MQ breaks down a popular way teams change the picture post-snap from MOFC to MOFO.
Over the past few seasons, there has been a lot of talk about coverage presentation and contours. Primarily, the discussion has been over the influx of two-high alignments in the NFL. Starting with the Rams and Broncos in 2020, the NFL has seen a steady increase in the usage of two Safety contours. Former Broncos Head Coach Vic Fangio is the original architect of the systems that dominate the two-high philosophy. But that doesn’t mean they run Quarters.
At the college level, the use of Quarters as a way to stop the Spread has been well documented. In the early ‘10s, defenses began relying on Quarters to cap vertical routes and combat the QB run games off Zone Read. As an extension of the Triple Option, the Zone Read forced defenses to play in space and hold to option principles. As the Zone Read and the Spread became more popular, offenses evolved to use RPOs that utilized quick screens on the perimeter, a modern-day Triple.
Fast forward to today, and offenses have become much more complex. Play-action and passing on early downs have proven to be effective ways to stay ahead of the chains. As more defenses have moved to “lighter” personnel groupings, offenses have begun to stockpile hybrid players like TEs or “power” Slots that muscle out smaller defenders. We have seen this story before with the Tampa 2, but this time around, Spread principles have won out. We aren’t going back.
One simple coverage tweak can add numbers into the box and free up your LBs versus Y-off offenses.
I learned about using a “key” read on an offset TE (H-back) in 2017 when I heard Don Brown speak at the Lone Star Clinic in College Station. In his words, he stated, that without City Check (Cover 1 with keying safeties), he didn’t know where he’d be as a coach. Those are powerful words from one of the best defensive coordinators in college football. Sometimes you need an extra fitter on the H-back, especially as more Spread teams base out of 11/20 personnel sets (Y-off), and this was exactly what I was looking for.
Don Brown’s City Check or “Key/Fox,” as Dave Aranda (LSU)/Todd Orlando (Texas) refer to it, is a Cover 1 adjustment to any two-back formation, and can also be used if the H-back turns into a traditional TE on the line of scrimmage. Both safeties are aligned 8-10 yards deep at the edge of the box and are keying the FB or offset TE depending on personnel grouping. This is a great way to give a two-high look pre-snap (Quarters), then add numbers post-snap (gapped-out single-high). Below is a diagram of Michigan running the scheme versus a 21p “I” Twin formations.
Both safeties are slightly tilted in and focusing their eyes on the FB. Whichever way the FB inserts or moves, the safety to that side will trigger down to “cap” the box fit. Most defensive coaches want plus numbers in the box. The term cap refers to the third man responsible in the fit. There should be an inside and outside shoulder player on the ball carrier. The “capper,” or third fitter, caps or tops the fit.
Inside the box, the LBs are focused on the RB, and if the back were to go out for a pass (more likely versus a Shotgun offense), the LB to the RB’s side would take him. The rest of the secondary is locked on their man. In terms of pass coverage, the safety away from the inserting FB will work “through the Post,” creating a Cover 1 look. Below is a clip of the play illustrated above, a simple Iso from 21 pers. I Twin.
The motion by the Badgers’ FB triggers the safety to the nub-TE’s side to start working down. Wisconsin is used to seeing City Check from Michigan and understands how to manipulate the trigger. The open “A” gap is actually away from the motion, and the FB works back to it on the snap of the ball. Inside the box, the LBs must understand the leverage of the secondary and how the FB’s movement will trigger one of them. In the clip above, the ILB hits the FB away from the dropping safety (referred to as “boxing” the block), essentially forcing the ball carrier to the safety. The overall result is a short gain. Continue reading “Keying the H-back Versus Y-off or “I” Formations”
MQ takes a look at how Don Brown’s defense handles 11/20 pers. formations.
One of the toughest personnel groupings in football to defend is the 11/20 personnel Spread offense that utilizes an H-back/TE hybrid to create extra gaps and a multitude of formations. Teams that have a hybrid TE can line him up in the backfield, at slot, or on the line. The flexibility that an H-back brings to a multiple Spread offense is evident in the way the college game is evolving. More and more offenses are turning to hybrid “big” bodies to give defenses different looks on any given play. Going form a two-back three WR formation one play and a Pro Spread TE formation on the other.
One formation, in particular, is the weapon of choice for many teams that run Bash concepts, or “back away” runs, the 20 pers. “sniffer” look. One advantage offenses have by using a “sniffer” H-back is that he has a two-way-go. He can insert into an open gap (Iso), kick out the end man on the line (Power), pull along with another lineman (counter), or arc to seal a linebacker. There are a plethora of ways an offense can attack a defense using this grouping and formation. The addition of an extra blocker into the box also forces some teams to spin the secondary to add extra men in the box (which allows the offense to blow open the top on an isolated secondary player).
Don Brown, the Defensive Coordinator for the Michigan Wolverines, used a unique style of defense (shown below) to combat the Minnesota Gophers multiple 11/20 pers. running attack. The Gophers were entering the game 4-4 and looking to bounce back after a close loss to Iowa (10-17), while the Wolverines were looking to continue their winning ways having beaten Rutgers the previous week (35-14). Minnesota’s offense under new head coach P.J. Fleck is a mixture of TE sets and Spread sets.
When looking at the scheme Brown chose to defend the Gophers 11/20 pers. formations, one will notice the ultra aggressiveness towards the run and the lack of “coverage” for the H-back. Brown also had several change-ups and automatics to motion and the different formations the Gophers threw at the Wolverines. Below is a diagram of how Brown blitzed the Viper anytime the H-back motioned away.
Coach Brown during his clinic talk at the 2018 Lone Star Clinic noted the absence of the TE in the passing game during the Big 10 season. Outside of Troy Fumagalli at Wisconsin and Mike Gesiki at Penn State, one will be hard-pressed to find a TE that merits an extra man in the passing game. This allowed the Wolverines to add an extra defender in the box against most Big 10 opponents without worrying about an “H-Pop” or a TE streaking down the middle of the field.
Throughout the game, Brown’s defense was able to contain the Gophers running game, limiting them to just under 100 yards. As stated, Minnesota rarely used the TE/H-back in the passing game allowing Coach Brown to be ultra-aggressive to the run. Though the lack of an extra defender opened his secondary up to deep shots outside (and some did hit home), the Wolverine defense was able to limit Demry Croft, the Gophers QB, to a measly stat line of 5/12 for 74 yards passing. Below is a film study of how Coach Brown and the Wolverine defense defended the Gophers multiple 20 pers. looks. Continue reading “MQ Film Study: Defending 20p – Minnesota vs Michigan (2017)”
When I found out that Don Brown was going to speak at the Lone Star Clinic in College Station (a great annual clinic too), I jumped at the chance to go see him talk. There is no argument that when it comes to stopping the run, Don Brown is near the top of the list. His defenses continue to produce no matter where he is. From UConn to BC to Michigan, the Don Brown defense has been a unique challenge for offenses.
His defensive mantra is, “Solve your problems with aggression.” For most defensive coaches that mantra hits home. Coach Brown’s clinic covered several topics from his base defense to LB fundamentals, even doing a breakout session on his “trap” coverage. He didn’t hold back either, talking all ball and no “fluff.” It was a great time, and Coach Don Brown was awesome to listen to. There is no doubt that the man can coach defense and has a unique scheme. Below is a PDF of my clinic notes. Enjoy!
One of the hardest sets in football to defend is the cluster or stack set. Spread offenses utilize this set to get the defense’s outside linebackers in run/pass conflicts. Unlike a traditional 2×2 set, the defense has to adjust to the width of the receivers. Stacking them creates width, and width creates the conflict.
Spread teams rely on the open “B” gap to build their RPO’s into their offensive gameplan. By stacking the receivers out wide, the defense is forced to adjust. In a two-high system, the player in conflict (usually the Will LB) has to choose, cover down to his receiver or hold tight to the box. If he stays close to the box, the offense is going to throw the quick screen and create a 1-on-1 open field tackling matchup with the safety or corner. In most cases, the defense wants to avoid this as much as possible.
On the other end of the spectrum, if the defender widens to the cluster set, the offense has a 4-1 box and a clear running opportunity. Versus a two-high system, there is a great chance for the offense to part the field like the Red Sea for a big gain. Ask any offensive coach, a 4-1 box is a magical thing.
In the image below, Penn St. is running an Under Front and “hips” it’s Sam LB to the strength (“hip” refers to the OLB aligned on the outside hip of the DE). In most RPO style offenses, this is a clear pass read. The Sam has to honor the run read and step to his gap. Even with zone away and a gap exchange with a “heavy” DE (in this set the DE has dive), the Sam has to take a step towards the box. The QB is taught to read the Sam’s path and throw the screen.
Penn. St. is most likely in a “Cloud” coverage (Two Read) and the safety is bailing on the snap. Easy pickings for any decent offensive coordinator. It’s a conflict of philosophy; the offense wants 1-on-1 matchups and the defense wants a plus-one. In order to create a six-man box and protect against the run, the defense has to spin to single-high, but to keep a plus-one in pass distribution it has to stay in two-high, something has to give. MatchQuarters explores the options.