|Empty is NOT good!|
|Automatics..."Say hello to my little friend!'|
Types of Empty Formations
Obviously I can't discuss ALL the empty formations that could be presented, but I will try and discuss the most prominent one's I've seen in my coaching career. The thing to look at with empty, is, are they 3X2, or 4X1? After that you are really just looking at personnel issues. I will list below the types and personnel of the one's I've seen over the years I've been coaching. If you have a specific question, email me and we can talk!
The above formation utilizes 00 personnel (no backs and no tight ends). This is the most common 3X2 formation I've seen in recent years. Obviously there are TONS of variations of this look where Y is on, and F is off, and the same goes for the trips side, however this overall "setup" is very common among spread offenses of today.
This formation uses 01 personnel, positioning the Y as a tight end (TE). I've seen spread teams use these to keep an extra blocker in for pass protection reasons (the Y).
Quads has become increasingly popular in the past few years, and this is one I saw 2 seasons ago. The quarterback (QB) was a good runner, and they were attempting to get the secondary to over-rotate to the quads side, and run to the TE side.
This 4X1 set, is the most popular one I've seen. It utilizes 00 personnel, and from my scouting data of 6 teams that I've faced that used this, most of the plays were screens to H and F, and then 1-on-1 routes to the Y.
Saw this more times than I care to see it over the past three seasons. The team we were playing was a spread/single wing hybrid and they used this look a lot. This 4X1 set takes some careful adjustments in order not to get picked or rubbed, however the play selection was not that much different than that of the above 4X1 set.
Aligning/Defending 3X2-Set the Coverage
As with defending any offensive formation, the coverage should always set the front (thanks Brophy-if you want to know more behind Brophy, go to his website here, you WON'T be sorry). I know this will sound crazy, but the front is not all that critical against these sets. What I mean is, I have done a lot of different things in setting the front against empty teams. I've set it to the field, to the multiple receivers, to the boundary, you name it, I've done it. I think the critical thing here is that the front realizes, their job is to stop the draw and other QB runs.
Let's just hope this isn't the guy running the QB draw!
Coverage-wise, I like to use a coverage called Special Blue. The front checks into a front we call "hip", which puts both the Mike and Sam in what I call "hip" alignments (stacked behind the defensive end to their respective side). The Mike and Sam are draw first players, then play the short wall of the inside-most receiver to their side. To the read side of the coverage, we play the version of special I got from bigduke6 on the Huey Board (for more info go here). The strong safety ($) is matched up man to man on #3 while the free safety (F) and corner (C) play Blue coverage to 1 and 2 to the read side. To the away side, the weak safety (W) and the corner will also play Blue coverage.
You could play Special exactly like TCU does it, and put the read side corner man on #1 with the $ and F playing Blue. No matter how you do it, the most important aspect of the adjustment is the widening of the linebacker's (LB's) to be able to help leverage the inside-most receivers. This alignment gives you the 4 on 3 match up to the trips side, and the 3 on 2 match up to the 2 receiver side you are looking for (for more info. go here to read some excellent articles on TCU's coverages).
Another variation is to play man on the away side. Obviously this has it's drawbacks, but the LB is in perfect position to force, and you can stem from a Blue coverage look to man presnap and really throw a nice wrinkle to the offense. This is a good change up coverage, that should be easily built into your Blue coverage adjustments.
Nothing changes if the #2 receiver to the away side is a TE either. The LB to that side will still slide to a "hip" alignment, and is in better position to wall #2 in my opinion. The W can also play in good position to force away-side runs by the QB.
The two TE look, can give you the most problems in terms of coverage. It is often difficult to play two versions of one coverage at the high school level, and to switch responsibilities with the $ and read side corner in special may take too much to do. However, traditional Special is a good coverage vs. this look. This puts the read side corner man on #1, with the F and $ playing blue coverage to 2 and 3. If this wasn't your cup of tea, then put the $ man on #2 and have the F and corner play Blue to 1 and 3. As you can see, there are a myriad of ways to skin this cat. What you clearly see is that you must carefully game plan for empty teams!
"Quads" formations (as I call them) are really not that different than 3X1 formations in my opinion. Both offensive formations have a single receiver side, coupled with a multiple receiver side. When playing 4X1 looks, I kick the front to the multiple receiver side in a front I call "Slide". The LB to the Quads, will slide out of the box, and look to have inside leverage on #4. This LB is the short wall of #4 and hook/curl player to the read side. The other LB, will also slide, into a 00 alignment over the center. This LB is now the only draw player you have and is solely responsible for mirroring the QB. I will even delay rush this defender if the QB is not a rushing threat.
|I'm blitzing this guy...|
The variations, once again, are limitless when facing these looks, by my first choice, and base rule is to play Special Solo coverage. To the read side, the coverage is in Special, which puts the $ man to man on #3, with the corner and F playing Blue coverage to the #1 and #2 receivers. The LB to the read side (Sam in the illustration) will be inside of #4 and play the short wall of #4. He is also a hook/curl player. The W is the long wall player of #4 and will force on runs to the away side of the coverage. The away side corner is man to man on #1, just as in Solo.
|Front= "Slide" Coverage= Special Solo|
If you don't want a man coverage defender on the read side, you can check into another coverage variation, called Roll Solo. This puts Roll to the read side which as the read side corner, and F playing deep 1/4's zones on wide receiver's (WR's) 1-3, the $ is the curl/flat/swing deep of 3 player, and the LB to the read side remains a short wall player of #4. The W is still all of #4 vertical and deep 1/2 player to that side. The away side corner is still locked in man to man coverage.
A game plan coverage you can also do, is to tag your Special Sky/Cloud coverage (we tag ours with a "backer" call) and put the read side LB in man coverage on the #4 receiver. This is only recommended vs. spread teams that will align their running back in the #4 position, and you feel you have a good match up with your LB vs. their RB. You can also do this with Roll coverage, and now you can play Sky or Cloud to the away side, keeping your away side corner in zone coverage instead of man.
|Special (Sky/Cloud) "Backer"|
Most of the time, I see the 4X1 teams being screen heavy, so Special over to the read side is not a major issue. The alignment of the corner, $, and LB to the read side, really discourages the screen game. Solo is not a bad coverage on the away side because of the fact that you have the twelfth defender, the sideline, there to help. Most 4X1 teams put the single receiver to the boundary anyway, so there is less room for him to maneuver, and so long as #4 does not go vertical, then the W can help the away side corner with the single receiver.
4X1-Defending the Diamond Formation
|"Diamonds...that'll shut her up!"|
The "Diamond" formation, as I call it, is one that you must use some of the bunch/banjo coverage rules. For more information on banjo coverage, you can check out RUNCODHIT FOOTBALL, there's a good article there about covering bunch sets. Against the Diamond look, I still like to use Special Solo, but I make one major change. First we count, the deepest receiver as the # 2 receiver, the outside receiver is still #1, the receiver on the LOS is #3, and the inside-most receiver is #4. I put the $ inside shade of the receiver that is on the line of scrimmage (LOS), which in the case of Diamond, is the #3 receiver. The $ is in a press technique and will not allow a clean release off the LOS. The read side LB will walk out and apex, still playing inside leverage on the #4 receiver. The read side corner follows his Blue rules and reads as does the F, reading and playing Blue coverage to the #1 and #2 receivers. The W, is still the long wall/all of #4 vertical defender and the away side corner is in man coverage on #1.
|Count system vs. Diamond formation|
|Special Solo vs. Diamond Quads formation|
Putting it all Together
Well, I've thrown a ton of stuff at you about empty formations and combo coverages, let's take a deep breath and go back and sort through some of this to show you where I'm coming from and what I'd do. I'm not a Roll fan, so most of the coverages listed with "Roll" in them would be ones I wouldn't care to do. I like Special Blue vs. 3X2 looks, as it is two coverages that should have been covered in fall camp, and should be ingrained in your kids minds. The only way I would come out of this look is if the three receiver side had the #3 receiver as a tight slot or TE. I would then play Roll Blue, or Roll Man (what I call Roll Zulu), preferably the latter (Roll Zulu).
Against 4X1 looks, I really like Special Solo, as again, it should be two coverages that are installed early in practice and repped daily from there on. Roll Solo is not bad, however pure zone coverages are not my favorite when facing good spread teams.
Again, keep up the feedback, as I know spring football is drawing near, ask those questions, I'm here to help all I can. Also, my blog is not the end all be all of TCU/Blue coverage stuff. You can always go to the following:
Brophy's blog is the upper echelon of all blogs, you can find anything you want, and he has the best pics of the TCU cheerleaders!
RUNCODHIT FOOTBALL is a coverage-mecca about pattern reading and bracket coverages. There are also awesome blitz and front aritcles there as well on the 4-2-5 and what TCU is doing.
Blitzology has very good TCU blitz articles if you're looking into TCU's 4-2-5 pressure package.
And as always, check out Coach Huey's board, there is a wealth of knowledge shared their daily!