Monday, May 30, 2011

Attacking Vertical Set Pass Protection

Vertical Set Pass Protection (VSPP) is a pass protection scheme that has really taken hold in the spread community.  Defenses were turned on their ear's a few years back when the spread exploded on the scene, and to combat this, the defenses have put speed on the field in places speed has never been!  Most notable at defensive end (DE).  The DE, in pass defense, is every bit as important as any defensive back you have.  The DE can make or break any pass offense, and in some cases, depending on the player, can even take over the game!  One way offenses have dealt with the DE is by putting him in conflict with his reads and reactions (for more on this conflict go here on Coach Hoover's site) to slow this defender down in his quest for the quarterback (QB).  The poor offensive tackle (OT) who's job it is to deter this DE from attacking the QB is at a disadvantage due to lack of athleticism, and the fact the OT has to block this defender in the one thing offensive linemen (OL)!  Introduce the concept of VSPP! 

To the untrained eye, VSPP doesn't look all that much different from traditional pass protection, however upon a closer look you will see the subtle differences.  In VSPP, the OL will retreat in a backpedal-style fashion, similar to the technique of a defensive back.  The goal here is to lose as much ground, while staying square before making contact with the defender.  All five OL, want to stay on the same vertical plane if possible.  Most coaches teach an "inside-out" step system where the OL will step back first with their inside foot, followed by the outside foot.  Most would look at this and think "uhh...bullrush...duh", but we're not finished yet, so be patient.  Once the OL is at the depth their coach requires (I've heard 5 steps from some coaches and 4 steps from others, so I'm leaving that ambiguous), they take what some call a post step, or "anchor" technique.  This is achieved by the OL dropping their butts and getting back in to your standard "flat back" pass protection posture.  The largest benefit, by far, of VSPP, is the one most coaches miss, the lack of leverage by the defensive linemen (DL) once they reach the point of attack (POA).  A DL in his crouched stance, can stay low and explosive when attacking traditional on the line of scrimmage (LOS) pass protection, however when their target retreats, the tendency is for the DL to run more upright, thereby losing all of their leverage and their "oomph" they had when coming off the LOS.  So in effect, the offense has taken the explosiveness out of the DL by moving their target further away from them.  The other benefit to VSPP, is the fact that stunts, and twists are relatively negated because the OL has time to see all of this happening in front of them as they retreat.  The obvious goals of VSPP are to keep the OL on the same vertical plane, and eliminate gap openings by the OL turning their shoulders.  Now, let's see what some of the experts have done to combat this new pass protection scheme.

One of the first people I talked to was on the Huey board (if you don't have an account, go here, and get one, you really are missing out if you don't have an account) was coachbdud (for more info. check out his blog here).  He had some insight to VSPP as that is what he taught his OL.  He's a firm believer in the scheme, but he did mention a few weaknesses and these are (and I quote):
  • Personnel: Take out your big run stuffers (unless they are also your best rushers), 300 lb kids just never make it to our OL and eventually stop rushing at all.
  • RB in protection: most are 6 man protection teams, RB has to fit in somewhere, you need to find out who he is responsible for in protection and attack him, he should be a weaker blocker than the 5 OL.
  • Get offs: Work your DL getting upfield all week, first thing is you have to get to us before you can defeat us. You can work get offs with you as the coach in front of them backpedaling and they have to beat you to a certain point, get them chasing up the field.
  • Stunts: When you work stunts/twists, practice them 4 yards or so up the field, most twist at the LOS and that's perfect for us because we can see it and sort it out. Get upfield first, then twist.

No, not this type of twist...

My take from talking to coachbdud is, work your DL getting off the ball and getting upfield.  He did offer some more tips and these are:

  • Some kids have a problem vertical setting then dropping anchor, if they have a kid like this put your best guy on him and have him race to him and bull rush.
  • I think the most important thing to consider is that vertical sets end up being the same as in other protection in terms of assignment and technique once engaged, the only thing that is different is we try to establish a new LOS 4-5 yards deep into backfield. Do what you might normally do against a man pass pro, only now do it 4-5 yards deep. You have to mirror their retreat by getting upfield.

Were we talking about  mirroring something?

This is great advice, and from what I would call the "horses mouth"!  coachbdud is a very vocal advocate of VSPP on the Huey board, and rightly so, that's what he teaches his OL to do.  Very good stuff!

Now let's look at attacking VSPP through the eyes of a defensive coach.  I had talked with currier58 on the Huey board as well, as he had posted some very good looking video (that I will share) on his defense attacking VSPP.  I basically have him an interview over the Internet, and here is a transcript of what we discussed:

1)      Do you teach the DL any differently during game week when facing VSPP, or do you just remind them of the type of protection you are facing and go from there?
We do not completely change our approach vs a vertical set pass pro. We do emphasize how deep the OL will get in the backfield throughout our individual time. One drill that I think helped us was to have guys match up 1 on 1 with some space in between them. The DL reacts to a ball being snapped and the OL backpedals as fast as he can. The DL has to try to tag the OL as quickly as possible. This drill helps guys get the feel of closing the distance before they ever think about using a move.

2) What technique, if any, changes for the DL vs. VSPP?
We didn’t try to change our technique, but we did spend more practice time on the Pull-Slide Progression and IN-Out moves. The pull slide is a technique I got from Pete Jenkins (see video below) This pass rush technique is very effective vs vertical setters because they are taught to always try to keep their shoulders square to the LOS.

The In-Out moves are effective whenever the Tackles are man-to-man on the DEs. Most OL coaches pound it into their player’s heads not to get beat inside. It is especially important for vertical setters to attack inside moves because of the angle to the QB the rusher will have.

One of the biggest weaknesses to look for in vertical setting OL is dipping their head when taking on a bull rush or inside counter. When players do this, they are especially susceptible to In-Out moves.
3) What stunts do you use to attack VSPP, and why?
We did not change what stunts we ran against VSPP, but it is important to get the DL to understand that they need to penetrate the OL with their stunts. It doesn’t do any good to run stunts against VSPP if everything is happening in front of the OL.

My favorite stunt against VSPP is a 3 man twist. If we are running this stunt on the right side: the RDE gets vertical then counters into B gap, the R-DT attacks the Center as he would on a NT stunt and finishes on the opposite side of the center, the L-DT holds the guard on his side up for a second and then loops out to C gap on the right side. This stunt gives the OL the illusion of an inside twist, which will force the guard on the right side to set inside to stop penetration and pick up the looping DT. This opens up the B gap window for the countering DE.

Another thing we did was stand up our best pass rusher, and move him to the best matchup we found through film-study. In the clip (see video below) we wanted to attack their left guard. We went with a 3-4 look and had #54 1-on-1 pass rush their weakest link.

4) What blitzes do you use to attack VSPP, and why?

In both of the 3-4 blitzes we ran, we tried to get a penetrator and then a guy looping in behind. We tried to do this to get the OL to commit to the penetrator and then get the looper through the crease created when the O-lineman turns his shoulders. This concept was the most successful when we used the Nose as the penetrator. This made the center attack him on the LOS, which allowed us to get the Center/Guards on different levels. I have diagrammed both of those looks below.

Here is video of what currier58 is explaining in the interview above:

Very noteworthy information for all you defensive line coaches out there.  To recap, basically, get your DL upfield.  Work any stunts you want, but work them only after you have made contact with the OL.  Prepare your DL for this new pass pro by having them work their stunts upfield and work on getting off the football.  This is still the game of football, and VSPP is no "magic bullet", find matchups and exploit them, look for bad technique and attack it.  Now, after talking with numerous other coaches and reading some publications on the subject, here's my take on things (oh boy, here we go).

Ok, so maybe these guys did have magic bullets!

My Take on Attacking VSPP

I'll give you my take on it, and most will probably think I'm nuts.  Obviously this depends totally on game plan, what type of team you are facing, etc.  For this article, we will talk about a team that is an obvious "pass first" team, and the threat of the run has been reduced to a myriad of screens and simple draws.  My take is to fight fire with fire.  I'm going to drop 8 and 9 defenders and force that QB to throw the ball in tight windows and be super accurate.  I might even play a 3 deep man under concept as well.  Again, I'm simply brainstorming here, but to me, pressure is going to come from me in a different element...mental, not physical.  Most high school QB's are used to getting the ball out of their hands pretty quickly.  The longer you make them hold it, the more nervous they get, so I would work the coverage end of the defense first.  My base pass rush scheme would involve a 3 man rush, and probably using dime personnel, however it doesn't matter as long as the back 8 can play the pass.  You can easily switch up which three are coming or can simply rush the 3 that are on the LOS, the possibilities are endless.  I think there are some important factors to keep in mind here though, and these are:

  1. Contain- No matter what you do, make sure you have defenders assigned to contain the QB.  Some youngsters when flustered will scramble or roll out.  No need to make your defense cover for a long time only to give up a big play because somebody left coverage, or all eyes weren't on the QB and he scrambles for a big gain.  Best way to do this, in my opinion, rush and work your pass rush from the outside-in.  Collapse whatever pocket they have from the outside-in, using whatever methods you so choose, but be sure to squeeze and constrict those inside running lanes all the while maintaining an outside arm free policy with contain rushers.
  2. Spy a good running QB- You can do this rushing two, three, or four defenders, just have a way to dedicate which one is to spy for the QB.  This defender should mirror the QB's actions, as well as being in the QB's vision at all times.  This defender should always maintain inside leverage on the QB's position on the field, as the contain players will always maintain outside leverage.  This defender should be one of your better open field tacklers.  I've done this with DE's, linebackers (LB's) and even have used extra safeties to play this spy position.  No matter, this cat needs to be fairly athletic to be able to play the "spy" position.
  3. Mix things up- Every good DC knows this, but don't just constantly drop 7, 8, or 9 defenders, get after it and mix things up.  Use the blitzes/stunts shown on here and then bluff and drop off 8 guys in coverage.  Use a 3 man stunt, and drop 8 in coverage.  The key here is not just attacking the pass protection, but attacking the entire scheme.  This can be attacking the QB's thought process, route disruption, as well as attacking the pass protection.
Most DC's when they think of pressuring the passing game, they simply dial up blitzes and stunts, but I think you need to get inside the QB's head.  Do it with blitzes, both zone and man (if possible) as well as bluffs.  Both the OL and the QB will suffer from mixing things up, especially if you bring 6 one down, then drop 9!  These sorts of "change-ups" will keep the offense off balance, and not allow them to gain rhythm in their attack. 

Mix it up!

I hope this was informative, and by all means, check out coachbdud's blog, or get in touch with him on the Huey board.  The same goes for currier58, these guys have a wealth of knowledge and are eager to help, hit em' up and see what you can find out.

Ok, I PROMISE, next post is my Scream and Splatter stuff!!!!