Cautious Aggression

Defensive schemes to combat spread offenses.

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

.98 Cover Pic

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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

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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:

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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 Empty and Quads Open

When teams empty the backfield know how to line up.

Teams run empty backfields to isolate WRs and open the middle of the field. With more teams opting for athletic QBs, empty sets have become a way to expand the QB running game. Defensive coordinators that want to keep a six-man box are forced to run “Zero” coverage behind the front with help only coming by late support underneath from the inside linebackers (better to just send a six-man pressure and force an errant throw), or spin to single-high. Either way, “Zero” or single-high coverage, the defense is putting its defenders in one-on-one situations. Split field defense can adjust to any empty set, but it puts the ILBs in conflict. Following base Trips rules and running an Under Front versus Empty, the Will LB is responsible for the “A” gap yet has to cover down to the weak slot. This conflict can be used against the defense and is a primary example of why Empty sets are so hard to defend.

The sister formation to Empty is Quads. This set stresses the defense even more and forces the backside safety to become a box player. The Quads set shifts the defense to the four WR side. This shift puts the DS into primary fit support in the “A” gap and completely takes the Mike LB out of the fit (another reason teams like Quads). By taking a box LB out of his fit, the offense has now forced the defense into an uncomfortable situation. Spread teams also like Quads when they have a stud WR. By alignment alone, Quads forces a one-on-one situation to the single WR side. The DS still can help the backside CB, but with any run action by the QB, or a pulling Guard, the DS must honor his fit and work into the box. This allows a brief window in the middle of the field (high percentage throw). Whether 3×2 or 4×1, the offense can put immense pressure on defenses by eliminating the RB from the backfield. All is not lost, 4-2-5/4-3 split field defenses have several ways they can combat empty backfield formations without blitzing or dropping eight.  Continue reading “Defending Empty and Quads Open”

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 20 Pers. — 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 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 bubbles routes while the Cover 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, the offense can take advantage of the deep safety and the corner being run off by #1. Even versus an out route the Sam, who aligns inside, can be frozen by a run read and late on the pass. See below:

02-sky-vs-sz-pap

In a 4-3/4-2-5 scheme, 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 Quartes scheme. Northwestern turned to a Smash concept (stop/corner) to take advantage of an aggressive Sam and the inside leverage of the safety. Though the pass was not completed, it exposed the defense’s scheme.

On third down, Northwestern ran a Divide scheme (three verticals dividing the field into thirds) and took advantage of a blown coverage by the CB, 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, or field robber. 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. — Read Coverage”

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MatchQuarters.com’s Philosophy of Football ::

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Go deeper into defending the spread with MQ’s Book ::

Cautious Aggression: Defending Modern Football:

https://matchquarters.com/2017/06/22/cautious-aggression/

Defending the Spread ::

Formations/Run Fits

  1. Zero the Mike (Belly-Key)https://matchquarters.com/2016/07/22/fmt-zero-the-mike/
  2. Using Natural Gap Exchanges in Your Front Sevenhttps://matchquarters.com/2016/12/30/teaching-gap-exchanges/
  3.  Line Twists to Combat Heavy Zone Teamshttps://matchquarters.com/2016/10/28/fmt-tex-stunts-to-combat-zone/
  4. Defending the Zone Readhttps://matchquarters.com/2016/07/25/attacking-the-zone-read/
  5. Defending the Power Readhttps://matchquarters.com/2016/09/02/fmt-stopping-the-power-read/
  6. Defending Split Zonehttps://matchquarters.com/2016/10/07/fmt-defending-split-zone/
  7. Defending Unbalanced Setshttps://matchquarters.com/2017/02/10/defending-the-spreads-unbalanced-sets/

Coverages

  1. Defending the Air Raidhttps://matchquarters.com/2017/02/03/steal-coverage-to-combat-air-raid-offenses/
  2. The Dime Packagehttps://matchquarters.com/2017/05/12/the-dime-package/

Motions

  1. Defending Jet Motionhttps://matchquarters.com/2016/11/18/fmt-defending-jet-motion/
  2. Defending A-Behind and Flare Motionhttps://matchquarters.com/2017/04/07/defending-flarequick-motion/

Defending the RPOs ::

  1. RPO Stop Callshttps://matchquarters.com/2016/08/19/fmt-three-rpos-three-stop-calls/
  2. Using Split-Field Coverage to Counteract RPO & Check-With-Me Offenseshttps://matchquarters.com/2016/10/03/leveraging-the-boundary/

Defending Trips/Empty ::

  1. 10/Empty Personnel:
    1. Why You Should Run an Under Front to 3×1 Sets:  https://matchquarters.com/2016/07/18/how-do-you-play-trips/
    2. Trips Coverages Explainedhttps://matchquarters.com/2016/08/08/how-do-you-play-trips-pt2/
      1. Defending Trips with Stress Coveragehttps://matchquarters.com/2017/03/10/defending-trips-stress-coverage/
      2. Defending Trips with Special Coveragehttps://matchquarters.com/2017/03/17/defending-trips-special-coverage/
      3. Defending 3×1 Formations with Solo Coveragehttps://matchquarters.com/2017/06/09/defending-3×1-formations-solo-coverage/
    3. Defending Empty and Quadshttps://matchquarters.com/2017/03/31/defending-empty-and-quads-open/
    4. Attacking Emptyhttps://matchquarters.com/2016/11/25/fmt-three-ways-to-attack-empty/

Defending Formations/Personnel Groups ::

  1. Defending Stack and Bunch Setshttps://matchquarters.com/2016/10/17/defending-stack-and-bunch-sets/
  2. 11 Personnelhttps://matchquarters.com/2016/08/22/tight-end-sets-vs-match-quarters/
  3. 20 Personnel:
    1. Over vs Underhttps://matchquarters.com/2016/12/23/defending-20-personnel-over-vs-under/
    2. Read Coverage (Field Robber)https://matchquarters.com/2017/01/06/defending-20-pers-read-coverage/
  4. 21 Personnelhttps://matchquarters.com/2016/09/05/defending-power-football/
  5. 12 Personnelhttps://matchquarters.com/2016/11/21/lining-up-to-ace/
  6. 30 Personnelhttps://matchquarters.com/2016/11/04/fmt-defending-the-diamond/
  7. Defending the Wing-Thttps://matchquarters.com/2016/11/11/fmt-tips-on-defending-the-wing-t/

Stop Calls/Pressures/Blitzes ::

  1. Packaging Blitz Callshttps://matchquarters.com/2016/09/12/how-to-package-your-blitz-calls/
  2. Building a Better Zone Blitzhttps://matchquarters.com/2016/08/15/building-a-better-blitz/
  3. Run Down Stop Callshttps://matchquarters.com/2016/09/23/fmt-3-run-down-stop-calls/

Quarters Pedagogy and Drill Tapes ::

  1. Teaching the Safetieshttps://matchquarters.com/2016/11/28/how-i-teach-match-quarters-pt-2/
  2. Teaching the Cornershttps://matchquarters.com/2016/10/31/how-i-teach-match-quarters/
  3. Match Quarters Pass Distributions: https://matchquarters.com/2016/10/21/fmt-four-and-two-read/
  4. Daily Musts for DBshttps://matchquarters.com/2016/09/30/fmt-daily-must/
  5. LB Philosophy and Fundamentalshttps://matchquarters.com/2017/01/27/linebacker-drills-and-fundamentals/

3-4 Resources ::

  1. The Okie Fronthttps://matchquarters.com/2016/08/12/fmt-the-not-so-odd-front/
  2. Defending Modern Spread from Okiehttps://matchquarters.com/2017/01/20/defending-the-spread-from-a-3-4/
  3. The Tite Front (303/404)https://matchquarters.com/2016/10/10/the-3-4-tite-front/
  4. 3rd Down Calls From a 3-4https://matchquarters.com/2016/10/14/fmt-3rd-down-calls-from-a-3-4/

Install/Opponent Breakdowns/Practice/Self-Scout ::

  1. Install Plan for a 4-2-5https://matchquarters.com/2017/04/14/four-day-install-plan/
  2. Breaking Down an Opponenthttps://matchquarters.com/2016/12/19/breaking-down-an-opponent/
  3. Down & Distance Datahttps://matchquarters.com/2016/12/16/fmt-down-and-distance/
  4. Breaking Down the Runhttps://matchquarters.com/2017/02/24/breaking-down-the-run/
  5. Breaking Down the Pass: https://matchquarters.com/2017/02/17/breaking-down-the-pass/
  6. Building a Hit Charthttps://matchquarters.com/2016/09/09/fmt-building-a-hit-chart/
  7. Weekly Schedule (Practice Plan): https://matchquarters.com/2016/09/16/fmt-weekly-schedule/
  8. 5 Cut-ups to Improve Your Self-Scouthttps://matchquarters.com/2017/03/03/five-cut-ups-to-improve-your-off-season-self-scout/

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