Mike Elko talks building a championship defense & defening RPOS.
Building a Championship Defense
I thought it was refreshing to hear a coach talk about the overvaluation of the defensive scheme as it refers to winning games. As coaches, we can get hung up on trying to be something that we are not, searching for the latest blitz or coverage package, or too focused on what other (“better”) teams are doing schematically. When we do that as coaches we lose sight on what defensive football really boils down to, tackling and pursuit.
Yes, there are some schemes that are better than others, but there are no “catch-alls” in football. What may work for Mike Elko at A&M might not work for me at Midlothian HS. That being said, we can all find value in fundamentals, and it is important to understand survival bias and how it affects the way we approach our work as coaches. Schemes will always evolve, but no defense can be great without relentless pursuit and great tackling.
The opening line in Elko’s clinic was a statement regarding the overall defensive scheme, “Forget it,” he stated. As long as defenses line up correctly and there is an overemphasis on the little things (fundamentals), any defense can be successful. Elko suggested there are five objectives of a championship defense:
- All out effort
- Angle of pursuit
- Tackling and turnovers
- Eliminate fatals (80% of TD drives have an explosive play of 20+)
- Don’t sacrifice fundamentals and focus on stopping the run
The overall effort of a defense has to be cultural and cannot be compromised. This is something that you see from all the top defensive minds. Belichick has his “Do your job” mantra, Saban talks about an unrelenting commitment to excellence, and Don Brown has a “no tourist” policy. Elko follows suit when regarding effort and talked about how that culture has to be created. It’s human nature to seek the path of least resistance, but it is the coach’s responsibility to push his players to do better.
Elko talked of a story about his first practice at A&M. It took the 1’s 11 tries to get the effort he wanted during his most basic pursuit drill (5-cone pursuit). It is a non-negotiable for him and starts with what he refers to as a “Smart Swarm.”
Pursuit comes down to a few simple things, judging angles and using your leverage (where is my help?). Leverage is something that is tremendously important and players must know where they are on the field and how others are reacting off of them. For example, it isn’t smart for a CB to rip inside when he has to keep outside leverage. Understanding how each link on the chain reacts to each other is important when creating a swarm mentality. Continue reading “Lone Star Clinic Notes – Mike Elko Texas A&M (2019)”
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”
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”
How to adjust to TE sets without a natural adjuster.
Spread and Pro-Style offenses utilize a Tight End versus three-down defenses because the defense lacks a natural adjuster. Unlike a four-down defense that can distribute their anchor points evenly across the formation, the 3-4 lacks the extra lineman to defend the extra gap (hence the name “Odd Front”). When faced with an 11 personnel formation, many 3-4 defensive coordinators choose to spin to single-high coverage to gain an extra man in the box. Another adjustment for many DCs in this situation is to attach the outside linebacker to the TE’s side. With the loss of a coverage man and overhang, the DC is forced to spin. When defending an 11 pers. offense from a 4-2-5 or 4-3, these little adjustments aren’t needed because the anchor points are evenly distributed and don’t need to be created.
In a four-down scheme, the defensive ends act as the walls of the box. When a TE is introduced into the formation, the DE to the TE’s side moves to a 9 technique (unless it is Trey and then he is in a 7 or 6i). The four defensive linemen allow the defense to stay even and adjust with the linebackers and secondary. The evenness of the four-down is why many spread teams attack 4-2-5 and 4-3 defenses from 20 pers., utilizing an H-back. In 20 pers., the offense can use the “H” to attack either side of the defense, reading the overhangs to determine what play to run. If the “H” was attached to the formation (TE) he would lose his two-way go.
Defending 11 pers. formations from a 3-4 boil down to understanding how certain fronts react to the extra gap. From a single-gap fit 3-4, a defense can easily adjust to TE sets and stay within a two-shell scheme. The lack of an adjuster is an issue, which is why many 3-4 teams that face the spread, and Pro-Style spread, choose to defend from an Okie Front because it reacts much like the four-down Under Front. Using the offense’s formations as a guide, it is easy to build simple rules within the defense, setting the strength and when to attach the OLBs, to alleviate the issues seen in many 3-4 defenses. Combining an Okie Front with a match quarters scheme can adapt and flex with any formation an offense throws out, it just boils down to how a DC chooses to line up.
Continue reading “Defending 11 Personnel from a 3-4”
Defensive schemes to combat spread offenses.
Introducing MQ’s first full-length book, Cautious Aggression: Defending Modern Football.
Buy it on immediately on CreateSpace, Amazon, 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:
- Argument for Two-High
- Defending the Modern Spread Offense
- Defending Run/Pass Options
- Systematic Creativity of a Quarters Defense
- The Art of Match Quarters
- All About the Cover Down
- Designing a Modern Defense
- Setting the Strength
- Defending Formations into the Boundary
- 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.
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”
A 5 minute video on the “Art of X.”
This is a brief video on how to defend the modern spread attack by utilizing the structure of the Over Front. It covers everything from setting the strength to combating RPOs.
Continue reading “Episode #2 — MQ Quick Hits :: The Over Front”
Offenses use Flare & A-Behind motion to force the defense to move. Don’t get out leveraged.
Quick motions are a great way to get the defense out leveraged. The fast motion is like eye candy for linebackers and safeties, using the speed of the receiver to get the defense to over shift. Jet motion in particular forces the defense to try and cut off the motion because of the tempo at which the motion attacks. To combat Jet motions many defenses turn to spinning towards the motion so the overhang can force a cutback. Though this technique can work in the shorthand, spinning to the motion tends to leave teams vulnerable away from the spin safety.
As offenses have evolved, quick motions have become an integral part of spread concepts. In a traditional motion, the WR changes from one side of the formation to an another on a flat path. The speed of the WR depends on the route he will run. For the most part, traditional motions have the WR jog across the formation. As the spread has evolved from traditional motion to jet motions, another way offenses have learned to attack how defenses react to motion is by flaring the running back out of the backfield. This type of quick motion forces the LBs to push and gain width between their run responsibility and the man they are responsible for in the pass. This width creates conflict, and as all defensive coaches know, offenses love conflicted players. Continue reading “Defending Flare/Quick Motion”
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”
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 attack 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 that, 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”
Don’t take the bait. Don’t get out leveraged.
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 defensive 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 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.
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”