even explains several stop calls, all from a 3-4 Okie Front. The clinic starts with five principles for defending RPO offenses and moves on to pre-snap alignments against top spread formations. This is followed by game film and diagrams of the stop calls with detailed explanations.

(This video was originally created for Keith Grabowski, host of the “Coach & Coordinator Show” before he joined USA Football and moved his show under their umbrella.)

Continue reading “MQ’s Defending RPOs Clinic Tape”

Episode #3 — MQ Quick Hits :: “Soft” Press

A 10 minute video on the “Art of X.”

This is a brief video on how to implement “soft” press or “catch” technique into your schemes. The clinic video explains everything from stance and alignment to why soft press is preferred over hard press.

Continue reading “Episode #3 — MQ Quick Hits :: “Soft” Press”

Episode #2 — MQ Quick Hits :: The Over Front

A 5 minute video on the “Art of X.”

This is a brief video on how to defend the modern spread attack by utilizing the structure of the Over Front. It covers everything from setting the strength to combating RPOs.

Continue reading “Episode #2 — MQ Quick Hits :: The Over Front”

The Dime Package

An introduction to the three down Dime package.

One of the greatest luxuries in football is when a defense has enough depth in the secondary to create a Dime package. As spread has become the norm in football, the Nickel package, replacing a linebacker with a secondary player (usually a safety), has become the norm and many defenses’ base. Most teams have “tween” or hybrid players. Utilizing these players on defense has made it easier for defensive coordinators to adjust to the onslaught of spread teams. The Dime package, in particular, is different than its sister the Nickel package. Instead of replacing a LB with a safety, the Dime package puts two defensive backs in and replaces either two LBs (four-down) or a LB and a defensive lineman (three-down). The specific package being discussed in this article will cover the three-down, three safety Dime package most generally seen in college today.

A 3-4 Base

If a defense’s base is a 3-4, it can easily adjust to the spread by putting a Nickleback at Sam, much like its counterpart, the 4-2-5. A three-down Dime package takes the Mike off the field and inserts either a safety or a CB depending on the DC’s preference and the scheme being used. The front most used in a Dime package is the Buck Front or a 505 front. This ensures an edge rusher on either side of the quarterback that will define the box. The Nose’s role is to get a vertical push on the pocket and make the QB move.  Below is a diagram of a 3-4 Buck Dime Package:

.01 Buck Adj (2x2)

The first decision that has to be made when developing a Dime package is who is going to be part of the Dime package personnel? If looking to run more of a man scheme, a DC is more likely to bring on two cornerbacks and leave the two most athletic LBs on the field. As stated earlier, more defenses are shifting to a Nickel/Hybrid base. This means the traditional Sam LB is actually a safety. In the case above, the Nickelback is more than likely a third CB while the Dimeback is another safety.  Continue reading “The Dime Package”

Episode #1 — MQ Quick Hits :: Quarters Clinic

A 5 minute video on the “Art of X.”

Introducing MQ Quick Hits. Episode #1.

This week MatchQuarters discusses Quarters install, in particular, Press Quarters.

Continue reading “Episode #1 — MQ Quick Hits :: Quarters Clinic”

Four Day Install Plan

MQ’s guide to installing a 4-2-5.

.01 Install Topper.pngWith Spring Football starting in my state of Texas I wanted to address the installation plan for a 4-2-5. Most coaches have a three-day non-contact period and want to get as much teaching done as possible within those days. This makes sense because the players are limited in contact. Below I have attached a four-day plan that allows a defense to install its base fronts, pressures, and coverages within the normal three-day period. I like the extra day because I feel it is important to have something to teach on that first day of pads. In the case of the install below, the fourth day rehashes base fronts and inputs drop coverages (where a defensive lineman is dropping, also known as “Drop Eight”) and three-down line movements.  Continue reading “Four Day Install Plan”

Defending Flare/Quick Motion

Offenses use Flare & A-Behind motion to force the defense to move. Don’t get out leveraged.

Quick motions are a great way to get the defense out leveraged. The fast motion is like eye candy for linebackers and safeties, using the speed of the receiver to get the defense to over shift. Jet motion in particular forces the defense to try and cut off the motion because of the tempo at which the motion attacks. To combat Jet motions many defenses turn to spinning towards the motion so the overhang can force a cutback. Though this technique can work in the shorthand, spinning to the motion tends to leave teams vulnerable away from the spin safety.

As offenses have evolved, quick motions have become an integral part of spread concepts. In a traditional motion, the WR changes from one side of the formation to an another on a flat path. The speed of the WR depends on the route he will run. For the most part, traditional motions have the WR jog across the formation. As the spread has evolved from traditional motion to jet motions, another way offenses have learned to attack how defenses react to motion is by flaring the running back out of the backfield. This type of quick motion forces the LBs to push and gain width between their run responsibility and the man they are responsible for in the pass. This width creates conflict, and as all defensive coaches know, offenses love conflicted players.  Continue reading “Defending Flare/Quick Motion”

Defending Empty and Quads Open

When teams empty the backfield know how to line up.

Teams run empty backfields to isolate WRs and open the middle of the field. With more teams opting for athletic QBs, empty sets have become a way to expand the QB running game. Defensive coordinators that want to keep a six-man box are forced to run “Zero” coverage behind the front with help only coming by late support underneath from the inside linebackers (better to just send a six-man pressure and force an errant throw), or spin to single-high. Either way, “Zero” or single-high coverage, the defense is putting its defenders in one-on-one situations. Split field defense can adjust to any empty set, but it puts the ILBs in conflict. Following base Trips rules and running an Under Front versus Empty, the Will LB is responsible for the “A” gap yet has to cover down to the weak slot. This conflict can be used against the defense and is a primary example of why Empty sets are so hard to defend.

The sister formation to Empty is Quads. This set stresses the defense even more and forces the backside safety to become a box player. The Quads set shifts the defense to the four WR side. This shift puts the DS into primary fit support in the “A” gap and completely takes the Mike LB out of the fit (another reason teams like Quads). By taking a box LB out of his fit, the offense has now forced the defense into an uncomfortable situation. Spread teams also like Quads when they have a stud WR. By alignment alone, Quads forces a one-on-one situation to the single WR side. The DS still can help the backside CB, but with any run action by the QB, or a pulling Guard, the DS must honor his fit and work into the box. This allows a brief window in the middle of the field (high percentage throw). Whether 3×2 or 4×1, the offense can put immense pressure on defenses by eliminating the RB from the backfield. All is not lost, 4-2-5/4-3 split field defenses have several ways they can combat empty backfield formations without blitzing or dropping eight.  Continue reading “Defending Empty and Quads Open”

Defending Trips – Special Coverage

If the offense won’t throw to #1, lock him up and reduce the field.

When defending a team that runs Trips it is important for the defense to have multiple coverage options. Depending on how an offense chooses to attack a defense the selection of the right coverage can be crucial. Being able to switch from base coverage to base coverage allows the defense to keep the offense on its toes. If a defense only runs one base coverage against Trips, offenses will quickly find a way to exploit it. This fact alone should encourage a defensive staff to carry multiple coverages into a game and be able to use them when the opportunity arises.

Many times offenses use the #1 receiver as a decoy or chooses to run him off to create a void so the #2 or #3 WR can run an out route into space. One way to counteract the nonuse of #1 and outs by #2 or #3 is to run Special Coverage. Unlike Stress where the Sam is blind to what the #3 WR is doing, Special eliminates the #1 completely and reduces the field. The Sam takes on the responsibility of a Two-Read CB. His eyes are squarely on #2 and will carry the vertical of #2 if the offense runs vertical routes. Like Stress, the key player is the Sam linebacker and his ability to run with a vertical route. Eliminating #1 puts the Sam on an island with #2. As stated earlier, having options in coverage is important to defending the spread. A defense must be able to adapt to any situations and adjust to any formation/scheme thrown at it.  Continue reading “Defending Trips – Special Coverage”

Defending Trips – Stress Coverage

Most HS QB’s can’t throw the 25 yard Comeback. So make’em.

Defense is reactionary by nature. The offense knows the play and the defense must be structured enough to counteract and defend. Outside of forcing the offense’s hand through pressure, a defense must play on the law of averages and use the tendencies of the offense against them. For most high school offense the #1 wide receiver in a Trips set rarely gets the ball, and when he does it usually comes by way of an underneath route or a sprint out by the offense. Few high school QB’s can make the 25-yard comeback throw from the opposite hash. The few that can make the throw must execute the long throw which can tend to hang in the air long enough for a good corner to react to it. Plus, most high school offenses won’t run a four vertical play and attack the #1 WR to the Trips side. Usually, it is the #2 on a bender or the “X” WR to the boundary (especially if the defense is “kicking” to the three WR side). Using the law of averages can give the defense an advantage and protect itself from the backside fade and a “solo-ed” CB.

Defending Trips is about sectioning off the formation and forcing a weak armed QB to make a long throw. Some defensive coaches turn to Special coverage against Trips because the #1 WR rarely gets the ball. In Special, the CB will lock on the #1 WR and the defense runs a Two Read scheme by bracketing the #2 and #3 WRs. This allows the Sam to move to outside leverage of the #2 and drive on any out routes. The #3 WR bracketed by the Mike underneath and the field safety (Cover Safety – CS). There are several issues when Special is the base defense against Trips. One, the coverages is susceptible against crossing routes by the #1 and #2 WRs. Since the CB is locked on the #1 WR he must follow him everywhere he goes (MEG coverage). Offenses can easily use rub and pick routes to wall off the CB and knock off the Sam. Another issue with Special is the vertical of #2. Since the Sam is outside leveraged, and the CS is holding the inside of the #3 WR, it is easy for the offense to use a four vert scheme to attack the coverage. Most teams will run the #3 WR on an “over” route to the opposite hash allowing the #2 WR to bend into the middle of the field (MOF) creating a window and a relatively easy throw for any QB. By alignment, the Sam is beat to the inside and must work outside-in to get hands on the WR. Special is great when teams are running out routes with #2 and #3 and is a coverage all two-high defenses need in their repertoire. If teams are attacking vertically, Stress is best.  Continue reading “Defending Trips – Stress Coverage”

Five Cut-ups to Improve Your Off-Season Self-Scout

Improve your off-season self-scout by creating special cut-ups.

01-gosOff-Season Film Study

Film study is one of the greatest ways to improve on schemes and calls made the year before. In order to correctly monitor the calls that were being made a defensive coordinator must look at certain scenarios where he struggled the year before. It is important to analyze the season with a critical eye and always ask, “How can we improve?” From player personnel decisions to eliminating calls altogether, using cut-ups from the year before allows the DC to evaluate when and where plays were called. Remember hindsight is 20/20. One way to increase improvement from year to year is to view cut-ups that highlight defensive deficiencies and struggles. There are multiple ways to create cut-ups, but it is important to have certain ones created that highlight the unique ways offenses attack a defense while allowing the DC to have hard data on what needs to be fixed within the scheme.  Continue reading “Five Cut-ups to Improve Your Off-Season Self-Scout”

Breaking Down the Run

MatchQuarter’s guide to breaking down your opponent’s run data.

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Of the two play types, breaking down the run concepts is much easier than the pass break down. There is less individual player variance and most run concepts are blocked relatively similar across offensive playbooks. The front of a defense many times will dictate the types of gap and option plays a defense might see. When looking to break down the run it is important for defenses to consider what defensive schemes are showing up in their opponent break down. If the teams in a league or district all run similar defensive schemes then the breakdown will stay relatively true across opponents. It is when teams run different fronts that the run breakdown can give false tendencies. One thing a defensive staff must keep in mind is how offenses change run schemes when facing a four-down front and a three-down front.

In order to keep the breakdown streamlined and efficient, each data point must help the staff paint a clear picture of what the offense is doing. Much like pass concepts, each offensive type (Slot-T, Air Raid, Pro Spread, etc.) has a unique way of blocking traditional runs. Formations add to the variations in blocking schemes as well. For instance, in a two-back power, the offense may choose to “J” block with the H-back and down block with the Tackle, while another offense may insert the H-back as a lead blocker and out-block with the Tackle. Each play is Power, but a defense needs to know the difference in blocking schemes. Luckily, most offenses choose a single blocking scheme and stick with it (therefore, no need to tag the variation), but when doing self-scout, it is important to be able to sort the Powers altogether and the variations between them. Even a play like Counter can be run several different ways from a two-back scheme. Is the offense pulling the Guard and Tackle, or are they using the H-back as the fold player? Add RPOs and a defensive coordinator can have a lot of information on one line. A defensive staff must have a structured, almost scientific, way of breaking down an opponent.  Continue reading “Breaking Down the Run”

Breaking Down the Pass

MatchQuarters guide to breaking down your opponents passing data.

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Once the down and distance data (D&D) and formation data are placed into a breakdown, the task turns to breaking down the plays an offense runs. Breaking down the run can be easy as long as the coaches inputting data speak the same language. At the root level, power is a power, a counter is a counter, and a zone is a zone. The biggest task in breaking down the run is if the team is a read/option team and deciding who the conflicted player is (who are they reading). In many cases, especially at the high school level, the plays are basic and can be easily labeled. Pass plays, on the other hand, are a whole different animal.

Unlike run plays that have a base set of rules and can easily be determined, pass concepts can get muddy fast. With so many moving parts and different tags to concepts, it is hard for defensive coaches to look at pass data and not have a convoluted mess. With so many variations within offenses and different tags for certain players, it can make a defensive coordinator feel like he is lost in a sea of data. Add the factor of formations (2×2 versus 3×1 pass can be much different) and it multiplies the problem.  Continue reading “Breaking Down the Pass”

Defending the Spread’s Unbalanced Sets

Ideas on countering the optical illusions of unbalanced formations.

Offenses use unbalanced formations to get the defense out leveraged. An offense does this by creating an extra gap by moving a guard or tackle to the opposite side of the formation. Unbalanced sets are optical illusions created by the extra lineman to one side. Teams can also use wide receivers when creating unbalanced sets. By putting a WR on the line and covering him up, the offense has now freed the single WR (“X”) so that he can motion across the formation. Many defenses refer to this set of unbalanced formations as “X-off” formations.Unlike pro style unbalanced formations that just shift the line one way or another with an extra guard or tackle, X-off formations use a player that is normally static in the motion game.

Unbalanced sets, in particular, are designed to be optical illusions to the defense. In a pro style (11 personnel) unbalanced, the defense is so used to seeing the same Center over and over, that they fail to realize the shift on the line and can’t identify the new three-man surface. This causes the defense to be a gap short and out-leveraged by the offense. In an unbalanced spread set (20 pers./10 pers. – mainly Trips), the offense uses the WRs to create the illusion. It can be hard to identify WRs on the line, especially when tempo is involved. The defense can be surprised by the jet motion from the “X” WR if an unbalanced set goes unnoticed.

Offenses can use quick huddles and tempo to throw off the defense when using unbalanced sets. Defense generally lineup off of personnel and identify key players on the offense (like the Center’s number or a slot WR). It is important to teach the front seven to identify the three-man surface when playing pro spread teams that use unbalanced out of their 11 pers. sets. When facing a spread team that uses WR unbalanced sets, the key is to identify if the single WR is off the ball. To the front side, the secondary players (and cover down) must identify if multiple WRs are on the ball.

Continue reading “Defending the Spread’s Unbalanced Sets”

Steal Coverage to Combat Air Raid Offenses

A “how to” guide to defending the Air Raid’s top pass concepts.

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With the birth of the Air Raid offense under Hal Mumme and its expansion under Leach, the Air Raid concept has flourished alongside the advancement of the spread in modern football. The Air Raid offense, in particular, is married well with the no-huddle concept and can be run out of multiple formations even with the added effect of tempo. True Air Raid offenses base out of 20, 10, and 11 personnel sets. Many of the concepts needed to run the offense utilize 2×2 and 2×1 sets to put pressure on the defense’s back seven.

The Air Raid offense and its vast offshoots still boil down to several basic concepts. The key to any Air Raid offense is the use of “triangle” and simple high-low reads. The offense has been used to rewrite many record books and its concepts are present in most modern spread offenses. The main way Air Raid teams attack a defense is the soft middle of the field left by vertical pushing routes with the outside wide receivers. This vertical push forces the safeties in a two-high look to climb with the outside WRs. The zone dropping linebackers are left to defend WRs coming from the opposite way behind their view. These simple crossing routes are deadly to a defense that cannot get support from the backside safety or simply spot drop. One way a defense can counteract the Air Raids propensity to attack the soft middle vacated by the boundary safety is to run “Steal” coverage.

Steal Coverage

Unlike “Read” Coverage that takes advantage of the offense attacking the front side triangle (think pick/flat/corner), “Steal” coverage uses the boundary safety as a “robber” for the crossing routes. Much like its sister versus Trips coverage “Solo,” Steal uses the boundary safety as a spy on a front side WR. The main objective of the DS in Steal is to read the crossing route and hold his ground in the window vacated by the Will LB. The diagram below demonstrates Steal Coverage:  Continue reading “Steal Coverage to Combat Air Raid Offenses”

Linebacker Drills and Fundamentals

A video clinic on LB philosophy and drills.

I’ve received several questions in the past month on LB drills and if I had any tape. This video is a clinic tape a developed for former Baylor LB Coach Jim Gush. The tape goes through basic philosophies, daily reminders, and highlights multiple drills. The clinic is broken down into several sections:

  • Philosophy/Points of Emphasis
  • Techniques and Fundamentals
  • Bag Drills
  • Ball Drills
  • Pass Drops
  • Tackling Drills
  • Block Protection and Key Drills
  • Special Situations

The video itself is about 30 minutes long and is a valuable reference tool for coaching linebackers. The drills mesh well with a 4-2-5 scheme or a single-gap fitting 3-4 (Okie). Everything in this video was developed by Coach Gush. While at Baylor he developed several standout LBs and two All-Big 12 members (2011-2016):

  • Bryce Hagar (2nd – 2012/2014)
  • Eddie Lackey (1st – 2013)
  • 8 Honorable Mentions

Continue reading “Linebacker Drills and Fundamentals”