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”
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 lineman 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.
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”
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”
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”
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”
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.