MQ Film Study: Defending Unbalanced Trips (2018 Michigan State)

Using Quarters to adjust to one of the most popular ways the Spread goes unbalanced.

The use of unbalanced formations is nothing new. Whether it is a simple Tackle-over to create a four-man surface or the use of an unbalanced open set (no attached TE) to get the defense to roll its coverage, unbalanced formations challenge a defense to stay sound and keep its numbers even on either side of the ball. One popular Spread unbalanced formation is the two-back Unbalanced Trips set that places three WRs to one side, yet keeps a two-back structure in the box. This can be a great way to out leverage a defense because it creates conflict.

The two-back set forces defenses to acknowledge the offense’s ability to run the ball. Adding three WRs to one side forces the defense to leverage the secondary to a perceived passing strength. This conflict is what leads to issues when facing a team that utilizes this type of unbalanced formation. In an earlier article, I highlighted ways to defend the top Spread unbalanced sets. One of them was the 20 pers. “X-off” formation usually paired with Jet motion to gain a Quads look to one side (below).

01-20p

This formation, in particular, forces a defense to acknowledge the leverage of the two WRs while challenging the defense to see that one of them is ineligible. The backside “X” WR now has the ability to go in motion. By using a quick motion like a Jet motion, the offense can now conflict the defense. One great way to do this is by using a BAsh, or “back-away,” run scheme. This split-run action can have a devastating effect on a defense’s run stopping ability if the defense over rotates the secondary or is overly aggressive to the direction of the motion.

01 Unbal 20p Q CTR Bash Jet

In the above diagram, the Jet motion challenges the defense to honor the fast pace of the WR. If the defense overreacts, the Q-Counter will hit home. Pop motions are great eye-candy used by offenses to gain leverage on the defense. In the play above, the QB can either read the DE or the Mike ‘backer depending on who is more aggressive. Either read works well, and the offensive coordinator can switch the read at any time. If an offense has a “box read” (counting the number of defenders between the tackles), the QB could see an apexed Sam and throw a WR screen, especially if the CB is backed off. The key to defending these plays from an unbalanced set is understanding numbers. Continue reading “MQ Film Study: Defending Unbalanced Trips (2018 Michigan State)”

The “Nub” Side

Defending single-width formations.

There are certain formations that pop up during a season that can give a defensive coordinator pause. Unbalanced sets, for instance, are used by many offenses to force 16 to 18-year-old athletes to think on their feet or force a defensive coordinator to burn a timeout. Pro spread offenses use tackle-over sets to confuse the defense and gain leverage, while 10 personnel spread and two-back offenses utilize unbalanced sets to work quick motion from the single receiver side (“X-off”). Though “nub” formations are not unbalanced, they are very similar and continuously give defenses trouble. When the formation is combined with RPO and Air Raid schemes, it can put immense pressure on DCs.

Single-width formations are paradoxical. On one side an offense has multiple receivers, while on the other it has a running formation. “Nub” formations force the defense to acknowledge a true “run” side, while also defending multiple receiver formations. Offenses that utilize TE sets can create leverage issues or force a secondary player to be left by his lonesome against a bigger player. Many defenses will choose to spin against “nub” formations to gain extra men in the box and replace lost overhangs.

As modern football progresses, more offenses are choosing to go away from under center formations. This allows the offense to have a two-way go in a Pistol formation or a “read” side in an RPO offense from the gun. There is nothing more threatening than an offense that is powering the ball down the field while implementing RPOs. Packaging plays forces the defense to stay even and protect the run fits and pass distribution, all at the same time. Instead of spinning, a defense needs to stay in a two-shell look and develop a game plan dependent on the tendencies and personnel preference of the offense.  Continue reading “The “Nub” Side”

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”