Sunday, February 23, 2014

Defending 3x1 Formations-Part I

I bet I get asked at least twice a week about the good ol' "trips" formation.  Trips is nothing new and has been around for quite some time (I think I first saw the formation around the mid 90's).  However, it's what's being done with the 3x1 formations nowadays that gets defensive coordinators into a bind.  I'm going to take some posts (as many as it takes) to break the 3x1 sets down to their very core, and then discuss ways to be sound vs. what teams are doing play-wise and formation wise.  Keep in mind, most of this will be from the four man front, however I think even the odd front guys will get something from these posts.  Without further adieu...

Trips, the Formations

The first 3x1 formation I ever saw was a Trips Flop, or Trips Closed formation as shown below:

Most teams at the time were simply splitting their fullback or tailback out as the #3 receiver and doing this to get a guy out of the box to run trap or belly etc.  Some guys ran a bit of speed option from this look too.  Trips flop is a tough set because it is one of the rare sets that has the run strength and pass strength set to opposite sides.  Some of the issues with this set are as always, how to handle #3 vertical, but also defending that nub side.  Leaving a corner over there to force, or a linebacker to force isn't always the greatest of ideas, but can be done.  Going corners over isn't a bad idea if your inside corner is decent at forcing and playing the run.  Also going corners over with certain fronts can put you a bit "soft" off that nub edge.  These are just a few of the things facing defensive coordinators from a Trips Flop alignment.

The next trips formation we'll look at is probably the trips sets we see 80% of the time and is your standard Trips Open 3x1 formation:

Now I know, rarely do we see the under center version of this, which leads me into my point I'm fixing to make, that with the advent of the shotgun sets from this look, things have gotten much tougher.  Issues with trips open are ones such as how to handle a good X receiver, what are they doing in the run game, are they running to the trips or away from the trips.  Do they run option, or some sort of packaged play concept from this look with one of the trips side receivers being a good runner or a good screen player.  Is number 3 vertical a "real" threat?  These are all things that plague the defensive coordinator when he has to come up with sound schemes to defend this stuff, and in today's game, these checks need to be made with lightning efficiency.

The next trips set is one I refer to as an over shifted trips set, or what many refer to as Trey Open:

Trey sets, or tight end trips sets can be an issue because they are so tempting to over shift with.  I see many coaches, leaving their weak side run force as an issue when facing these sets by rotating over or rolling down a safety to the overload side.  In many cases this is just what the opposing team wants you to do.  Again, the X receiver, and how good or bad of a player he is, can really be a dilemma in diagnosing how to defend this set.  The tight end can also be a major issue when you have  defense built for handling more traditional spread open sets.  Can your safeties match up with this tight end?  If they cannot, how do your linebackers match up with the tight end?  Is the tight end a better blocker or pass receiver?  These questions, in addition to the standard 3x1 questions you must ask when breaking down trips sets are all essential to ask.

The last type of trips set I see out there is a combination of an over shifted trips set and a trips closed set and that is Trey Closed:

Trey closed combines the issues of an over shifted trips set, along with a trips closed set.  Many 4 man front teams find the double tight look especially difficult to align to, while maintaining solid run fits, as well as setting the secondary.

Now I know, everybody's already up in arms with "What about the bunch sets?".  I treat bunch sets a bit different than standard 3x1 sets, so I don't lump them in this category.  Anyhow, that can be left for another topic, another time.

Setting it all up-What to Look for
When facing 3x1, there has to be a standard set of questions you ask yourself once all the breakdown data has been input (yay Hudl).  These questions, should be something you ask yourself if any team you are facing uses trips formations in over 30% of their offense.  The reason I say this is that if you expect to handle 3x1 sets the same way you do pro (2x1) or 2x2 sets, you are in for some disappointment.  Trips is made to stress the defense by getting them to over play or under play the trips side of the formation.  The key here is how are you going to "cheat" a guy that can actually play both sides?  Some of the questions to ask are:

  1. What is their running game out of 3x1?
    1. Are they zone, zone read, gap schemes etc.?
  2. Is their QB a part of this run scheme?
    1. If so, is the scheme option, or is it more "single-wing-ish"?
  3. Who is their best runner?
    1. How do they get the ball to their best runner?
  4. Do they use a tight end?
  5. Do they use an H-back type player to make up the third receiver (what I term "slot trips-see illustration below)?
    1. If so how do they use him (blocker/runner/pass catcher/combination of all three)?
  6. What is their passing game?
    1. In other words, what passing concepts are they utilizing (RNS, sprintout, Air Raid, combinations of all sorts of pass concepts etc.)?
      1. Of these combinations, what is their favorite?
  7. What pass protection do they utilize?
  8. If they are gun, where do they like to set the back, and what do they like to do with him?
    1. This question sort of ties back into the top questions about the run game, but it does also have to do with pass protection also.
    2. Are they in the pistol?
  9. Who is their best receiver?
    1. How do they get the ball to their best receiver?
    2. Is their best receiver set to the trips side or is he the single receiver?

Slot Trips

Once you get these questions answered you can now get a handle on what you DON'T have to defend, and then work backwards from there.  That's how I do it at least.  Eliminate what you don't need to defend then concentrate on what it is that you must defend.  In the next installment, I'll take a look at setting the front and how this can help tie into both the run and pass game.

Some posts to take a look at while you're waiting on part two of the series that may just be a refresher are listed below.  Later dudes!