Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Defending the Flexbone-Defensive Line

The defensive line is where I will start the next post.  I think this is the most important group on the field, so why not start with the "biguns'!  Anyhow, this is also where I've had the most trouble with defending the Flexbone.  When facing a Flexbone team, you need to be honest with your DL, and they need to know life is going to miserable over the course of the game.  Why you ask?  Well, the Flexbone uses everything a DL is taught, against him, from block down step down, to block destruction.  The Flexbone takes block down step down, and makes your DL wrong...all night long.  If your DL does their job, they should have very few tackles, and this is not a fun job for a DL.  All 11 defenders are built on tackling the football, now you are telling your DL tackle this guy whether or not he has the football.  That's tough on the high school player's psyche!  It also gets old, real quick.  The other thing that gets old for them, is the double and triple team blocks.  Flexbone teams are notorious for doubling and even triple teaming defenders as the point of attack.  This type of blocking scheme can demoralize even your toughest DL.  The last thing that your DL will experience is the dreaded cut block.  Most of this occurs on the backside of run plays and is meant to cut down on pursuit and open up cutback lanes in your defense.  All of these things combined can really aggravate the best of DL units.  So what can you do to combat this?

First, I think you need to teach all your defensive linemen, weekly, how to take on cut blocks.  Use a large medicine ball, or large ground dummy to cut down on knee injuries.  Have the DL come off aggressive and see the bag coming low and get their hands down so they can shield their lower body from the blocker.  I DO NOT recommend doing these drills live, or 1 on 1.  I think this sets yourself up for injury, especially in the instructional stages.  I would save any "live" cut block action for team situations where the skill can be assessed at game-like speed.  The reason I say this, is that in drills, the DL are tentative to cut, as are the offensive linemen (OL) because both sides know the block is coming.  In live scenarios, you are going to better be able to gauge your DL performance when he is not expecting the cut block to happen.  The most important coaching point on taking on cut blocks, is to keep the hips down, so that the hands can be used to push off the blocker and keep the blocker away from the DL's legs.  The other important point is the eyes.  The DL must keep "his eyes on the prize", and that would be the ballcarrier.  Most DL want to look down at the blocker, but they must trust their hands and peripheral vision to see the blocker.  If they lose contact of the ball, this slows them down in their pursuit of the football.  Remember this, the number one killer of the triple option, is pursuit, if your DL can get off the backside cut blocks, then they can fly to the football and rally to help the cause.

The double and triple team blocks are tough ones, because it basically means teaching your DL how to take an ass-kicking.  However, it's in HOW he takes this ass-kicking that is so important.  We cannot allow movement off the line of scrimmage (LOS)!  Once a DL feels he is being double or triple team, he must drop one knee to the ground in an effort to create a pile.  We want a "wad" of bodies in the gap he was occupying to help prevent the cutback.  We also want OL tripping over this mass of bodies so they cannot scrape off and block flowing linebackers (LB's).  A very key point here for the DL is to grab any part of the opposition he can, do not allow them come off of him after he's made the pile.  Some coaches teach drop and roll, others teach cutting, whatever suits you, that's fine, the key objective here is make a pile and do not lose gap integrity.

The block down step down, must be used vs. every down block seen when facing Flexbone teams, however it becomes counterproductive to the defender to constantly tackle a ballcarrier who does not have the football.  Here's what we tell our guys.  We actually don't tell them to tackle anybody.  We have our defensive ends (DE's) and the 3 technique (who we call our Tackle) on down blocks, mash the down blocker down inside.  We want your hands on the down blocker at all times and we want you to put both the blocker and yourself into the gap being down blocked.  This does a couple of things, first, it cuts down on the number of "head on collisions" these defenders have with the oppositions fullback (FB).  Secondly, it puts the defender in a position that gives the option QB a "cloudy" read, which normally indicates that the QB pull the football (which is what we are trying to get accomplished).  Thirdly, it keeps the down blocker from being able to cleanly block a scraping LB who is in the process of gap exchange.  Lastly, it puts the defender in a position to help, or "play off" the down block and become a factor in the play.  Key coaching points here are that the DL MUST get hands on the OL's near peck.  Secondly, he must not let the OL go, as he drives him down inside, thereby closing the gap the offense is trying to run in, and giving the option QB the pull read.

Here are some good clips showing just what your DL are in store for when playing a flexbone team.

Ok, what are some other things you can do for your DL when facing the Flexbone?  We run a stunt, or read stunt as we call it when facing these teams.  It is stunt we call "Ted", which stands for Tackle and End Down.  What it does, is tell the Tackle, and DE's (not the Nose, he's not involved) to treat any base block, like a down block, and wrong arm it.  Basically put, if a OL turns out on you on a run block, wrong arm it and come underneath it.  This is the most successful way to defend the midline I've ever used.  When the midline is called they are trying to pick on your 3 technique, and read him.  They are also trying to slow down your DE's by base blocking them, instead of veer blocking them.  What this technique does is fill every gap inside with bodies, and spill the QB out to both your outside linebackers and safeties.  This is an exceptional way to handle teams that choose to run the midline blast play (shown below), inserting both slots into the B gap.  The DE will wrong arm the base block, and create an absolute mess on the inside of the offense, spilling the Flexbone's version of the power play to the sideline!  I strongly recommend utilizing this technique for the simple reason, most Flexbone teams don't expect it.  I only started using this in the past few seasons, and we have annihilated midline teams, and have also wrecked the dreaded counter-iso play as well!

Midline Blast


Counter Iso

Some other questions I've gotten over the years about the DL are listed below.  Feel free to shoot me an email if you have any more specific questions not covered here. 

What can I do if my 3 technique cannot execute block down step down well enough to deter midline?  I've had this happened a few times, and it's not pretty.  The basic answer is to into double 2 techniques and pinch, or get into double 2I's and have both interior DL play the A gaps.  You are more susceptible to inside veer (ISV) once you do this.  I don't recommend doing this, but if it's all you've got, then by all means put them in 2I's and go from there.  I also recommend going with a quicker 3 technique that can get the job done if the starter cannot, but that's for whole different discussion.

Where do you play your 3 technique.  Generally speaking, to the field.  I want to force the high school Flexbone team to run to my 12th man, the sideline.  Most Flexbone teams look to run ISV to the open B gap, so let's put that gap to the boundary.  If the ball is in the middle of the field, put the 3 technique to the side of the QB's throwing hand, because that's also his dominant pitch hand.  As they  say, "make him play left handed".  Also, most Flexbone teams don't run midline triple due to the extremely quick pitch, so this puts them having to either try and double and scrape your 3 tech. to the Mike (in a 4-3), or running just midline to the field.  Midline is tough enough to defend, but, in my opinion, it's the lesser of the 2 evils (ISV vs. midline).

Some things I don't recommend doing with your DL is slanting or angling.  I dont' recommend pinching either.  Flexbone OC's have seen this for decades and have built in answers such as midline, rocket, counter-iso, and counter option, when they see defenses slanting and those sorts of things.  The most important thing to do when facing the Flexbone is to turn their reads and their answers against them.  Once I figure on how to download a file on here, I will share with you what I call my "answers" sheet that I used when I ran the Flexbone offense so you can see exactly how these OC's think and react to what you are calling on defense. 

Next installment will be the linebackers!!!!  Keep a weather eye on the horizon for the next post!!!!