Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Creating an Eight Man Front to Defend the Spread Offense

Did someone say eight man front?

When I first went to the 4-2-5, my team struggled to grasp the concept, but it wasn't just the concept alone that hurt us.  There are some glaring weaknesses in the "Pattersonian 4-2" that if you are "out-athleted", you simply are setting yourself up for failure.  I will explain further, but after some miserable seven-on-seven outings, I had to do something.  Well, what I'm going to present you is what I came up with, and a bit of it was stolen from our 3-3 brethren, as well as from Brophy's blog on Nick Saban's adaptation of Cover 3 to the spread offense.

I was forced into the 4-2, because like a lot of coaches in struggling situations, we needed answers which correlated to wins.  Now, this story doesn't have a happy ending, however, there are some excellent things to be learned from the trials and tribulations of ANY coach.  So when the switch was made, things looked good on paper, then enter the seven-on-seven league we played in.  Where we got hurt the most was in the curl area to the away side of the coverage.  Blue is a great coverage, however to the away side, you are essentially giving up the curl, and if you play Bronco, you are giving up that out route to the flat due to the leverage issue of the Weak Safety (WS).  Well, after four disappointing games, and four weeks of not seeing any progress, I became enamored with finding a solution.  I needed something simple and quick to install.  Well, I found my answer on the pages of Cripes, Get Back to Fundamentals in the posts on Saban's Rip/Liz adaptation.  So, the following Monday we installed Cover 3, and Mable, and went on to look a whole lot better in seven-on-seven.  After losing our first four games, we ended up winning three out of the last four, to finish three and five for the summer.  The kids liked the new coverage better and I just knew we were going to succeed.  Well, enter the pre-season!

Prior to the start of the season, the goal was to keep the defense simple so the kids could play fast.  Well, our base coverage to any 2 back set was Robber, and then if we got any one back set, we moved on Cover 3.  Trips check would be Mable, and we were going to blitz empty if we got it (we only saw empty five times that year, even though we played seven spread teams).  What I'm going to do in the following paragraphs is explain the coverages we used, and then go through the "rights" and "wrongs" that we did so you can see how we came to an end result which was an eight man front that was sound against the spread. 

Robber coverage is nothing new, and since I was a Quarters guy, it fit with my mentality of pattern reading.  Trouble is, we only faced two, two back teams that year, and both were at the end of the season.  Sure, we saw some mix of some spread two back, but not much, so Robber was no the first coverage I taught.  Now, the Robber I ran, was the typical Virginia Tech Robber scheme that so many people have become familiar with over the years.  There's been so much written on the topic that for me to write more, would simply fall into the category of "white noise" as there is very little I can bring to the table on the subject that hasn't already been written about.

Cover Three
Cover three, has also been written about a lot, and most know, by now, the links to Brophy's site where he speaks about Saban's adaptation to this age old fundamental coverage.  Most who really know me, know I can't stand cover three.  Anyhow, after reading the beautifully written pages of Brophy's blog I was hooked.  Saban's cover three is everything you love about cover one, and everything you love about cover three, all rolled into one.  I heard one person even comment to Brophy that Saban's cover three was much like a one-high version of Quarters.  This comment really caught my attention, and got my wheels to spinning.  I'm going to re-hash the rules for Saban's cover three, in case anyone missed them.

For the corners, Rip/Liz (what Saban calls his adaptation), is basically like cover one with some zone principles.  The corner's rule is he has all of the number one receiver vertical.  If one is shallow and in or out, he zones off his deep third.  Pretty standard, yet vague enough of a description to be dangerous.  What I added to this to help our corners was to put in a depth of the route, and more specifically a time. If the corner was able to count to three after the snap and the receiver was still running vertical, then he locked on to him man to man (ala cover one).  If the receiver had made a break before this, then the corner would zone off into his deep third.  This gave the corner a feel for the three step game, since you can roughly count to three and be at the third step of the quarterback, and allowed the corner to anticipate whether he was getting a three or five step drop ( I can't tell you the last time I've seen a seven step drop in high school football).  Anyhow, that was really the basis for the coverage for the corners.  Now I did tweak one thing, that if the number one receiver broke off his route in a hitch or out, that the corner could cushion back and think smash and help play under the deep corner route.  This technique helped our outside safeties (OSS) who were sometimes a little outmatched by the opponent's slot receiver.  Ok, speaking of the OSS's, let's move on to their reads and techniques.

Corner reads

The OSS's rules for Rip/Liz were that they were to take the vertical and out by the number two receiver.  Here I had to tweak the term "vertical" a bit more as well.  What I found out worked for us, was that if the receiver took two steps up field, he was vertical.  I know this is slightly different than the corners, but had to be done this way to combat some of the spacing concepts such as all hitches or all slants.  This allowed us to play the short throws much like cover one would, in a basic man-to-man concept.  The OSS was to align in outside leverage so long as he did not cross the top of the numbers if the ball was in the MOF.  This allowed the OSS to maintain leverage on his run assignment of playing force.  If the number two receiver went shallow and inside, then the OSS would break immediately to the flat based on the corners call of what the number one receiver had done (in or out).  If the call was out, the OSS would flatten his drop and look to get in the "window" of the quarterback's vision.  If the call was in, the OSS would "sit down" and hang on the edge of the curl/flat zone boundary line looking for the slant or dig routes.  Again, we can see, Saban's adaptation has taken two of cover three's known weaknesses, the seams, and the curl flat divider and removed them from existence. 

OSS reads/reactions to number two vertical or out

The free safety had the very simple rule of playing the middle third of the field.  What I liked about the coverage is it took a huge strain off the free safety playing those seam routes against four vertical teams.  The free safety did not have to be such a good athlete as a typical MOF safety does, which was our case. 

So, in summary, the Rip/Liz adaptation really helped, and this help immediately showed in seven-on-seven.  However, like anything else, this adaptation had it's disadvantages too, which I will speak of later. 

Video Courtesy of our main man Brophy
Mable, which is Saban's adaptation of cover three to defend trips, is a very sound way of playing any three by one set you may see.  However, one weakness that stood out in seven-on-seven was that by pushing the linebacker to the trips, he was barely in the box, and really was asking a tall order of one of my inside linebackers to do what his rules were.  The rules are simple, but my adaptation was shown below, in what a friend of mine (Outlaw Josey Wales on the Huey board) called "dogs over".  This concept was one of many I borrowed from the 3-3 Stack guys, and it was simply to move the weak OSS over to the trips side and slide the linebackers one full shade to the weak side of the coverage.  This did two things, first it put our linebacker in man coverage in a situation with a better match up, our linebacker against their running back (which was much better than our linebacker against their number three receiver).  Second, by sliding the linebackers away, and utilizing our Two-Gap/One-Gap defensive line play, we were able to use this weak side linebacker as our force player.  Thirdly, this scheme, which I aptly named "30 backer" (cover three strong and cover zero weak with weak backer force) put our three better athletes on our opponent's three receivers creating the match ups that we wanted. 

"Dogs over" adjustment to trips in the 3-3 stack

"Dogs over" adjustment in the 4-2

Mable's reads are not that tough, and is nothing more than an overloaded zone pushed to the strong side with a man to man concept on the backside.  This is nothing new, and Brophy has detailed this quite a bit in his posts on Mable.  The key to Mable is that the two underneath droppers (the strong and weak safeties) have got to get the number two or number three receiver on a different level if the offense is running four verticals.  Fortunately for us, we didn't see four verticals from trips, and even though we worked the dickens out of it, this concept still concerned me. 

Coverage Summary
As you can see, that is a very simple and small list of coverages.  Much smaller than the standard TCU fare I've talked about in the past.  I'm not knocking TCU, I'm just saying, that it does require some athletes at certain positions to run.  If you don't have these athletes, you don't scrap the defense (although some would), you make the defense fit what you have.  Saban's adaptations have made this possible.  The ability to play an eight man front against spread teams, and especially the spread option teams has been a huge victory for defenses around the country fighting to keep up with spread football.  Sure, are there weaknesses, yes there are, and I will talk about those in the next post.  I'm going to cut this one up into a few posts, so hang in there, these should be some informative posts to those who don't have the athletes to run some of the seven man front coverage schemes!