3rd Down Study: Wisconsin vs Oregon (2020 Rose Bowl)

MQ reviews this years Rose Bowl and the top 3rd Down defense in the country.

Jim Leonhard, the Wisconsin Defensive Coordinator, has risen to one of the top defensive minds in the Big 10 in a short amount of time. This should come as no surprise though. Madison, WI is his home turf and Leonhard has received a first-class education in football. Leonhard started his college career as a walk-on DB for the Badgers and would leave as a legend, garnering back-to-back-to-back All-American honors (Yes, that’s a three-peat). Even though he had tremendous success as a Safety and punt returner in college, Leonhard went undrafted and was picked up by the Buffalo Bills were he played for three years.

Enter defensive guru Rex Ryan (son of 46 legend Buddy Ryan). In 2008 Ryan was the DC for the Baltimore Ravens and signed Leonhard away from Buffalo where he would start 13 of 16 games. Ryan would take him to New York (Jets) following the ’08 season where Ryan took the HC job. Leonhard would have three solid years as a starter in New York before he was let go following a knee injury. 2012-14 Leonard would sign year-long contracts and bounce around from Denver, back to Buffalo, and finally the Browns.

At the conclusion of his 10-year career, Leonhard went back to where it started in Wisconsin, asking Head Coach Pual Chryst to help with the defense. During 2015, Leonhard worked closely with current Baylor Head Coach and former LSU and Wisconsin DC, Dave Aranda. With the exit of Aranda to LSU in 2016, Leonhard joined as a DB coach under current Cal Head Coach Justin Wilcox. Leonhard would ascend to the DC position with the exit of Wilcox in 2017. The three years as DC have seen success under Leonhard, ending the 2017 season as the #5 team in Defensive Efficiency. Though there was a dip in 2018 (Wisconsin finished 8-5 and #35th in DEff), the Badgers were right back in the top 10 in DEff, finishing ninth in 2019.

Related Content: Lone Star Clinic Notes – Dave Aranda

With a defensive pedigree and a solid NFL career, Jim Leonhard is primed to be one of the top defensive minds going forward. Leonard’s professional mentor, Rex Ryan, is considered by many a great defensive mind along with his college mentors in Wilcox and Aranda (who just won a National Title). One area of interest is the Badgers’ ability to get off the field on 3rd Down. Wisconsin led the nation in 3rd Down Defense, only allowing 27% of 3rd Downs to be gained.

In this article, MQ will take a look at Wisconsin’s defense against Oregon’s offense highlighted by a traditional Spread offense and an NFL prospect at QB. Though Wisconsin would lose (by one point) to the Ducks, the Badgers held Oregon to 3-of-10 on 3rd Down. MQ takes a look at Leonhard’s philosophy on attacking the Ducks by highlighting five of those stops.


Personnel

Under Leonhard, the Badgers have been able to get off the field on 3rd Downs. As stated, in 2019 Wisconsin was tops in the land, holding opponents to 27% efficiency. 2018 was a down year overall for the Badgers, but in 2017 (under Wilcox), Leonhard’s first year as a full-time DB coach, the Badgers finished in at #5 in the nation on 3rd Down with 29% efficiency. The 2016 Aranda led Badgers to finish 4th at 27.9%. Needless to say, Leonhard has received a masterclass on stopping people on 3rd Down.

Similar to Aranda, Leonhard attacks offenses in a multitude of fronts, but not exotically like some other DCs. The Badgers opted to attack the Ducks from three main front structures: Jet (5s and 3s), Mug (ILBs in “A”), and Bear (Jet + Mike mugged on the center). Wisconsin runs a base 3-4 with two EDGE players as overhangs. EDGE is the “new” term for hybrid OLB/DEs. The boundary EDGE should be able to at least zone over the RB or cut the single WR. The field EDGE is a little more athletic but still tasked with being the primary force. This is similar to what Georgia is doing in their “Base” under Kirby Smart and other 3-4 hybrid DCs around the country.

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MQ Quick Hits Ep. 21 – 3rd Down Fronts

Come learn the #ArtofX.

In this installment of MQ Quick Hits, Coach Alexander takes you through the process of designing, personneling, and implementing two “problem” fronts for offenses. Two fronts, in particular, Overload and Bear, are discussed. Regardless if you are a 3- or 4- down defense, Coach A. shows you how to create issues with your front. The video includes two pressures along with whiteboard and video. For more clinics like these checkout MatchQuarters’ YouTube page or head over to MatchQuarters.com.


 

 


Find more clinics like this on MQ’s YouTube channel.

 

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© 2020 MatchQuarters.com | Cody Alexander | All rights reserved.


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Cautious Aggression: Defending Modern Football

Hybrids: The Making of a Modern Defense

Match Quarters: A Modern Guidebook to Split-Field Coverages

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– Coach A. | #ArtofX

Attacking 3rd Down With Multiple Fronts

Using packages & “problem” fronts to attack the Spread on 3rd Down.

Though 3rd Down is probably one of the more overrated downs in football (in terms of importance), being able to get off the field is an important concept for any defensive coach (yes, I’m being dense). Any series is won on 1st Down. Win that down and now the offense becomes more predictable on each subsequent play. By winning 2nd Down and forcing the offense into an obvious passing situation, the defense can now attack the offense. This is why looking at efficiency stats are important.

Looking at BCfToys.com’s DEff, you will only find two teams in the Top 25 with losing records against FBS teams, Northwestern and Miami (N’western’s OEff is 124 and Miami’s is #76 which explains their 6-6 record). Winning early downs is key to winning 3rd. That being said, defenses need to have a plan for 3rd Down and it’s variations (short, medium, long). The ultimate goal is to get off the field. Understanding how your opponent attacks 3rd should reflect your gameplan too. If a DC regularly goes to the same pool for 3rd Down, an OC will learn your rules and beat you at your own game.

Predictability in football is the holy grail. It is why coaches spend hours diagnosing film and coming up with a plan. Wining the base downs (1st and 2nd) is key to a successful defense. 3rd Down efficiency is a decent metric and does, to an extent, help with win probability. T. Tony Russell of Blue Stampede wrote an interesting article on the topic of 3rd Downs and win probability. Russell found that “3-and-Outs” doesn’t necessarily correlate to win probability. Yes, defensive coaches love to get off the field, especially if you have a dominant offense, but this stat over time doesn’t directly correlate to wins.

As Russell explains, the use of 3rd Down Efficiency (the percent of 3rd downs that a team is able to convert into a first down) ignores about 71% of all other plays. 1st Down conversion rate or just passing down efficiency are better stats to use when looking at win probability. So what does this have to do with winning 3rd and Long?

First, there is always a point at which a team chooses to pass at a high rate. This means a defense needs to win its passing downs. In the NFL, any yardage mark is a throwing down, but generally, if the yards to gain is around 4+, most NFL teams are throwing. In College, that mark moves to around 6+, which is probably similar at the High School level. Second, defensive coaches need a plan for passing downs, especially on 3rd Down. Finally, not all schemes are created equal when it comes to pressuring the QB. A defense needs options. A DC needs to consider several things:

  • Is the QB a runner? Is he a thrower?
  • Do they have a dominant WR?
  • Do they slide, Big-on-Big, or Combo their pass-pro?
  • What is the RB doing, or who is he responsible for?

All these questions need to be answered as a plan for 3rd Down is developed. This particular article gives you several ideas and ways to attack an offense in obvious passing downs, especially 3rd Down. As Russell pointed, winning passing downs is a better metric for win probability. Win your passing downs, or get a sack/turnover, and you have a higher chance of winning the game, which at the end of the day, is the only thing that matters.


1) The Overload Front

1 Overload

One of my favorite ways to attack an offense on 3rd Down is the Overload Front. In an Overload Front, the defense will put all its numbers to one side. This front mainly runs from a four-down look, otherwise, you have something completely different. Above, the Georgia Bulldogs align three linemen to one side. The boundary side only has a DE and a LB that is responsible for the “B” gap and RB. Versus a nub-set, as shown above, the CB will be over there as well.

Continue reading “Attacking 3rd Down With Multiple Fronts”

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”

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”

Steal Coverage to Combat Air Raid Offenses

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

00-1-mtrush

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”

Throw Out The Stats

Five ways to judge a defense.

“Some teams will play 55 snaps today. I think we defended 17 possessions, 110 (snaps), so we just played two ball games… That’s why the yardage thing is so irrelevant.”

– Glenn Spencer/DC, Oklahoma St. | via Kyle Fredrickson, NewsOK.com.

It’s time for defensive coaches everywhere to start changing the way they view modern defensive football. The “spread movement” is real, and it is not going away. The spread scheme, though vast in its styles has one basic principle, create one-on-one matchups by using the entire width of the field. Adding tempo to spread schemes creates more possessions and opportunities to score points. It is not uncommon for college teams to run 90+ offensive plays in a game or a high school offense to reach 75-80+ plays. As the amount of snaps being played in a game increase, it puts more pressure on the defense to line up correctly and play every snap. Most teams in the Big 12 will play a half game or more each week compared to its SEC counterparts. As Glenn Spencer stated in the quote above, the yardage stat is becoming less relevant than ever before. To gauge how great a defense is in the modern football era defensive coaches and pundits everywhere need to readjust the standards for what makes a great defense.

Five Points of Emphasis

Points Per Possession

Conditioning against tempo teams is a premium for the defensive side of the ball. More possessions create more opportunities for points, thus more opportunity for mistakes. Spread teams operate by creating one-on-one matchups and “spreading” the field to create space. As more spread teams implement tempo and gain more possessions, the old stats of yards per game and points per game become irrelevant. If a team gives up 28 points and defends 8 possessions (3.5 PPP), are they better than a defense that gives up 35 points but defends 15 possessions (2.3 PPP)? Defensive coaches need to be less infatuated with yards and points. The only points that matter are the ones needed to win a game. The PPP stat evens out teams that play spread versus teams that play traditional huddle-up offenses. If looking at the PPP stat, one can better determine the strength of the defense because it focuses on how many drives turn into scoring drives. A drive is a drive, the difference is how many did a team defend, and did it give up some points? A good number for a defense is anything under 2 points, elite is under 1.5. Continue reading “Throw Out The Stats”

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”