Learning How to Spin – Adapting Saban’s Rip/Liz

Applying Saban’s Match 3 Principles to Split-Field Quarters Defenses.

Everyone can agree, Nick Saban knows defense. In fact, according to BCfToys.com, which rates college defenses on their efficiency and is “adjusted for the strength of opponent offenses faced,” has never placed Alabama outside of their top 10 in the past five years (low being #7 in 2014 – the only time they were out of the top five). In the past three years, Alabama has been either #1 or #2 in defensive efficiency. One of Saban’s bread-n-butter schemes is his Rip/Liz or Match Cover 3. This single-high coverage is crucial to his run defense and is adjusted to defend the offensive counter move in the four verticals.

Many defensive coaches are familiar with Saban’s Cover 7 schemes that he uses to defend spread teams from a two-shell, but his Rip/Liz tends to be the “go-to” coverage during base downs. Even Clemson has become a heavy user of the Rip/Liz concept, using the scheme to dominate ACC opponents (and also being in the BCfToys’ top 10 in defensive efficiency the last 4 years). Needless to say, the Rip/Liz concept is an important scheme that every coach should familiarize themselves with, even Quarters coaches. What makes the coverage scheme unique is its structure and how Saban decides to spin the secondary (and protect the seams). It’s something defensive coordinators who base out of Quarters coverage understand – Never roll strong.

Saban’s Rip/Liz

One of the unique ways Saban protects his defense is in the way he inserts the extra box player. Cover 3 and any single-high coverage is designed to maximize the box players. By spinning, the defense has created overhangs and cover downs to the slot players. These overhangs enable the box players to eliminate their conflicts. In a typical Quarters defense, at least one linebacker will be in “conflict.” This conflict player is typically where spread offenses attempt to attack the defense with RPOs. In the illustration of a typical Quarters defense below, the Will LB is the conflict player. He must fill the open “B” gap while covering down to the slot. Saban and teams that base out of Rip/Liz reduce the conflict for the Will by spinning the safety to his side over top the slot (DS).

99-1-2-3

In Rip/Liz, the weakside safety is usually the spinning safety. By spinning weak, Saban is ensuring that his front side pass distribution is intact. Versus a basic 2×2 set this allows the ILB closest to the RB to vacate the box if the RB flares because the backside safety can fold into the box vs a QB run and in the pass the Will can handle the middle hole. Where the weak spin helps is against single WR sets (3×1/2×1). Many teams will choose to spin to the Trips side or the passing strength, but this can be dangerous because the defense loses an overhang to the boundary (and exposes the backside CB to a one-on-one matchup). Continue reading “Learning How to Spin – Adapting Saban’s Rip/Liz”

5 Tips For Blitzing From The Secondary

MQ discusses 5 things to remember when blitzing from the secondary.

Utilizing the secondary in blitz packages is one of the most underutilized tools in a defensive coordinator’s toolbox. As many DC’s will point out, blitzing from the secondary will expose the defense to man-to-man coverage, but if used correctly (and in the right situations) a secondary blitz can hit home. When offenses create pass protection schemes they use the box numbers in front of them to divvy out responsibilities. Whether it is Big-on-Big (BOB), slide, or zone protection, the secondary is rarely accounted for in pass pro. Knowing this, and utilizing the secondary in pressure packages, can give the defense an added advantage and lead to QB pressures or sacks.

Using the secondary near the box is not only for the pass. Much like pass pro, some offenses do not account for the secondary in the box. This can be used to the defense’s advantage. Putting a secondary player near the box and knowing he will not be accounted for is an automatic win for the defense. The use of “trapping” the secondary near the box can also be used to confuse “check-with-me” teams. By placing a secondary player near the line of scrimmage (LOS), the offense must decide if the defense is blitzing or will drop the player back into coverage. By utilizing the secondary in pressure packages a DC can create a simple confusing alignment that offenses have to respect. If done right, using the secondary to leverage the boundary can add to the box numbers without spinning to single-high and exposing the defense to verticals down the seam (or a LB guarding a speedy slot WR).

Below, MQ explains 5 things to remember when blitzing from the secondary:  Continue reading “5 Tips For Blitzing From The Secondary”

“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”

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).

| CreateSpace | Amazon | Kindle |

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”

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”

Defending Trips – Special Coverage

If the offense won’t throw to #1, lock him up and reduce the field.

When defending a team that runs Trips it is important for the defense to have multiple coverage options. Depending on how an offense chooses to attack a defense the selection of the right coverage can be crucial. Being able to switch from base coverage to base coverage allows the defense to keep the offense on its toes. If a defense only runs one base coverage against Trips, offenses will quickly find a way to exploit it. This fact alone should encourage a defensive staff to carry multiple coverages into a game and be able to use them when the opportunity arises.

Many times offenses use the #1 receiver as a decoy or chooses to run him off to create a void so the #2 or #3 WR can run an out route into space. One way to counteract the nonuse of #1 and outs by #2 or #3 is to run Special Coverage. Unlike Stress where the Sam is blind to what the #3 WR is doing, Special eliminates the #1 completely and reduces the field. The Sam takes on the responsibility of a Two-Read CB. His eyes are squarely on #2 and will carry the vertical of #2 if the offense runs vertical routes. Like Stress, the key player is the Sam linebacker and his ability to run with a vertical route. Eliminating #1 puts the Sam on an island with #2. As stated earlier, having options in coverage is important to defending the spread. A defense must be able to adapt to any situations and adjust to any formation/scheme thrown at it.  Continue reading “Defending Trips – Special Coverage”

Packaging Your Blitz Calls by Formation

How to formation your call sheet.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how to formation your blitz calls, as well as packaging different calls that are similar (click HERE for the original article – Formation Your Defense ). The best way to approach packaging blitzes/pressures is to create a master list and sort blitzes that are from the same tree. For instance, all blitzes that send an edge pressure from one of the outside linebackers can be lumped together because they are mirrors of each other. The next step is to draw them up against basic formations and decide if you like the look of one pressure over another. In the truest sense, this is blitzing to formation, or BTF.

Blitzing to Formation

05-side-by-side

Each BTF stems from a base blitz and that blitz is adjusted to defend each formation it sees. An example of an adjustment is a defensive coordinator may not want to send an edge blitz into the face of a TE when coming up against 11 personnel. A better alternative would be to blitz the openside versus a TE. That rule can be carried throughout the packaged blitz call. By packaging the blitzes, a DC can eliminate long call sheets and dense verbiage. Against spread teams that tempo, seconds matter. I’ve been asked several times what my call sheet looks like, or what did it look like for Coach Bennett at Baylor. I’ve never used one, and Bennett kept the sheet in his pocket. Packaging your blitzes eliminates the call sheet altogether because you have you bread-n-butter calls already memorized, and they attack the formation how you want it because you taught your players to adjust to the formation (the definition of BTF). Continue reading “Packaging Your Blitz Calls by Formation”

Defending Jet Motion

Don’t take the bait. Don’t get out leveraged.

01-auburn

The jet motion is a great leveraging tool that offenses use to either move the defense (to counter the opposite way) or cut them off (speed kills). Auburn under Malzahn has utilized the jet motion to create deception and outmaneuver opponents. The speed at which the jet motion attacks, forces the defense to recognize the motion and adjust accordingly. Because the offense is using a fast motion, the defense is forced to plus alignments or spin an extra player down to the side the motion is moving. Many times, an offense uses their best athlete on the jet motion to focus even more attention on the movement.  Offenses can even use the jet motion as a decoy because the defense has to honor the motion. To gain width, or to freeze an OLB/DE, offenses will send a jet motion to one side and run a play going away. This “freezing” of the defense allows an extra lineman to climb to the next level. This focus causes tunnel vision and can lead to exposure away from the direction of the motion.

Offenses use motion as a leverage tool. The Slot-T version of the spread, which Auburn runs, uses the jet motion to move the defense into compromising positions. Every 03-auburndefensive coach knows that when an offense uses motion (especially jet motion), the defense is forced to adjust promptly to the new formation. As stated earlier, the speed of the jet motion can make defenses over rotate to counteract the quick rotation of the offense. For many defensive coordinators, it is easier to rotate safeties (spin) than to bump linebackers because of the tempo at which the WR or slot is running. The introduction of unbalanced formations (X-off) and the utilization of the quarterback in the run game have made it more difficult for defenses to defend jet motion teams. In the picture above, Auburn used an unbalanced set to attack the Alabama defense. Out of the stack set shown, the offense can run a double lead jet stretch, running back counter weak, jet power read with two lead blockers or any QB run they choose. With so many play variations off of one formation and motion, it is no wonder many spread teams are using this type of motion to build whole offenses around. Any time the QB becomes a runner, the defense is stressed even more. The added value that the jet motion gives teams is undeniable. Continue reading “Defending Jet Motion”

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”

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”

“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″