Running Dime as Your Base – A Lesson From the Big 12

Welcome to the Big 12 where Dime has now become your base.

The Big 12 has always been on the outer limits of what coaches are willing to do on offense and a graveyard for “guru” defensive coordinators (just ask Diaz and Strong). Defenses in the Big 12 play more snaps than the average Power 5 defense. Tempo and the Air Raid reign supreme in a league that prides itself on scoring points. The knock on the league has always been the defenses in the conference. To many outsiders, the Big 12 is offense first, and it is, but if you are looking to defend the spread, there is no other place to look – they live with it every day.

If looking at defensive stats alone, the Big 12 is on the outside looking in, but there is something to be learned here. Starting in 2016, teams in the Big 12, primarily Oklahoma St. (2016) and Iowa St. (2017), began using a modified Dime (3-down) and Nickle (4-down) package to combat the Air Raid heavy teams in the league. I discussed in January’s article about how teams are becoming more fluid in their fronts; switching from 4-down to 3-down without losing scheme.

The Dime package utilized by Iowa St. in 2017 was no different. Versus a run-heavy Oklahoma team, the Cyclones relied on a modified 4-down defense to defeat the Sooners in Norman. There ability to switch from a 4-down to a 3-down without subbing made the scheme a perfect fit for the multiple Sooners. With a TE like Mark Andrews and an H-back like Dimitri Flowers, the Sooners could give multiple looks without subbing. This fact alone is why the Big 12 is so innovative on defense. Hybrid players are a premium in the league. In Iowa St.’s season finale versus a high-powered spread attack in Memphis, Iowa St. utilized the 3-down version of their hybrid Dime to defeat Memphis 21-20.

The Dime/Nickel hybrid defense has become Iowa St.’s base defense and is fluid between the different front structures. When the Cyclones go 4-down, it is no different than if they are blitzing a linebacker from their Dime package. The coverages are similar too. Here is a look at the two base defenses:

Oklahoma St. Nickel (4-Down)

02 Cy Ni Base

Cyclone Dime (3-Down)

06 Cy Di Base Continue reading “Running Dime as Your Base – A Lesson From the Big 12”

Structuring Your Defense – The Front

Just like coverages, a defense should have different fronts to combat a variety of formations & schemes.

Just like coverages in a secondary, a defense cannot live in one front or technique on the defensive line. How a defense structures its front line has a direct correlation to how an offense is going to attack it. Most defensive coaches in America understand that the defensive line is critical to not only stopping the run but putting pressure on the quarterback when he drops back to pass. It is no stretch to say that the top teams in any level of football usually have one of the best defensive fronts for that level.

The front, and subsequently the strength call, create the first line of defense against an offense. In a well-formulated defense, the front seven (and even the secondary) act as links in a chain. The anchor points of these links are always the defensive linemen. Understanding how these links react to each other is critical in developing a plan to stop offenses. Not every front (or strength call) is equal to one another.

Some fronts and techniques are better suited to defend Spread offenses than Power ones, and vice versa. For this reason, defensive coaches should carry multiple fronts for multiple situations. Just like a defense’s coverages and alignments are different when defending a Wing-T team compared to a 10 personnel Air Raid offense, different defensive fronts can help combat the multitude of offenses seen throughout the year, and why every defensive coordinator should carry several fronts in his toolbox.

The advancement (and acceptance) of hybrid players have led many DC’s to switch from three-down to four-down in the same game (or even during the season – game to game). To the point of being multiple and carrying a plethora of calls on the call sheet, Don Brown, Defensive Coordinator for Michigan insist, “If you have more answers in your toolbox then you can go to them throughout the season and it’s a matter of just getting them back on recall.” Having a multitude of options at a defense’s disposal can only add to what it can ultimately stop. More is simply, just more. It comes down to how well you can teach it. Continue reading “Structuring Your Defense – The Front”

Defending “Bash” Concepts

Defending “back away” concepts with a four man front.

The modern Spread offense is nothing more than the natural evolution of traditional schemes found in most Flexbone or Wing-T offenses. The main difference is the addition of multiple wide receivers and the location of the quarterback (gun or pistol). Take the traditional double slot look of the flexbone, add a couple receivers as the slots and spread them out, back up the QB to five yards and an offense now has the Spread’s 2×2 look. The plays that run from this particular set look similar to the Flexbone’s veer plays, obviously with some tweaks. The Triple’s Dive Option is the Spread’s Zone Read. The use of a different formation and location of the QB changes the conflicts of the defense. Running from the “gun” backfield allows the offense to have a full field range of reads. Utilizing pistol or dot (UTC – under the Center) leaves half the field to read and an offense cannot use a RB stretch path to challenge the defense’s fits.

A different defensive approach must be taken when defending an offense that runs from the gun compared to a team that primarily aligns from the pistol or dot. RBs in a pistol/dot backfield are forced to go downhill. Many defenses spill gap runs when defending these “downhill” formations. The best way to defend a downhill running team is to make the play bounce (or spill). When facing a gun offense, defenses must adjust the traditional run fit rules because the RB can easily bounce the play wider than his initial aiming point. The field of vision for the QB is also affected by a gun alignment compared to play designs from a Pistol/Dot alignment. From the gun alignment, the QB has a full field of vision, and the offensive coordinator can choose from a number of defensive players to read. The pistol/dot alignment cuts the field in half, allowing the backside defensive players to be more aggressive to the ball (see image below).


Running from the gun allows the offense to attack a defense horizontally as well as vertically. The full plane attack by gun backfields forces traditional defenses to adjust the way it defends the Spread, primarily adjusting the play of the defensive ends. In a pistol/dot alignment the offense must attack the defense either vertically (downhill run/gap runs) or horizontal (wide zone/buck sweep/speed option). The full plane attack of the gun backfield allows offenses to run concepts where the offensive players have the option to attack downhill or stretch to the sideline, utilizing the whole field. These particular plays are known as Bash concepts, or “Back Away.”  Continue reading “Defending “Bash” Concepts”

How Do You Play Trips? Pt. 3 – Defending the Run

Defending a spread offense’s 3×1 package run game from a two-high shell.

When developing a defense it is important to start with the front and work back. Lining up correctly to formations, understanding keys, and developing a plan to stop the run all starts with the front seven. In a 4-3/4-2-5 (or 3-4 Hybrid) defense, the secondary players become the adjusters. Playing a single-gap defense and using formations to dictate alignments allow defensive players to see the formation quicker and align correctly. Each player in a defense is anchored to one another in some way. Understanding these anchor points, and how they change depending on formations, is crucial to the success of any defensive unit.

The Spread’s utilization of space has put aligning correctly every play at a premium. It is easy to align to a simple 2×2 formation, but when offenses utilize 3×1 formations (primarily Trips Open) the defense must understand how it adjusts will dictate their areas of weakness. Offenses make use of Trips formations because it forces the defense to give something up. To gain a six-man box a defense must spin, either to the Trips or away.  Continue reading “How Do You Play Trips? Pt. 3 – Defending the Run”

5 Tips for Defending Spread Option Teams

MQ details 5 things to remember when facing a Spread Option team.

One offensive play that has not lost its power in modern football is the option. Spread offenses utilize option principles to test the mettle of a defense’s structure. An option offense forces the defense to play assignment football. Each player on a defense must stay gap sound and understand how the structure of the defense adapts versus each option play. When defending an offense that runs a variation of the Triple Option from Spread formations, a defense must have three main components: 1) a Dive player, 2) a Quarterback player, & 3) a pitch-man. Add pulling guards and trap plays and a Spread Option offense can inflict a lot of damage if the defense is not disciplined.

One of the main keys for defending Spread Option teams is eye discipline. It is imperative that each position on a defense understands his fits and read keys. When option teams motion it creates eye “candy” and distractors for defenders, especially at the linebacker level (Jet or Orbit motion). Spread Option teams also make it difficult to blitz. When applying pressure to an option offense the defense can expose itself to being a man short if the players do not understand how the pressure changes option responsibilities.

Many defenses choose to stay in base and fit the option. This can work if the defense has better players than the offense, but in most cases staying static helps the offense learn how to pinpoint a defense’s weaknesses. Understanding how Spread Option teams want to attack a defense’s structure is crucial in defending option offenses. Below are 5 tips for defending these types of teams:  Continue reading “5 Tips for Defending Spread Option Teams”

Episode 6 — MQ Quick Hits :: Blitz vs Pressure

A 9 minute video on the “Art of X.”

Episode 6 describes the differences between pressures (5-man) and blitzing (6-man) and how it affects pass distributions. Understanding blitz structures are crucial for developing coverage concepts behind them. Knowledge is power.

Continue reading “Episode 6 — MQ Quick Hits :: Blitz vs Pressure”

Cautious Aggression

Defensive schemes to combat spread offenses.

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

.98 Cover Pic

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