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”

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”

MQ’s Single-Dog Blitz Package

Dog Check: A five man pressure package built with BTF principles.

I get a lot of questions about packaging blitzes and how to go about doing so. I’ve written several pieces on the subject:

In the first article, I detail the theory behind the concept and briefly go over the setup process. In “Building a Better Blitz,” I detail how to design and use formations to create an adaptive Zone Blitz. Packaging blitzes are nothing new. Many coaches understand the concept of “blitz the formation,” or BTF. Coaches like Belichick, Rex Ryan, and Saban use the offensive formation to determine how to attack.

This concept of “packaging” blitzes/pressures from the same tree allows the defense to adapt to any situation the offense may throw at it. Generally, the most common way defensive coordinators utilize BTF is in their “all out” or max blitzes. The easiest way to demonstrate the whole process is to actually create a blitz package.

Below is Dog Check, a single-dog (one linebacker) pressure. It is a five-man pressure that uses an edge blitz by the LBs and a simple line movement. Each pressure within the formation is named and is unique, but when combined together, the “check” can now adapt to any formation reduce the guessing. The adaptiveness and flexibility that checks give to a DC are invaluable. Being able to eliminate verbiage and guesswork can be the difference between a tackle for loss or a touchdown (especially when tempo is involved).  Continue reading “MQ’s Single-Dog Blitz Package”

Defending 10 pers. 2×2 Pistol

Three ideas on defending the spread’s most even set.

One question I get on a regular basis is how does a Pistol backfield change the way a defense adjusts to the spread. When utilized with even formations (2×2), the Pistol can create hesitation in how a defense traditionally sets up against the spread. If setting the front formationally, a defense can align quickly and efficiently to most formations. For most four-down defenses, the front is set to a TE (Over Front) or away from Trips (Under Front) to allow maximum cover downs. The main issues arise when offenses employ the Pistol from a 2×2 or Doubles formation. Like Ace and Diamond, 10 personnel 2×2 Pistol forces the defense to choose where to set the front by field or boundary. If the offense aligns in the middle of the field (MOF), the defense has to make a choice between right or left. Because of the Pistol’s unique backfield alignment, the offense can identify the conflict player and attack, leaving the defense vulnerable.

In traditional “gun” formations the offense has put the back on one side of the formation. Teams can run same-side zones and gap plays (pulling runs), but many utilize the offset running back to read the defensive end or conflict player to that side of the back. There are three main front adjustments for defenses when defending 2×2 gun: 1) set the front to the back (Over), 2) set the front away from the back (Under), or 3) set the front to the field. The later becomes difficult in the MOF. I suggest in my book that a defense should, at the least, set the front to the back to maximize Sam’s cover down and deter read side RPOs. Versus a true even set like 2×2 Pistol, this can be impossible to determine if in the MOF.

Versus a 2×2 gun formation, the defense is broken into two parts, the read side (back’s side) and the fold side. Against a team the sets their back in the Pistol alignment the offense can easily establish where the conflict player is located and attack. This two-way-go can make it difficult for defensive coordinators to game plan against teams that run Pistol. Establishing front rules against a “gun” team is relatively easy, but to understand how to set the front versus 2×2 Pistol a defensive coordinator must first understand the formation.  Continue reading “Defending 10 pers. 2×2 Pistol”

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

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:

.99 C3

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 #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”

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”

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Go deeper into defending the spread with MQ’s Book:

Cautious Aggression: Defending Modern Football

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Defending the Spread

Run Fits

  1. Zero the Mike (Belly-Key)
  2. Using Natural Gap Exchanges in Your Front Seven
  3.  Line Twists to Combat Heavy Zone Teams
  4. Defending the Zone Read
  5. Defending the Power Read
  6. Defending Split Zone
  7. 5 Tips for Defending Spread Option Teams
  8. Defending BAsh (“Back Away”) Concepts
  9. Defending 20p Two-Back Power

Defensive Structure/Special Coverages/Dime Package

  1. Structuring Your Defense – The Front
  2. Saban’s Rip/Liz (Match Cov. 3) & How it Applies to Quarters
  3. Running Dime as Your Base
  4. Defending the Air Raid with “Steal” Coverage
  5. “Read” Coverage (20p Field Robber)
  6. MQ’s Simple 3-Down Dime Package
  7. Don Brown (Univ. of Michigan) Lone Star Clinic Notes

Quick or “Pop” Motions

  1. Defending Jet Motion
  2. Defending A-Behind and Flare Motion

Defending Spread Formations (10 Pers.)

  1. Defending 10p 2×2 Pistol
  2. Defending Stack and Bunch Sets
  3. Defending Trips/Empty:
    1. Why You Should Run an Under Front to 3×1 Sets
    2. Defending Trips — Fitting the Run
    3. Top Trips Coverages Explained
    4. Specific Split Field Trips Coverages:
      1. Defending Trips with Stress Coverage
      2. Defending Trips with Special Coverage
      3. Defending 3×1 Formations with Solo Coverage
    5. Defending Empty and Quads
  4. Defending Pro Spread (11p)
    1. 11 Personnel (Pro Spread)
    2. Defending single-width or “nub” formations
  5. Defending the Spread’s Top Unbalanced Sets

Defending RPOs ::

  1. RPO Stop Calls
  2. Using Split-Field Coverage to Counteract RPO & Check-With-Me Offenses

Defending Formations/Personnel Groups

  1. 12 Personnel (Ace/Ace Trey)
  2. 20 Personnel — Over vs Under (Setting the Strength)
  3. 21 Personnel (Defending Power Football From a Hybrid Defense)
  4. 30 Personnel
  5. Defending the Wing-T

Stop Calls/Pressures/Blitzes

  1. 5 Tips for Developing a Blitz
  2. How to Packaging Blitz Calls
  3. Building a Better Zone Blitz
  4. Blitzing the Formation (BTF)
  5. Run Down Stop Calls
  6. Dog Check (Single-Dog Pressure)
  7. Attacking Empty/Quads
  8. 5 Tips For Blitzing From The Secondary

Quarters Pedagogy and Drill Tapes

  1. MQ’s DB Resource Page
  2. Teaching the Safeties
  3. Teaching the Corners
  4. Daily Musts for DBs
  5. Match Quarters Pass Distributions
  6. LB Philosophy and Fundamentals

3-4 Resources

  1. The Okie Front
  2. Defending Modern Spread from Okie
  3. Baylor vs Boise (2016) – How a hybrid 3-4 defends a multiple Pro Spread offense
  4. Defending 11p from a 3-4
  5. The Tite Front (303/404)
  6. 3rd Down Calls From a 3-4

Analytics/Install/Opponent Breakdowns/Practice/Self-Scout

  1. Four Day Install Plan for a 4-2-5
  2. Breaking Down an Opponent
  3. Down & Distance Data
  4. Breaking Down the Run
  5. Breaking Down the Pass
  6. Building a Hit Chart
  7. Weekly Schedule (Practice Plan)
  8. 5 Cut-ups to Improve Your Self-Scout
  9. Throw Out the Stats – “What really is a “good” defense?”

 

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Defending 20 Personnel – Over vs Under

How to attack 2o pers. using the offense’s tendencies.

There is a reason so many spread teams are using 2o personnel as a base formation. Slot-T teams like Auburn use jet motion and pulling guards to out leverage the defense, even using RPOs to find wide open receivers downfield. Florida St. uses a split-backfield to 01-pop-setsattack the defense with speed to the edge. Teams like Baylor and Ole Miss use 20 pers. formations to use RPO style attacks, Baylor with the third level vertical option routes and Ole Miss with Arc-Read RPOs. There are multiple ways to attack a defense from 20 pers. just using the backfields alone. Each set can create a different read for the QB (all this without using unbalanced and motion). The diagram to the left depicts some of the more popular backfields an offense likes to run out of 20 pers (this doesn’t even include Pistol or “I” sets). When breaking down a 20 pers. offense, each backfield creates a new formation. If an offense uses each one of the above backfield sets in their offense, it forces the defense to look at the formational data with a more critical eye.

For a defensive coach, 20 pers. causes problems not only in the backfield but with the three receivers. There is a tendency by some DC’s to spin against 20 pers. The thought process behind spinning is the offense has added another blocker, and potentially another gap, so to counteract tspin-to-hhat, a DC will spin. The diagram to the right depicts a defense that has spun to the H-back. This allows the Sam to work back to the box. Though the defense has created a plus-one to the field, they have left themselves exposed to the boundary. All an offense has to do is run a simple Arc-Read to the boundary and the offense has a numbers advantage. If a defense is going to spin against 20 pers., it is in the defense’s best interest to spin weak. Leveraging the boundary allows the pass distribution to the field stay intact, and a defense can play a hybrid quarters scheme to the boundary. The issue with spinning to the boundary is the third-level RPO read off the dropping safety. Teams that run a backside choice with the single receiver will see the dropping safety and run a post/slant right behind him. The best plan of action versus a 20 pers. offense is to stay in a two-high scheme and use the safeties as extra box players. The question now is, what about the front? Continue reading “Defending 20 Personnel – Over vs Under”

Defending Stack and Bunch Sets

Theories on attacking the spread’s cluster sets.

One of the hardest sets in football to defend is the cluster or stack set. Spread offenses utilize this set to get the defense’s outside linebackers in run/pass conflicts. Unlike a traditional 2×2 set, the defense has to adjust to the width of the receivers. Stacking them creates width, and width creates the conflict. Spread teams rely on the open “B” gap to build their RPO’s and offensive gameplan. By stacking the receivers out wide, the defense is forced to adjust. In a two-high system, the player in conflict (usually the Will LB) has to choose, cover down to his receiver or hold tight to the box. If he stays close to the box, the offense is going to throw the quick screen and create a 1-on-1 open field tackling matchup with the safety or corner. In most cases, the defense wants to avoid this as much as possible. On the other end of the spectrum, if the defender widens to the cluster set, the offense has a 4-1 box and a clear running opportunity. Versus a two-high system, there is a great chance for the offense to part the field like the Red Sea for a big gain. Ask any offensive coach, a 4-1 box is a magical thing.

In the image below, Penn St. runs and Under front and “hips” it’s Sam LB to the strength. In most RPO style offenses, this is a clear pass read. The Sam has to honor the run read and step to his gap. Even with zone away and a gap exchange with the crashing DE (in this set the DE has dive), the Sam has to take a step towards the box. The QB is taught to read the Sam’s path and throw the screen. Penn. St. is most likely in a “Cloud” coverage (Two Read) and the safety is bailing on the snap. Easy pickings for any decent offensive coordinator. It’s a conflict of philosophy; the offense wants 1-on-1 matchups and the defense wants a plus-one. In order to create a six-man box and protect against the run, the defense has to spin to single-high, but to keep a plus-one in pass distribution it has to stay in two-high, something has to give. MatchQuarters explores the options.

Continue reading “Defending Stack and Bunch Sets”

3 Run Down Stop Calls

Have a plan for 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. It is amazing to think how hard it is to get just ten yards. 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 their title.

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, or missed gap assignment, stay too passive 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. 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 #FMT – Friday Morning Tempo is to highlight three run-down stop calls every DC must have on their call sheet.  Continue reading “3 Run Down Stop Calls”

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:

 

Continue reading “Defending the Power Read”

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.

Continue reading “Attacking the Zone Read”

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’?””