Simulated Pressures From a “Positionless” Defense (2019 Sugar Bowl)

MQ takes a look at Texas’ 3rd Down pressure package versus Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

The Spread offense has touched every corner of college football. The SEC used to be one of the sole holdouts with only a few teams, namely Ole Miss and Texas A&M, embracing the shift. Saban has finally embraced the change as well, throwing the ball more than he ever has before with Tua Tagovailoa. The 2019 National Championship saw a battle of Spread teams that featured two of the most efficient offenses in the country (and two of the best QBs as well).

Even the NFL saw many of its teams embrace a more open style of play. Defenses in “the Leauge” were getting scored on at a historic rate. Sean McVay and his 11 personnel under center (UTC) offense has taken over the league en route to a Super Bowl appearance. In McVay’s offense, the use of quick motions, multiple formations, and what seems to be an Air Raid-ish passing game has given NFL defenses fits all year. Even further, turn on a Cowboys or Seahawks game and you are likely to see multiple ways to run the Zone or Arc Read. The trickle-up effect is in full swing. Even former Big 12 Head Coach Kliff Kingsbury got a head coaching job with the Cardinals on nothing more than his offensive acumen.

One key element I talked about in my latest book, Hybrids: The Making of a Modern Defense, is the use of a more positionless defensive gameplan going forward into the future. Rigid positional structures are giving way to a more fluid style of play. For example, to counteract the speed of the Raven’s Lamar Jackson, the San Diego Chargers went uber-small and put up to SEVEN DBs on the field at a time. This is something, until this year, fathomable only on a 3rd and Long or an end of a half situation in the NFL. The Chargers based out of it for a whole game!

This positionless style of play allows hybrid players, primarily at linebacker and defensive back, to play a larger role. In the NFL, the increasing use of 11 pers. groupings are being countered by many defenses basing out of a Nickel defense. Since L.T. in the ’80s, most NFL defenses also carry a hybrid DE, regardless if basing out of a three or four-down defense. The use of “small ball” to counteract the space created by Spread offenses is understandable. Hybrid players allow an almost endless amount of ways to blitz and pressure an offense without losing coverage ability (you’re dropping a speedy LB/DB instead of a rigid D-lineman).

The Big 12 is not new to the concept of “smaller” faster players playing on the defensive side of the ball. The notion that the Big 12 doesn’t play defense is false. Innovation comes from desperation, and in the offensive gauntlet that is the Big 12, it has created an evolutionary playground for defensive (and offensive) football. It comes as no surprise that in a league that is at the forefront of the evolution of the Spread would feature unique defenses within the league to counter the offensive onslaught.

Though Iowa State and their base Broken Stack that features a three-safety Dime Robber scheme has become the most popular scheme within the league, in truth, it is Todd Orlando at Texas that has made his mark around the country behind his use of a positionless defense and defending the wide-open schemes found in the league. I wrote about Orlando’s prowess as a DC in my article discussing how teams attack the Tite Front, the Longhorn’s base defense, but it is his use of multiple personnel packages within a game that truly shows his knack as a DC.

00 Base

The Longhorns base out of a 3-4 that utilizes the Tite Front (404) and a stand-up hybrid DE to the weak side, or away from the passing strength (this is “Mint” in Saban-speak). The inside LB corp consists of a Mike and what is referred to as a “B” ‘backer. In Orlando’s scheme, the Mike is the plugger and will go away from the Nose. This allows the “B” ‘backer to be a free player and essentially “go get the football!” The Longhorns base with a true Nickel as well, and align him opposite the Jack, primarily with the passing strength. The image above shows the Longhorns base look against the ever prevalent “Y-Off” 20 pers. looks seen in many Power Spread offenses.


“Positionless” Defense

Like Iowa State, Texas has a three-safety “Dime” package that they utilize against pass-heavy offenses (think Kingbury’s Tech) or in obvious pass downs where Orlando wants to drop eight and flood the zones. The beauty within Orlando’s use of interchangeable players allows him to stay within packages, but get different pre-snap looks. It also gives him the ability to put players in situations to take advantage of deficiencies within an offensive scheme or weaker/slower players. Continue reading “Simulated Pressures From a “Positionless” Defense (2019 Sugar Bowl)”

Attacking the Tite Front

The Tite Front is becoming a popular way to defend the Spread; it’s important to understand how teams are going to attack it on the ground.

The Tite Front was all the rage during the 2017 season. From Georgia in the SEC to the Longhorns and Cyclones in the Big 12, the “new-age” Double Eagle took flight as one of the top ways to contain high powered Spread offenses. Georgia and Texas used the front and similar coverage schemes as a base, with both finding themselves in BCfToys.com’s top 10 in Defensive Efficiency (adjusted for the strength of opponent offenses faced – UGA was #5 and Texas #6).

The Iowa St. Cyclones rose from #103 in 2016 to a respectable #32 in BCfToy’s efficiency rankings in 2017. The Cyclones and Longhorns most notably did it while using a 3-safety “Dime” package for parts of the season. The Cyclones used the “Dime” look as their base defense for the entire season, leading to victories over high-powered offenses like Oklahoma (#1 in BCfToys’ Offensive Efficiency) and Memphis (#16).

The Tite Front works because it forces the offense to bounce everything outside. The two DEs (4is) in the “B” gaps close off the lifeline for every Spread team, the “conflict” gaps. Spread offenses search for the “B” gap because that is where the conflicted player usually is for a defense. By closing both “B” gaps, the offense has to either plug it up the “A” gap (which most Spread teams won’t do) or run it outside. Defenses that base out of the Tite Front don’t mind the bounce because their speedy (and usually “free”)LBs can now chase down the RB while its overhangs box everything back inside (think of them like the Double Eagle’s wide-9s). The diagram below illustrates the front’s usefulness versus a popular Spread play, the Power Read.

Tite vs PWR READ (W)

The 404 alignment does several things for the box: 1) the offensive line can’t climb because of the 4is, and 2) it frees up at least one of the inside linebackers (if not both). In the illustration above, the play side offensive tackle will either have to handle the 4i by himself or rely on the guard for a double team. If the guard decides to climb for the Mike (illustrated), the 4i can easily get penetration and maybe even block or negate the pull (I have a clip of this later vs TCU’s 11p single-back Power).

If the guard stays on the 4i (double team), both the Mike and Will are left free to flow with the play and what DC doesn’t want is ILBs free-flowing to the ball? In this particular instance shown above, the Jack ‘backer walls the play by climbing to the RB. The defense has numbers and is plus-one on the pulling guard. One thing to not overlook is the away side 4i who has leverage on the away side tackle. Once the guard pulls (the 4i’s key), he can chase and climb to the mesh. The play is ultimately killed.

Texas and Georgia, in particular, had great success all year running similar schemes from a base Tite Front. In this year’s (2018) THSCA Football Lecture, Georgia Head Coach Kirby Smart attributed his use of the Tite Front and how he played the secondary behind it to his meeting with Texas’ own, Todd Orlando. Most defensive coaches can recognize the usefulness of the front, but one thing is clear, Spread offenses will try and figure it out. It wasn’t all about the front either, the use of Match 3 (Rip/Liz) and the rebirth/redesign of the (Dime) Tampa 2, was a big contributor to how teams attacked the Longhorns, Cyclones, and Bulldogs.  Continue reading “Attacking the Tite Front”