Applying Saban’s Match 3 Principles to Split-Field Quarters Defenses.
Everyone can agree, Nick Saban knows defense. In fact, according to BCfToys.com, which rates college defenses on their efficiency and is “adjusted for the strength of opponent offenses faced,” has never placed Alabama outside of their top 10 in the past five years (low being #7 in 2014 – the only time they were out of the top five). In the past three years, Alabama has been either #1 or #2 in defensive efficiency. One of Saban’s bread-n-butter schemes is his Rip/Liz or Match Cover 3. This single-high coverage is crucial to his run defense and is adjusted to defend the offensive counter move in the four verticals.
Many defensive coaches are familiar with Saban’s Cover 7 schemes that he uses to defend spread teams from a two-shell, but his Rip/Liz tends to be the “go-to” coverage during base downs. Even Clemson has become a heavy user of the Rip/Liz concept, using the scheme to dominate ACC opponents (and also being in the BCfToys’ top 10 in defensive efficiency the last 4 years). Needless to say, the Rip/Liz concept is an important scheme that every coach should familiarize themselves with, even Quarters coaches. What makes the coverage scheme unique is its structure and how Saban decides to spin the secondary (and protect the seams). It’s something defensive coordinators who base out of Quarters coverage understand – Never roll strong.
One of the unique ways Saban protects his defense is in the way he inserts the extra box player. Cover 3 and any single-high coverage is designed to maximize the box players. By spinning, the defense has created overhangs and cover downs to the slot players. These overhangs enable the box players to eliminate their conflicts. In a typical Quarters defense, at least one linebacker will be in “conflict.” This conflict player is typically where spread offenses attempt to attack the defense with RPOs. In the illustration of a typical Quarters defense below, the Will LB is the conflict player. He must fill the open “B” gap while covering down to the slot. Saban and teams that base out of Rip/Liz reduce the conflict for the Will by spinning the safety to his side over top the slot (DS).
In Rip/Liz, the weakside safety is usually the spinning safety. By spinning weak, Saban is ensuring that his front side pass distribution is intact. Versus a basic 2×2 set this allows the ILB closest to the RB to vacate the box if the RB flares because the backside safety can fold into the box vs a QB run and in the pass the Will can handle the middle hole. Where the weak spin helps is against single WR sets (3×1/2×1). Many teams will choose to spin to the Trips side or the passing strength, but this can be dangerous because the defense loses an overhang to the boundary (and exposes the backside CB to a one-on-one matchup). Continue reading “Learning How to Spin – Adapting Saban’s Rip/Liz”
A comprhensive collection of MQ’s DB technique videos, clinics, and articles.
Much like MQ’s Link Book, this blog post has everything you need to implement Quarters coverage and understand the WHY behind how to teach it (and put it in your scheme). Starting with a brand new Quick Hits on the Slide technique and ending with a mini-clinic on what a safety “step-off” looks like, this page has everything you need. As more content is added to the main site pertaining to this topic I will add links here. So bookmark and enjoy!
MQ Quick Hits Ep. 8 – The Slide Technique
The latest edition of Quick Hits discusses the use of the slide (also known as a shuffle) technique. Used from an open stance, the slide technique is an essential technique for DBs that play in Quarters or off-man coverage schemes. The technique allows the DB to read his triangle (WR to QB) and easily flip his hips on vertical routes. Below the video are other resources on the topic that MQ has produced. The design of this “vlog” article is to be a “bookmark” resource for DB coaches.
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).
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”
Episode 6 describes the differences between pressures (5-man) and blitzing (6-man) and how it affects pass distributions. Understanding blitz structures are crucial for developing coverage concepts behind them. Knowledge is power.
A few weeks ago I wrote about one of the hardest formations to defend in football is the Spread’s 10 pers. 2×2 Pistol. With a two-way-go, the offense can easily access where it wants to attack the defense. The evenness of the set puts pressure on a defensive coordinator to be creative. The offense appears to have an advantage because it can dictate who carries the ball.
Whether a 3-down or a 4-down defense, in the middle of the field, the defense must be creative to create hesitation against “read” offenses. MQ’s latest Quick Hits discusses these issues and gives an example of how to defend a 10 pers. 2×2 Pistol set within a clinic setting. Come learn the “Art of X.”
The latest Quick Hits video dissects a defense’s structure and explains key elements to defending the spread. Key terms are discussed such as cover down (a defender’s relation to the slot), overhangs (force players outside the box), and “box” players (players within the frame of the offensive line). These elements discussed are crucial to the structure of any defense and understanding how the offense relates and attacks these players is important to stopping any offense.
In the first article, I detail the theory behind the concept and briefly go over the setup process. In “Building a Better Blitz,” I detail how to design and use formations to create an adaptive Zone Blitz. Packaging blitzes are nothing new. Many coaches understand the concept of “blitz the formation,” or BTF. Coaches like Belichick, Rex Ryan, and Saban use the offensive formation to determine how to attack.
This concept of “packaging” blitzes/pressures from the same tree allows the defense to adapt to any situation the offense may throw at it. Generally, the most common way defensive coordinators utilize BTF is in their “all out” or max blitzes. The easiest way to demonstrate the whole process is to actually create a blitz package.
Below is Dog Check, a single-dog (one linebacker) pressure. It is a five-man pressure that uses an edge blitz by the LBs and a simple line movement. Each pressure within the formation is named and is unique, but when combined together, the “check” can now adapt to any formation reduce the guessing. The adaptiveness and flexibility that checks give to a DC are invaluable. Being able to eliminate verbiage and guesswork can be the difference between a tackle for loss or a touchdown (especially when tempo is involved). Continue reading “MQ’s Single-Dog Blitz Package”
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”
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.
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
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.
The biggest issue facing defenses when defending 3×1 formations is the run/pass conflict of the Mike. No other player in a 3×1 formation has more on their plate than the leader of most defenses. In modern football, the age of a “plugger” at Mike is over. Each LB must be able to cover underneath routes and understand how their run fits relate to their pass drops. Defenses can no longer afford to drop their LBs to “zones” or landmarks. Each player is a link in a chain. As the spread becomes a permanent fixture in most regions’ football cultures, defenses are turning to match schemes to help alleviate the issues seen in traditional defenses.
Traditionally, teams have spun to the three-receiver side to allow the Mike to stay in the box, switching his responsibility of relating to the #3 receiver to “plugging” the middle of the formation. Eliminating this run/pass conflict helped defenses against the “spread-to-run” offenses but it opened them up to high percentage throws that could easily become fatals (TDs) when those offenses ran play -action. In the diagram below, an Over Cover 3 scheme is shown:
Right away, the main issue with Cover 3 or “kick” coverage to Trips is the backside corner is in man-to-man coverage with the single WR. Offenses traditionally have left their best receiver at the “X” because of this defensive scheme. The best offensive receiver on the field is lined up across from a player with little to no help. This can spell disaster for defenses. As the spread as evolved, offenses have developed reads for the third level. If a defense spins to a 3×1 formation (“kick”) the offense can easily check to a backside choice route depending on the leverage of the corner. For most, this is a post route ran right off the back of the kicking safety. This is a high percentage throw that can spell disaster for defenses. Continue reading “Defending 3×1 Formations – Solo Coverage”
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.)
This is a brief video on how to implement “soft” press or “catch” technique into your schemes. The clinic video explains everything from stance and alignment to why soft press is preferred over hard press.
If the offense won’t throw to #1, lock him up and reduce the field.
When defending a team that runs Trips it is important for the defense to have multiple coverage options. Depending on how an offense chooses to attack a defense the selection of the right coverage can be crucial. Being able to switch from base coverage to base coverage allows the defense to keep the offense on its toes. If a defense only runs one base coverage against Trips, offenses will quickly find a way to exploit it. This fact alone should encourage a defensive staff to carry multiple coverages into a game and be able to use them when the opportunity arises.
Many times offenses use the #1 receiver as a decoy or chooses to run him off to create a void so the #2 or #3 WR can run an out route into space. One way to counteract the nonuse of #1 and outs by #2 or #3 is to run Special Coverage. Unlike Stress where the Sam is blind to what the #3 WR is doing, Special eliminates the #1 completely and reduces the field. The Sam takes on the responsibility of a Two-Read CB. His eyes are squarely on #2 and will carry the vertical of #2 if the offense runs vertical routes. Like Stress, the key player is the Sam linebacker and his ability to run with a vertical route. Eliminating #1 puts the Sam on an island with #2. As stated earlier, having options in coverage is important to defending the spread. A defense must be able to adapt to any situations and adjust to any formation/scheme thrown at it. Continue reading “Defending Trips – Special Coverage”
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”
Using specific data fields to find tendencies in your opponent.
My main responsibility at Baylor was to be in charge of our opponent scouting. To anyone that knows me, I am a breakdown nerd and am content sitting in a dark room all day inputting data. To me, there is nothing more exciting than objectively looking at an opponent and inputting data to mine for tendencies. There is an art to breaking down an opponent, and everyone has a different way of doing it. The objective for this article is to explain my process and to hopefully help a few coaches along the way. Not everyone enjoys the breakdown process like I do or even knows what to do with all the analytical data. I’ll try and show you a process that has worked for me and highlights tendencies within an offense. Like anything, to truly understand something you must know the “why” behind it. My goal is to explain the process in a way that makes sense to a novice.
The key to a great opponent scouting system is to approach it like a science and keep it concise. In order to get the most out of your breakdowns, you have to find a true medium between too little information and too much information. To find that perfect medium you have to understand the limitations of your staff and define what you need to know, so when you sit down to create a hit chart and cut-ups the information is easy to use. If you approach a breakdown like you are looking for a needle in a haystack (Ex. – creating a data column for every single data point possible), you can bog your staff down and get lost in data. During my three years at Baylor, I felt confident we developed that perfect medium for what our defensive coordinator, Phil Bennett, needed in order to be successful on the field. After being back the high school ranks for three years, I feel even more confident that I have found a way to break down opponents concisely while not losing myself in data points.
Lining up to an Ace set can be one of the most difficult formations for any defensive coordinator. The two extra gaps created by the TE’s force the defense to account for them in the run fits. If the offense decides to line both receivers up on the same side (Trey), it creates a three-receiver formation, with the added pressure of an extra gap to the strong side. Away from the Trey side, there is a “nub” TE (TE with no WR) and another gap created that the defense has to account for and subsequently defend (versus a traditional 11 personnel set, the defense can easily address the newly created gap). The concern in 11 personnel shifts to how a defense addresses the cover down to the two-speed side.
When offenses run Ace Trey, the defense has to account for two extra gaps as well as the cover down on the two-speed side. If the offense runs its sets from the pistol, they literally have two strong points of attack. The Ace grouping of formations is very similar to the Diamond in the fact the offense can max protect and run with extra blockers from an even set, essentially gaining a two-way-go and the ability to attack the side the offense feels it has the most advantage. Unlike the Diamond formation (inverted Bone), where the extra gaps can be created by the backfield post-snap, the Ace formations establish the gaps before the snap of the ball. This immediate addressing of the gaps forces the defense to show its cards. Continue reading “Lining Up to Ace”
A clinic on the pedagogy of match quarters. Pt. 1 — Teaching the CBs.
Teaching the Corners
Four Read (Sky)
The corner’s alignment in Sky should be front toe at six yards and shaded to the “inside eye” of the receiver. The term “inside eye” means if the CB were to walk up to the WR his outside eye should look directly into the inside eye of the WR. This allows the CB to hold inside alignment without giving up too much space in between. Six yards is a good depth because it is not too deep that it automatically gives up the underneath and not too close that the CB ends up in “no man’s land.” The CB’s stance is an “open” stance or the inside toe on the heel of the outside foot. I’m not a big proponent of getting the butt to the sideline and shuffling out (basketball style) because match quarters is different than true zone. It is essentially a hybrid man scheme, where the CB takes the #1 WR a majority of the time (and the safeties bracket the #2 WR with the outside linebackers). I like to keep my corners square in order to break on the out and slant routes. I find that as players shuffle out basketball style and butt to the sideline, they start working to the sideline and give up the advantage of inside alignment. The point of match quarters is to force the least percentage throw, the fade or deep comeback, thus, I keep them square and we “slide” out.
The initial step of the CB is to slide out, or step-replace for three steps. Most offenses will attack quarters in the soft underneath zone. The slide technique is essentially a three-step read. We are pushing off with the front foot and stepping back with our inside foot. These are quick steps and our feet are never too far off the ground. The corner should have “hot” feet and stay in his “tuck.” This positioning allows the CB to drive on any ball underneath, essentially off-man. After the initial three-step read, the CB transitions into his regular backpedal, reading the WR’s departure speed.
The CB’s eyes are looking at the #2 WR through the QB. This completes his “triangle.” It is important for the corners to be able to see through their entire peripheral vision. Keeping an eye on the departure speed of #1, while reacting to the route of #2. In Sky coverage, the CB is the deep player. His responsibility is to “top” the deepest route or drive on anything underneath by the #1 WR. The only route combination that changes the assignment of the CB is a stop/corner, or China/Smash route. In that case, the CB would give a “stop” call, flip his hips to the sideline and mid-point the stop and corner route (same as in Cloud or Two Read). If the team is running a stop/bender concept to hold the OLB in the curl, the CB should drive on any ball thrown to the #1 WR. Everything is predicated on the #2 WR. In the video below you will see a good example of sliding out and keeping inside leverage by the field corner.