Monday, May 23, 2011

The 4-2-5 vs. Flexbone

The one topic not talked about much is the 4-2 and the way it defends the flexbone.  I have some insight into the way TCU does it, and some insight in to the way I did it this past season and at other places I've been.  I want to share with you these methods, as it appears good ol' option football isn't going anywhere for a while!

What I can gather from my research on TCU, is that they will remain in a 2 high look vs. flexbone teams, which purely makes sense, due to the fact that the offense presents 4 vertical threats out of the basic double slot formation.  Georgia Tech. has shown the ability to have a very prolific passing game from their flexbone, so I do agree with Patterson's philosophy on keeping an even shell coverage.  Let's see how they defend it and then move on to the way I would suggest you defend the offense at the high school level.

TCU, simply put, kicks the front to mirror the famous Over front of the Miami 4-3.  The linebackers (LB's) will slide opposite of the read side (which is exactly what Patterson teaches vs. your standard 2x2 sets, you can go here to see more about how TCU handles 2x2 formations) giving them the traditional look of the Over front.  This allows them to keep 7 in the box, while having a 2 high shell with safety support behind it.  The free safety (FS) still aligns inside of the #2 receiver and plays traditional robber coverage (what TCU calls cover 2).  The kicker here is the alignment of the FS, it allows him, on motion, to attack both sides of the offense, being what I call the "plus one" player.  On motion by the slots, which simply turns a 2x2 set, to a 2x1 set, the FS will change the read side on the move.  This is very important, as it allows you to have 2 players on the option QB,  a MUST when playing against this type of option offense.

The read side is exactly the way it would be vs. a standard 2x2 set.  To the read side, against your typical inside veer (ISV) play,  the SS is the curl/flat/swing deep of 3 player, and will take pitch on option, as he's the force player.  The FS will rob the #2 receiver, and will play quarterback (QB) to pitch.  The read side LB, will play dive to inside 1/2 of QB, with the defensive end acting on his block down, step down (BDSD) rules.  No big deal here right?  Right!  The other thing Patterson will do with the front is he will keep a 3 technique to the field most of the time.  The B gap lineman makes life a little more difficult on triple option teams.  Patterson will also play slant games with the line based on field and bench tendencies (which I will not go in to for this post). 

2 Blue vs. Flexbone

The away side is in Blue coverage.  Now, Patterson can also play a coverage he calls "25" (said two five) where the read side plays robber (their cover 2) and the away side plays 5 (squat 1/2's, corner force).  Most of the time, they are going to play 2 blue, to keep safety force.  Anyhow, the weak safety (WS) will align 10-12 off #2 and will play his normal blue reads of 2 (to see these reads go here).  The WS is the force player to the away side and will play the pitch.  The away side LB is playing outside 1/2 of QB to pitch, and the read side LB, on option flow to the away side, will play dive to inside 1/2 of QB (if this sounds familiar I already went over how the 4-3 defends the option here).  That's basically it! 

ISV Strong

ISV to the away side does not change much, the away side LB will take outside 1/2 of QB to pitch, the read side LB will go dive to inside 1/2 of QB, and the WS rolls down to take the pitch.  The FS then rotates over and will execute his robber technique to the "new" read side, which changed because of the motion by the slot.  The FS will play outside 1/2 of QB to pitch.  The SS will slow play the cutback and look for counter iso, GT counter or counter option coming back his way.

ISV Weak
 All of this information is great, but to be honest, how useful is it to convert to high school football?  Some of the college schemes adapt very well to high school, and some do not.  With that being said, I want to share with you another method of defending the flexbone offense from the 4-2-5.  Please, I'm not knocking TCU, by all means, their success speaks for itself, I just wanted to post something I did last season that had good success against the flexbone.
Several years back, we used to play a wishbone team that ran the triple option, and they ran it good.  We were a 4-3 team, running Quarters coverage back then, and they used to get the best of us for some reason.   Sadly, they didn't usually have better athletes than us, for some reason we struggled at making their QB indecisive (which is key when facing good triple option QB's).  My defensive coordinator (DC) at the time, kept begging me to get into a 4-4 look and play robber coverage.  Well, I was against, but after getting tagged 2 years in a row by the same team, I felt we needed a change.  His front, moved the Sam and Mike in the 4-3 to 30 techniques over the guards.  The Will LB moved to 3x3 outside the weak slot, and the SS did the exact same.  The FS would play over the center of the formation, and would rotate based on action (he keyed the QB).  The corners were essentially in man coverage, except if the #1 receiver went inside.  Again, we were not facing flexbone, but wishbone.  Anyhow, our base reads for the ISV were that the DE took the dive, the ILB would take dive to inside 1/2 of QB, and the outside linebackers (OLB's) would take pitch, while the FS filled the alley and played the outside 1/2 of the QB.  The first way we switched things up, was to send the ILB straight to the dive, almost like an auto blitz.  The DE sat for the QB and the OLB took the pitch.  The second adjustment we made, was to send the DE directly up field for the pitch, the ILB still had the dive, and the OLB slammed down the line of scrimmage (LOS) for the QB.

In the game we played against them, we ran the first set of reads (our base reads) for the first quarter.  We did very well however we did give up 1 big run by the QB that had them up by 6.  In the second quarter, we switched to the second set of reads, and all hell broke loose!  We force 2 turnovers on back to back possessions, and scored off both of them to take a 14-6 halftime lead!  In the second half, we switched to the third set of reads, and blew their minds, we force 2 more turnovers and scored of both of those to lead 28-6!  We ended up winning the game by the final of 42-6 and they had less than 150 yards of total offense.  After that night, I swore I would always give my defense at least 2 sets of reads to defend the triple option.

8 Man Front Defends the Option
So, how did I do this past season, facing 2 flexbone teams out of the 4-2-5?  Well, here's what we did!  For the most part, we set the front to the field, putting the 3 technique to the field, making ISV somewhat tougher to run.  We utilized our "Ted" stunts along the line (for more about these stunts go here) to help discourage midline and QB follow.  The LB's aligned the same as we had before, both in 30 techniques over the guards (I treat the Flexbone as a 2 back offense, because of the motion so I do not slide my LB's).  The two outisde safeties (which are named Spur and Whip) aligned 3x3 off the near slot.  We put our FS over the center 10 yards off the ball.  The corners played 8x2-4 yards INSIDE the #1 receiver and were deep 1/2 players.  That was our basic alignment to the offense.

"3 Robber"

The Base Reads
The base reads did not change for our front.  The DE's would still execute the "Ted" reads and play the dive on ISV.  The LB's would play dive to inside 1/2 of QB.  The outside safeties (OSS's) would slow play the pitch.  It's very important that these players do not over commit to the pitch too early, as it will not allow enough time for the FS to get his reads.  The FS, would key motion, and then slide over to inside leverage on the #2 receiver on the side that motion was GOING to.  The reasoning for this, is that once this offense motions, it's basically a pro set.  I know many critics will argue, but it is going to be very difficult for the slot that motioned to run down the seam, after he's motioned into the backfield (I've never seen it).  So, we were basically back to a 4-4 robber concept.  The FS keyed the #2 receiver and if he blocked down inside, he filled the alley and played outside 1/2 of QB to pitch.  The safety away from the action was critical in defending the counter game employed by most flexbone teams in our area (GT counter and counter iso).  He was to stack the DE to this side and look for boot/reverse/cutback (counter is included in his cutback reads).  The crux of the defense is the FS's ability to get to either side of the offense, to allow your defense to be "plus one" against the triple option.

Vs. Inside Veer

The reasoning behind the coverage is simple, I liked the ability to switch up our front 8's responsibilities (which you will see later) and still have a middle of the field safety (MOF) that play the QB or pitch to either side of the formation.  I also have not seen a high school flexbone team that could pass their way out of a wet paper bag, so the 4 vertical threat did not concern me.  For those that it does, by all means, play 2 Blue, and have a great day, as it's a VERY sound method of playing the flexbone.  However, if you look, 4 verticals out of the flexbone, is a slight misnomer, in that the 2 inside vertical threats are so close to the FS.  Even if they work to the hash, they can be collisioned enough by the OSS's and LB's that their routes are altered.  Most of the time this rerouting allows time for your pass rush to pressure an offensive line not used to pass blocking.  All of these things add up to wins for the defense. 

We call our coverage "3 Robber" as that is exactly what it is.  In my defense, any coverage tagged with a number is a 1-high safety coverage, that is NOT split field.  The reason we double name the coverage is that if the offense does not motion, then we play standard cover 3 (what some would call "country cover 3") which is basically all you need to defend the flexbone.  If the offense motions, then we simply slide the FS over to the side motion is going to, and play robber coverage.  My robber coverage is an automatic "sky" structure on the away side of the coverage.  Since I called the coverage by number, both OSS's know they are in "low" (inverted) alignments.  I will play the OSS's anywhere from 5x5 to 3x3 (the latter being more common) off the near slot.  I do this differently than TCU for 2 major reasons.  First, our run fits are consistent, no matter what, both OSS's are "fitting" identical to the other.  During game week you are not going to have much time to work two different fits (even though they are similar), so these cuts down on some learning, AND this scheme means you can plug any OSS in at either position.  Secondly, it is easier to play the "switch" game with option assignments from this look than from the way TCU does it.

3 Robber pass reads vs. motion

3 Robber vs. 4 Verticals
 Switching Assignments
When facing good option teams, it is critical that the defense be able to switch their assignments to keep the offense on it's toes.  So introduce my three stunts against this offense, Switch, Sift, and Slice.  Each of these three change which defender takes what assignment against the triple option.  Now a word of caution, I have these in my arsenal, however I usually go into a game with a base way of defending the triple option, and one major chageup is all.  Three are a bit much for high school kids, however I have gotten away with playing with two extra stunts in some cases.  Let's take a closer look at these!

Switch is exactly as the name implies, two defenders are "switching" assignments.  In my defense it is the FS, and the OSS to the side the ball is being run to.  All the other defenders react in the same manner, however the OSS to the side the ball is being run, will come down inside and play outside 1/2 of QB to pitch.  The FS will overlap the OSS and rally to the pitch.  This is a good stunt to run if your FS is having trouble getting to his normal assignment, or getting "cloudy" reads from the slot that is load blocking down inside.  The OSS is taught "quick to the line of scrimmage (LOS), then settle and feather".  This gives the QB the illusion of some sort of outside blitz, but allows the OSS to maintain leverage on both the QB and the pitch. 


Sift is a stunt that I commonly used against read option teams (to see how I run it vs. spread run teams, go here) with excellent success.  Against the triple option, this involves the LB and the DE to the side the ball is being run.  The DE, will mash the offensive tackle (OT) down inside on a veer release, however he will "squat" on the LOS once the OT is at his inside hip and play up field for the QB.  The LB to the side of action will come hard down off the hip of the offensive guard (OG) and play the dive.  The FS and OSS to the run action side will execute their base assignments vs. the triple option.  This has been good to me against teams that like to run the point mesh method, or "no mesh, mesh" method of reading the triple option (for more information on this technique read these posts, or go here).  This creates a "cloudy" read for the QB, which usually results in a pull read, leaving the QB running right into the hands of the DE. 


Slice is an aggressive stunt that is extremely effective against option teams that either do not pitch the ball much, or are not adept in the pitch phase of the triple option.  This stunt involves the DE to the side the ball is being run, blowing up field after jamming the OT.  The DE will disrupt the pitch after a quick shiver is applied to the OT.  The LB to the action side, will still slam down off the hip of the OG to his side, just as he did in the "Sift" stunt.  The OSS, however, will come screaming down the LOS in order to force a hard and quick pitch by the unsuspecting QB.  The FS will overlap this stunt, and will take pitch all the way. 

Now, I usually take two of these into a game with me on game week.  Three, in my opinion, is too much for the high schooler to memorize in 1 week.  I have even done this with just 1 stunt in my game plan.  No matter, you need to be able to have a way to "switch up" the reads or an option team will eventually pick at your perimeter run support and find a way to outflank you.

Looks like 1 too many stunts...

Let's Review
Whichever way you choose to play this offense, the key player is the "plus one" player.  The defense must always have a sound way for getting the extra defender across the midline of the formation to help in playing the option.  This is done in robber coverage with the FS.  He has to be able to react to motion, and move to the new read side and play the QB.  If you do not have 2 players on the QB, you will not have success against this offense.  I hope this helps, and keep checking back here for more.  Please, keep hitting me up on the emails and comments, let me know what you need and I'll keep digging to find it.

"We're gonna keep digging..."