Sunday, June 8, 2014

Defending 3x1 Formations Part IV

Yep, it's trips again...

Well, moving right along with the posts on Defending 3x1 sets, we will now discuss how to set the defense up against some of the more popular 3x1 passing games that are out there.  If you missed them, Part I was a general discussion on defending 3x1 offenses with Part II discussing the basic rules for game planning against 3x1 sets, and the most recent post, was on defending the typical spread run game out of 3x1 looks.  Obviously we must now move our focus over to the passing game, and how to properly set the secondary, as well as the underneath coverage to defend what it is your opponent is attempting to attack you with.  If you need to, review the set questions focused on in Part II, and review some of the other coverage posts found here.

Passing Concepts
Once you've broken down your opponent, and answered some of the questions we discussed in the second issue of the Defending 3x1 series, you can now focus on how you plan on stopping your opponent's passing game.  Obviously if your opponent has a good receiver, you will want to take him out of the equation by doubling him with some sort of high-low scheme, or a in-out scheme or a man under type scheme.  Not all teams that employ spread concepts have just one good receiver however.  Many either have two or three that are stellar, or the whole group is average and the QB spreads the ball around.  For the majority of this post, I'll focus on defending the passing scheme being utilized as a whole, instead of focusing on how to take away a team's best opponent.  The reason being, I've found that no one coach, uses their best player in the same manner, and to try to focus on just stopping a team's best player would be too general of a post.  Most of us, will all come across some of the passing concepts that I'm going to discuss.

Some of the more common schemes are the Run-N-Shoot schemes, the Air Raid schemes and the West Coast schemes.  Of course not all OC's are limited in just one scheme per-say, and may dabble in all three.  For generality, I will speak of some of the common schemes that are out there, and focus on them.

The Screen Game
The screen game is one of the number one passing concepts I see out of 3x1 sets.  Many DC's don't seem to fear the screen game, but when properly utilized and attached to a no-huddle, up-tempo system, the screen game can deliver serious damage to your defense.  Having a way to defend the screen is vital to the success of ANY defense when facing spread attacks as their number one goal is to put speed in space.  Some of the common screens are the bubble screen, the tunnel screen and the middle or, jailbreak screen.

Bubble Screen
The bubble screen had taken a bit of a backseat in many spread offenses until the advent of packaged concepts came along.  Teams had pretty much figured out the bubble, bubble-n-go etc.  However, when packaged off a run fake, this can make things a bit more "iffy" for the defense.  When looking at the bubble screen, as we all know, the idea here is to block the most dangerous threats and then out run the deep defender.  Many teams are even using the bubble as the pitch phase on the triple option.  This makes defending the bubble screen a lot tougher than it used to be.

Zone read with bubble
There are many key items to look at when setting the defense up vs. 3x1, but if your opponent utilizes the bubble as a mainstay, I'd suggest overloading to the trips side of the coverage.  Now this may mean rolling a safety down and playing a one-high look in these situations, or playing a version of TCU's Special coverage, but whatever you do, I'd over play the trips side.  First off, when coupled with the run game, the zone read can easily be defended as discussed in a previous post.  The LB's track the RB and the DE gets a two-for-one on the RB and the QB, usually giving the QB a give read.  Now, if the QB, or the OC is savvy enough to simply call the bubble, instead of having the QB read it since the OC knows the DE is sitting on the give and the QB keep, he's now made the DE a three-for-one player, because this gets the DE into pursuit quicker than if the QB were actually reading the play.  Likewise the over shift in coverage puts more defenders closer to where the offense is trying to attack.  Again, this is a big win for the defense.  I recommend rolling into a one-high shell late, or even on the snap to gain a defender with leverage on the bubble.

Since the offense now only has two receivers to the strong side of the formation to go vertical, cover 3 is a simple solution here.  You also get two defenders and only one blocker.  You can play games with this as well, having the safety roll down and play the curl defender as shown above, or have him overlap OLB/invert and play the flat player, disguising your intentions (as shown below).

Either way is a sound way of defending the bubble coupled with the zone read.  Let the front defend the inside run and QB, while the secondary converges on the bubble screen.  Remember, one thing with option football, is that when you dictate the read, you then dictate where the ball can go.  You can do this by doing just what was discussed earlier and make the QB hand the ball off.  This may not be your cup of tea, and if not, let the DE chase, and let the LB sit for the QB.  Either way you are sound in your attack of the offense.

Tunnel Screen
The tunnel screen is one that can be very difficult to defend as well.  Tunnel screens, are the exact opposite of the bubble screen in that the ball is coming from outside-in, rather than inside-out.  Most offenses that employ this tactic will also release the OL down field almost immediately, or will use a covered-uncovered principle, whereas the covered OL cut the defender and the uncovered OL attack the second and third levels of the defense immediately.  This makes the defending of the tunnel difficult as the OL attacking the second level, will cut off pursuit.  This leaves the defense vulnerable in the middle area, allowing the offense to get significant chunks of yardage if not handled properly.

From the illustration above, the tackles invite the rush up field while the guards and center climb to the second level.  The idea is to create an alley for the ball carrier to turn up in by walling off outside defenders and pinning inside defenders.  The idea here with defending this screen is to get a defender into this alley area.

Some ways to do defend this type of screen is to play an X-out concept that pits the strong side corner in man-to-man coverage on the #1 receiver in a 3x1 set (i.e. TCU's Special).  Now, the key here is that the man defender not get picked when attacking the defender.  To many, this may be too risky a scheme and can lead to big gains if not played correctly.

Another way to defend this type of play is that when expected you can utilize what I call a "stay" call.  What this call does is tag the defender and tells him to play soft.  Now I know what you are thinking, and yes, this is not the greatest call in the world, but for tunnel screens the "E Stay" call is a good one.  You can tag a player by name, position, or if you want all your DL to sit for the screen, then you simply just call "stay".  I know I've harped on it, but scouting is a tremendous tool here, and having a good idea when your opponent likes to run a screen is very critical when using the "stay" call.  The technique is quite simple, and is very similar to a zone drop by a DL, but that the DL doesn't just drop immediately.  Referring to the initial diagram of the tunnel screen above, if the end to the trips side were to be tagged on a "stay" call, then once he saw the high hat of the OT, then he would simply read the intentions of the QB, as he sits on the LOS.  Once he sees the ball thrown, then he can run to the football.  This player is unaccounted for in the blocking scheme, and you now have an unblocked defender running to the football, while you leave the offense with an OT standing there doing nothing.  The DE has good leverage on the play, because he's right in the alley the offense is trying to create.

Another good way to defend the tunnel, is again to over play the trips side of the formation by rolling your coverage there.  This gives the offense one more defender to block than they can handle.  Now again, you must utilize this with your scouting data to know when to utilize this rotation, as any four verticals type scheme or deep route combinations could be compromised.  Also, the usual with these types of schemes is to play man on the single receiver side, and as talked about earlier this could lead to math ups.

Middle Screen
The middle screen is usually a weak side screen that utilizes the "X" receiver in a trips formation.  The good thing about this type of screen, is that if you use an "X-out" concept like Solo or Mable, then you pretty much have this nipped in the bud.  Even if you are overplaying the trips side with a one high rotation, or an "X-out" concept, you should still be somewhat sound vs. middle screens.

Again, the "stay" call can work well here as well.  You can tag the strong side end, or if your opponent if proficient in both the middle and tunnel screens, you can get the entire line to sit.  One common threat to the corner chasing the screen is to send the RB on a wheel, this is why a half-field safety is not a bad option to this side.  However, if you are playing Solo or Mable and the LB's are doing their job, they should run with this defender in coverage.  Nonetheless some of us are not comfortable with that look, or don't have the athletes to match up, so utilizing the safety as over-the-top help is not a bad idea here.

Many trips teams get into trips for one reason.  To sprint out into the trips.  For defenses that don't adjust properly, this can be a nightmare.  One of the big "tells" for this is when the back is offset to the trips side of the formation.  The back is obviously used to set the edge in protection so therefor must be on that side of the formation.  Now, here recently I've seen pistol teams that motion the RB just before the snap, making it difficult for the offense to pick up on this tendency.

As I've mentioned before, the comeback from trips is probably my favorite play in all of football.  It is hard on man, and hard on zone concepts, but not totally un-defendable.

As you can see, the comeback works because it gets the corner's hips turned, and has him playing with the thought of getting beat deep.  In man, or zone, by this time in the play, any coverage by the corner has pretty much become man, so having the corner solely responsible for the comeback is tough.  The corner has to honor not being beaten deep.  The idea on defending the comeback is the drop of the flat defender.  The flat defender has to work for a depth of about 10 yards to help make the window the QB has to throw the comeback in very small.  The other thing is that the curl defender (the Will in the diagram above), must expand on seeing the the rollout, and be able to control the short route to the flats.

This is how a weak side X out concept (Solo) would defend this concept.  The tough part of the coverage is the flat defender.  Too many times that guy doesn't drop on flood-type concepts and it leaves the back end of the flats open. Always remind players we can come up to make a tackle much easier than we can turn around and chase.

Gambler is an old Run-N-Shoot (RNS) concept that can be a pain to defend as well.  Gambler has the #1 receiver taking the top off the coverage with the vertical route, while the #2 receiver runs the whip.  The #3 receiver immediately attacks the flats.  Again, what you are seeing is a high-low of the flat defender.  The flat defender has to expand with his threat, but MUST drop, while the curl defender has to realize that vs. sprintout, rarely to teams send receivers opposite the direction of the play.  Gambler is tough on schemes that defend the flats from inside-out.  The better way is to play some sort of 2-read or soft cover 2 on the outside.  Let the corner squeeze #1's route into a half-field safety, and then come off on the deeper whip route and let the curl defender immediately expand to the flat.

Another good coverage for this is the strong side X-out concept of Special.  Man the corner up on the single receiver and let the OLB/SS and FS play Quarters to #2 and #3.  Now the invert will jump the flat route, while the deep safety can stay over the top of the Whip route and has inside help from the LB who should be expanding with the sprint out action.

Another key on defending sprintout teams is the QB contain player.  Too often I see QB's roll out into good coverage and then simply tuck the football and pick up the first down with their legs.  There is nothing more frustrating than having the coverage set up correctly only to give up a first down on a scramble.  However you set up your defense to contain the QB on boots and sprints, you must rep the contain player on getting out ahead of the QB instead of going right at him.  My coaching point has always been play flat first until the QB clears the tackle box, then attack outside.  The idea is cut off the QB and make him cut back into the rush.

I generally use the middle LB in either the 4-3 or 4-2-5 to do the containing. However you choose to contain the QB is up to you.  The idea here is that you have a fail-safe in case of great coverage, so that the offense simply doesn't turn this into QB sweep and run for a first down.

Drop Back
Now we are into the heart of the trips passing game.  It seems just a few years ago trips teams really ramped up when they figured out how to run four verticals from 3x1 sets.  For years when you saw trips it was "Oh, check Cover 3", because you knew it was fixing to be speed option, sprintout or some sort of screen.  Well, these aren't the old days, and 3x1 sets with the down the field passing games have really exploded upon the high school landscape.  Let's take a look at some of these concepts and how we can defend them.

Four Verticals
Well, might as well start off with the simplest form of them all!  The first time I saw four verticals from a trips team was in the playoffs in 06'.  My thought was holy crap, they figured it out!  Now, my old stand-by check to trips was basically TCU's Roll Blue.  We would play pure zone Quarters on the trips side, and then play Quarters read on the weak side of the coverage, or we'd also play some 1/4, 1/4, 1/2 (as you can tell, I'm not a big cover 3 guy).  Anyways, the play didn't hurt us, yet caught us a bit by surprise (we were in Roll Blue at the time and the WS was doubling the single receiver down the sideline while #3 from the trips side was wide open).  Thank the lord the QB didn't see it and swung the ball out to the RB in the flat.  Anyhow, from that day on, my way of thinking changed.  Enter in the X-out concepts and being able to handle four verticals.  Four verticals can easily be handled by Cover 3 as well if you utilize some of what you can read here.  Despite the fact that this concept is easily defended, I thought it did bear at least some mentioning in this post.

Shallow Cross
Shallow Cross is a concept that really works on weak side X-out concepts.  The idea is to clear out the man side defenders and run players back into the voided side from the zone side.  Good OC's recognize X-out concepts when they see them, and this is how they exploit them.

The trick here is not so much schematics, it's simple coaching up the weakness in your coverage.  Obviously in the diagram above, if playing Solo, then the Mike and the weak corner are occupied in Man coverage.  This puts the defense at a disadvantage because now, all the zone side defenders who are taught to expand to the trips side are having to put their foot in the ground and cover back to the man side.  The way I teach this is that there are two key defenders in Solo coverage.  The weak safety and the strong side LB.  These two players are solely responsible for not allowing anything to leak back to the man side.  Obviously as a general rule, the LB will handle the shallower route and the safety will take the deeper ones.  This is built into Solo coverage, it's just the simple fact that the number one rule when facing trips, is to push the coverage to the trips side.  Offenses know this, so they work to try and attack where the defense isn't.  All you need here is to rep the basic rules and have two defenders dedicated to handling any player that tries to cross from the zone side to the man side.

Slide and Slide Wheel
This is an oldie that I've been seeing come back into favor here lately with the addition of the wheel.  Slide is very simply put a Quarters beater because it runs off the safety and leaves the corner one-on-one with the post with poor leverage.

If a team is proficient at reading coverages they may also convert the vertical by #2 into a curl, pulling the safety further away from the post-in.

Now we really see how Quarters is effected by such a route concept.  Again, the key is coaching up the underneath defenders.  The bubble is a rally-to route only.  I'd let you throw that all day if I had to make my choice.  The flat defender must drop and play over the bubble and under the post-in.  If you're playing "old school" Quarters where the flat defender plays inside #2, a reroute on #2 can help as well.  The reroute is a double edged sword though.  It keeps the flat defender from keeping leverage on the bubble, YET it allows the curl defender time to get into the throwing window for the curl route and allows the safety to almost play between both the curl and the post-in.  The better coverage, is Special here.  The corner now plays with inside leverage and will man up the post-in route, while the invert plays the corner's assignment in 2 read outside of #2 and will jump the bubble, leaving the safety in great position to play the curl route.

What I've seen a resurgence in Slide is Slide Wheel or what some call Slide Follow.  This is just where the bubble or flat route is converted into a wheel route as shown below.

The new twist on an old favorite can put your defense in a bind if you are not comfortable with your invert running with a wheel route.  Again, Quarters is in a bind here because it basically turn into man, with an invert running with the wheel and the corner playing the post with no leverage and no inside help.  Special is a better coverage to this, but you still need to have the invert run with the wheel.  

Another thought on Slide and Slide Wheel is to play what many call "3 buzz".  I choose to play it with the safety buzzing down to the flat instead of the curl like many teams do.  What happens now is you get a much more adept defender running with the wheel route.  You get a curl defender expanding and playing underneath the in cut on the post-in route and the curl being defended by the hook player expanding outside.  Now, the curl has the potential to be open because of the length of field the Will LB (in the diagram below) must cover.  You have to pick your poison here.  To me, you need an invert that can run with the wheel, this way the deeper zone guys can cover deeper routes.  The wheel is also the longest throw too, so I usually don't mind having a LB type guy run with that route because of its low completion percentage.  

Obviously trying to cover all that's out there would be impossible in one, two or even 10 posts.  I've touched on what I'm seeing,which is all I can really report about.  These are some of the route concepts, screens etc. that I'm seeing on a daily basis, especially now that the seven-on-seven season has heated up.  The main idea here is like anything else in defensive football.  Have two ways to defend what you are seeing.  This season, with what I have, we will be using Solo, Roll and 3 buzz to defend most 3x1 formations.  It is not perfect, but it is a plan that will defend 98% of what I'm going to see and each coverage overlaps each other by enough that all the weaknesses are covered.  

In the next post, I'm going to discuss pressuring 3x1 sets vs. both the run and the pass (mainly the pass though).  Sorry to take so long between posts, but I have a lot on my plate at this point in time.  Take care, and thanks for reading.  Enjoy the start of your summer!