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”

“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”

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”

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 the Spread From a 3-4

Running an Okie Front to defend the modern spread attack.

Defensive linemen are at a premium. For many teams, it is hard to field a deep roster that can lend itself to a four-man front. Running parallel to the defensive dilemma of lineman depth is the popularity of the spread. A natural conclusion for many defensive coordinators around the country has been a shift away from a four-down front and into a 3-4 scheme. The flexibility of the 3-4 and the added athlete on the field makes the scheme spread friendly. The multiplicity within the scheme allows DCs to attack the offense from multiple directions without sacrificing pass distributions. Running a two-high scheme behind a three-man front meshes well with teams that have a history of running a 4-2-5 or 4-3.

The Okie Front, in particular, can be of service when defensive coaches are looking to defend the spread from a three down front. With a 5 technique, a shaded Nose, and a 3 tech. (or 4i) to the weak side, the Okie’s anchor points fit the spread much like its four down sister, the Under Front. To the weak side, the Jack linebacker (boundary OLB) is technically a wide “9” in the run fits and controls the edge of the box to the boundary. The Jack LB, in particular, is useful when defending offenses that like to attack the boundary through the air. Even though the Jack is technically a conflicted player (he is responsible for the “C” gap), his alignment allows him to read the offensive tackle and slow play the run. In most four down fronts, the boundary OLB (Will) is the “fold” player and is considered conflicted because his gap is in the box. The Okie Front eliminates the fold and replaces it with a loose overhang (much like a natural Will/DE exchange in a four down front). Continue reading “Defending the Spread From a 3-4”

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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”