“How Do You Play Trips?” Pt. 3 – Defending the Run

Defending a spread offense’s 3×1 package run game from a two-high shell.

When developing a defense it is important to start with the front and work back. Lining up correctly to formations, understanding keys, and developing a plan to stop the run all starts with the front seven. In a 4-3/4-2-5 (or 3-4 Hybrid) defense, the secondary players become the adjusters. Playing a single-gap defense and using formations to dictate alignments allow defensive players to see the formation quicker and align correctly. Each player in a defense is anchored to one another in some way. Understanding these anchor points, and how they change depending on formations, is crucial to the success of any defensive unit.

The Spread’s utilization of space has put aligning correctly every play at a premium. It is easy to align to a simple 2×2 formation, but when offenses utilize 3×1 formations (primarily Trips Open) the defense must understand how it adjusts will dictate their areas of weakness. Offenses make use of Trips formations because it forces the defense to give something up. To gain a six-man box a defense must spin, either to the Trips or away.  Continue reading ““How Do You Play Trips?” Pt. 3 – Defending the Run”

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”

Defending 3×1 Formations – Solo Coverage

Kick the coverage with out the spin.

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:

.99 C3

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”

Defending Trips – Special Coverage

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”

Defending Trips – Stress Coverage

Most HS QB’s can’t throw the 25 yard Comeback. So make’em.

Defense is reactionary by nature. The offense knows the play and the defense must be structured enough to counteract and defend. Outside of forcing the offense’s hand through pressure, a defense must play on the law of averages and use the tendencies of the offense against them. For most high school offense the #1 wide receiver in a Trips set rarely gets the ball, and when he does it usually comes by way of an underneath route or a sprint out by the offense. Few high school QB’s can make the 25-yard comeback throw from the opposite hash. The few that can make the throw must execute the long throw which can tend to hang in the air long enough for a good corner to react to it. Plus, most high school offenses won’t run a four vertical play and attack the #1 WR to the Trips side. Usually, it is the #2 on a bender or the “X” WR to the boundary (especially if the defense is “kicking” to the three WR side). Using the law of averages can give the defense an advantage and protect itself from the backside fade and a “solo-ed” CB.

Defending Trips is about sectioning off the formation and forcing a weak armed QB to make a long throw. Some defensive coaches turn to Special coverage against Trips because the #1 WR rarely gets the ball. In Special, the CB will lock on the #1 WR and the defense runs a Two Read scheme by bracketing the #2 and #3 WRs. This allows the Sam to move to outside leverage of the #2 and drive on any out routes. The #3 WR bracketed by the Mike underneath and the field safety (Cover Safety – CS). There are several issues when Special is the base defense against Trips. One, the coverages is susceptible against crossing routes by the #1 and #2 WRs. Since the CB is locked on the #1 WR he must follow him everywhere he goes (MEG coverage). Offenses can easily use rub and pick routes to wall off the CB and knock off the Sam. Another issue with Special is the vertical of #2. Since the Sam is outside leveraged, and the CS is holding the inside of the #3 WR, it is easy for the offense to use a four vert scheme to attack the coverage. Most teams will run the #3 WR on an “over” route to the opposite hash allowing the #2 WR to bend into the middle of the field (MOF) creating a window and a relatively easy throw for any QB. By alignment, the Sam is beat to the inside and must work outside-in to get hands on the WR. Special is great when teams are running out routes with #2 and #3 and is a coverage all two-high defenses need in their repertoire. If teams are attacking vertically, Stress is best.  Continue reading “Defending Trips – Stress Coverage”

Defending the Spread From a 3-4

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”

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”

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”

MQ’s Three Ways to Attack Empty

Prevent prevents you from winning.

04-empty-pic

Three Ways to Attack Empty

1) Cold = Double Tex:

The Double Tex line stunt is a great way to use all five linemen while keeping gap integrity in the middle of the formation. The point of using a Tex stunt is to bait the quarterback into stepping up the field, or the offense into running a QB draw. Many DCs are afraid to blitz Empty because of the threat of the QB draw. Using Tex stunts allows the DC to gain all back seven defenders in coverage while putting pressure on the offensive line.

05-bob
Big-on-big protection vs Under.

The defensive ends screaming up the middle eliminates the threat of a QB draw. In the diagram below, the DEs presses upfield to get the tackles to kick out to them. The Tackle and Nose loop to the outside shoulder of the offensive tackles and secure contain. Once the offensive tackles kick back, the DEs loop in and aim for the inside hip of the guards. Against “big-on-big” (BOB) protection, the Center should step to the Nose. This opens the weakside “A” gap for the incoming boundary DE and looks like an enticing window for the QB to step up into. Even if there is a draw on by the QB, he will be stepping into two incoming DEs.

The coverage piece behind it can be whatever the DC is most comfortable with against Empty. In the case below, a “looseSpecial scheme is the chosen coverage. The Mike and the Will are allowed the luxury of hanging outside because the DEs are responsible for the interior gaps. If the Nose or Tackle cannot get to the outside, the Mike and Will are able to attack the QB once he leaves the pocket or the QB bounces outside on a draw. The great quality of the Double Tex stunt is it gives the DC the best of both worlds, it protects the interior line from a QB draw and allows all the back seven players to drop into coverage.

01-dbl-tex Continue reading “MQ’s Three Ways to Attack Empty”

“How do you play Trips?” – Pt. 2

MQ explains the top Trips coverages.

The Trips formation creates a dilemma for any defensive coordinator and the problems usually start in the box. The major issue with any 3×1 formation is how a defense chooses to defend the #3 receiver. Regardless if a defense runs an Under Front or Under, the Mike either has to cover down to the #3 WR or the defense has to spin a safety to gain a cover down. If the defense uses the Mike as a cover down, it loses a man in the box and makes the Mike a “fold” or conflict player. To alleviate the issue some defenses drop the boundary safety into the box, but that leaves a defense susceptible to the back side post. Below is an example of Nick Saban’s “Rip/Liz.” The sinking backside safety allows the frontside ILB to vacate and cover down to #3.

02 r-l 3x1

A “fold” or conflict player is susceptible to the Spread’s deadly weapon, the RPO (run-pass option). The run-pass conflict created by Mike’s width and assignment can cause him to hesitate. Play a team like Baylor under Briles, who spreads their Trips formation past the hash, and the Mike will struggle to get to the #3 and fold into the box. In theory, the Mike is always wrong. That’s pretty depressing news for a DC. Below is an example of the Over Front versus a 3×1 formation with no adjustment from the defense.

v. Over

If a DC wants to keep a 6-man box and put the 3 technique (DT) to the Trips it creates a problem for the Mike who has to plug the strong-side “A” while reaching #3 in pass. That’s not an easy thing to do for even the most elite ILBs. The answer for most coaches is to kick the coverage (bring the backside safety across), or spin to some kind of Cover 3 (illustrated above in Saban’s Rip/Liz scheme). In order to make it hard on the offense, a DC must change-up the coverage or move the gaps. It is important to have a base coverage. One that protects you from the most harm. To stay ahead of the offense, a defense must be multiple in its looks, adding pressures, blitzes, and a change-up in coverage if need be. Part 2 of “How do you play Trips?” will explain the multiple coverage pieces to Trips Open.

Continue reading ““How do you play Trips?” – Pt. 2″

How do you play Trips? Pt. 1

Using the Under Front to gain an edge versus Trips.

The 3×1 Dilemma

While working at Baylor, one of the first questions the defensive staff would get from visiting coaches was, “How do you defend Trips?” The Trips formation stresses the defense to the max. By using a 3×1 scheme, offensive coordinators have a plethora of options to attack a defense. If the defense stays in an Over front and tucks the Mike in the strong side “A” gap, the offensive coaches know that the defense is either in man or spinning to single high coverage.

By kicking the boundary safety to the field, the offense gets a guaranteed one-on-one match up with the boundary corner. Even if the defense is dropping an end, or slinging the weak side backer under the single receiver, the top can easily be blown off if the offense has a stud “X” receiver. Against RPO teams a tucked Mike gives offenses the option to read the field safety. This is where the “Spot Draw” can give fits to a defense that is playing an Over front.

v. Over
4-3 Over v. a “Spot Draw” RPO

Some teams will stay in an Over Front and “sink” the back side safety into the box. This is still the same concept of kicking to the Trips side, but inverted. Though the Mike is now able to cover down for the “snag” route, the defense has introduced a safety into the box, creating a third level conflict player. When teams do this they are exposing themselves to an even bigger play, the backside post shot. By creating a conflicted player in the secondary, the defense has put a CB in isolation. Most modern defenses are trying to find ways to stay in a two-shell to combat one-on-one matchups in the secondary. By sinking, the defense has eliminated a 5-yard route to replace it with a deep shot.

Over Special

Continue reading “How do you play Trips? Pt. 1”