Thursday, June 14, 2012

Creating an Eight Man Front to Defend the Spread Offense-II

The drink of all eight man front coaches!
In the first post, I gave you a brief history on the defense my staff and I developed out of the 4-2-5  personnel to defend a schedule, heavily laden with spread offenses.  In this post, I'm going to talk about our match up issues and what we did to alleviate these issues to help with being able to compete against vastly superior athletes.  Now this isn't to say we were successful, however, the ideas that were learned through a season of innovation, I think, are worth sharing.

Force Issues
Rip/Liz cover three is a great adaptation to defending the spread offense, but does have one drawback, and that is that your force player is responsible for the vertical of the number two receiver.  But Duece, that's no different than in any Quarters coverage scheme, so what's the big deal???  The big deal is the Quarters coverage force player is doing this from a depth of eight to 12 yards.  In the eight man front, with a one high safety look, these players are doing their job from an invert depth of five yards off the LOS.  This means that these players, must make their reads very quickly.  The other issue, is that the outside safeties (OSS's) must align in outside leverage on the number two receiver, which means they can be out leveraged to be able to engage in their role as the force player.

SS has a long way to go to force the ball, but must also handle the vertical of #2

The way my staff and I handled this issue, was in a couple of ways.  The first thing we did was not to change anything but the way our defensive line (DL) would play, a topic that we've already talked about, the Two-Gap/One-Gap scheme better known as TGOG.  We would set the three technique to the field, so that the DE to the field side would be a one-gap player, thereby having him come up field hard and "box in" the play. 

This technique serves us well on inside runs that spill outside, however, the jet sweep killed it, and we had to do something else.  I looked high and low, and came up with two solutions, the first was to align the tackles in double 2I techniques, and the ends in five techniques.  Utilizing TGOG principles, this meant the tackles were one gap players and the DE's were two gap players.  By doing this, we were able to move our LB's out to a "hip" alignment stacked behind the DE's which allowed them to "fit" better on outside run plays. 

Now even though the LB is not the force player, by making taking away any reads he has and forcing his "flow to" read to be an automatic C gap fit, the offense is not in a position to block this player very well.  Even if they lead the back, the LB will allow the WS (in the diagram above) to get his read, come off any block that may occur and force.  Ok, I know, what the heck do you do with the inside run game, as those B gaps sure to look inviting.  Remember, utilizing the TGOG principle, makes things seem as though they aren't!

Another thing we did to add confusion was the 3-3 stack front talked about earlier, and we simply had the DE's play the two gap responsiblility and had the two tackles attack the A gaps in tandem based on our call. 

As you can see, the idea was to alleviate the immediate pressure on the force player by putting the LB's in a position to support the C gap immediately.  However, our defense against the run was less than successful that season.  It was not the outside run that hurt us as much as the inside run, and it had little to do with scheme, as we once again saw a weakness in our match ups.  Teams really hurt us with a good running quarterback and running isolation and power run plays.  Desperately seeking a solution, one presented itself via the Huey board in the form of an old defense, made popular by Buddy Ryan...yep, the 46!

Defending the Inside Run
Now, the 46 Nickel was something that was born out of this, but how I actually got in the 46 was very interesting.  At first, the idea was to simply have the tackles align in three techniques and be one gap players as well as letting the DE's align in wide nine techniques and also play a one-gap technique.  The strong side LB would walk down and stand over the nose while the weak side LB stacked behind as shown below:

We did several things out of this.  The first was have the Sam read the hat of the center, and go to the opposite A gap if the center tried to cut him off.    This allowed the Mike to scrape to the play, virtually unblocked.  Coverage wise, the Sam would always drop to the short side of the field if he got a high hat read, and Mike would drop to the wide side of the field.  If the ball was in the MOF, then the Sam dropped left and the Mike to the right.

The other great thing about this was we could rush the Sam, play cover six (three deep three under fire zone) and have the Mike be the three dropper quite easily.  Another less expected result was to bring the Mike, and drop the Sam, all the while playing a fire zone coverage behind it.

Sam rushed based on call (strong/weak/right/left), Mike responsible for A gap away from call

Bringing Mike and dropping Sam yielded some good results!

The fire zone coverage was an easy install because relatively little changed for the underneath droppers.  The only changes were that to the weak side or the short side, these defenders would play pure man to man defense.  On the strong side, or wide side of the defense we used fire zone principles with a true number two dropper (SS) and a number three dropper (Mike/Sam-whoever dropped).  So the final outcome would look like the illustration below:

Because of our athleticism at DE, we eventually went pure cover one for simplicity's sake.  As you can clearly see, you can run the fire zone concept from this look quite easily. 

The three, zero, three alignment freed up our LB's to play the run so much better because it eliminated the double teams that are present when you leave two gaps open instead of one.  Once this was installed teams really struggled to run on us. We did give up some passes across the middle, and we began mixing in some cover one.  We could do this because of the wide DE's as we could use them to force now. 

A lot of folks would argue, "Duece you are no longer really a 4-2 anymore!", to which I would say, no we are, we just had to use some tricks to make things work better for us in areas where we did not match up very well.  I think this is the goal of any good coach, as the idea that you must "stick to the scheme" will eventually get you fired.  Adaptation and teaching are what are traits of all good football coaches.  This ability to "make the parts work" is essential in finding success.  For us, the schemes shown above took a defense that was giving up an average of 450 yards per game of total offense and allowed us to reduce that number to around 240 yards per game.  Still not great, but the schemes helped to stop the bleeding.  I know, scheme isn't everything, but when you are teaching the players correctly, and their God given abilities are failing them, you have to try to find ways around these deficiencies to try and find success.  These schemes did just that.

In the last post, I'm going to discuss the role of the free safety (FS) in making the eight man front successful against the spread.  I hope you find these post insightful as you do your off season homework.  Remember champions are not made overnight!