Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The 46 Nickel and the Flexbone...Defending Against the Adjustments

In part one on the series on defending the flexbone with the 46 Nickel, we learned how to handle the base offense, and the inside veer.  Now for the "cat and mouse" game to begin.  Any good triple option offensive coordinator (OC) is going to roll the dice and adjust to what you are doing defensively to take away the flexbone's base play...the triple option. 

There are two methods this OC can perform to try and outmaneuver what the defense is doing and these are:
  1. Formation the defense into a bad situation
  2. Run plays that attack what the defense is doing to take away the triple option.
This post will look at both these adjustments by the offense, and show you exactly how to react to them out of the 46 Nickel.

Formation Adjustments
The easiest method for the OC to employ, is that of utilizing formations to hurt what the defense is doing to take away the triple.  A couple common formation adjustments are listed below:
  1. Ends Over
  2. Trips (Open and Closed)
  3. Nasty
  4. Heavy (Tackles Over)

Ends Over

Trips Open

Trips Closed



Now, let's look at how you should attack each of these formations adjustments.

Ends Over
The Ends Over, or Over adjustment, is meant to give 8 man fronts a problem, and will if you don't adjust in some manner.  The simplest manner is to treat this as a twins closed formation and go corners over as shown below:

The defense is balanced with 6.5 defenders to the offense's strong side and 4.5 defenders to the nub side.  I like to play my corner on the outside shade of the inside receiver.  This gives you a good leverage point to defend the pitch, and to defend any screens the offense may try to use out of this Over formation.

Trips Open
Trips Open, is a tricky formation to defend.  On one hand you can simply move the Whip and Spur over to the trips side, however this leaves the offense with some good angles to the weak side.  What I prefer to do in this situation is use the Jayhawk adjustment and have my defense use Saban's "Mable" adjustment to trips formations.  What this does is keeps the defense sound against any of the trips passing game, and gives the offense poor blocking angles to the weak side.

The reason for this adjustment is the threat of "return" motion.  Return motion has become popular in recent years with Georgia Tech. leading the pack at the FBS level.  Return motion is simply where the middle slot in trips motions to the backfield, but the play "returns" to the side he came from.  This makes life difficult for teams looking for a key on overplaying the flexbone's motion ability.  The problem is, if you simply treat this formation as a twins open formation, you are down in pass responsibility to the trips side.  The key here is to gamble on what you are facing.  You are NOT facing a prolific passing team, usually, and sometimes you have to roll the dice.  I say, make them beat me passing, and see what happens.  So I DO treat this as a twins open formation, and that is why the adjustment above is shown.

Return Motion

With motion trips open becomes twins open

Trips Closed
Trips closed is a set rarely used by Flexbone teams, however, it can be a tough set to defend if you are not prepared.  The key to the trips closed formation is not to treat it any differently than the over formation shown above.  They are one in the same.  The only thing I would do, is bump the Whip down to a seven technique and have him plug the C gap, playing off of the block by the offensive tackle.  If the OT blocks down, have him take dive and utilize the BDSD principle discussed here before.  The coverage should be the standard 3 deep 3 under fire zone match up man coverage.  The only difference is, the inside corner and the FS will trade assignments.  So the inside corner is the MOF player, while the FS will take all of 1 vertical.   The Whip safety will take #2 out only, as he drops off the LOS.  If #2 is not out, then you can have him rush, or better yet have him spy the QB (we all know Flexbone QB's are usually runners first, so not a bad idea to spy him).

The Nasty formation is just as it sounds...nasty.  The main reason Flexbone teams use the Nasty formation is when they are facing a defense with the force players on the LOS.  There are a couple of ways to defend this, the first is to simply widen your force players.  This is a simple adjustment, but does have the drawback that the WR's now have some clean shots at some players to the inside.

The other option is to align these players in their normal alignment and utilize a combination of two calls we learned about in a previous post.  The Jet call puts the OLB down hard inside looking to take dive to QB (whichever shows first).  The Heavy call, puts the OSS driving hard down inside for the very same thing as the Jet call.  Combining the two calls into the "Blood" call looks as follows:

Blood Stunt
The FS must see the block by the slot on the OSS and get on his horse to get to the pitch, as running this stunt will usually result in a quick pitch.  Now if the offense decides to crack the OLB with the WR and still load, my advice is to simply run the Jet stunt shown below:

Jet Stunt
Here the FS fits inside the load and plays the outside half of the QB to pitch.

Finally, if the offense chooses to align this way, yet leave your force player alone, and use a "double load" scheme as shown below, then utilize the Heavy stunt mentioned in a previous post.  Now the OSS is inside the load and the FS will overlap and play outside the load. 

Heavy Stunt
Now we all know the old saying "He who has the chalk last", however, the more bullets you have in your gun, the better off you are in a gunfight is my motto.  Only having one way of defending the triple option is exactly what the person meant when they described someone "Bringing a knife to a gunfight".  I prefer to have some answers, and the three stunts mentioned above are good ones (Jet, Heavy and Blood).

Heavy or Tackles Over is the toughest formation to defend.  Upon recognition of this set, the defense should check into a front called "Kick Strong".  Kick is a term in the 46 Nickel that "kicks" the front 1 shade to the call side.  So out of our base three-zero-three alignment, the new alignment would be four-eye, one, and two-eye as shown below.

The coverage must change as well.  The coverage is a rotated zone based on motion.  If there is motion to the weak side, the corner will take the first receiver outside and will carry the second receiver through the zone (swing deep of 2).  The FS has the first vertical.  If there is no motion, then the weak corner takes the flats and the FS will take the weak half of the field.  The Whip is the hook to curl player and Mike plays the low hole.  To the strong side, that corner is a deep half player.  The OLB will take the flats, and the Spur will take the hook to curl zone.

 Vs. motion, the coverage "morphs" into a two by four zone coverage as follows:

Looking at run assignments, there must be some calls made to help the defense be in a better position to defend the triple option.  Looking to the strong side first, if a team tried to run the inside veer, there must be two things they can do.  First, if they choose to run the veer scheme, then the option simply becomes a double option and the offense is playing right into the hands of the defense (the defense has taken away the dive by alignment).

Inside Veer Strong

The ideal play for the offense to try and run is the outside veer.  The best stunt to call in this situation is either the Jet stunt, or the Blood stunt.

Jet Stunt vs. OSV

Blood vs. OSV
To the weak side the offense will think it has easy pickings for the inside veer play, but the Jet and Blood stunts will quickly deter them!

Jet vs. Heavy ISV Weak

Blood vs Heavy ISV Weak
As you can see, the Heavy formation is not as tough to defend as some might think.  The defense is also very sound against some of the other staple run plays of the Flexbone offense.  The key here is getting the players to recognize the alignment of the offense and check into the proper front (Kick Strong). 

 Play Adjustments

Flexbone coaches will not only adjust with formations, they will run complimentary plays that attack other areas of your defense to attempt to take away what you are doing to stop the triple option.  Some of these plays are:

  1. Midline
  2. Triple Pass
  3. Rocket
  4. Counter Option or Counter Iso
Knowing the opposing coaches' counter moves are essential to defending the offense you are facing.  The Flexbone is no different, so let's break these plays down and see how the 46 Nickel defends them.

Midline is one of the toughest plays in football to defend.  There are several ways to run midline and they are listed below:
  1. Midline blast (double power play-both slots inserting)
  2. Midline load (double option, only one slot inserting)
  3. Midline fold (double option, backside slot goes for pitch, front side inserts)
  4. Midline arc/switch (triple option)
So now that we know what we are facing, let's look at how the 46 Nickel handles each of these situations.  First to the Midline blast.  Blast is one of my favorite plays (for more on midline, go here) in all of football.  It combines power football and option football all in one play.  The good news for the 46 Nickel, is that with the standard three-zero-three look, that makes life tough on midline football.

Midline Blast
 The key to defending midline is for the OSS's to key the OT.  If he fans, and the window opens, they fill it.  If the OT blocks down, they fill and the window closes, then they fill outside (see Veer examples above).  Here, you can see, the Spur, inserts because the B gap window opens.  This puts a defender outside the lead block by the slot.  The Mike inserts and is inside the lead block of the folding slot and outside the lead block by the trailing slot.  The End and Nose make up the two defenders inside the lead block by the trailing slot.  You also have the FS filling to the ball as your "plus one" player.  The offense has chosen to put 2 blockers in one gap, thereby creating three more gaps to that side, but you have countered that by having one more than they can block by the play of the FS.

Now let's look at Midline Seal.  Flexbone teams that see you keying their slots will attempt to "load" or seal the LB with the slot instead of folding as shown below.  The idea here is that it removes a player from the B gap so the QB is free to run.  Again, this proves useless because of the reads by the OSS and the FS.

Midline Seal/Load Scheme
Flexbone teams are notorious for switching players assignment, as to try and confuse the defense and get a defender out of position.  The next tactic they utilize is that of folding the front side slot and having the backside slot go for pitch. 

Midline Fold Scheme
Once you've finally frustrated the offense, you will now see the wrath of the dreaded Midline Triple.  Midline Triple, or "mid veer" as I call it, is not an easy play on the offense.  This play puts tremendous stress on the option quarterback as the reads happen so fast.  A defense must be careful in the way they handle the mid veer play, because if not handled properly this play can "get out the gate" on you in a hurry.

Mid Veer
The FS will more than likely be slightly out of position as he's used to jumping motion (most Flexbone teams run this play with counter motion), however he's more than likely having to deal with being blocked by an OT, a match up I would hope most FS's would win in the open field.  The keys to defending this play is that you have your players inside and outside the dive (End being read and OSS away from action).  You have a defender inside the load and outside the load (Mike inside OSS to option side outside), and a player inside and outside the second load by the slot (OLB is outside, and FS is inside). 

There is nothing wrong with stunting this play either, and a good stunt is the Jet stunt.  This forces the QB to make instantaneous reads and will more than likely result in the ball being pitched on the ground. 

Jet Stunt vs. Mid Veer
Triple Pass
Good Flexbone coaches are going to notice the FS in the 46 Nickel scheme and try to exploit his aggressiveness.  Again, with a solid foundation of keys and reads, these tactics should not thwart the attack of the 46 Nickel.  The two most common versions of the Triple Pass are to run the play side WR on a takeoff route with the slot mimicking a load block and running a Whip route.  Secondly, some coaches choose to send both the WR and the slot on takeoff routes to try and put an aggressive safety in a bind.  Both passes, and how they should be defensed are shown below.

The FS's read on the play side slot is what will save the FS from being burned deep on the second diagram.  The FS must know, he has time to react to this route and must always approach the LOS patiently until he has diagnosed the play correctly.  The famous phrase "Don't go til' you know" rings very true when defending the Triple Pass.

Once the Flexbone OC has seen you are stunting to stop the triple option, more than likely you will start to see a heavy dose of Rocket toss.  Rocket is a play that can really hurt a defense if their force players are not coached very well on defending it.  Some keys to teach your players when looking to defend this play are:

  1. Situation- If the offense has been routinely stuffed when trying to run the inside veer, outside veer, or midline (whatever their staple option plays are), then you can expect Rocket.  To the OC, Rocket is a "cheap" play as it's easy to install, and can get some big yardage against teams stunting inside against the option.
  2. Motion- The motion by the slot is usually "tail motion" as opposed to two-step motion that is utilized on the triple option.  This is not always the case, but another difference is the motion once it hits the heels of the fullback (FB).  On Rocket, the back will turn his shoulders to the sideline which will be a dead giveaway that the play is Rocket, or at the very least the force player is about to see a pitch back come his way.  If the shoulders turn up field on the motion, you are getting some sort of inside lead play by the slot.
  3. Near Slot- It is important to note that the force player in the 46 Nickel reads the lane of the ball (LOB), but against the Flexbone, he should make this read, through the near slot.  If that slot is attacking at him, he knows, the play is Rocket. 

Once the force player recognizes the motion, he need not take any steps forward, yet must keep himself flat and in outside leverage on the pitch back.  Even if he has to turn his shoulders to the sideline that's being attacked to outflank the runner, he should do so.  All other players should run to the football.  Now, they do not run blindly, but find open windows and play the Rocket inside-out.  The FS is the alley player and should fill the void between the force player, and the inside spill players.  You have now successfully eliminated the Rocket toss from the Flexbone's arsenal.

Defending Rocket Toss

Counter Iso
If the backside of your defense begins to fly to the football and are making plays on the front side of option plays, you had better expect the counter iso play to be come soon.  First off, this play does not need to be handled by scheme, but merely by coaching.  You are seeing this play because the backside of your defense is playing unsound.  Looking at the diagram below, we can easily see how if players are not in the proper position, the offense will have leverage on them with the counter iso play.

Counter Iso
The reads are what is key to defending this play.  Again, as with midline, the OSS sees the B gap open up, then he should fill it.  You have two players on either side of the lead block (the DE and the OSS) and you could add the Mike depending on whether the Nose prevented the jump through block or not.  The only player who should be slightly fooled by the motion and counter direction of the play is the FS.  The FS is aligned at enough depth though, to effectively redirect and fill to the football as needed.

I know this one was a long post, and I probably should have divided it in two, but things didn't quite work out that way.  Anyhow, that's how the 46 Nickel breaks down the flexbone offense.  Now as with anything, there is no substitute for fundamental football.  No scheme works if you cannot run and tackle, and that is what 99% of defensive football is all about.