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.
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:
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).
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”
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”
Running an Okie Front to defend the modern spread attack.
Defensive linemen are at a premium. For many teams, it is hard to field a deep roster that can lend itself to a four-man front. Running parallel to the defensive dilemma of lineman depth is the popularity of the spread. A natural conclusion for many defensive coordinators around the country has been a shift away from a four-down front and into a 3-4 scheme. The flexibility of the 3-4 and the added athlete on the field makes the scheme spread friendly. The multiplicity within the scheme allows DCs to attack the offense from multiple directions without sacrificing pass distributions. Running a two-high scheme behind a three-man front meshes well with teams that have a history of running a 4-2-5 or 4-3.
The Okie Front, in particular, can be of service when defensive coaches are looking to defend the spread from a three down front. With a 5 technique, a shaded Nose, and a 3 tech. (or 4i) to the weak side, the Okie’s anchor points fit the spread much like its four down sister, the Under Front. To the weak side, the Jack linebacker (boundary OLB) is technically a wide “9” in the run fits and controls the edge of the box to the boundary. The Jack LB, in particular, is useful when defending offenses that like to attack the boundary through the air. Even though the Jack is technically a conflicted player (he is responsible for the “C” gap), his alignment allows him to read the offensive tackle and slow play the run. In most four down fronts, the boundary OLB (Will) is the “fold” player and is considered conflicted because his gap is in the box. The Okie Front eliminates the fold and replaces it with a loose overhang (much like a natural Will/DE exchange in a four down front). Continue reading “Defending the Spread From a 3-4”
The Convention, this week’s FAQ, & tips for installing Quarters.
AFCA Convention ::
The AFCA Convention is always a great time. For me, it is a time that I get to see old friends, meet some new, and just hang out with like-minded people. Football has always been an important part of my life. The Convention is awesome because it allows me to give back to my dad who has been a selfless coach his whole adult life. There’s nothing more special than showing my dad around, talking football with him all day and letting him meet people he otherwise would never meet (for instance RC Slocum). Many go to look for new opportunities to move up, but keep in mind, if you consistently chase the cheese could become blind to a great opportunity. This profession is built on relationships. As you walk the halls of the Convention you will see every type of coach, but don’t be the guy looking through the person you are talking to so you can get to a “more important” person. When I was ending my GA experience at Baylor, Coach Bennett reminded me, “The people we meet going up are the same as we meet going down.” Treat everyone with respect, because you never know when they may help you out. For most of us, we all start as GAs or interns (It took me a whole calendar year, and some luck, to get paid at Baylor!).
The Convention makes everyone equal as well. There is no other place in this sport where the head coach at a Power 5 school will rub shoulders with a brand new high school coach, but that is the beauty of the Convention. It is a truly special place where football coaches can come and be around like minded men. If you have never been it is truly an awesome experience. I would encourage any young coach to go and just walk around, sit in some sessions, and learn something new. It is important that coaches stick together. The age-old saying “iron sharpens iron” is true, and for this profession to continue to flourish in a society that devalues the sport we must raise each other up. [FYI – Next year’s session is in Charlotte, NC] Continue reading “Post-AFCA Grab Bag”
A clinic on the pedagogy of match quarters. Pt. 2 — Teaching the Safeties.
Teaching the Safeties
Four Read (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”
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”
The inverted bone offensive set has become an integral part of many spread offenses over the past decade. The set is similar to the 12 personnel “Ace” set (2×2 with two TEs) and reflects how offenses have gotten creative by taking the TEs off the ball. Any even set with a “pistol” backfield has created a two-way-go with their play calling. Defensively this puts pressure on the players to set the front to the strength. With modern football moving more towards hybrid players, the Diamond set allows for offenses to move seamlessly from 30 personnel to 20/10/11 personnel. Add tempo to the mix, and defenses now have to line up correctly to multiple sets without a sub to tell them what they are getting. Continue reading “Defending the Diamond Formation”
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.
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.