Adapting Quarters – Red Zone & Goal Line Coverages

As the field gets compressed, all you need is Quarters.

Much like formation into the boundary (FIB), the Red Zone and goal line can be a tricky place for defensive coordinators. As the field is reduced for the offense, the likelihood of deep throws or play-actions is limited. In a FIB set, the offense puts a majority of their players into the boundary. By doing so, the offense is trying to get the defense to overcompensate for the speed, or strength, into the boundary. If the defense overcompensates, the offense can now take advantage of the space (or match-ups) to the field. The Red Zone/goal line area is no different. Offense change once they enter the +20, changing as they get closer to the goal line. Whether it is cluster/bunch sets or bringing WRs closer to the box, modern offenses have numerous ways to challenge a defense (and don’t forget going big with extra linemen).

Most modern offenses are looking for space to get their best athletes in one-on-one situations. Inside the defense’s +20 (Red Zone) is no different. As the field is reduced many offenses tighten the splits of their receivers (Bunch/Stack sets) or try and get their best man in one-on-one coverage versus a corner (Fade/Comeback). If the defense plays man coverage the offense will use rub/pick routes and cluster/bunch sets to combat this. If the defense is using zone, the offense will most likely create high-low concepts to try and bait a defender, only to throw the ball over or under his alignment depending on the play.

The objective of any defense is to force low percentage throws or throws into tight windows. This is where Quarters comes to play a pivotal role in defending modern offenses, especially in the Red Zone. Outside of powering the ball over the goal line, modern spread offenses try to reduce their splits to force the defense to play sound pass distribution and communicate. When the formation is reduced, it is important for the defensive personnel to understand where everyone is aligned and how the multiple rub/pick routes are to be distributed. Even the slightest misstep in the Red Zone can open a gaping window for the QB to throw into (If looking for a resource on Stack/Bunch formations click HERE).

The main objective of Quarters coverage is to force the most difficult throw for the QB. Whether basing out of 4-Read (Sky/Quarters) or 2-Read (Cloud), a defense must understand how the reduction in field space changes the coverage and distributions. Red Zone and FIB situations should be treated with respect and different than a normal situation. The defense must adjust to both scenarios without overcompensating and leaving leaky spots on the field. Overcommit to the pass, and offense will run it down the defense’s throat. Overload the box, and the defense becomes susceptible to play-action and Run-Pas Options (RPOs). The key to a great Red Zone defense is to understand what the offense is trying to accomplish, who they are trying to get the ball to, and how they react inside the +20 and inside the +10. Continue reading “Adapting Quarters – Red Zone & Goal Line Coverages”

MQ’s DB Resources

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.

Continue reading “MQ’s DB Resources”

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”

Cautious Aggression

Defensive schemes to combat spread offenses.

Introducing MQ’s first full-length book, Cautious Aggression: Defending Modern Football.

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Buy it on immediately on CreateSpaceAmazon, and Kindle. Click the provider below and order your copy today (Links open in new window).

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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:

  1. Argument for Two-High
  2. Defending the Modern Spread Offense
  3. Defending Run/Pass Options
  4. Systematic Creativity of a Quarters Defense
  5. The Art of Match Quarters
  6. All About the Cover Down
  7. Designing a Modern Defense
  8. Setting the Strength
  9. Defending Formations into the Boundary
  10. Defending Motions

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.

-Cody Alexander

Episode #2 — MQ Quick Hits :: The Over Front

A 5 minute video on the “Art of X.”

This is a brief video on how to defend the modern spread attack by utilizing the structure of the Over Front. It covers everything from setting the strength to combating RPOs.

Continue reading “Episode #2 — MQ Quick Hits :: The Over Front”

The Dime Package

An introduction to the three down Dime package.

One of the greatest luxuries in football is when a defense has enough depth in the secondary to create a Dime package. As spread has become the norm in football, the Nickel package, replacing a linebacker with a secondary player (usually a safety), has become the norm and many defenses’ base. Most teams have “tween” or hybrid players. Utilizing these players on defense has made it easier for defensive coordinators to adjust to the onslaught of spread teams. The Dime package, in particular, is different than its sister the Nickel package. Instead of replacing a LB with a safety, the Dime package puts two defensive backs in and replaces either two LBs (four-down) or a LB and a defensive lineman (three-down). The specific package being discussed in this article will cover the three-down, three safety Dime package most generally seen in college today.

A 3-4 Base

If a defense’s base is a 3-4, it can easily adjust to the spread by putting a Nickleback at Sam, much like its counterpart, the 4-2-5. A three-down Dime package takes the Mike off the field and inserts either a safety or a CB depending on the DC’s preference and the scheme being used. The front most used in a Dime package is the Buck Front or a 505 front. This ensures an edge rusher on either side of the quarterback that will define the box. The Nose’s role is to get a vertical push on the pocket and make the QB move.  Below is a diagram of a 3-4 Buck Dime Package:

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The first decision that has to be made when developing a Dime package is who is going to be part of the Dime package personnel? If looking to run more of a man scheme, a DC is more likely to bring on two cornerbacks and leave the two most athletic LBs on the field. As stated earlier, more defenses are shifting to a Nickel/Hybrid base. This means the traditional Sam LB is actually a safety. In the case above, the Nickelback is more than likely a third CB while the Dimeback is another safety.  Continue reading “The Dime Package”

Episode #1 — MQ Quick Hits :: Quarters Clinic

A 5 minute video on the “Art of X.”

Introducing MQ Quick Hits. Episode #1.

This week MatchQuarters discusses Quarters install, in particular, Press Quarters.

Continue reading “Episode #1 — MQ Quick Hits :: Quarters Clinic”

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”

Lining Up to Ace

What to do with those two extra gaps.

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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”

Defending Jet Motion

Don’t take the bait. Don’t get out leveraged.

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The jet motion is a great leveraging tool that offenses use to either move the defense (to counter the opposite way) or cut them off (speed kills). Auburn under Malzahn has utilized the jet motion to create deception and outmaneuver opponents. The speed at which the jet motion attacks, forces the defense to recognize the motion and adjust accordingly. Because the offense is using a fast motion, the defense is forced to plus alignments or spin an extra player down to the side the motion is moving. Many times, an offense uses their best athlete on the jet motion to focus even more attention on the movement.  Offenses can even use the jet motion as a decoy because the defense has to honor the motion. To gain width, or to freeze an OLB/DE, offenses will send a jet motion to one side and run a play going away. This “freezing” of the defense allows an extra lineman to climb to the next level. This focus causes tunnel vision and can lead to exposure away from the direction of the motion.

Offenses use motion as a leverage tool. The Slot-T version of the spread, which Auburn runs, uses the jet motion to move the defense into compromising positions. Every 03-auburndefensive coach knows that when an offense uses motion (especially jet motion), the defense is forced to adjust promptly to the new formation. As stated earlier, the speed of the jet motion can make defenses over rotate to counteract the quick rotation of the offense. For many defensive coordinators, it is easier to rotate safeties (spin) than to bump linebackers because of the tempo at which the WR or slot is running. The introduction of unbalanced formations (X-off) and the utilization of the quarterback in the run game have made it more difficult for defenses to defend jet motion teams. In the picture above, Auburn used an unbalanced set to attack the Alabama defense. Out of the stack set shown, the offense can run a double lead jet stretch, running back counter weak, jet power read with two lead blockers or any QB run they choose. With so many play variations off of one formation and motion, it is no wonder many spread teams are using this type of motion to build whole offenses around. Any time the QB becomes a runner, the defense is stressed even more. The added value that the jet motion gives teams is undeniable. Continue reading “Defending Jet Motion”

How I Teach Match Quarters – Pt. 1

A clinic on the pedagogy of match quarters. Pt. 1 — Teaching the CBs.

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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 the01-stance 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.

Continue reading “How I Teach Match Quarters – Pt. 1”

MQ’s Four and Two Read Pass Distributions

Match Quarters pass distributions explained.

When implementing a quarters scheme, Four Read is the Day #1 install coverage and a DC’s most likely first down call. The Cover 4 scheme allows the safeties to be ultra aggressive to the run, yet hold a two-high shell and keep the defense balanced versus multiple formations. Defensive coaches lean on the Cover 4 scheme because it allows the defense to essentially create a nine-man box versus spread sets. For most spread teams, the OC does not account for the two safeties (they are not physically in the box, or fold players). This is where teams running a quarters scheme gain an advantage. DC’s used to rely on a true Cover 2 scheme to gain the hard edge of the CBs against the run. This left the defense vulnerable on the edge of the box, passing lanes in the middle of the field (high completion throw), and put the Mike in a run/pass conflict. As modern football has turned to the spread (and RPO style), more DC’s are turning to the variations of match quarters to answer their run and pass distribution problems. In a previous article (The Art of Match Quarters), I touched on the basics of pass distributions of Four and Two Read. In today’s article, I will go in-depth on the intricacies of each versus popular route combinations.

Continue reading “MQ’s Four and Two Read Pass Distributions”

Defending Stack and Bunch Sets

Theories on attacking the spread’s cluster sets.

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 and 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. runs and Under front and “hips” it’s Sam LB to the strength. 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 the crashing 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.

Continue reading “Defending Stack and Bunch Sets”

How to Package Your Blitz Calls

Offenses are packaging their plays, why can’t the defense?

Packaged plays are all the rage right now in the world of offensive football. The emergence of the RPO has created a disparity between the offense and defense. As offenses find ways to package their plays and react off the alignment of the defense, it is putting tremendous pressure on defensive coordinators to call the correct pressure at the right time.

Spread teams are constantly looking to create matchup problems with formation into the boundary (FTB), wide splits, and tempo, the defensive schema must begin to change in concerns to playcalling if the defense is going to keep up, especially in regards to how defenses line up and attack formations. Defensive coaches who call plays/pressures by field/boundary or strong/weak need to adjust their theories.

Calling plays to a direction is no different than guessing and is short-sighted because no-huddle teams can run several different formations, and get into different personnel sets without subbing. In reality, by calling a “strong side” blitz a defense could be running it right into the exact thing it doesn’t want to, an extra blocker or puts their coverage into a critical situation. When offenses play with a tight end, or H-back, they can run a Spread set one play (10p), TE set the next (11p), and switch to a two-back power formation to finish it off (20p); all this while the offense tempos and the defense must adjust on the fly.

Defenses that don’t adjust their playcalling to formations have a tendency to call blanket coverages and blitzes. This can work for a while, but once an offense realizes the defense isn’t necessarily adjusting it can take advantage of the “country” coverages or un-formationed pressures. In the case of the diagram below, TCU had to defend an 11 personnel, 10 pers., and finally a 21 pers. set back-to-back-to-back with tempo. If a DC is not formationing his calls, he could get into something that is fatal or even worse not call anything and ends up predictable (static).

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If a defense doesn’t package its blitzes, or formations its calls, then it is at a huge disadvantage. Guessing against tempo and RPO teams is deadly. On paper, the best way to approach calling blitzes is to allow the offense to get set and then call the blitz. That sounds great, but against tempo teams, it is impossible to wait. How does a defense call blitzes that react to the offensive formation? Simple, package the blitzes that come from the same blitz or movement tree.

Offenses combine different plays all the time. By combining several plays into one call, the offense can quickly react off the “box” numbers, defensive alignment, and/or coverage scheme. Essentially they can run a different play every time the ball is snapped without subbing (or even changing formation). One of the best examples of packaged plays by an offense was seen in the 2013 BBVA Compas Bowl in 2013. Ole Miss stays in the same formation, yet runs four different plays.

Combine this scheme with changing the formation and the defense can get off kilter fast if not structured right. Defenses can package calls or pressures too. One way is by packaging blitzes from the same tree and keeping the base defensive structure and rules. See the example below. The diagram illustrates the same blitz, “America“, but run to fit what the offense gives it. Like a defensive RPO. In this case, the blitz reacts off of the formation (2×2 and 3×1).

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Continue reading “How to Package Your Blitz Calls”