5 Tips For Blitzing From The Secondary

MQ discusses 5 things to remember when blitzing from the secondary.

Utilizing the secondary in blitz packages is one of the most underutilized tools in a defensive coordinator’s toolbox. As many DC’s will point out, blitzing from the secondary will expose the defense to man-to-man coverage, but if used correctly (and in the right situations) a secondary blitz can hit home. When offenses create pass protection schemes they use the box numbers in front of them to divvy out responsibilities. Whether it is Big-on-Big (BOB), slide, or zone protection, the secondary is rarely accounted for in pass pro. Knowing this, and utilizing the secondary in pressure packages, can give the defense an added advantage and lead to QB pressures or sacks.

Using the secondary near the box is not only for the pass. Much like pass pro, some offenses do not account for the secondary in the box. This can be used to the defense’s advantage. Putting a secondary player near the box and knowing he will not be accounted for is an automatic win for the defense. The use of “trapping” the secondary near the box can also be used to confuse “check-with-me” teams. By placing a secondary player near the line of scrimmage (LOS), the offense must decide if the defense is blitzing or will drop the player back into coverage. By utilizing the secondary in pressure packages a DC can create a simple confusing alignment that offenses have to respect. If done right, using the secondary to leverage the boundary can add to the box numbers without spinning to single-high and exposing the defense to verticals down the seam (or a LB guarding a speedy slot WR).

Below, MQ explains 5 things to remember when blitzing from the secondary:  Continue reading “5 Tips For Blitzing From The Secondary”

“How Do You Play Trips?” Pt. 3 – Defending the Run

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”

5 Tips for Defending Spread Option Teams

MQ details 5 things to remember when facing a Spread Option team.

One offensive play that has not lost its power in modern football is the option. Spread offenses utilize option principles to test the mettle of a defense’s structure. An option offense forces the defense to play assignment football. Each player on a defense must stay gap sound and understand how the structure of the defense adapts versus each option play. When defending an offense that runs a variation of the Triple Option from Spread formations, a defense must have three main components: 1) a Dive player, 2) a Quarterback player, & 3) a pitch-man. Add pulling guards and trap plays and a Spread Option offense can inflict a lot of damage if the defense is not disciplined.

One of the main keys for defending Spread Option teams is eye discipline. It is imperative that each position on a defense understands his fits and read keys. When option teams motion it creates eye “candy” and distractors for defenders, especially at the linebacker level (Jet or Orbit motion). Spread Option teams also make it difficult to blitz. When applying pressure to an option offense the defense can expose itself to being a man short if the players do not understand how the pressure changes option responsibilities.

Many defenses choose to stay in base and fit the option. This can work if the defense has better players than the offense, but in most cases staying static helps the offense learn how to pinpoint a defense’s weaknesses. Understanding how Spread Option teams want to attack a defense’s structure is crucial in defending option offenses. Below are 5 tips for defending these types of teams:  Continue reading “5 Tips for Defending Spread Option Teams”

Defending 10 pers. 2×2 Pistol

Three ideas on defending the spread’s most even set.

One question I get on a regular basis is how does a Pistol backfield change the way a defense adjusts to the spread. When utilized with even formations (2×2), the Pistol can create hesitation in how a defense traditionally sets up against the spread. If setting the front formationally, a defense can align quickly and efficiently to most formations. For most four-down defenses, the front is set to a TE (Over Front) or away from Trips (Under Front) to allow maximum cover downs. The main issues arise when offenses employ the Pistol from a 2×2 or Doubles formation. Like Ace and Diamond, 10 personnel 2×2 Pistol forces the defense to choose where to set the front by field or boundary. If the offense aligns in the middle of the field (MOF), the defense has to make a choice between right or left. Because of the Pistol’s unique backfield alignment, the offense can identify the conflict player and attack, leaving the defense vulnerable.

In traditional “gun” formations the offense has put the back on one side of the formation. Teams can run same-side zones and gap plays (pulling runs), but many utilize the offset running back to read the defensive end or conflict player to that side of the back. There are three main front adjustments for defenses when defending 2×2 gun: 1) set the front to the back (Over), 2) set the front away from the back (Under), or 3) set the front to the field. The later becomes difficult in the MOF. I suggest in my book that a defense should, at the least, set the front to the back to maximize Sam’s cover down and deter read side RPOs. Versus a true even set like 2×2 Pistol, this can be impossible to determine if in the MOF.

Versus a 2×2 gun formation, the defense is broken into two parts, the read side (back’s side) and the fold side. Against a team the sets their back in the Pistol alignment the offense can easily establish where the conflict player is located and attack. This two-way-go can make it difficult for defensive coordinators to game plan against teams that run Pistol. Establishing front rules against a “gun” team is relatively easy, but to understand how to set the front versus 2×2 Pistol a defensive coordinator must first understand the formation.  Continue reading “Defending 10 pers. 2×2 Pistol”

Cautious Aggression

Defensive schemes to combat spread offenses.

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

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Buy it on immediately on CreateSpaceAmazon, and Kindle. Click the provider below and order your copy today (Links open in new window).

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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

Episode #2 — MQ Quick Hits :: The Over Front

A 5 minute video on the “Art of X.”

This is a brief video on how to defend the modern spread attack by utilizing the structure of the Over Front. It covers everything from setting the strength to combating RPOs.

Continue reading “Episode #2 — MQ Quick Hits :: The Over Front”

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”

Lining Up to Ace

What to do with those two extra gaps.

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Lining up to an Ace set can be one of the most difficult formations for any defensive coordinator. The two extra gaps created by the TE’s force the defense to account for them in the run fits. If the offense decides to line both receivers up on the same side (Trey), it creates a three-receiver formation, with the added pressure of an extra gap to the strong side. Away from the Trey side, there is a “nub” TE (TE with no WR) and another gap created that the defense has to account for and subsequently defend (versus a traditional 11 personnel set, the defense can easily address the newly created gap). The concern in 11 personnel shifts to how a defense addresses the cover down to the two-speed side.

When offenses run Ace Trey, the defense has to account for two extra gaps as well as the cover down on the two-speed side. If the offense runs its sets from the pistol, they literally have two strong points of attack. The Ace grouping of formations is very similar to the Diamond in the fact the offense can max protect and run with extra blockers from an even set, essentially gaining a two-way-go and the ability to  attack the side the offense feels it has the most advantage. Unlike the Diamond formation (inverted Bone), where the extra gaps can be created by the backfield post-snap, the Ace formations establish the gaps before the snap of the ball. This immediate addressing of the gaps forces the defense to show its cards. Continue reading “Lining Up to Ace”

Defending the Diamond Formation

Ideas on defending a unique and multiple set.

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The inverted bone offensive set has become an integral part of many spread offenses over the past decade. The set is similar to the 12 personnel “Ace” set (2×2 with two TEs) and reflects how offenses have gotten creative by taking the TEs off the ball. Any even set with a “pistol” backfield has created a two-way-go with their play calling. Defensively this puts pressure on the players to set the front to the strength. With modern football moving more towards hybrid players, the Diamond set allows for offenses to move seamlessly from 30 personnel to 20/10/11 personnel. Add tempo to the mix, and defenses now have to line up correctly to multiple sets without a sub to tell them what they are getting.  Continue reading “Defending the Diamond Formation”

Defending Stack and Bunch Sets

Theories on attacking the spread’s cluster sets.

One of the hardest sets in football to defend is the cluster or stack set. Spread offenses utilize this set to get the defense’s outside linebackers in run/pass conflicts. Unlike a traditional 2×2 set, the defense has to adjust to the width of the receivers. Stacking them creates width, and width creates the conflict. Spread teams rely on the open “B” gap to build their RPO’s and offensive gameplan. By stacking the receivers out wide, the defense is forced to adjust. In a two-high system, the player in conflict (usually the Will LB) has to choose, cover down to his receiver or hold tight to the box. If he stays close to the box, the offense is going to throw the quick screen and create a 1-on-1 open field tackling matchup with the safety or corner. In most cases, the defense wants to avoid this as much as possible. On the other end of the spectrum, if the defender widens to the cluster set, the offense has a 4-1 box and a clear running opportunity. Versus a two-high system, there is a great chance for the offense to part the field like the Red Sea for a big gain. Ask any offensive coach, a 4-1 box is a magical thing.

In the image below, Penn St. runs and Under front and “hips” it’s Sam LB to the strength. In most RPO style offenses, this is a clear pass read. The Sam has to honor the run read and step to his gap. Even with zone away and a gap exchange with the crashing DE (in this set the DE has dive), the Sam has to take a step towards the box. The QB is taught to read the Sam’s path and throw the screen. Penn. St. is most likely in a “Cloud” coverage (Two Read) and the safety is bailing on the snap. Easy pickings for any decent offensive coordinator. It’s a conflict of philosophy; the offense wants 1-on-1 matchups and the defense wants a plus-one. In order to create a six-man box and protect against the run, the defense has to spin to single-high, but to keep a plus-one in pass distribution it has to stay in two-high, something has to give. MatchQuarters explores the options.

Continue reading “Defending Stack and Bunch Sets”

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 “Defending Split Zone”

3 Run Down Stop Calls

Have a plan for run downs.

The best option on the first play of a drive against most offenses is to line up in your base and see how the offense is planning on attacking the defense for that series. The objective for any defense is to stay ahead of the chains on 1st down and make the offense work for the rest. It is amazing to think how hard it is to get just ten yards. Calling a defense is easy when the offense has its back against the wall on 3rd and long. It is the in-between downs (2nd/3rd and medium), that a defensive coordinator earns their title.

The medium downs are truly the “gray area” of football. Blitzing on these downs is crucial to staying ahead of the chains. Get too aggressive and the defense can give up a big play through the air, or missed gap assignment, stay too passive and a defense can watch as the offense slowly trots down the field. Like anything, there has to be a happy medium. All blitzes are not designed the same. There is a blitz for every situation, and it is the role of a defensive coordinator to call them at the correct time. The focus of this #FMT – Friday Morning Tempo is to highlight three run-down stop calls every DC must have on their call sheet.  Continue reading “3 Run Down Stop Calls”

Three RPOs – Three Stop Calls

Defending the Spread’s three top RPOs.

It is never too late to look for innovative ideas to stop RPOs. The game of football is changing on a yearly basis for defenses. Offensive coaches are finding interesting ways to combine plays, all while simplifying the playbook. It is amazing to think that one simple read-arc play shown below can have four different outcomes. The multiplicity that is a simple 20 personnel read-arc play combined with tempo can stress even the most experienced coordinator.

RPO 1

Defensive coordinators in the modern game have to prepare for all four plays shown above when deciding how to attack the formation shown. Add tempo into the mix, and to the untrained eye, it looks like the offense is running multiple plays. Offenses can even use the H-back and a hybrid slot to align in 11, 10, 20, or 30 pers. looks without subbing one play. That is a lot for a defense to handle.

A great example of how this particular formation and play can be used was seen in the 2013 BBVA Compas Bowl between Pitt and Ole Miss. Following a touchdown by Pitt in the 2nd Quarter, Ole Miss came out and ran one formation and the same play five times in route to a quick strike touchdown. Pitt never adjusted to the tempo and Ole Miss hit every available option on its way down the field (Inside Zone, Hitch, QB Keep, Bubble, & finally the Hitch read for a touchdown).

Defensive coaches need to have simple adjustments that can combat a multitude of different plays and formations. When facing tempo a DC needs to have simple, one word calls that can help the defense quickly align and attack. Tempo forces the defense to be vanilla and if reacting slowly, can get them out of alignment. It is important to have counters to the Spread offense’s top RPO play.

Continue reading “Three RPOs – Three Stop Calls”

Attacking the Zone Read

It’s one of the simpelist plays a Spread team can run, but devistating if not held in check.

When looking at the Spread’s most basic run, the Zone Read, one has to admire the simplicity of the play and how effective and efficient it is. Defenses for decades had the advantage against offenses because it was an 11 on 10 game (the offense minus a QB). The popular West Coast and Power “I” offenses of the ’80s and ’90s took the QB run out of the playbook, and defenses feasted as a result. As the Spread began to proliferate through the football ranks the defensive stranglehold started to show some cracks. The large “pluggers” that defenses had accumulated were now obsolete when put into space.

Coaches like Urban Meyer and Rich Rodriguez (see video below) began to tear through defenses in the early 2000s, and Vince Young ran to a Rose Bowl and National Championship behind the simplest of plays, the Zone Read. It is one of the first plays a Spread offense installs when putting together a playbook, and after close to two decades of Spread dominance, it’s still a defense killer. As football moves further into the age of the Spread offense, two things are clear; football has become a game about space and hybrid players. The Zone Read highlights this evolution greater than any other play. Ask a traditional Triple Option coach and when they watch a Spread option attack they see the Dive Option, just with the players spread across the field.

Continue reading “Attacking the Zone Read”

Zero the Mike & “What’s a ‘Belly-Key’?”

Double gap the Mike in a single gap scheme.

Zero the Mike

In a single-gap defense, the initial thought is to align the defender responsible for a given gap head-up in that particular gap. In theory, this makes it easy for the defender to read his keys and react to the ball aggressively. Offenses play on this alignment rule with zone blocking, particularly the Zone Read. As the ball snaps the offensive line steps in a certain direction, with the understanding that by moving the gap, the defenders will move too. In order for defenses to combat this, the defensive line and linebackers must react off each other (anchor points) and utilize gap exchange. By playing off anchor points (or D-Line gaps), the defense can confuse the offense and stay one step ahead.

Continue reading “Zero the Mike & “What’s a ‘Belly-Key’?””