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).

99-same

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How To Build A Hit Chart

Take your formation breakdowns to the next level with a Hit Chart.

Once an opponent breakdown is complete the first thing a defensive staff should do is create a Hit Chart to analyze the different formations used by the offense. This is where a defensive staff can really see the fruits of their breakdown labor. Even with the advent of HUDL and other playmaking technologies, it is important to have a basic drawing of the formations a team is going to run. Especially one that a staff can manipulate, duplicate and is aesthetically pleasing.

With a Hit Chart, a defensive staff can identify quickly how they want to align to a given formation, what blitz/pressures will work against the said formation, and identify tendencies within the offensive scheme. The Hit Chart is a visual representation of an offense and can be used in multiple ways. For example, if utilizing PowerPoint, the defensive staff can create a separate slide for each formation, print them, and place them on a wall. This allows the staff to continuously look at the Hit Chart as they discuss film and meet about the game plan. This kind of quick reference guide allows the staff to efficiently answer questions regarding formations.

Hit Charts serves a broad purpose within the overall breakdown of an opponent but can give the defense an edge in playcalling if done the right way. It is important to stay efficient when creating a Hit Chart. The initial breakdown of formations is key to the quality of the chart. The more accurate the information, the better. If there are too many formation variances or mistakes, the chart loses its value.

In order to be efficient, a defensive staff should drop the use “right” and “left” formations and combine the data to give a more complete picture. A traditional 10p Doubles formation is a Doubles formation. The back being on the right or on the left in a Doubles formation really doesn’t matter. The only variance a staff could use is formation into the boundary (FIB) or when the RB aligns into the boundary in a Doubles set.

The play calling for many offenses changes when the formation is put into the boundary. This reason is why, in a Hit Chart, a defensive staff should track how many times a formation is into the boundary (Doubles, Ace, and 1×1 Diamond are the only exceptions because they are even sets). In an even set the DC can make a decision whether to keep a tally at the top of the Hit Chart (FTB/FIB) or make it a separate card. At the end of the day, the formation is still Doubles and there is no need to have separate labels as demonstrated below.

together

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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:

 

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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.

Screen Shot 2018-05-15 at 2.05.48 PM
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.

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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’?””

How do you play Trips? Pt. 1

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.

v. Over
4-3 Over v. a “Spot Draw” RPO

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.

Over Special

Continue reading “How do you play Trips? Pt. 1”

Fitting up 20p Two-Back Power

Defending traditional two-back power sets.

Run Fits versus Two-Back Power

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.

Continue reading “Fitting up 20p Two-Back Power”