Defending the Air Raid (Apple Cup 2019)

MQ takes a look at how the Huskies defend a pure Air Raid system in Wazzu.

Though Mike Leach has never won a major championship as a head coach (he’s won two divisional titles in ‘08 and ‘18), his legacy as an offensive innovator is unquestioned. The Air Raid which, along with Hal Mumme, Leach helped create used to be a fringe system that wasn’t taken seriously by “real” football coaches. Fast forward to today and the system is everywhere from youth football to the pros.

The blending of West Coast, Air Coryell, and a simplified playbook has made the Air Raid the choice base offense for many coaches across the country. Numbers within the system and the plethora of successful offshoots have established the system as the present and future of football. What started at little Iowa Wesleyan has risen to be a dominant form of offense in the country. The Spread movement is over and it has won, no thanks in part to the athlete and kid-friendly system Leach helped create.

This isn’t a story about the Air Raid or even Leach, rather the focus is on a dominant defense that has had tremendous success yet is not talked about outside of PAC 12 country. Chris Petersen made a name for himself as a giant killer at Boise St. When he took the job at Washington nearly everyone felt it was a perfect fit. It took Petersen two years, but Washington was back to winning 10+ games from ‘16-’18. Throughout that time, the Huskies dominated their in-state rival Washington St. In fact, the average score since ‘13 for the Apple Cup has been 35-14. Really, no contest.

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Cautious Aggression: Defending Modern Football

Hybrids: The Making of a Modern Defense

Match Quarters: A Modern Guidebook to Split-Field Coverages

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Steal Coverage to Combat Air Raid Offenses

A “how to” guide to defending the Air Raid’s top pass concepts.

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With the birth of the Air Raid offense under Hal Mumme and its expansion under Leach, the Air Raid concept has flourished alongside the advancement of the spread in modern football. The Air Raid offense, in particular, is married well with the no-huddle concept and can be run out of multiple formations even with the added effect of tempo. True Air Raid offenses base out of 20, 10, and 11 personnel sets. Many of the concepts needed to run the offense utilize 2×2 and 2×1 sets to put pressure on the defense’s back seven.

The Air Raid offense and its vast offshoots still boil down to several basic concepts. The key to any Air Raid offense is the use of “triangle” and simple high-low reads. The offense has been used to rewrite many record books and its concepts are present in most modern spread offenses. The main way Air Raid teams attack a defense is the soft middle of the field left by vertical pushing routes with the outside wide receivers. This vertical push forces the safeties in a two-high look to climb with the outside WRs. The zone dropping linebackers are left to defend WRs coming from the opposite way behind their view. These simple crossing routes are deadly to a defense that cannot get support from the backside safety or simply spot drop. One way a defense can counteract the Air Raids propensity to attack the soft middle vacated by the boundary safety is to run “Steal” coverage.

Steal Coverage

Unlike “Read” Coverage that takes advantage of the offense attacking the front side triangle (think pick/flat/corner), “Steal” coverage uses the boundary safety as a “robber” for the crossing routes. Much like its sister versus Trips coverage “Solo,” Steal uses the boundary safety as a spy on a front side WR. The main objective of the DS in Steal is to read the crossing route and hold his ground in the window vacated by the Will LB. The diagram below demonstrates Steal Coverage:  Continue reading “Steal Coverage to Combat Air Raid Offenses”