Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Align to Win Part 1

In an effort to give our defensive front the best chance to win, we try to coach the game within the game. The offense has tendencies based on how they line up and we are going to use those tendencies to help ourselves do our jobs. Good defenses react, great defenses anticipate. 

Take a standard 4 man even front with a 4-2 box. The easy alignment explanation is:

DE's - 5 technique 
DT - 3 tech
Nose - Shade

LB's - Ability to play open A and B Gap.

But do those simple alignments give us the best chance to win each play? If you watched a cut up and keyed the DT in a 3 tech, is he always aligned the exact same way?  Should he be? Maybe a 3 technique isn't always just outside shade on the guard. Maybe there is more to it.

Take a formation with the back aligned to the 3 technique side. The most obvious play, but certainly not the only play, for the offense is the inside zone read. With the back aligned away, the Nose and End will widen their alignments. Those 2 know the OL's blocks are coming to them with the RB aligned away. The Nose in a Wide alignment may align physically where a 2i would align but will have inside hand down inside foot back keying the Center. This alignment allows the Nose to leverage the Center's block well and control the A gap. The End has the width to set the edge. The Will is protected by the width of the Nose's alignment, as the Guard doesn't want to hang the Center out vs. the Nose 1 on 1. The result is the Guard is typically not too fast to work up to the Will backer because he is providing body position for the Center. 

The alignment also effects the Mike fast flowing the A gap. The Center is forced to zone hard to the wide alignment nose opening the A gap for the Mike to press the LOS. The backside Guard is forced to zone hard to the Mike. This is why the DT has widened to a 4i. He is now 1 on 1 with the OT and wants to put is eyes on his work. Hands and eyes go to the OT and we expect to win that 1 on 1 consistently. The DT has a leverage advantage. The backside DE is a shuffle square player for QB and cutback. The 4i DT makes the cutback very difficult.

What if the defense wants to chase the DE to the dive instead. The Nose and DE would still go wide. The backside DT will go heavy 3 (almost head up) to force the OT and OG into an aggressive scoop block. The backside DE will heavy up and chase hard. The LB's now align in 20's to allow the Mike to scrape exchange for the QB. The Will plays B and rocks back. The Nose's wide alignment will force the ball to cutback to the chasing DE.

Inside zone read isn't the only play for the offense. 

If the back is flat the offense may be running stretch and is much less likely to run inside zone read. The DT backside will heavy up to make the backside scoop block as difficult as possible for the guard and tackle. Frontside the Nose will slide to a G (2i) alignment. By changing eyes and hands of the Nose from the Center to the Guard the Nose has a much better chance to beat the reach of the Center.

Another play from the flat back alignment is the power read play. Again having the DT in a heavy and the Nose in a G is advantageous. The DT is much better position to squeeze the block back by the Center. The Nose is much firmer against the down block of the guard in a 2i by bringing his eyes and hands to the guard. 

These simple adjustments can go a long way to helping defenders make plays. It is always the temptation as a defensive coach to think about all kinds of exotic schemes and stunts. Often times the best answer is your base defense. One strategy in game planning can be to avoid the "what call should we make here?" conversations and focus instead on how will we coach our guys to align to win.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Charger Dime Pressure

Here are two zone dogs from the Chargers. The defense is in a 4 man front 6 DB dime personnel. The rush concepts are not overly exotic or complex. The success of both comes from pre-snap presentation.

The DE's are both standing up. The spacing is an even front with two 3 technique DT's. On the strong side the DE and DT are working a twist game with the Nickel rushing off the edge. 

The pressure works because the Mike walks up and covers the center. This creates a psuedo-bear front. It also forces the the OL into being manned up against the DE's, DT's and Mike at the LOS in a 5 vs 5. The Dime's presence on the weak side holds the RB's attention. With the OL covered up and the RB occupied, the Nickel gets the free run off the strong side edge.

The Dime and Mike drop out into the 3 under 3 deep fire zone coverage.

Using the same personnel, the Chargers create a different pre-snap presentation.

The Chargers again cover up all the OL to create a psuedo-bear look. The spacing now looks more like an odd front. With both guards covered the 5 OL are occupied. The stand up DE walks up and rushes off the edge to occupy the RB. The end result is the Nickel again getting a strong side free run off the edge. 

Creative presentation of traditional pressures leads to very effective pressures for the Chargers. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Simple Under Front Cover 1 with 4-2-5 Personnel

Here is one easy way to play the the under front concept with 4-2-5 personnel. The coverage concepts are a continuation from the Cover 1 terminology and rules used in other articles.

The call is Track 1. Track tells the SS to track (align to) the TE and cover him man to man. If the TE is attached, the SS will align in a 9 technique. The Front is set with the 3 technique away from the TE. The corners and remaining safeties will cover the skill and handle the post. The ILB's have a fiddle (2 on 1) vs. the RB. One backer will end up in man on the RB while the other will be the Rat.

If the TE is into the boundary the SS will track the TE and align into the boundary.

Against a single width formation the Corners are over.

Against TE trade the SS will again track the TE. The DT's will adjust.

If the offense elects to go Y off and align the TE off the ball, the SS will back off the ball as well.

The SS still aligns to the TE side. Now the ILB's and SS will use funnel technique to play 3 vs 2 man coverage vs the RB and TE. 

If the offense flexes the TE, the SS will adjust out and cover the flexed TE. 

We also have a pressure built off this concept. Strike 

Strike is SS track and rush. The coverage now has an ILB on the TE with the other ILB on the RB. 

In Strike against a Y off formation the ILB's will use a Banjo (2 vs. 2) man coverage technique on the TE and RB. The SS always aligns to the TE. 

Track 1 and Strike are an easy way to play Under front cover 1 and pressure to the TE. The rules are simple and the concept can be installed quickly if you are already playing other Cover 1 coverage concepts. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

4 Man Pass Rush Twist

Here is a variation of a read twist vs. the pass. The DT's are running a read on the center. This is a concept we have called Torch in the past. If you want a full explanation of the Torch stunt click this link. Here is the short version description of Torch. DT's both slant to the Center. Center to you - wrap, Center away - penetrate. 

Here the Center is away to the Nose penetrates. The Center is blocking to the Tackle so the tackle wraps.
When the Center blocks to the Nose, the Nose wraps. The Tackle penetrates with the Center blocking away.

We also have a stunt for the DE's called Eyes. On an Eyes call the DE's read the guard to their side. 

If the Guard is blocking out to the DE, the DE stays in the outside rush lane.
 If the Guard is blocking away from the DE, the DE CAN use an inside pass rush move. The DE is still looking to beat the OT in the fastest pass rush possible. This give the DE a two way go on the OT. 

If the protection is full slide the End will crash hard off the edge, the DE can rush underneath the block of the RB.

When we combine Torch and Eyes we call Take.


Left DE - Eyes with Guard Away = Inside pass rush move
Nose - Center away = penetrate
Tackle - Center to = wrap 
Right DE - Eyes with Guard to = Outside Rush

If the slide side was to the defensive left.

Left DE - Eyes with Guard TO = Outside Rush
Nose - Center to = wrap
Tackle - Center away = penetrate
Right DE - Eyes with Guard away = Inside pass rush move

Vs. Full slide protection

Left DE - Eyes with Guard away & OT down = Under the RB, Inside rush lane
Nose - Center away = penetrate
Tackle - Center to = wrap
Right DE - Eyes with Guard to = Outside rush

If the DE got a great takeoff and has the OT beat with speed, the DE may choose to stay outside on the Eyes stunt. As the DT wraps in this case the stunt turns back into a Torch.

Take is an easy way to build on a great stunt like Torch, turning a 2 man read twist into a 3 man pass rush game.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Attacking the Slide Side with 3-3 Stack

Stack spacing allows for all kinds of interesting and effective pressure concepts. One classic 3-3 pressure is to bring the stack backer and Mike to the same side of the center pressuring the inside gaps.

This pressure has been around for a long time. Unfortunately the pressure is easy to pick up in a half slide pass protection. The Center and Guard are in good position to see and block the Sam and Mike. The Will can green dog the RB and generate pressure that way. Ultimately this concept comes down to personnel and who in the pass rush can beat a blocker. One way to improve this pressure's effectiveness is to add a read concept. As opposed to the previous 3-3 read concept that attacked the RB's alignment, this concept attacks the slide side of a half slide protection.

The concept is similar but the read elements to the rush create opportunities for the Nose, Mike, and Sam. The pressure is set away from the back. If the back was aligned to the Sam, the Sam would green dog and the Mike and Will would be in the pressure.

The Rush:
Ends - Contain
Nose - Work opposite the pressure, read the Guard
Mike - Fast pressure in the A gap, Read the Guard
Sam - Read the Guard, Pressure B gap to Midline

The Coverage:
Cover 1 with the non-pressure LB using a green dog technique on the RB. This could also be a 3 under 3 deep fire zone coverage.

The Reads:
Nose - If the guard blocks to you, cross face to the inside rush lane
Mike - Guard away, wide in the A gap and stack the guard. Inside rush lane. 

The Mike and Nose both widen in this situation to create the midline rush lane for the Sam.

Sam - Attack the wide B gap. If the Guard sets to, wrap to the midline rush lane.

The goal here is to create a twist action with the Mike and Sam. If the Mike penetrates the A gap and stacks the guard, the center is forced to set deep and commit to blocking him. When the Sam wraps to the midline the center has difficulty passing off the Mike and picking up the Sam.

If the offense decides to slide the protection to the alignment of the RB the pressure still works.

Nose - Guard away, widen and stack him, inside rush lane
Mike - Guard to, redirect and stack the Center, midline rush lane
Sam - Guard away, run through the B gap, be ready for the block of the RB

This also works if the offense is flipping the alignment of the RB late in the cadence. Read pressures can help defenders to win in the pass rush by creating win/win pass rush opportunities.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Adding Pressure to Split Field Coverage Trips Check

Most 4-2-5 coaches are familiar with the concept of split field coverage. Get your DB's to call the coverage on the field and put your defense in the the best coverage available vs. the formation the offense presents. The formation is split in half and the safeties call the coverage for their half of the formation. One popular quarters coverage trips adjustment has the safety away from trips work strong side to help with #3 in the 3x1.

Some call this concept Poach (Saban/Belichick/Smart) or Solo (Patterson). The name is really not important. The concept is simple, vs. a 3x1 formation the the coverage adjusts with the backside safety. To the 3x1 the Corner, FS, and SS play a quarters concept just as they would vs. only 2 receivers. The LB to the 3x1 drops to #3 handling all low routes. The WS works to #3 and handles all vertical routes. The Corner and LB to the single WR side match the X receiver and RB in coverage. 

One simple adjustment to get more pressure in passing situations is to exchange the roles of the weak side DE and Mike LB. 

The Mike and Nose are reading the turn of the protection by keying the Center's block. The DT plays B gap and pops to contain. 

If the Center blocks to the Nose, the Nose widens and handles the inside rush lane. The Mike stays on his A gap rush and should expect the RB's block. This situation keeps the RB from free or check releasing to get into a route.

If the Center blocks to the Mike, the Nose keeps penetrating and takes the opposite inside rush lane. The Mike attacks the A gap and reads out when the Center blocks toward him. The Mike wraps around the penetrating Nose to the opposite inside rush lane creating a twist action. If the Center is blocking toward the Mike, the guard is forced to chase the penetrating Nose. The Mike's wrap timing is critical. If the Mike goes too early, the Center/Guard can see the twist. If the Mike's timing is correct, the Nose has stacked the Center and the Guard is committed to the Nose allowing the Mike to wrap and create pressure. 

With a simple tag word we can have a pressure trips check in our split field coverage concept. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

Read Pressure from the 3-3 Stack

The 3-3 stack spacing has many options for both blitzing and bluffing pressure. One of my favorites vs. 10 personnel is a read pressure. The rush reads the turn of the protection and adjusts to give the rushers the best possible rush opportunity. The pressure is based on the RB's alignment. 

DE's - Contain
Nose - Slant to the RB (Reading Guard)
Stack LB opposite the RB - Rush A gap (Reading Center)
Stack LB to the RB - Rush B gap (Reading Guard) read out to Wrap

3 under 3 deep firezone or Cover 1

If the back was aligned on the other side the roles would adjust. 

The Reads:

Sam - If the Guard blocks down Run through in the B gap. Expect the block of the RB. Inside rush lane.
Nose - Guard blocks toward you, redirect to the midline, Stack the Center
Will - Center to you, widen to inside rush lane. Stack the Guard

This is a situation where you can really turn up the heat by going Cover 1 instead of Cover 3 fire zone.

In a Cover 1 situation the Mike can use a green dog technique to overload the the RB. Both the Cover 1 and Firezone versions have applications.

When the turn of the protection is toward the RB the pressure adjusts.

Sam - Guard to you, wrap to opposite inside rush lane. We want the Sam to initially attack the guard then wrap. Wrapping too early disrupts the timing with the Nose and Will. 
Nose - Guard away, widen to inside rush lane, stack the guard
Will - Center away, midline rush

This pressure could also be set away from the RB. By doing this the defense will likely get the 3 man twist action to attack the slide.

Allowing rushers the opportunity to read and adjust the rush can help  in a number of ways.

#1 Helps players understand how pass protection schemes work
#2 Helps players understand they have a role in the defensive scheme but that role can change post snap based on the offense's scheme
#3 Increases confidence the call can work in any situation
#4 Helps players develop the "be a playmaker" mentality. We want our guys to understand they are not simply "running calls" they are making decisions that either help themselves or hurt themselves in terms of playmaking and production. We are constantly working to coach the mindset  of "I'm blocked" out of players. The opportunity to produce within the scheme is there on every play. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Future of Football - Making the Game Safer

Concussions, CTE, and head injuries have been hot button issues for football in recent years. I don’t expect the conversation surrounding those issues to disappear as we start 2018. Everyone associated with football is trying to answer the same question. How can we make the game safer?

College and high school teams have adopted protocols for handling a player with a concussion or concussion symptoms. Teams have made major adjustments to both pre-season and in-season practice schedules. Some of those changes include reducing the hitting that goes on in each practice and though out each week cumulatively. Coaches try to navigate the equipment purchasing jungle to buy and equip players with the best and safest helmets. The rules of the game have been adjusted to help protect a defenseless player while others were added to punish a player who hits with his helmet or hits his opponent in the head or neck. The targeting rule is flawed but it was implemented to protect players.

Most of the on the field focus on player safety and specifically head injury prevention has fallen on defensive coaches. Specifically on how is tackling being taught. Many teams have adopted the Hawk Tackle technique popularized by Coach Pete Carroll and his staff with the Seattle Seahawks. The emphasis of the hawk tackle is on changing the strike zone (where the defender strikes the ball carrier) and keeping the head out the tackle. Both points of emphasis are intended to protect players’ head health. Other programs have adopted the Heads Up Tackling teaching program from USA Football. Defensive coaches cannot simply say we have solved player safety. We must continue to innovate and teach current techniques more effectively or develop new and safer techniques. Is focusing on defensive coaching all football coaches can do? The answer is no, but we also have to expand the conversation about player safety.

What he said is not wrong and reflects the attitudes of many defensive coaches and players. What if me keeping that offensive player out of danger increases the danger for me? Why is his safety more important than mine? Why does the responsibility not also fall on the offensive players and coaches? In short, it should.

Offensive players do get thrown into danger. QB’s are human, they make the wrong read and throw the ball into areas where defenders can make big hits. QB’s also throw the ball late or high exposing receivers to danger. Many defenseless receivers were thrown in to that position. WR’s make mistakes too. They run their route at the wrong depth, take the wrong release ending up in the wrong place, or fail to throttle on a route running themselves into defenders. WR’s also throw crack blocks against defenseless defenders. Some of those blocks are targeting and pose a danger to both the WR and the defender. RB’s want extra yardage on runs and will especially in short yardage and goal line runs lower their head in an attempt to run through defenders. This puts the ball carrier in a situation where he is leading with his head. The ball carrier is also making his head the most likely point of contact for a defender. How do OL use their head when blocking? Not just on a big hit with the helmet but also repetitive contacts with the helmet. Offenses continue to break new ground with RPO concepts. Bottom line on an RPO, there is a run play being blocked with the possibility of a pass. The blocking is not a pass protection scheme. Some RPO concepts include an unblocked defender. The results is there are RPO plays where the QB is exposed to immense pressure. A QB can end up defenseless or be pressured into throwing a WR into a defenseless position.

None of these situations happened because the offensive coaches or players wanted to make a mistake or don’t care about player safety. However, how do offensive coaches react to the last paragraph? Some will say that is just a defensive coach whining. That couldn’t be further from the truth. A few years ago when the targeting rules was added, my thoughts were the rule was idiotic and offensively biased. I felt the whole conversation was a bunch of offensive sissy nonsense and was going to ruin the game. My views have evolved. When I shake hands with a player’s parent at the beginning of the season I am signing an unwritten contract. A contract that says I will look after their son, I will do everything I can to keep him safe. It might help us defensively to be able to hit like defensive players hit in the past. There is no doubt it would affect the game. It isn’t safe to hit helmet to helmet. It isn’t safe to launch at an exposed receiver. Targeting situations aren’t safe for the ball carrier or the defender. I have a responsibility to the players and their families including the ones who play for our opponent. My responsibility is to make the game as safe as possible. So my hope for 2018 is offensive coaches take to heart what was written in the earlier paragraph.

How do offenses coach a QB in 7 on 7, practice, or a game when he throws a receiver into danger? How does that reaction compare to when the QB throws an INT? 7 on 7 allows for bad habits to develop. QB’s can throw with impunity. There is no risk of pass rush or big hits on a WR. A QB will most likely take more throwing reps in 7 on 7 than anywhere else. Are those reps developing safe habits? Are offensive coaches approaching those situations as opportunities to increase player safety or simply coaching completions vs. incompletions? How much emphasis is the WR coach placing on strike zone and keeping the head out of the block on a crack block? Does the RB coach get amped about a RB using the truck stick even when it wasn’t a safe thing to be doing? How is physical running being taught? Can it be done better? How can OL be taught to reduce the number of times there is helmet contact? RPO’s are becoming a major part of offensive football. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. How much exposure is there on a play with an unblocked defender? How will the play hold up to blitzes, cloudy reads, or unfamiliar defensive looks? It doesn’t mean those plays shouldn’t exist. I’ve heard many offensive coaches talk about how this RPO or that RPO stresses the defense. I rarely hear about how the RPO stresses the offense or the risk exposure to offensive players when running that scheme.

The biggest threat to football going forward is participation. Right now there are parents who don’t know much about concussions. What many parents do believe is football causes concussions and that makes football too dangerous. No matter how under-informed parents may be the core issue is they want their children to be safe. If the perception continues that football isn’t safe enough, parents will hold their children out of playing. Social media does not help this issue. In the past when you read the newspaper you read primarily about the events happening in your city and some stories from your region, your state, and the nation. Now with the internet and social media the stories of concussions in football in every city and state are at your fingertips. Remember what happens in your program now has a much bigger effect on the image of football around the nation. The internet and social media has made a world’s worth of news available on your phone. When you add in the fact that sports like lacrosse are growing exponentially all across the country the challenge becomes even more daunting. High school athletes have more and more options. It isn’t simply football, basketball, baseball anymore. Every HS coach has also seen kids who chose to specialize and won’t be multi-sport athletes. These challenges further reduce the pool of future players. Another factor is the US population growth rate is slowing. Families are having fewer children. The result is the future will have fewer HS aged students. Fewer athletes and more competition to get them to play football will be a big challenge going forward.

Football is a great game and I feel blessed to have played and to be a coach. I hope that in 2018, all coaches in the game commit to focusing on how we can make the game as safe as possible regardless of what position you coach. We are all in this together. Let's keep the great game of football thriving. Best of luck to you and your team in 2018!