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 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”

MQ’s Link Book | #ArtofX

Find everything you need in one place.

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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– Coach A.

Defending 20 Personnel – Over vs Under

How to attack 2o pers. using the offense’s tendencies.

There is a reason so many spread teams are using 2o personnel as a base formation. Slot-T teams like Auburn use jet motion and pulling guards to out leverage the defense, even using RPOs to find wide open receivers downfield. Florida St. uses a split-backfield to 01-pop-setsattack the defense with speed to the edge. Teams like Baylor and Ole Miss use 20 pers. formations to use RPO style attacks, Baylor with the third level vertical option routes and Ole Miss with Arc-Read RPOs. There are multiple ways to attack a defense from 20 pers. just using the backfields alone. Each set can create a different read for the QB (all this without using unbalanced and motion). The diagram to the left depicts some of the more popular backfields an offense likes to run out of 20 pers (this doesn’t even include Pistol or “I” sets). When breaking down a 20 pers. offense, each backfield creates a new formation. If an offense uses each one of the above backfield sets in their offense, it forces the defense to look at the formational data with a more critical eye.

For a defensive coach, 20 pers. causes problems not only in the backfield but with the three receivers. There is a tendency by some DC’s to spin against 20 pers. The thought process behind spinning is the offense has added another blocker, and potentially another gap, so to counteract tspin-to-hhat, a DC will spin. The diagram to the right depicts a defense that has spun to the H-back. This allows the Sam to work back to the box. Though the defense has created a plus-one to the field, they have left themselves exposed to the boundary. All an offense has to do is run a simple Arc-Read to the boundary and the offense has a numbers advantage. If a defense is going to spin against 20 pers., it is in the defense’s best interest to spin weak. Leveraging the boundary allows the pass distribution to the field stay intact, and a defense can play a hybrid quarters scheme to the boundary. The issue with spinning to the boundary is the third-level RPO read off the dropping safety. Teams that run a backside choice with the single receiver will see the dropping safety and run a post/slant right behind him. The best plan of action versus a 20 pers. offense is to stay in a two-high scheme and use the safeties as extra box players. The question now is, what about the front? Continue reading “Defending 20 Personnel – Over vs Under”

#FMT – Defending Split Zone

Ideas on combating a simple yet effective play.

Inside zone is not a new play to defensive coordinators; neither is the split zone, but it can give defenses fits if not fit up correctly. In its simplicity, it is a creative play to challenge a defense. Unlike its zone counterpart, the split zone creates an extra gap. The play itself is much like the counter without the pulling guard. When offenses run counter the linebackers can react to the pulling guard and fit the extra gaps. The split zone forces the linebackers to fit their gaps. This puts pressure on the secondary (mainly the safeties) to ensure their fits are correct. In the clip below, Iowa St. runs a gap plug blitz and the defensive end to the H-back runs up the field to hold the “C” gap. The out block by the “H” creates an extra gap. The safety to the play should have fit the inside shoulder of the “H” because the DE was taking the outside. Instead, the safety stays outside and is blocked out, leading to Baylor’s first score of the day. Bottom line, split zone has to be treated as though it is a gap play (think power/counter) or a defense will be gashed.

Teams that run inside zone are looking for the cutback. Versus a zone play, the linebackers have to fill their gaps (there is no puller). The offensive line creates a wall and allows the running back to cut back to the open weak side. In the clip above, ISU was running a run stop blitz, but because the safety didn’t fit his gap, it led to a touchdown. Teams that run split zone and the read-option offshoot, need to be played as though they are gap scheme heavy teams. Add RPO’s to this play, and it puts tremendous pressure on a defense, all from a simple zone scheme. There is hope, much like the zone read, a defense can attack this play on the principles of the offense. Continue reading “#FMT – Defending Split Zone”