Thursday, August 25, 2011

4-3 Lightning Cover 0

A common post on the Huey board about the time season starts is the one about the 4-3 Lightning, Cover 0.  A very popular defensive scheme used to thwart wing-t, double wing and single wing attacks with the good ol' over front.  I'm going to pass along some information that was shared with me by friends over the years with this scheme and then I'm going to tell you what I've come to find out when using this scheme. 

The Lightning is basically a blitz scheme used to attack the wing-t.  It has since been developed to attack other offenses, but the basic premise was the attacking and stopping of the wing-t.  The 4-3 has one major flaw when defending the power run game vs. two or three has three distinct bubbles that OC's just love to attack.  The three bubbles are obviously the linebacker bubbles.  Now if you have three slobberknockers at LB, willing to bloody their gums every play, you can probably just sit in the Over front and play ball, however most of us has a Jimmie, that ain't no better than your Joe, and before long he becomes exposed.  When this happens, yardage racks up, and against the wing-t it can be a hellaciosly long night.  Moving on now, let's talk about alignments.

Alignments (Pardon the crudeness, these were clinic notes I copied, sorry for any mispellings and all of the shorthand)

SAM = Line up in gap between Wing & TE. On the movement of the ball - shoot inside off hip of TE & then flat down the LOS behind the heels of the O-Line. D Gap responsibility. Wrong shoulder any inside/out block. NOTE: If Wing motions away – contain rush (no wrong shoulder) - QB on waggle.

DE (Wing Side) = 6 technique head up on TE. On the movement of the ball - shoot off hip of OT & then flat down the line behind the heels of the O-Line. C Gap responsibility. Wrong shoulder any inside/out block.

DT (Wing Side) = Conventional 3 technique – outside shoulder of OG. B Gap responsibility. Wrong shoulder traps.

DT (SE Side) = Conventional 1 technique – inside shoulder of OG. A Gap responsibility.

DE (Split End side) = 4 technique head up on OT. On the movement of the ball – shoot off hip of OG & then flat down the line behind the heels of the O-Line. B gap responsibility. Wrong shoulder any inside/out block.

WILL = line up on outside shoulder of TB (on the LOS). Go through outside shoulder of TB. Contain technique (QB on waggle). C Gap responsibility.

Strong Safety = line up on Wing at a depth of 3-4 yds. Squeeze-Contain if Wing blocks Rover. Cover Wing M/M on all passes UNLESS he motions away – then you have the FB M/M.

Mike = Line up 3 yds deep straddling Center’s leg to Wing/TE side. You have strongside A gap on plays to you (stay at home if you lose sight of the ball through mis-direction). If the play goes away – cautious inside/out pursuit. Cover FB M/M on show pass (you may tackle him on his fake on waggle pass).

Corners = line up 7 yds deep on inside shoulder of TE & SE. Cover him M/M. NOTE: Corner on TE side fills vs. run if TE blocks.

Free Safety = Line up 7 yds deep on inside shoulder of TB. Cover him M/M UNLESS he goes to opposite side – then you have the FB M/M. NOTE: Fill vs. run if TB blocks.

Base Alignments vs. 100/900 formation

Now, let's look at these alignments against several common wing formations:

Strong 100/900




End over unbalanced


Can use motion to slant the 1 and 3 technique, or set them based on field or tendencies.
Double Wing

As you can see, the front and coverage provide the defense with adequate numbers to defend the offense.  As we all know, alignments are only part of defending an offense, the technique that is applied is the key element in attacking an offense. 

Coaching Points

Sam = The key with the Sam is whether he's spilling or forcing.  This is simple though, if the Sam has a wing to his side, he spills, if there is no wing, he forces, and contain rushes against the pass.  The main coaching point for the Sam is getting off the ball, and getting flat down the LOS.  The Sam should be a very disruptive presence on most strong side runs.
Will = The Will LB has basically the same job as the Sam, except he's ALWAYS a force/contain player.  Again, he has to remember to keep that outside arm free when attacking the offense.  The Will LB is the guy that absolutely destroys the waggle.  In the 7 years I've run this, nobody has effectively run the waggle on my defense (not bragging, just stating the facts).
Mike = The Mike is where I've had some trouble, I've actually had to move mine back from the three yards to five yards.  It depends on the ability of the LB to read and decipher the play.  If you have a kid that has a nose for the football, put him at three yards and let him play.  If you don't, move him back to keep him free of the clutter and allow him more time to read the play, while staying clear of some of the wash.  The Mike should have a field day in this defense no matter where he lines up as he remains relatively unblocked.
DE's = The DE's main concern is slanting and staying flat down the LOS.  The biggest issue I've had with DE's is them getting washed, but this is what the Mike LB is for.  One added coaching point we came up with is that if the DE felt he was being washed, we wanted him to hard post the blocker and rip upfield.  The most important role of the DE is to attempt to pick off pullers.  You will find when run correctly, the DE's can destroy Buck Sweep by executing the slant and getting into the pull path of the pulling guards.  This frees up defenders behind them (such as the Mike LB) to run to the football.
DT's = The one and the three technique execute their normal block down step down technique and play football.  Biggest concern is that your three technique can play the trap.  Other than that, everything else is standard 4-3 DL play for the interior guys.
Safeties = The SS plays closer to the LOS as he is generally the force player to the strong side.  On runs to him, he plays the spill by the Sam and the strong side DE.  The FS will play slightly deeper, but will follow the same rules as the SS.   Biggest coaching points with the safeties is to not lose sight of their key when their original key motions away.  On any motion, the safeties will take the FB man to man.  This all but eliminates one key element of the wing-t passing game...the FB in the flat on waggle.  With a contain defender right in his face immediately and a defender in great leverage to jump the flat route by the FB, the QB finds himself in a miserable predicament when running the waggle play.
Corners = Corners have a pretty simple night, play man on an end.  I have found, in years where I played little to no man, coaching the corners eyes became a major factor to them not getting beat deep.  I have been blessed with decent enough corners that even if there was a misread, we didn't get beat deep.  If you play a lot of man in your scheme already, you won't find that this is an issue.

Dealing with motion

Motion is handled easily in the defense, as assignments simply "bump" from player to player based on motion.  Take a look at the standard Red/Blue formation.  When the wing motions away from the SS, then he takes the FB man to man, as he's the next back inside now that the wing has motioned.  The Sam/Will on the side that motion is coming to will peel blitz to the motion.  This ensures their is a man on the FB on waggle and that the motion man is accounted for on the frontside of motion plays.  This also ensures you don't have players "chasing" motion all over the place against these type "quick motion" offenses.

Lightning vs. Motion
 My Experience With Lightning

Where I have found the Lightning blitz to be the most successful is when used as just that, a blitz.  When I first ran this defense I ran it coupled with my under front and we slid into it and used it as a changeup blitz.  I had a lot of success early on, and so we ran it more and more, until I finally stayed in it.  However, this past season, we faced a mediocre wing-t team and we played the Lightning and gave up 346 yards on the ground and took a 34-7 ass whoopin'.  Biggest problem was DE's being washed as well as the Sam backer and the Mike getting caught up in the wash on misdirection runs.  We got out of it in the second half and basically played a 4-4 look with robber behind, but the flood gates had already been opened. 

Like I said, played as blitz call, it's flat awesome.  I usually called it when I thought we were going to get the following:
  • Buck Sweep- The pinching DL usually got one, if not both, guards and left the RB standing there with one to two unblocked defenders. 
  • Waggle- As I mentioned before, if you're Will is a hitter, he's going to love the Lightning vs. waggle.  The QB comes off the playaction and turns right into an unblocked rusher.  The guard simply cannot get there in time to block him.
  • Keep pass- I saw an AWFUL lot of belly the past three years and the team we faced ran it to the nub TE side.  Again, the Sam comes clean off the outside as does the Will and you are just sending too many for them to block. 
Weakside Belly gave the defense some fits, as did weakside buck sweep if you couldn't get the guards.  A nasty split by #1 to the weakside also made life miserable, because if forced you to do one of two things:
  1. Play the corner in the run game.  The corner now had to read the block of the end, and if he blocked down on the Will, he came up and forced.  Good wing-t teams make the waggle route to this player look JUST like this block.  The team I recently went against did this to perfection.  The end would come down and put his hands on the Will, then sprint upfield and to the corner before we could recover.  This makes life miserable to the weakside for both the corner and the Will.
  2. Move the Will outside the nasty split.  This works good in theory, but you are creating a natural running lane by removing him outside of #1.  This leaves the DE very exposed to being washed and you having a big hole in the C gap area. 

Lightning vs. Nasty Split
 Again, this is why I say use the Lightning as a blitz in certain situations, instead of just sitting in it all game long.  I'm sure some guys who've had success with the defense may chime in that I'm an idiot or something, and that may very well be true, however I've run the defense for seven consecutive years and for the most part the good outweighs the bad.  I just don't think it's the "magic bullet" everyone thinks it is.  One thing us as DC's need to remember is that no amount of scheme will ever replace sound fundamental football. 

Well, to those in the full swing of things, hopefully everything is going great.  Our numbers continue to climb and we are having very productive and fun practices.  We will be hitting here soon, looking forward to our first day in pads.   Good luck as the season progresses!