Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Defending the Flexbone- Secondary

Being a DB coach, the secondary is undoubtedly my baby.  When defending the Flexbone, all players must have a tremendous sense of discipline and yet still remain aggressive.  The Flexbone offense will test your secondary both in the run game and run support and their reads and reactions to the playaction passing game.

To start, let's look at the Flexbone offense and why it presents a nightmare for your secondary.  The basis of the offense is around the old Run-n-Shoot double slot formation.  This formation is balanced, so you, as a defensive coordinator (DC) need to be balanced as well.  For more on balancing of your defense go here.  The offense also has 4 immediate vertical threats at receiver.  Even though 2 of these are RB/WR hybrids, they can still get vertical immediately down the seams, presenting the DC with some issues. 

The advantage the defense has over the offense, is most Flexbone teams are still 3 back offenses.  Even if he slots are hybrids, they are utilized more in the run game than the pass game.  Secondly, if you are forcing a Flexbone team to drop back and throw, you better be winning.  Most Flexbone teams are run heavy (we faced one last season that was 89% run, 11% pass) and therefor do not have complicated passing concepts you have to handle.  I compiled data from reviewing previous years films I had collected over the year of high schools and colleges running the offense, and interviewed a handful of Flexbone coaches I had come to know over the years either talking on forums such as the Huey Board, or The Option Football Society, or that I had coached against personally.  What I came up with was the following:
  1. 72% of these teams passing game was playaction off inside veer (ISV), midline, and rocket.
  2. The remaining 21% of the passing game was sprintout action, rolling mainly into trips (67%) or doubles/twins (23%).
  3. Only 7% of these teams passing games were dropback action, 5% of this was 3 step, and the remaining 2% was 5 step. 
  4. I did not find a single Flexbone coach who taught a 7 step drop passing scheme.
So, look at the bulk of what you have to defend, and that is playaction.  However, this is how Flexbone teams get you!  As a former Flexbone OC here's what I looked for in your coverage schemes:

  1. Are they a 7 man front/middle of the field open (MOFO) defense, or an 8 man front/middle of the field closed defense (MOFC)?
  2. If they are a 7 man front, do they break this 2 deep shell on motion (rotational cover 2/3).
  3. If they are an 8 man front, do they rotate the middle of the field (MOF) player on motion?
The first question was more tied into the setting up the run game, but I also wanted to know "if" we had to drop back, what could we try to exploit.  Against rolling, even coverage shells, how aggressive is the invert player?  Can we throw behind him?  How does he read?  What is he reading?  And lastly, against the 8 man front MOF defender I looked for how aggressive he ran the alley on run plays.  I also looked if he was pattern reading our slot who did not motion, or was he rotating back and playing a deep 1/3 (when I refer to motion, I mean arc motion typical of Flexbone offenses).  Could we throw behind him, or under him?  These were all questions my staff and I used to ask of our opponent when breaking down film and game planning.

Arc Motion

So what passing concepts are you going to see?  Very simply put, Veer Pass is one of the top passes you will see, along with what most Flexbone coaches call Veer Switch Pass.  This is the passing scheme I will focus on for defending this offense since it us such a vital part of the Flexbone passing game.  OC's in this offense try to make their routes look as much like their blocking schemes as they can.  We ran Veer Pass vs. 8 man front teams, where our playside slot back (PSSB) would be loading down inside on a inside linebacker (ILB).  The slot would release inside as to block the ILB and run what some call a "whip" or "pigtail" route back to the flat.  His read was to get over the flat defender and expand if the flat defender was narrow (close to him) or squat if the flat player had expanded.  The playside wide receiver (PSWR) would run a takeoff route with a stutter as he attacked the corner, attempting to make the route look like a stalk block (typical block found in our perimeter load blocking scheme).  The backside wide reciever (BSWR) would run a sail route, which looked just like his across the field blocking technique.  Against MOFC, we tried to have him hit the MOF and turn upfield.  Against MOFO, we had him split the safeties, and against rotation, we had him square this route off into basically a dig route.  Veer Switch Pass looked just like out "switch" blocking scheme where the PSSB arced to the corner, and the PSWR cracked the FS.  We simply ran post/wheel with the backside sail route.  The backside slotback (BSSB) in both cases either blocked outside the playside tackle's (PST) block, or ran a swing route (pitch course).  If we had an aggressive flat player, we kept him running the swing, this allowed us to throw behind the flat player.

Load scheme

Veer Pass

Switch Blocking

Veer Switch Pass

So, how do you play your secondary Duece?  Well, I've always been partial to the rotational Cover 3, and I'll tell you why.  Like I stated earlier, the top goal of any defense when facing this offense is to get more bodies across the crease than the offense can block.  The other thing is you must attack certain points of this offense to reduce blocking angles and create defensive leverage.  The secondary is critical of this attacking philosophy.  I wanted the safety to the pitch side, being able to be aggressive and not have to worry about if #2 went vertical or not.  So I had my safeties cross read the slots.  There are numerous arguments for or against this, and I'm really on the fence with this one.  The reason I cross read, is that, when polled, most of the kids in the system told me motion caught their eye anyway, and it was hard to focus on a slot that did not motion, when the other one was moving (ahh...the high school mind).  This made sense to me, so rather than "forcing" (no pun intended) something on them that was difficult, I gave them the easier read.
However, Cover 3 is can be weak vs. the threat of 4 vertical receivers.  How do you play rotational Cover 3 AND still be sound vs. 4 verticals.  The answer is to play two coverages in one.  This was based around the motion that is ingrained in all Flexbone offenses.  They cannot hide this fact, they MUST motion a slot in a majority of their run game.  When they do this, they eliminate one of the 4 vertical threats.  So, vs. motion, we rotated into Cover 3, rotating the safety to the motion side, down to play flats/force and the safety away from motion to the middle 1/3.  Vs. no  motion, we played our standard or base 2 read/quarters scheme, where we pattern read the release of the #2 receiver.  Basically it's the best of both worlds.  The drawback is that you have to rep the reads of the secondary constantly so they become second nature when facing this type of offense.
So what were our safety reads?  Well, if your slot motioned, you thought pitch, and their eyes stayed on that slot for the duration of the play.  The safety to motion, would screw down to linebacker (LB) depth, and would work to stay in outside leverage on the pitch player.  If he saw the pitch (rocket) he immediately attacked his force point, so as to create a poor blocking angle for a pulling guard or arcing slot.  If it was not an immediate pitch he worked to the line of scrimmage (LOS) keeping his peripheral vision on the QB as to his intentions (run/pass).  We didn't want him to "fly" to the LOS if the pitch was not immediate for the simple reason I mentioned before.  OC's that find this player aggressive will try to throw behind him.  The closer to the LOS this player gets the harder it is for him to recover and defend the flats.

Rocket Toss

Safety reads vs. ISV

If the motioning slot inserted (midline follow/true iso) then the safety to motion still screwed down, to LB depth and played force looking for the spill by the inside defenders.  There was no new teaching here, as this was the safety's normal read in our 2 read/quarters scheme anyhow. 
If the motioning slot, redirected (what Flexbone coaches call "Twirl" motion), then the slot was to yell "Counter" and he redirected and rolled back to the MOF as the middle 1/3 player.  This sounds like a lot of moving, but to be honest I have rarely seen a Flexbone team twirl motion, and throw back to twirl motion.  Not saying it can't happen, I've just never seen it. 

Twirl Motion/Counter-Iso

The safety away from motion, basically became the middle 1/3 player.  The thing I drilled in his head was to key that opposite slot, because if he folded back inside, we wanted that safety to "freeze" and look for counter coming back at him.  The other item we wanted him to be able to get to was the seam by the slot that didn't motion.  He had to be able to wreck that route, anything else was "gravy" (as we call it in the South). 

If there was no motion, on the snap, the safety's eyes would flash to the near slot.  Vs. no motion, we were playing our base 2 read/quarters coverage scheme.  The reads then were pattern based, reading the #2 receiver to the side the safety aligned on.  This read allowed us to be very sound vs. the Flexbone's 4 vertical receiving threats.  Since we based out of this 2 read/quarters scheme, there was no new teaching to be done with the pattern reads, we had been doing them since day one of fall camp!


I'm not a fan of corner force, even though in my earlier days I was a pure squat 1/2's Cover 2 guy.  The thing I'm opposed to with corner force is the fact the offense can displace the corner so far he can become ineffective.  I tried all kinds of things to combat this, such as moving the corner hard and to the inside vs. a wide split, as well as turning his back to the wide receiver (WR) so as not to be cracked.  However, these techniques never yielded me much success (not saying it can't be done, my goodness look what Iowa did to Georgia Tech with Cover 2).  So what I'm going to talk about is what I did that had the most success defending the Flexbone. 

As I stated earlier, I played a rotational Cover 3 scheme, so the corners were always secondary force players.  However, Flexbone OC's will see this, and will begin to crack your rotational force player.  When a corner recognized a crack block by the WR, he yelled "rat" which was our term for a crack block.  The corner screamed off the backside of the crack and traded responsibilities with the safety.  In essence, the corner and safety did exactly the same thing as the defensive end (DE) and outside linebacker (OLB) do when gap exchanging (block down/step down).  The safety, upon hearing the "rat" call, settled his feet and  would open laterally to the blocker, and work over the top of the blocker becoming the secondary force player to that side.  We had the safety open at the receiver for two reasons, the first being we wanted him to see the block, so as not to get earholed.  Secondly, we wanted him to be able to work to a corner route if that was what the WR was doing. 

Rotational Cover 3 vs. Switch Blocking

Now, I know what you are thinking, most backside WR's in the Flexbone will cut across the face of the corner heading for the near safety on runs away (known to Flexbone coaches as the "across the field technique").  I still had my corners keying the #2 receiver as they always would in our standard 2 read/quarters scheme.  The corner only yelled "rat" if the slot to his side motioned.  If there was no motion, we were playing our standard 2 read/quarters scheme, so he needed his eyes on #2 anyway.  Again, multiplicity with simplicity! 

Across the field technique
 Other than crack-and-replace, the corner had a very easy job, don't get beat deep!  They played their deep 1/3 technique and we often told them they were to be heavy to the post, unless the #2 receiver released outside.  Remember the corner was looking for motion too, as this told him whether he was pattern reading #2, or bailing out and taking his deep 1/3. 

In my opinion this rotating secondary scheme gave you the best of both worlds.  It handled the 4 vertical threat by playing 2 read/quarters to 4 receiving threats if none of these receiving threats went into arc motion.  It played rotational cover 3, so the safety to the motion side could be aggressive vs. the run, and not have to worry about if the #2 receiver went vertical. 

Last, the simplistic nature of all this, was built into our defense from day one.  We based out of 2 read/quarters, and always mixed in rotational Cover 3 as well.  Our kids knew how to do this, so it was nothing new come the week we were facing a Flexbone team.  This is very important when facing this type of offense.  I have been a part of staffs that tried to put in the "defense of the week" vs. a Flexbone team, and frankly, it never works.  I build defending the triple option into my base defense, because in my opinion it's the most difficult of all offenses to stop. 

I'm not done yet folks!  I have yet to illustrate some other key points.  However I've talked on the Flexbone enough for now.  Later I will talk about:

The 4-3 vs. other Flexbone formations- Flexbone teams don't just stay in double slot, you need to be ready for all the adjustments out there for the various formations such as Trips, Over, and Tackles Over.

Drills for defending the Flexbone- Build these into your defense from day one!  Don't say "we don't see that offense" and let the Flexbone rear it's ugly head in the playoffs...you need to be ready to face this "basketball on grass" offense from day one!

And finally,
Some other schemes I've played/been a part of defending the Flexbone- Not all of us are 4-3 guys, I will talk about what I've been a part of and what I've had done against me as a Flexbone OC so the 3-3/4-4/3-5 guys can get something out of this discussion as well.

Keep reading!