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 latest Quick Hits video dissects a defense’s structure and explains key elements to defending the spread. Key terms are discussed such as cover down (a defender’s relation to the slot), overhangs (force players outside the box), and “box” players (players within the frame of the offensive line). These elements discussed are crucial to the structure of any defense and understanding how the offense relates and attacks these players is important to stopping any offense.
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:
Argument for Two-High
Defending the Modern Spread Offense
Defending Run/Pass Options
Systematic Creativity of a Quarters Defense
The Art of Match Quarters
All About the Cover Down
Designing a Modern Defense
Setting the Strength
Defending Formations into the Boundary
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.”
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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”
One of the greatest luxuries in football is when a defense has enough depth in the secondary to create a Dime package. As spread has become the norm in football, the Nickel package, replacing a linebacker with a secondary player (usually a safety), has become the norm and many defenses’ base. Most teams have “tween” or hybrid players. Utilizing these players on defense has made it easier for defensive coordinators to adjust to the onslaught of spread teams. The Dime package, in particular, is different than its sister the Nickel package. Instead of replacing a LB with a safety, the Dime package puts two defensive backs in and replaces either two LBs (four-down) or a LB and a defensive lineman (three-down). The specific package being discussed in this article will cover the three-down, three safety Dime package most generally seen in college today.
A 3-4 Base
If a defense’s base is a 3-4, it can easily adjust to the spread by putting a Nickleback at Sam, much like its counterpart, the 4-2-5. A three-down Dime package takes the Mike off the field and inserts either a safety or a CB depending on the DC’s preference and the scheme being used. The front most used in a Dime package is the Buck Front or a 505 front. This ensures an edge rusher on either side of the quarterback that will define the box. The Nose’s role is to get a vertical push on the pocket and make the QB move. Below is a diagram of a 3-4 Buck Dime Package:
The first decision that has to be made when developing a Dime package is who is going to be part of the Dime package personnel? If looking to run more of a man scheme, a DC is more likely to bring on two cornerbacks and leave the two most athletic LBs on the field. As stated earlier, more defenses are shifting to a Nickel/Hybrid base. This means the traditional Sam LB is actually a safety. In the case above, the Nickelback is more than likely a third CB while the Dimeback is another safety. Continue reading “The Dime Package”
Offenses use Flare & A-Behind motion to force the defense to move. Don’t get out leveraged.
Quick motions are a great way to get the defense out leveraged. The fast motion is like eye candy for linebackers and safeties, using the speed of the receiver to get the defense to over shift. Jet motion in particular forces the defense to try and cut off the motion because of the tempo at which the motion attacks. To combat Jet motions many defenses turn to spinning towards the motion so the overhang can force a cutback. Though this technique can work in the shorthand, spinning to the motion tends to leave teams vulnerable away from the spin safety.
As offenses have evolved, quick motions have become an integral part of spread concepts. In a traditional motion, the WR changes from one side of the formation to an another on a flat path. The speed of the WR depends on the route he will run. For the most part, traditional motions have the WR jog across the formation. As the spread has evolved from traditional motion to jet motions, another way offenses have learned to attack how defenses react to motion is by flaring the running back out of the backfield. This type of quick motion forces the LBs to push and gain width between their run responsibility and the man they are responsible for in the pass. This width creates conflict, and as all defensive coaches know, offenses love conflicted players. Continue reading “Defending Flare/Quick Motion”
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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Stop calls for 3rd down from a 3-4. Don’t just “drop 8.”
There are two trains of thought on 3rd down from a 3-4. Drop eight, sit back, play it conservative and tackle the ball in front of the sticks, or blitz the QB, put pressure on him right now and force a quick errant throw. Either philosophy can work, but it is important to know what the offense is trying to do. Obviously, the opponent breakdown is a huge key on how a team attacks third down. When a defense gets a team into passing situations it can attack by blitzing, or attack the passing scheme a team uses. Third down is when most offensive coordinators get conservative and predictable. They want to move the chains, that is obvious, so instead of attack a defense, they get conservative and just, “Try and get a first down.”
On obvious passing downs, it is important to have a plan. What is the offense trying to do in 3rd and medium situations? Is the offense an “all stops” team, a “clear out/HBO” team, or do they run a “levels” scheme and sprint out? The big question on 3rd and medium is if the offense is attacking down the field, or attacking the “sticks.” Many times in 3rd and med. situations, the offense is trying to attack the marker by running quick hitting routes that can turn into first downs. The question that needs to be answered for 3rd and long is, do they attack vertically, throw screens, or use the draw? Once a defensive coordinator has an idea on what an offense likes, he can attack the tendency. Every defensive coach knows, win 3rd down and win the game. Continue reading “MQ’s 3rd Down Calls from a 3-4”
Finding defensive lineman is hard, especially at smaller enrollment high schools. The trend from four-down to three-down is always fluctuating. As more teams turn to the spread because of the lack of lineman, it is only natural for defensive coordinators to go “small” as well. Adding athletes to the field is never a bad thing, and if the “heaviest” formation a defense will face is a two-back 20 personnel set, then why not keep a faster defense on the field? The trend is playing out on Saturday’s too. Look at any conference that is heavy spread and the defenses are just smaller. They have to be. The phrase, “Speed kills,” has more validity than ever before.
The spread offense is based on the inside and outside zone, plus the reads and RPO’s that go along with them. Many add gap plays, but the offense is predicated on the cutback. This can be a devastating play to defenses that have an immobile defensive lineman or linebackers that over pursue. The point of a zone play is to engage the point of attack, allow the defense to commit, then wall off the over pursuit. The cutback lane is the sweet spot for the offense.
In this day and age, the great defensive minds turn disadvantages into their own advantage. If a team is zone heavy, why not plug the middle and force the cutback early, if not drastically? Most high school offenses rely on a speedy back to hit the outside or cut it all the way to the backside. Again, why not make that an advantage for the defense? The 3-4 Tite Front can be a simple way to eliminate the inside zone, make the read for the QB harder, and force the teams that like to run outside to run outside to open defenders. Continue reading “The 3-4 Tite Front”
Offenses are packaging their plays, why can’t the defense?
Packaged plays are all the rage right now in the world of offensive football. The advent of the RPO has created a disparity between the offense and defense. As offenses find ways to package their plays and react off the alignment of the defense, it is putting tremendous pressure on defensive coordinators to call the correct pressure at the right time. With teams creating matchup problems with formation into the boundary (FTB), wide splits, and tempo, the defensive schema must begin to change in concerns to playcalling. More importantly in regards to how defenses line up and attack formations. Defensive coaches who call plays by field/boundary or strong/weak need to adjust their theories. Calling plays to a direction is no different than guessing and is short sighted because no huddle teams can run several different formations, and get into different personnel sets without subbing. So, in reality, by calling a strong side blitz you could be running it right into the exact thing you don’t want, an extra blocker. When offenses play with a tight end, or “H”, they can run a spread set one play, TE set the next, and switch to a two-back power formation to finish it off; all this while the offense tempos and the defense must adjust on the fly. In the case diagramed below, TCU had to defend an 11 personnel, 10 pers., and finally a 21 pers. set back-to-back with tempo. If a DC is not formationing his calls, he could get into something that is fatal or don’t call anything and end up predictable.
If a defense doesn’t package its blitzes, or formations its calls, then it is at a huge disadvantage. Guessing against tempo and RPO teams is deadly. On paper, the best way to approach calling blitzes is to allow the offense to get set and then call the blitz. That sounds great, but against tempo teams it is impossible. How does a defense call blitzes that react to the offensive formation? Simple, package the blitzes that come from the same blitz or movement tree. Offenses do this all the time. By combining several plays into one call, the offense can quickly react off the box numbers and coverage. Essentially they can run a different play every time the ball is snapped without subbing. Combine this with changing the formation and the defense can get off kilter fast. Defenses can do this too, by packaging blitzes from the same tree and keep the base defensive structure and rules. See the example below. This is the same blitz, “America”, but run to fit what the offense gives it. Like a defensive RPO.
The power read is one of the spread’s hardest plays to defend because it stresses the techniques taught by most defensive coaches, and stretches the field horizontally. Any time an offense can attack both planes it is going to stress the defenses’ core principles. Unlike a QB power, where the RB blocks out on the end and guard pulls for the ILB, the power read plays on the flow read of the ILB. The RB takes a stretch path and heads for the edge. Instead of reading the backside end like the zone read, the power read uses the front side end as the read man and attacks his fit. Below is a live look at the power read.
The trips set creates a dilemma for any defensive coordinator and starts in the box. The problem with any 3-by-1 (3×1) set is how you defend the #3 receiver. If a defense runs an under front, removes the Mike, and covers him down on the #3 WR, you lose a man in the box and make the Mike a fold player. A fold 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, who spreads their trips past the hash, and the Mike will struggle to get the #3, and fold into the box. In theory, the Mike is always wrong. That’s pretty depressing news for a DC.
If a coordinator 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 easy. The answer for most coaches is to kick the coverage (bring the backside safety across), or spin to Cover 3. 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. In order 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 coverage piece to 3×1.
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.