Running Dime as Your Base – A Lesson From the Big 12

Welcome to the Big 12 where Dime has now become your base.

The Big 12 has always been on the outer limits of what coaches are willing to do on offense and a graveyard for “guru” defensive coordinators (just ask Diaz and Strong). Defenses in the Big 12 play more snaps than the average Power 5 defense. Tempo and the Air Raid reign supreme in a league that prides itself on scoring points. The knock on the league has always been the defenses in the conference. To many outsiders, the Big 12 is offense first, and it is, but if you are looking to defend the spread, there is no other place to look – they live with it every day.

If looking at defensive stats alone, the Big 12 is on the outside looking in, but there is something to be learned here. Starting in 2016, teams in the Big 12, primarily Oklahoma St. (2016) and Iowa St. (2017), began using a modified Dime (3-down) and Nickle (4-down) package to combat the Air Raid heavy teams in the league. I discussed in January’s article about how teams are becoming more fluid in their fronts; switching from 4-down to 3-down without losing scheme.

The Dime package utilized by Iowa St. in 2017 was no different. Versus a run-heavy Oklahoma team, the Cyclones relied on a modified 4-down defense to defeat the Sooners in Norman. There ability to switch from a 4-down to a 3-down without subbing made the scheme a perfect fit for the multiple Sooners. With a TE like Mark Andrews and an H-back like Dimitri Flowers, the Sooners could give multiple looks without subbing. This fact alone is why the Big 12 is so innovative on defense. Hybrid players are a premium in the league. In Iowa St.’s season finale versus a high-powered spread attack in Memphis, Iowa St. utilized the 3-down version of their hybrid Dime to defeat Memphis 21-20.

The Dime/Nickel hybrid defense has become Iowa St.’s base defense and is fluid between the different front structures. When the Cyclones go 4-down, it is no different than if they are blitzing a linebacker from their Dime package. The coverages are similar too. Here is a look at the two base defenses:

Oklahoma St. Nickel (4-Down)

02 Cy Ni Base

Cyclone Dime (3-Down)

06 Cy Di Base Continue reading “Running Dime as Your Base – A Lesson From the Big 12”

Steal Coverage to Combat Air Raid Offenses

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

00-1-mtrush

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”

Defending 20 Pers. With Read Coverage

Use a field “robber” scheme to defend 20 pers. pass schemes.

Defending the run versus 20 personnel is hard enough. Factor in offenses using this set to RPO the defense, it can be difficult for a defensive coordinator to decide how to attack it. Using multiple coverages, fronts, and stunts/pressures can keep an offense on its heels, but there has to be a plan. If a DC moves the Sam closer to the box and plays quarters behind, the offense can take advantage of the lack of cover down and throw out routes or stops all day. These routes play off of the leverage of the safety, which in quarters happens to be deep and inside. Spinning to the two receiver side leaves the offense vulnerable to the backside RPO or weakside run (lack of plus-one). A weak spin is sound and keeps the defense even, but still gives up the flat and backside choice route. 20 personnel is one of the hardest formations to defend because the offense has added an extra player to the box and can create a new gap on either side of the formation.

Staying Two-High

Playing Four-Press (Sky) to 20 pers. can be a great deterrent to offenses that utilize RPOs in their scheme. The pressing corners eliminate much of the route tree and force low percentage throws outside (ex. – Fades). The Down Safety to the boundary acts as a catch-all and plus-one versus the weakside run. In Sky, the boundary safety can “rob” the underneath of #1’s route and will drive on any slant. To the field, the Sam can cover down to the slot, essentially deterring bubble routes while the Cover (field) Safety fits off the Sam. The issue in Quarters versus 20 pers. is the outside flat to the field. If the Sam is aggressive to a run look (like he is in the Narduzzi/Dantonio scheme), the offense can take advantage of the Sky safety basically being in man coverage on the slot and the corner being run off by #1. Even versus an out route the Sam, who aligns inside (apex in Narduzzi’s Pitt defense – quick box force), can be frozen by a run read and late on the pass. See below:

02-sky-vs-sz-pap

In many 4-3 (apex cover down) schemes, the Sam linebacker is taught to gain a run read while relating off the slot WR. The problem with this technique is the Sam is late on out routes. If the Sam is over aggressive, the offense can take advantage of his vacated area. Late in the second quarter of the 2016 Pinstripe Bowl, Northwestern started to take advantage of Pitt’s aggressive Sam versus 20 and 11 pers and Narduzzi’s Press Quarters scheme. Northwestern turned to a Smash concept (stop/corner) to take advantage of an aggressive Sam and the inside leverage of the safety, but Narduzzi had checked to his Read Coverage or a field robber that disguises as Press Quarters. The Field Safety shifted to the outside of the slot as the QB gave his indicator. The outside leverage helped the safety defend the Corner route by the slot. The QB had to place the ball high and away leading to an incomplete pass.

On third down, Northwestern ran a Divide scheme (three verticals dividing the field into thirds) and took advantage of a blown coverage by the safety (Trap 2 Zone Blitz – roll strong & the safety didn’t “top” the fade), getting the Wildcats inside the Pitt 30 yard line.

Assuming Pitt would stay in their traditional quarters look, Northwestern turned to a zone RPO out of Trey to attack the crashing Sam and isolated safety. The QB read the Sam working into the box and flipped the ball out to the slot on a stop route. The safety missed the one-on-one tackle and the WR worked deeper into the Red Zone before being tackled. Northwestern would score on the next play, taking advantage of a missed assignment by the DE to the boundary and scoring on the bounce of a zone play. 14-3 Wildcats.

After Pitt scored quickly to bring the game to within four, Northwestern quickly turned back to attacking Pitt out of 11 pers. Trey. When the Wildcats lined up in 10 pers. 2×2 and motioned the H-back into the formation Narduzzi called a timeout. Out of the timeout, the Wildcats went back to the formation, but Narduzzi had changed the coverage to a Read Coverage. Assuming Narduzzi knew that Northwestern felt Pitt had made adjustments to the Trey set and was now switching to a new look, he called a quick timeout after seeing Northwestern align in 20 pers. Out of the timeout, Narduzzi switched to Read Coverage to combat Northwestern’s new set to take advantage of the soft spot to the outside in Pitt’s Quarters coverage. This small sequence highlights the constant cat-and-mouse game that is football and a great change-up coverage to split field quarters versus 20 pers.

Continue reading “Defending 20 Pers. With Read Coverage”

Packaging Your Blitz Calls by Formation

How to formation your call sheet.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions about how to formation your blitz calls, as well as packaging different calls that are similar (click HERE for the original article – Formation Your Defense ). The best way to approach packaging blitzes/pressures is to create a master list and sort blitzes that are from the same tree. For instance, all blitzes that send an edge pressure from one of the outside linebackers can be lumped together because they are mirrors of each other. The next step is to draw them up against basic formations and decide if you like the look of one pressure over another. In the truest sense, this is blitzing to formation, or BTF.

Blitzing to Formation

05-side-by-side

Each BTF stems from a base blitz and that blitz is adjusted to defend each formation it sees. An example of an adjustment is a defensive coordinator may not want to send an edge blitz into the face of a TE when coming up against 11 personnel. A better alternative would be to blitz the openside versus a TE. That rule can be carried throughout the packaged blitz call. By packaging the blitzes, a DC can eliminate long call sheets and dense verbiage. Against spread teams that tempo, seconds matter. I’ve been asked several times what my call sheet looks like, or what did it look like for Coach Bennett at Baylor. I’ve never used one, and Bennett kept the sheet in his pocket. Packaging your blitzes eliminates the call sheet altogether because you have you bread-n-butter calls already memorized, and they attack the formation how you want it because you taught your players to adjust to the formation (the definition of BTF). Continue reading “Packaging Your Blitz Calls by Formation”

How I Teach Match Quarters – Pt. 2

A clinic on the pedagogy of match quarters. Pt. 2 — Teaching the Safeties.

Teaching the Safeties

Four Read (Sky)

01-sky

Sky coverage is the “go to” coverage for Quarters teams on first down, and is used by many defensive coordinators to gain a nine-man box. The key difference in how DC’s play Sky coverage is the cover down by the Sam linebacker. In a true 4-2-5 scheme, the Sam LB is completely covered down to the #2 WR. The lack of a gap inside the box enables the Sam to widen his alignment and hold the inside hip of the slot. A 4-3 scheme apexes the Sam, allowing him to be aggressive to the box. How a DC decided to cover down the Sam affects how the safety to the field plays Sky coverage. In the diagram above, the defense is running a 4-2-5 with an Over Front and the Sam is completely covered down on the Sam. The 4-2-5 allows the safety to be more of a “robber” player, hanging in the intermediate in pass distribution and aggressive to the run. In a 4-3, the safety is in a hybrid man scheme because the Sam will be late to help with the #2 receiver.

The initial step of the safety referred to as a “step off.” This technique is a step-replace technique very similar to the CB’s slide technique in Sky. Each safety is aligned at 10 yards with a toe-to-heel stance and shaded to the inside eye of the slot receiver. 10 yards is a good depth for the safeties because it gives them enough depth to carry a vertical, yet they are close enough to drive on WR screens and play fit support in the run game. The main responsibility of each safety in pass coverage is to protect the inside of the field and bracket the #2 WR with the OLB. In coverage, the safeties are considered “robber” players and fit underneath any post route from the #1 WR (intermediate). The CB is the “topper” and must pin, or “top,” any vertical route from #1 (high hole). Against a double vertical route combination, the safeties will “collision and carry” the vertical of the slot WR. The collision and carry method is one that must be practiced multiple times.

The danger of Sky coverage is in the vertical by the slot. Being able to collision the slot as he is going vertical allows the safety to slow the WR down while regaining the upper hand on the route. In Sky, the safety is “stepping off” and is not fast bailing (Cloud). This allows the WR to climb with tempo. In order to combat a vertical by the slot, the Sam must get hands on the WR (easier out of a cover down) and the safeties eyes have to determine departure speed. Reading the departure speed of the slot is a key attribute a quarters safety must have. In order to combat the aggressiveness of the scheme, the safeties eyes have to be transfixed on the slot at the snap of the ball.

Versus the run, the safeties are responsible for making the OLBs right. If the OLB gets stuck inside, the safety will fit outside of the slot receiver (fit support). The OLB/safety work as a team to bracket the slots and cover the “O” gap to the field and the boundary safety (DS) corrects the Will to the boundary. This tandem action allows the safety to be aggressive to the ball in the run game. As stated in the previous paragraph, the safeties must key the slot’s departure speed in order to combat the aggressive nature of four-read.

The Cover Safety (field) has the most help  because the Sam is able to cover down all the way to the slot (in a 4-2-5). This allows the Sam to get his hands on the #2 WR and force the receiver to “run the hump” or slow his departure speed. The Down Safety (boundary) versus 10 personnel 2×2 must hold his position longer because the Will is not covered down to the slot (fold player into the “B”). Versus a 20/11 personnel look, the DS can be aggressive to the run because he must hold contain in the “O” gap (Will is now in the box) and is the intermediate player in the pass. This “robber” technique forces offenses to run vertical routes and away from the RPO slants. The aggressiveness of the DS in 20/11 pers. is why many quarters teams have a field corner and a boundary corner. The boundary corner tends to be the best man cover player because he is most likely not going to get quick support from the DS, who must fit the run. Continue reading “How I Teach Match Quarters – Pt. 2”