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”

Episode 4 — MQ Quick Hits :: Cover Downs, Overhangs, & Box Players

An 8 min video on the “Art of X.”

The latest Quick Hits video dissects a defense’s structure and explains key elements to defending the spread. Key terms are discussed such as cover down (a defender’s relation to the slot), overhangs (force players outside the box), and “box” players (players within the frame of the offensive line). These elements discussed are crucial to the structure of any defense and understanding how the offense relates and attacks these players is important to stopping any offense.

Continue reading “Episode 4 — MQ Quick Hits :: Cover Downs, Overhangs, & Box Players”

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”

Teaching Gap Exchanges & Defending the Zone Read

Teach the LBs to read their anchor points & play assignment football.

Without moving the front on a line stunt, a defensive coordinator can set up the fits to create gap exchanges and stay sound against zone read teams. Even if a team is running a simple inside zone scheme, teaching gap exchanges between the front seven can allow the front to “cut-off” the runningback’s path and force a cutback to free hitting linebacker. Understanding the structure of a front is key for any defense to be successful. Teaching the LBs to read their “anchor points” can allow the defense to be fluid against zone schemes. Defensive lineman must know their gap assignments just as well as the LBs. In the age of spread, it is important for the front seven to understand how each gap is going to be fit and how each player’s movements effects the link behind them (DL-LB-Secondary). All great defenses start with a solid technical structure.

Spread offenses want to attack the open “B” gap and the conflicted LB. The zone read is nothing more than a modified Dive Option. Add a bubble route (or any receiver screen) and the offense is running a modern version of the Triple Option (the offense can use orbit motion to create the same look too). 01-titleEven if the offense is aligned in a spread set, option structure is still there. As a DC starts to game plan and create a defense to defend a spread attack, he must look at a zone-read heavy offense as though he was attacking a Triple Option attack. Someone has to take the dive, the QB, and the pitch. How a DC chooses to set the front will determine who carries the ball versus a zone read/option team. In the diagram to the left, the defense is set up in an Over Front to a 10 personnel 2×2 set. The Sam can cover down to the slot because he does not have a box fit. The Mike and Will each have a gap to hold versus a run. Since the front is set to the RB (5 and 3 technique), the most likely scenario versus a zone read is a handoff (dive), the Will folds into his box position and the Sam takes the bubble (pitch) away from the play. By setting the front to the back, the DC has created a predictable situation in which the QB will hand the ball off to the RB. Just on alignment alone, a DC can force the offense’s hand. Defending zone-read heavy teams is all about cover downs and changing the “B” gap. The most important decision a DC can make versus spread teams that run read/option plays is to decide who is the worst ball carrier, and force that player to carry the load. Continue reading “Teaching Gap Exchanges & Defending the Zone Read”

MQ’s Link Book | #ArtofX

Find everything you need in one place.’s Philosophy of Football

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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

Alignments/Specific Coverages

  1. Structuring Your Defense – The Front
  2. Running Dime as Your Base
  3. Defending the Air Raid with “Steal” Coverage
  4. “Read” Coverage (20p Field Robber)
  5. MQ’s Simple 3-Down Dime Package

Quick or “Pop” Motions

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

Defending Spread Formations

  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. Teaching the Safeties
  2. Teaching the Corners
  3. Daily Musts for DBs
  4. Match Quarters Pass Distributions
  5. LB Philosophy and Fundamentals

3-4 Resources ::

  1. The Okie Front
  2. Defending Modern Spread from Okie
  3. Defending 11p from a 3-4
  4. The Tite Front (303/404)
  5. 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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