Thursday, March 17, 2011

Backside Safety in Quarters Coverage vs. The Run and Playaction

Nothing like being sound on the back side...

For the Quarters coverage newbies out there, I thought I would share a little blurb about the back side safety in run support out of Quarters coverage.  Now why on Earth would I have a post about that topic?  Well, to be honest, both safeties in Quarters coverage schemes are equally important, however if I had to rate which one was more important, it would be the safety away from run action.  I'll tell you why.  Lateral plays that get outside can be trouble, and we all know (or should know) that to the run action side, the force player is the player that makes things go.  However, the really troublesome, and demoralizing plays are inside runs that cut back against aggressive defenses and come out the back side for big, and often times huge gains.  This is where that back side safety is so critical in the run support scheme for your defense.  So let's take a look at correct and incorrect methods of this backside safety when involved in run support.  I'm also going to describe how this player should react to bootleg passes off of playaction as well.  I commonly refer to this player as the BRC player, or Boot, Reverse, Cutback player.  Roll up those sleeves and warm up those grease pens boys...let's go to work!

I won't focus much on this topic other than to describe how I aligned my safeties so you can see where they were getting their reads from and how they fit when playing the run and playaction game.  My safeties, if there was no detached #2 receiver aligned 8-12 yards off the line of scrimmage (LOS), and 2 yards outside the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOL).  If there was a detached #2 receiver, then we moved to the same depth, but played 2 to 4 yards inside leverage, depending on whether this #2 was set to the boundary or the field.  Ok, enough on alignment, let's get to the meat-n-taters!

As with any Quarters scheme, the safety on the run action side will be the force player based on his keys.  The safeties will key either the #2 receiver if it's a tight end (TE) or detached wide receiver (WR).  If the #2 receiver is in the backfield, the safeties will key this receiver reading through the EMOL.  The action by both safeties, irregardless of the play, at the beginning react the same.  They are flat-footed and making their reads on their respective keys.  I won't go into individual technique here as that is not what this post is about.  Once a run play is read, both safeties reaction should be the same, they should attack the LOS attempting to get to linebacker (LB) depth as the play is developing.  The BRC safety, once he's diagnosed the play is away from, will begin his thought process of boot, reverse, and finally cutback.  This safety must be more patient than the force-side safety as he has more to account for.  Let's break these assignments down individually by the reads and reactions and thought processes.

The bootleg play is meant to make over aggressive attacking-style defenses pay for their aggressiveness.  It can make even the fastest, defenses humble in their attack on an offense.  Against teams with a good runner at QB, the boot play takes on even new dangers, that if not attacked properly, can lead to big gains against your defense.  So what is the back side safety looking for on runs away from him?  Well, his first thought is to check for the boot, how does he do looking for any action opposite of the initial run read.  As the BRC safety screws down to LB depth, he looks for any action coming back his way, such as a pulling guard, or a fullback (FB) sneaking out into the flats.  These keys tell him, that a bootleg play is developing, and he should react accordingly.  Once the boot has been read, this backside safety will "rob" any crossing routes coming back to his side.  Now, if set to the TE side, this read is very simple, as the #2 receiver will have declared he's running a route, and the safety can use his Quarters coverage keys to react accordingly to this route.  The problem area, is when the offense boots to the weak side of the offensive formation.  The #2 receiver, for the weak safety (WS) is in the backfield.  So once boot is read, this safety will settle his feet and get his eyes inside looking for any potential crossing route (usually a drag route by the inside receiver, but other routes can go with this bootleg concept).  Once this crossing route has been spied, he will cover this receiver man to man. 

Reverse plays are also play meant to hurt over aggressive, fast-pursuing defenses.  These plays prey on the defenses willingness to run to the football.  The BRC safety can be the single player that still allows the front seven to relentlessly pursue the football, even on plays that attempt to use this over aggressiveness against them.  Again, with any run play, the BRC safety will screw down to LB depth, and will again look for action coming back his way.  The reverse can be much more difficult to diagnose than the bootleg play mentioned above.  The reason is, most teams run this play without a puller, or use a "circle" block by the tackle to the side the reverse is being run to.  This block, and the fact the runner is usually coming from the complete opposite side of the formation from where the BRC player is aligned, can be very difficult.  This is where coaches have to train patience.  Over aggressive safeties are a Quarters coach's worst nightmare.  A reverse that goes for a long gain, or even worse, a touchdown, can be extremely demoralizing to your defense.  Again, you can see the purpose and importance of the back side safety in Quarters coverage. 

Once the reverse is read, the safety should now take an angle that allows him to be the force player to his side of the defense.  A key coaching point here, is that if the safety feels he has allowed himself to squeezed down to a point where he is in danger of being outflanked by the runner, he should run laterally and even slightly away from the ball carrier's path.  This will allow him to make up some ground, while being in the runner's vision, and potentially allowing pursuit from the interior of the defense to redirect and pursue the football.  A poor angle against a reverse play is no different than any other poor angle of attack.  The BRC safety should be schooled on taking these proper angles to force the ballcarrier back into the pursuit of the defense.

Cutback is probably the most essential task the BRC safety has to do when attacking runs away from his side.  This part of his job, allows the LB's in the defense to vacate back side gaps, and run to the football.  It allows defensive ends (DE's), who have been taught the laws of the block-down, step-down (BDSD) turn loose and scream down the LOS chasing a potential ball carrier.  The LB and DE's are player who need to be aggressive and attacking all the time.  It is my philosophy to let these players run, don't give them rules or reads that slow them down, get them to the damn football!  Sorry, and I digress.  The BRC safety, once he's settled to LB level and sees no action coming back his way, can now get into the run fit of the defense.  The illustrations shown here are from the Miami Over front, but can be utilized with any defense that employs a Quarters coverage scheme.  The safety should attack his gap, keeping his outside arm free when encountering any blockers.  This allows him to still play the spill on counter plays where the DE will spill (or as we call it "splatter") the pulling guard. 

I have run the stats after a game and found that after our middle linebacker (MLB), or one of the DE's the BRC safety is usually second or third in tackles on the team.  Again, this is usually against power running teams, but because I preach such an aggressive attacking style, this safety sees a lot of one-on-one action as the cutback player.  This is also why it important to note, I tried to put 2 of my best tackling defensive backs (DB's) at these positions as they saw a lot of open-field, one-on-one tackling. 

Now that we've seen the proper way to play the back side safety in a Quarters coverage scheme, let's see some of the common mistakes made by these players as well.  Not to dwell on the bad, always remember, these things can be coached and worked in practice, so don't fret if your safeties don't get their run fits right away, keep repping them in practice and they'll get it!

The problem area, when facing the bootleg play, was that the backside safety is over aggressive and gets into his cutback run fit far too early in the development of the play.  This allows for the safety to be too far underneath the drag route coming across the formation.  The safety should "ideally" be at the top of the curl when this route appears, however if he's over aggressive, he's usually already in what I term the five-yard no cover area (from the LOS to 5 yards depth, we DO NOT cover routes in this area) and cannot get back in time to defend, what is an easy throw for the QB.

The other problem some safeties have is they take too flat of an angle, or even take a steep angle when they see run action away.  This poor angle, allows the crossing route to be open, as the safety is too far over the top of this route to be of any effect.  Again, patience is the key here, the safety has to be patient when making his reads so he can be in good position to defend the crossing routes on the bootleg play. 

The problems with the reverse are exactly the same as that of the bootleg, and it deals with over aggressiveness and improper angles.  The fortunate thing about the bootleg, is your defense has a player dedicated to containing the bootleg, so that ample pressure can be applied to the QB, possibly forcing a bad throw.  With the reverse, there is no extra "help" player, and a mistake or poor angle here, leads to big gains and possible touchdowns.  The more critical error here is the safety being too far inside to help on the reverse, which puts him immediately out leveraged by the ball carrier.  A flat angle, although bad, can still be something the safety can recover from. 

The biggest problem safeties have on the cutback run is missed tackles.  Once again, your safety is one-on-one with, often-times, one of your opponent's best ball players.  This is why, when selecting safety personnel, it is critical to put some of your best athletes at this position.  Another problem, is once again, a poor angle taken on the initial read by the safety.  If the BRC safety takes too steep an angle, putting him on a course away from the LOS, or flat to the LOS, he cannot effectively become your ninth man in the box.  This puts your run defense one man down, in a critical area and allows for some of the biggest, most deadly of plays in all of football...the cutback run.  Lastly, safeties that get a slow, or unclear read, may not be at LB depth when the ball declares to their side.  What this does, is gives the ball carrier a two-way go to make the safety miss.  If the safety were at proper depth, he would have help from the back side DE screaming down the LOS.  Being too deep, allows the ball carrier the use of angles to make the safety and the DE miss.  The run play may not go out the gate, but will usually lend itself to being a play that gashes the defense, and records groans from your fans.  This is why the BRC player, MUST attain LB depth on run plays, it allows him to reduce any cutback angles that may be present, and allows the DE to assist the safety in corralling the ball carrier. 

These problems can all be fixed or alleviated by simply involving your safeties in your inside run drill.  Safeties should always be involved in the inside run drill when facing two and three back run teams.  Think of your safeties as extra outside linebackers (OLB's) when facing these types of teams and involve them in the drills you use to prepare your front to defend.  It can be tough attempting to watch two different safeties on opposite sides of the ball, but when watching inside run drill, concentrate on that back side safety and how he reacts to runs away from him.  The force player in inside run drill is obviously moot, but that BRC safety can get some good work in this drill. 

Another drill, that can be used is a drill I simply call the "bags" drill.  We set up 6 agility pads on the ground to represent the five offensive linemen (OL) and the TE.  We then put 2 running backs (RB's) in the backfield and then we place our "rabbit" as I call it.  This is a player aligned anywhere from in the backfield to along the offensive line.  What we do is this, we have plays where all 3 players go in the  same direction, indicating a run play to one side of the offense.  This allows you to see your safeties reactions, and work on the BRC safeties run fit.  After we rep this a few times, we then move into the part of the drill where only two of the defenders move in one direction with the other player moving in the opposite direction.  You can either do this with direct action, or counter action, whatever you see fit to coach up in your defense.  This teaches the BRC safety to see the action opposite of his initial read action, and then fit accordingly.  What you are looking for here, is the safety being patient with his run read, and taking the proper steps and angles to maintain his leverage on his three back side threats (boot/reverse/cutback).

" must learn control..."

It is in my experience, after basing out of Quarters, or similar schemes that involve safety run support that the teaching of the force player is by far the simplest of skills the safety will master.  Breakdowns on the force side occur much less, whereas the back side safety is critical to keeping the ball carrier "bottled up" within the confines of the front seven.  Don't negate your back side safety and critique him often, letting him know just how important his role in the defense is.