Sparty is known for its Press Quarters coverage & stingy defense. MQ reviews one of the best 4-3 Quarters defenses around.
When running a Quarters system, the Michigan St. Spartans are a go-to when looking for quality ideas. On the surface, the Spartans defense looks simplistic but has had major carryover throughout the years. Outside of the 2016 anomaly (#104 in Defensive Efficiency and 2-10), the Spartans have fielded one of the better defensive units in the country. The high water mark coming in 2018 when they finished #3 overall in DEff. Head Coach Mark Dantonio has kept the defense as one of the better units in the country even without his long-time side-kick in Pat Narduzzi (Pitt. HC and former Spartan DC) and losing another long-time assistant in Harlon Barnett (current Florida St. DC).
Narduzzi, on the other hand, has not fared as well as Dantonio. The Panther defenses fielded by Pitt have consistently been in the bottom half of all defenses in the country. Pitt’s four-year high water mark came in 2018 with a DEff finishing #65 (the previous three years? ’15 – 74th, ’16 – 97th, and ’17 – 74th). Narduzzi has yet to find the same recipe he had in East Lansing. The jury is still out on Barnett, who’s inaugural Florida St. defense finished 50th in DEff.
One major issue with the scheme Dantonio has been running forever is the overhang defender. In a traditional 4-3 defense, the field overhang (Sam) is most likely not going to be a Nickle type body, but rather a true LB. Although probably the most athletic LB and paying to the field, he is not going to be responsible for carrying the vertical of #2. The bigger body actually works in the Spartans’ advantage. Most defenses are trying to get “smaller” at that position and put a true cover man to the passing strength. Like any modern defense, the Spartans have the ability to put a true Ni at Sam, but Dantonio opts to stay with the bigger body near the box. Leading up to their 2015 Cotton Bowl match-up, Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban detailed the difficulty of defending a bigger body on the perimeter:
“…we could not block the guy, couldn’t block the linebacker because he was a bigger guy than what we were used to seeing. We need to be able to make those kinds of blocks this year because when a guy cheats in the box, you need to throw the ball out there so that he has to get out there and he can’t cheat in the box because you can’t block them all if you allow them to do that.” – Saban, AL.com
Continue reading “Master Class – Michigan St. Part 1 (2018)”
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”
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”
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”
MatchQuarter’s guide to breaking down your opponent’s run data.
Of the two play types, breaking down the run concepts is much easier than the pass break down. There is less individual player variance and most run concepts are blocked relatively similar across offensive playbooks. The front of a defense many times will dictate the types of gap and option plays a defense might see. When looking to break down the run it is important for defenses to consider what defensive schemes are showing up in their opponent break down. If the teams in a league or district all run similar defensive schemes then the breakdown will stay relatively true across opponents. It is when teams run different fronts that the run breakdown can give false tendencies. One thing a defensive staff must keep in mind is how offenses change run schemes when facing a four-down front and a three-down front.
In order to keep the breakdown streamlined and efficient, each data point must help the staff paint a clear picture of what the offense is doing. Much like pass concepts, each offensive type (Slot-T, Air Raid, Pro Spread, etc.) has a unique way of blocking traditional runs. Formations add to the variations in blocking schemes as well. For instance, in a two-back power, the offense may choose to “J” block with the H-back and down block with the Tackle, while another offense may insert the H-back as a lead blocker and out-block with the Tackle. Each play is Power, but a defense needs to know the difference in blocking schemes. Luckily, most offenses choose a single blocking scheme and stick with it (therefore, no need to tag the variation), but when doing self-scout, it is important to be able to sort the Powers altogether and the variations between them. Even a play like Counter can be run several different ways from a two-back scheme. Is the offense pulling the Guard and Tackle, or are they using the H-back as the fold player? Add RPOs and a defensive coordinator can have a lot of information on one line. A defensive staff must have a structured, almost scientific, way of breaking down an opponent. Continue reading “Breaking Down the Run”
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). Even 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”