In a recent post, I put links up on a great site by Coach Hoover on defending the flexbone with the 4-3. As I stated, this is the most comprehensive look at defending this offense I have ever seen (great job to all the coaches who contributed). As promised, I wanted to add some things I've done in the past to deal with this offense. From fronts, to stunts, to what we did during practice I'm going to break it down for you to add to your knowledge of defending this offense. I will link some of the information on Coach Hoover's sites so there is no double posting as well. The order of the topics will be in the order you build your defense:
By no means, is what I'm doing a knock off or copy of Coach Hoover's information. I'm going to expand on what the experts have posted to give you both a look at what the QB and offensive coordinator (OC) are seeing, and how they might react to it, as well as how you can install these techniques so your defense can be more effective in stopping this vaunted rushing attack. As with all my post, history is where we will start, as history is a great teaching tool!
My experience with this offense all started on the other side of the ball (you know, back when I was Anakyn Skywalker). I have been a flexbone OC, off and on for a period of 11 years, and have coached in this offense for over 14 years. I will have to say, it is my favorite offense to run. I like the run game out of it, the fact the defense can't just pin their ears back and key on 1 player, and the fact it bases out of a very good passing formation. Now, there are other reasons I like the offense, but I won't get into that, since we are talking about defending the offense and not running it.
As far as defending it, I have defended the offense quite a bit, having been a defensive coordinator (DC) the latter part of my coaching career (since 2000). I have seen both sides of the coin in terms of defending the offense, from stopping a powerhouse to get run over, through, and around, by the likes of an 0-6 team (at the time). A majority of what I learned about defending the offense, came from running it. This insight into the offense is what I want to share with you in this first post. I'm going to take you through things a flexbone OC is looking for, what and how they want to attack you, and what they will do to adjust to what you are doing. So let's dig in!
What is a flexbone OC looking for? The neat thing about this offense, is rarely do you have to spend tons of time watching film of your opponents, because generally speaking, they will be in one front and one coverage most of the night. We also used to see what we coined "the defense of the week", which is where some DC got a "hair-brained" idea or scheme and tried to install the week before playing us. As most of you know, the defense of the week rarely, if ever, works. What I did look for was personnel. How good was your defensive line (DL)? How well did your linebackers (LB's) play off blocks, and attack downhill? How good was your secondary at deciphering run and pass? These are just a few of the things I looked at when breaking down an opponent's defense.
As far as the DL goes, we looked first at defensive structure, or basically "what front/coverage do they run?". Since the posts on Coach Hoover's page go over the 4-3, I will keep along those lines and discuss the 4-3 as well. In a 4 man line, we looked for your best defensive lineman, and tried to figure out where you would play him. If he was an interior defensive lineman, was he the 3 or the 1 technique? Obviously we were looking for how we DID NOT have to block him. The same could be said for your ends. We wanted to know who we didn't have to block. Most offenses will run away from your best player, not an option one. We want to frustrate him, and make him play with one arm tied behind his back, by reading him and letting your stud take himself out of the play. This is frustrating, to say the least, for the high school defensive lineman. That's why we ran this offense in the first place! I wanted to find out how I was going to make life miserable for your defensive line. The 1 technique was not exempt from this, however he did not get read, he got triple teamed and cut all night, so he too shared in the frustration. This is what we started with every Saturday when breaking down an opponent. Usually, I had one coach assigned to grade the opponents DL and tell me who their best DL was, and how we could attack him.
Moving to the LB's, we wanted to know, did the LB's play fast and downhill, or were they the slow-play, patient type. The screamers are the ones we looked for in our counter game. We wanted to see how disciplined the backside linebacker was on runs away from him, so we could exploit this with our counter-iso play. The slow play backers, made life tough on the counter game, but did not fare well versus the Inside Veer (ISV). We also looked at how well your LB's played off blocks. We taught all our players to start at the hips, and work down through the legs when blocking LB's or defensive backs (DB's). This is a perfectly legal way of cut blocking in Federation States. Most high school LB's are not taught how to defend themselves from cut blocks, so this worked to our advantage, even on LB's who took on and got off of blocks well.
The secondary is where we looked to hit the home run in our offense. We looked to see how aggressive or passive your secondary was in terms of defending the run. In my experience we saw a lot of cover 3 and cover 4 or as it is more commonly known, quarters coverage. We wanted to know who your force players were, and how they behaved on runs to them and away from them. On runs at them, we wanted to see how aggressive they attacked the line of scrimmage (LOS), and could we throw behind them off playaction. We also looked to see if you were a team that "slow-played" the option, or were quick to force the pitch. We wanted to know, did you rotate the secondary, into a 3 deep zone, or did you start off in a 3 deep zone. We wanted to see how disciplined you were in the secondary on run and playaction as well.
All these things were items we used to get an understanding of how we were going to attack your personnel, NOT your scheme. I think this is the biggest point most DC's don't realize is that Flexbone OC's don't look at your scheme, they look at your players. This is the reason most defenses, however strong they are coached, fail. You have to understand, as a Flexbone OC, we see tons of varieties of defenses through a particular season, so the blocking rules that govern can and will handle all of these. Where the problem comes to light, is with the individual defenders, and their abilities to execute their assignment, down after down, series after series.
I know most of you are wanting my head right now! I also know the cat with the chalk last always wins too...right?! I'm not advocating that, I'm just trying to put YOU in the OC's shoes to see what he is seeing. A great quote found in the Art of War by Sun Tzu is seen here:
It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.
This is what I'm trying to get you to understand...know your enemy. This is how you get inside their heads and not only know how to defend them, but you know their next move. Don't crucify me just yet!
On to what we look for in your defense as a whole. Once we've established who your best players are, we looked for how you were going to align them. Some guys are field/boundary guys, while others will use a numbers or front strength to set their front. We classed all defenses into 2 types of defenses, and these were all predicated on the alignment of your secondary. If you were a 1 high safety team, we treated you as an 8 man front. This didn't matter if you were a 4-3 with the SS rotated down in the box, you were an 8 man front and we blocked you as such. If you were a 2 high safety team, you were a 7 man front. If you had no safeties back...Lord help you! So for the 4-3, in the even shell (Cover 2, or Quarters) we treated you as a 7 man front, even if you rotated post-snap. Your alignment set up our perimeter blocking schemes as well as our playaciton game. Once we defined your front, we moved to alignment.
|Middle of the field open=7 man front|
|Middle of the field closed=8 man front|
Other questions asked were, where do they set the 3 technique? Do the outside linebackers (OLB's) key the slots motion and movements? Does the safeties cross key the slots, or key the near slot? All of these are important to the Flexbone OC when attacking your defense. The 3 technique has to be identified so midline and ISV can be established. The OLB reads are looked at for both midline and the counter run game. Safety rotation is looked at on perimeter runs, counter run game and playaction. All of these particulars are what a Flexbone OC is looking at when he watches you on film.
So how does the Flexbone OC anticipate attacking my defense? We could write numerous papers, and excperpts on this. Many coaches have already talked about this at length on other blogs and websites such as the The Option Football Society. With the availability to the Internet with its numerous blogs and forums, joining an option forum is the first place I would start with getting into the mind of a Flexbone OC. Here you can see how they talk, their terminology and lingo for defenses and how they plan their attacks. You can also see what certain defenses did to give them trouble throughout the course of a season. Anyhow, I'm rambling, so back to the question of what can I expect from a Flexbone OC?
What I plan on doing in later posts is to post what I've done as a DC when defending this offense. I will also add what a Flexbone OC will do to counter your move, and what you should expect to see as his next move. Again, these are just a guideline, used to aid you in attacking the flexbone offense. Stay tuned!!!