MQ Film Study: Defending 20p – Minnesota vs Michigan (2017)

MQ takes a look at how Don Brown’s defense handles 11/20 pers. formations.

One of the toughest personnel groupings in football to defend is the 11/20 personnel Spread offense that utilizes an H-back/TE hybrid to create extra gaps and a multitude of formations. Teams that have a hybrid TE can line him up in the backfield, at slot, or on the line. The flexibility that an H-back brings to a multiple Spread offense is evident in the way the college game is evolving. More and more offenses are turning to hybrid “big” bodies to give defenses different looks on any given play. Going form a two-back three WR formation one play and a Pro Spread TE formation on the other.

One formation, in particular, is the weapon of choice for many teams that run Bash concepts, or “back away” runs, the 20 pers. “sniffer” look. One advantage offenses have by using a “sniffer” H-back is that he has a two-way-go. He can insert into an open gap (Iso), kick out the end man on the line (Power), pull along with another lineman (counter), or arc to seal a linebacker. There are a plethora of ways an offense can attack a defense using this grouping and formation. The addition of an extra blocker into the box also forces some teams to spin the secondary to add extra men in the box (which allows the offense to blow open the top on an isolated secondary player).

Don Brown, the Defensive Coordinator for the Michigan Wolverines, used a unique style of defense (shown below) to combat the Minnesota Gophers multiple 11/20 pers. running attack. The Gophers were entering the game 4-4 and looking to bounce back after a close loss to Iowa (10-17), while the Wolverines were looking to continue their winning ways having beaten Rutgers the previous week (35-14). Minnesota’s offense under new head coach P.J. Fleck is a mixture of TE sets and Spread sets.

When looking at the scheme Brown chose to defend the Gophers 11/20 pers. formations, one will notice the ultra aggressiveness towards the run and the lack of “coverage” for the H-back. Brown also had several change-ups and automatics to motion and the different formations the Gophers threw at the Wolverines. Below is a diagram of how Brown blitzed the Viper anytime the H-back motioned away.

01 [MIvMN] Base DEF

Coach Brown during his clinic talk at the 2018 Lone Star Clinic noted the absence of the TE in the passing game during the Big 10 season. Outside of Troy Fumagalli at Wisconsin and Mike Gesiki at Penn State, one will be hard-pressed to find a TE that merits an extra man in the passing game. This allowed the Wolverines to add an extra defender in the box against most Big 10 opponents without worrying about an “H-Pop” or a TE streaking down the middle of the field.

Throughout the game, Brown’s defense was able to contain the Gophers running game, limiting them to just under 100 yards. As stated, Minnesota rarely used the TE/H-back in the passing game allowing Coach Brown to be ultra-aggressive to the run. Though the lack of an extra defender opened his secondary up to deep shots outside (and some did hit home), the Wolverine defense was able to limit Demry Croft, the Gophers QB, to a measly stat line of 5/12 for 74 yards passing. Below is a film study of how Coach Brown and the Wolverine defense defended the Gophers multiple 20 pers. looks.  Continue reading “MQ Film Study: Defending 20p – Minnesota vs Michigan (2017)”

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”

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 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”

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 the Spread’s Unbalanced Sets

Ideas on countering the optical illusions of unbalanced formations.

Offenses use unbalanced formations to get the defense out leveraged. An offense does this by creating an extra gap by moving a guard or tackle to the opposite side of the formation. Unbalanced sets are optical illusions created by the extra lineman to one side. Teams can also use wide receivers when creating unbalanced sets. By putting a WR on the line and covering him up, the offense has now freed the single WR (“X”) so that he can motion across the formation. Many defenses refer to this set of unbalanced formations as “X-off” formations.Unlike pro style unbalanced formations that just shift the line one way or another with an extra guard or tackle, X-off formations use a player that is normally static in the motion game.

Unbalanced sets, in particular, are designed to be optical illusions to the defense. In a pro style (11 personnel) unbalanced, the defense is so used to seeing the same Center over and over, that they fail to realize the shift on the line and can’t identify the new three-man surface. This causes the defense to be a gap short and out-leveraged by the offense. In an unbalanced spread set (20 pers./10 pers. – mainly Trips), the offense uses the WRs to create the illusion. It can be hard to identify WRs on the line, especially when tempo is involved. The defense can be surprised by the jet motion from the “X” WR if an unbalanced set goes unnoticed.

Offenses can use quick huddles and tempo to throw off the defense when using unbalanced sets. Defense generally lineup off of personnel and identify key players on the offense (like the Center’s number or a slot WR). It is important to teach the front seven to identify the three-man surface when playing pro spread teams that use unbalanced out of their 11 pers. sets. When facing a spread team that uses WR unbalanced sets, the key is to identify if the single WR is off the ball. To the front side, the secondary players (and cover down) must identify if multiple WRs are on the ball.

Continue reading “Defending the Spread’s Unbalanced Sets”

Steal Coverage to Combat Air Raid Offenses

A “how to” guide to defending the Air Raid’s top pass concepts.

00-1-mtrush

With the birth of the Air Raid offense under Hal Mumme and its expansion under Leach, the Air Raid concept has flourished alongside the advancement of the spread in modern football. The Air Raid offense, in particular, is married well with the no-huddle concept and can be run out of multiple formations even with the added effect of tempo. True Air Raid offenses base out of 20, 10, and 11 personnel sets. Many of the concepts needed to run the offense utilize 2×2 and 2×1 sets to put pressure on the defense’s back seven.

The Air Raid offense and its vast offshoots still boil down to several basic concepts. The key to any Air Raid offense is the use of “triangle” and simple high-low reads. The offense has been used to rewrite many record books and its concepts are present in most modern spread offenses. The main way Air Raid teams attack a defense is the soft middle of the field left by vertical pushing routes with the outside wide receivers. This vertical push forces the safeties in a two-high look to climb with the outside WRs. The zone dropping linebackers are left to defend WRs coming from the opposite way behind their view. These simple crossing routes are deadly to a defense that cannot get support from the backside safety or simply spot drop. One way a defense can counteract the Air Raids propensity to attack the soft middle vacated by the boundary safety is to run “Steal” coverage.

Steal Coverage

Unlike “Read” Coverage that takes advantage of the offense attacking the front side triangle (think pick/flat/corner), “Steal” coverage uses the boundary safety as a “robber” for the crossing routes. Much like its sister versus Trips coverage “Solo,” Steal uses the boundary safety as a spy on a front side WR. The main objective of the DS in Steal is to read the crossing route and hold his ground in the window vacated by the Will LB. The diagram below demonstrates Steal Coverage:  Continue reading “Steal Coverage to Combat Air Raid Offenses”

Defending 20 Pers. With Read Coverage

Use a field “robber” scheme to defend 20 pers. pass schemes.

Defending the run versus 20 personnel is hard enough. Factor in offenses using this set to RPO the defense, it can be difficult for a defensive coordinator to decide how to attack it. Using multiple coverages, fronts, and stunts/pressures can keep an offense on its heels, but there has to be a plan. If a DC moves the Sam closer to the box and plays quarters behind, the offense can take advantage of the lack of cover down and throw out routes or stops all day. These routes play off of the leverage of the safety, which in quarters happens to be deep and inside. Spinning to the two receiver side leaves the offense vulnerable to the backside RPO or weakside run (lack of plus-one). A weak spin is sound and keeps the defense even, but still gives up the flat and backside choice route. 20 personnel is one of the hardest formations to defend because the offense has added an extra player to the box and can create a new gap on either side of the formation.

Staying Two-High

Playing Four-Press (Sky) to 20 pers. can be a great deterrent to offenses that utilize RPOs in their scheme. The pressing corners eliminate much of the route tree and force low percentage throws outside (ex. – Fades). The Down Safety to the boundary acts as a catch-all and plus-one versus the weakside run. In Sky, the boundary safety can “rob” the underneath of #1’s route and will drive on any slant. To the field, the Sam can cover down to the slot, essentially deterring bubble routes while the Cover (field) Safety fits off the Sam. The issue in Quarters versus 20 pers. is the outside flat to the field. If the Sam is aggressive to a run look (like he is in the Narduzzi/Dantonio scheme), the offense can take advantage of the Sky safety basically being in man coverage on the slot and the corner being run off by #1. Even versus an out route the Sam, who aligns inside (apex in Narduzzi’s Pitt defense – quick box force), can be frozen by a run read and late on the pass. See below:

02-sky-vs-sz-pap

In many 4-3 (apex cover down) schemes, the Sam linebacker is taught to gain a run read while relating off the slot WR. The problem with this technique is the Sam is late on out routes. If the Sam is over aggressive, the offense can take advantage of his vacated area. Late in the second quarter of the 2016 Pinstripe Bowl, Northwestern started to take advantage of Pitt’s aggressive Sam versus 20 and 11 pers and Narduzzi’s Press Quarters scheme. Northwestern turned to a Smash concept (stop/corner) to take advantage of an aggressive Sam and the inside leverage of the safety, but Narduzzi had checked to his Read Coverage or a field robber that disguises as Press Quarters. The Field Safety shifted to the outside of the slot as the QB gave his indicator. The outside leverage helped the safety defend the Corner route by the slot. The QB had to place the ball high and away leading to an incomplete pass.

On third down, Northwestern ran a Divide scheme (three verticals dividing the field into thirds) and took advantage of a blown coverage by the safety (Trap 2 Zone Blitz – roll strong & the safety didn’t “top” the fade), getting the Wildcats inside the Pitt 30 yard line.

Assuming Pitt would stay in their traditional quarters look, Northwestern turned to a zone RPO out of Trey to attack the crashing Sam and isolated safety. The QB read the Sam working into the box and flipped the ball out to the slot on a stop route. The safety missed the one-on-one tackle and the WR worked deeper into the Red Zone before being tackled. Northwestern would score on the next play, taking advantage of a missed assignment by the DE to the boundary and scoring on the bounce of a zone play. 14-3 Wildcats.

After Pitt scored quickly to bring the game to within four, Northwestern quickly turned back to attacking Pitt out of 11 pers. Trey. When the Wildcats lined up in 10 pers. 2×2 and motioned the H-back into the formation Narduzzi called a timeout. Out of the timeout, the Wildcats went back to the formation, but Narduzzi had changed the coverage to a Read Coverage. Assuming Narduzzi knew that Northwestern felt Pitt had made adjustments to the Trey set and was now switching to a new look, he called a quick timeout after seeing Northwestern align in 20 pers. Out of the timeout, Narduzzi switched to Read Coverage to combat Northwestern’s new set to take advantage of the soft spot to the outside in Pitt’s Quarters coverage. This small sequence highlights the constant cat-and-mouse game that is football and a great change-up coverage to split field quarters versus 20 pers.

Continue reading “Defending 20 Pers. With Read Coverage”

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”

Three RPOs – Three Stop Calls

Defending the Spread’s three top RPOs.

It is never too late to look for innovative ideas to stop RPOs. The game of football is changing on a yearly basis for defenses. Offensive coaches are finding interesting ways to combine plays, all while simplifying the playbook. It is amazing to think that one simple read-arc play shown below can have four different outcomes. The multiplicity that is a simple 20 personnel read-arc play combined with tempo can stress even the most experienced coordinator.

RPO 1

Defensive coordinators in the modern game have to prepare for all four plays shown above when deciding how to attack the formation shown. Add tempo into the mix, and to the untrained eye, it looks like the offense is running multiple plays. Offenses can even use the H-back and a hybrid slot to align in 11, 10, 20, or 30 pers. looks without subbing one play. That is a lot for a defense to handle.

A great example of how this particular formation and play can be used was seen in the 2013 BBVA Compas Bowl between Pitt and Ole Miss. Following a touchdown by Pitt in the 2nd Quarter, Ole Miss came out and ran one formation and the same play five times in route to a quick strike touchdown. Pitt never adjusted to the tempo and Ole Miss hit every available option on its way down the field (Inside Zone, Hitch, QB Keep, Bubble, & finally the Hitch read for a touchdown).

Defensive coaches need to have simple adjustments that can combat a multitude of different plays and formations. When facing tempo a DC needs to have simple, one word calls that can help the defense quickly align and attack. Tempo forces the defense to be vanilla and if reacting slowly, can get them out of alignment. It is important to have counters to the Spread offense’s top RPO play.

Continue reading “Three RPOs – Three Stop Calls”

Fitting up 20p Two-Back Power

Defending traditional two-back power sets.

Run Fits versus Two-Back Power

The power run game is not dead. As spread offenses proliferate through all divisions of football, the “Power” play is still a staple of many offenses. Defenses must be able to adapt to any formation without subbing players because of the tempo being thrown at them. This can cause a dilemma when a defense’s base scheme is a 4-2-5. When teams insert an “H”, or fullback, a defense does not have to spin to a single-high in order to gain an extra man in the box. Instead, use the natural structure of the 4-2-5/4-3 Hybrid to the defense’s advantage.

Continue reading “Fitting up 20p Two-Back Power”