Defending Split Zone

Ideas on combating a simple yet effective play.

Inside zone is not a new play to defensive coordinators; neither is the split zone, but it can give defenses fits if not fit up correctly. In its simplicity, it is a creative play to challenge a defense. Unlike its zone counterpart, the split zone creates an extra gap. The play itself is much like the counter without the pulling guard. When offenses run counter the linebackers can react to the pulling guard and fit the extra gaps. The split zone forces the linebackers to fit their gaps. This puts pressure on the secondary (mainly the safeties) to ensure their fits are correct.

In the clip below, Iowa St. runs a gap plug blitz and the defensive end to the H-back runs up the field to hold the “C” gap. The out block by the “H” creates an extra gap. The safety to the play should have fit the inside shoulder of the “H” because the DE was taking the outside. Instead, the safety stays outside and is blocked out, leading to Baylor’s first score of the day. Bottom line, Split Zone has to be treated as though it is a gap play (think power/counter) or a defense will be gashed.

Teams that run inside zone are looking for the cutback. Versus a zone play, the linebackers have to fill their gaps (there is no puller). The offensive line creates a wall and allows the running back to cut back to the open weak side. In the clip above, ISU was running a run stop blitz, but because the safety didn’t fit his gap, it led to a touchdown.

Teams that run split zone and the read-option offshoot, need to be played as though they are gap scheme heavy teams. Add RPO’s to this play, and it puts tremendous pressure on a defense, all from a simple zone scheme. There is hope, much like the Zone Read, a defense can attack this play on the principles of the offense. Continue reading “Defending Split Zone”

Leveraging the Boundary

Using the boundary CB and Safety to confuse RPO and check-with-me teams.

Basing out of a defense that has split field coverage has its advantages when it comes to 2×1 and 3×1 sets. Many spread offenses split the field themselves, only reading one side of the formation. This allows defenses to take advantage of the one read RPO systems that many spread teams utilize. No matter what the defense throws at a split field match quarters team, it can align in the correct coverage. Another way to protect the defense is to formation the defensive play calls.

The single receiver and slot receivers are the main targets for RPO spread teams. They use the leverage of the secondary against the defense, reading dropping safeties and the depth of the corner. The single WR side usually sees the quick hitch or slant off of play action. Teams like Baylor use the leverage to RPO vertical choice routes. A defense can confuse the QB by playing with the leverage of the secondary pre-snap. This may seem like single-high to the untrained eye, but with a split field coverage scheme, a defensive coordinator can change the leverage to the boundary (single receiver side) and still run the base quarters scheme.

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Three Run Down Stop Calls

Establish a plan for attackig run downs.

The best option on the first play of a drive against most offenses is to line up in your base and see how the offense is planning on attacking the defense for that series. The objective for any defense is to stay ahead of the chains on 1st Down and make the offense work for the rest. Calling a defense is easy when the offense has its back against the wall on 3rd and Long. It is the in-between downs (2nd/3rd and medium), that a defensive coordinator earns his paycheck.

The medium downs are truly the “gray area” of football. Blitzing on these downs is crucial to staying ahead of the chains. Get too aggressive and the defense can give up a big play through the air. A missed gap assignment could lead to an explosive play on the ground. Stay too passive/static and a defense can watch as the offense slowly trots down the field. Like anything, there has to be a happy medium.

All blitzes are not designed the same either. There is a blitz for every situation, and it is the role of a defensive coordinator to call them at the correct time. The focus of this article is to highlight three run-down stop calls every DC needs to have on their call sheet.  Continue reading “Three Run Down Stop Calls”

Defending the Power Read

Defending one of the Spread’s toughest plays.

The Power Read is one of the Spread’s hardest plays to defend because it stresses the techniques taught by most defensive coaches, and stretches the field horizontally (stretch) as well as vertically (Q-Power). Any time an offense can attack both planes of a defense it is going to stress the defense’s core principles. Unlike a basic QB power, where the RB blocks out on the defensive end and a guard pulls for the ILB, the Power Read plays on the flow read of the ILB.

The RB takes a stretch path and heads for the edge. This “flow” stresses the discipline of the ILB’s eyes. Most defensive coaches will teach the ILBs to read the guard while stepping to their gap. As the ILB sees the guard pull, his eyes go to the flow of the RB, which is horizontal and fast (Stretch!). This flow “tricks” the ILBs to think the play is heading to the edge, but the offense is reading elsewhere. Instead of reading the backside end like the Zone Read, the Power Read uses the front side DE as the read man and attacks his fit. The “inverted veer,” as some call the Power Read forces the D-line to play smart and stay sound and disciplined in their option fits. Below is a look at an 11p Power Read:

 

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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”

Attacking the Zone Read

It’s one of the simpelist plays a Spread team can run, but devistating if not held in check.

When looking at the Spread’s most basic run, the Zone Read, one has to admire the simplicity of the play and how effective and efficient it is. Defenses for decades had the advantage against offenses because it was an 11 on 10 game (the offense minus a QB). The popular West Coast and Power “I” offenses of the ’80s and ’90s took the QB run out of the playbook, and defenses feasted as a result. As the Spread began to proliferate through the football ranks the defensive stranglehold started to show some cracks. The large “pluggers” that defenses had accumulated were now obsolete when put into space.

Coaches like Urban Meyer and Rich Rodriguez (see video below) began to tear through defenses in the early 2000s, and Vince Young ran to a Rose Bowl and National Championship behind the simplest of plays, the Zone Read. It is one of the first plays a Spread offense installs when putting together a playbook, and after close to two decades of Spread dominance, it’s still a defense killer. As football moves further into the age of the Spread offense, two things are clear; football has become a game about space and hybrid players. The Zone Read highlights this evolution greater than any other play. Ask a traditional Triple Option coach and when they watch a Spread option attack they see the Dive Option, just with the players spread across the field.

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How do you play Trips? Pt. 1

Using the Under Front to gain an edge versus Trips.

The 3×1 Dilemma

While working at Baylor, one of the first questions the defensive staff would get from visiting coaches was, “How do you defend Trips?” The Trips formation stresses the defense to the max. By using a 3×1 scheme, offensive coordinators have a plethora of options to attack a defense. If the defense stays in an Over front and tucks the Mike in the strong side “A” gap, the offensive coaches know that the defense is either in man or spinning to single high coverage.

By kicking the boundary safety to the field, the offense gets a guaranteed one-on-one match up with the boundary corner. Even if the defense is dropping an end, or slinging the weak side backer under the single receiver, the top can easily be blown off if the offense has a stud “X” receiver. Against RPO teams a tucked Mike gives offenses the option to read the field safety. This is where the “Spot Draw” can give fits to a defense that is playing an Over front.

v. Over
4-3 Over v. a “Spot Draw” RPO

Some teams will stay in an Over Front and “sink” the back side safety into the box. This is still the same concept of kicking to the Trips side, but inverted. Though the Mike is now able to cover down for the “snag” route, the defense has introduced a safety into the box, creating a third level conflict player. When teams do this they are exposing themselves to an even bigger play, the backside post shot. By creating a conflicted player in the secondary, the defense has put a CB in isolation. Most modern defenses are trying to find ways to stay in a two-shell to combat one-on-one matchups in the secondary. By sinking, the defense has eliminated a 5-yard route to replace it with a deep shot.

Over Special

Continue reading “How do you play Trips? Pt. 1”