3-4, 4-3, or 5-2? Its All About Personnel

 Today I want to take a look at defining defensive concepts.  Many people new to the game of football look at the picture at the snap of the ball and try and determine what the defense is.  This is a classic mistake in defining defensive concepts.  All fronts are universal and can be played by any personnel grouping on the field at any time. Now with that said, that does not mean you will be successful with those fronts but you sure can play them.  For argument sake, i can play the under front with my 425 personnel at any time.  The problem is I am going to ask one of my safeties to play a 9 technique(outside eye of Tight End on the LOS) and put him in a position where the chances are he wont be successful.  That does not mean I cant play that front, it just does not make sense for me to do it.  Conversely I can play an okie front from my 425 personnel grouping and make my weak side DE play as an OLB. Again I would be putting a player in a position to fail, but yet can still play that front if I chose to.  A real good example of that is watching NFL Football games.  On 1st Down vs 21 Personnel you will see both 4-3 teams and 3-4 teams play an under front or a reduction front.  That does not mean they magically became 5-2 teams!!!!  They are playing the same front with different personnel.

4-3 Under Front 4 Hands Down
I want to take a look at playing Under Front concepts with 3-4 personnel while playing divorced front/secondary rules and check with me coverages.  Divorced front simply means the front six defenders are separate from the back 5 players and do not have to be set to the same side.  Check with me coverages mean your secondary players play their coverages based on the deployment of the receivers. It is the easiest way in junior high or high school football to play defense because you can get multiple reps playing the exact same coverages to the exact same looks the offense gives you.  Keep in mind the goal of this blog is to get our kids to play fast.  With that being said it may not be the most effective way for college or NFL teams to play because they want to show multiple looks and coverages and they have the teaching time and meeting time to do that.  I base all my theories around High School Football because that's the level I currently coach at.

With the under front you normally have the Sam LB tied to the front which technically makes it a 7 man front.  This gives you a little bit of a problem when the offense gives you conflicting formations.  What I mean by that is formations where the run strength is opposite the passing strength. So if the Sam LB goes with the run strength you wont be able to play your standard every down check with me coverages.  Now what you could do is have coverages that are tied to fronts but again I think that is asking too much of high school kids if they play both ways and multiple sports, and don't have 365 days a year to study defensive football.

Just A Thought
 So what I am going to suggest today is just an idea if you wanted to play under fronts while still teaching your kids standard check with me coverages.  Again I think it is OK to think outside the box and stray from the normal a little bit.  The reason I say that is because High School Football is far from the normal everyday football of college and the NFL.  If you look at the video chalk talk I am going through the way I would play divorced front check with me coverages with 3-4 personnel.  I am going to travel the Sam LB with the passing strength while allowing the Mike LB to set the front 6 to run strength.  There are only a few formations that will put you in a conflict and you may not see those formations a whole lot anyway, so to me it is the worth the time to teach it.  The reps the kids will get playing check with me coverages far outweighs the concern of conflicting formations.

This is not intended to be a 3-4 2 gap discussion as that is a completely different animal.  This is a discussion about defensive personnel and playing 1 gap football.

**Editorial Note** At the 18 minute mark or so I say 10 personnel when drawing an 11 personnel formation.  I am not smart enough to edit the video so this is my clarification.


Rub Concept for 2 Point Play


Today I am going to talk about having a 2 Point Play or a Play that beats man coverage in short yardage situations. We are going to look at a mesh concept designed to get 2 or 3 rubs on a primary receiver to get him the football vs. man coverage. The idea is very similar to setting picks or screens in basketball.  The only problem is in football you cant legally set a pick.  So we have to incorporate routes that effectively act as moving picks or rubs to create space vs. man coverage.

The Student Becomes The Master
 It is a privilege for me to have one of my former players on video with me drawing up the route concepts.  This play was run by one of the best offensive minds in college football and my former QB Derek had a chance to run it first hand in practice.  As a coach it is very exciting to see your former players get involved in coaching.  That tells you that you had a positive impact on their life. I think part of our role as coaches should be mentoring and tutoring the future coaches in our profession.  Derek was great to coach, he was a gym rat and a film rat that could not get enough football.  Now I will probably have the privilege to work for him someday.

The concept we will look at today is a version of the mesh passing concept.  The idea is to create 2 or 3 rubs for our primary receiver.  It is not a true mesh package, it involves 3 routes in the mesh instead of 2 and only one of these routes will sit down.  It is truly designed for man coverage principles.  We have it drawn up from empty so that the front side flat route can get the necessary yardage needed if it becomes a hot throw. Throwing hot short of the goal line on a 2 Point Play does not accomplish the goal and actually is very poor coaching. The primary route is the shallow cross by the backside #1 receiver.  This route will stay on the move the entire time and will be run at 5 yards.  The TE is the backside #2 and he runs a read route where he releases to the flat to check man or zone.  If its man he will continue to the flat and create the first rub for the primary receiver. If its zone he will run a corner route.  The play side #3 runs the flat wheel route with eyes on the QB immediately for hot throws.  If he does not get the Hot he will convert to a wheel route.  VS. zones this route will help expand the OLB.  The play side #2 runs the under part of the mesh at 4 Yards.  He is always on the move and can never sit.  He will aim for the opposite front pylon.  He must have his eyes on the QB early for the inside portion of the built in Hot throws.  The play side #1 will run the high portion of the mesh at 6 yards.  Remember there are actually 3 mesh routes occurring here.  He will always sit down vs man or zone and a good landmark for him is the goal post.  He will try to create the 3rd rub for the primary receiver on the 5 yard shallow cross. The protection will be a half slide protection with the QB responsible for the play side ILB and Play side OLB.  This is a 5 man protection so either one of these 2 players blitzing makes us throw hot.

I am sorry there are no diagrams, but this play is not a part of my base package in High School.  It was taught to me by my former QB, as always I am just borrowing information.

If any of you are watching this from the New York/New Jersey area I will be on Long Island the second week of June doing a 2 day clinic.  The first day will be a spread up tempo offensive clinic with the second day being a 425 split field coverage clinic.  Hope to see some of you there. PLAY FAST!!!!!

Concepts to Defend Trips


 During this time of year I find myself spending a lot of time watching film and looking for ways to improve.  This past off season I took some time to watch some other High School Football games, and instead of looking at things I could do to get my team better, I took the approach of How could I help that team?  I found myself getting real interested in the role of consultant because in trying to help other teams get over the hump, i was reconfirming my beliefs in the things I do.  There is no better way to solidify your beliefs in your own work then to try and sell it to someone else.  One of the things I stumbled across was the amount of problems Trips formations caused for some teams.  It seemed like the more film I watched the more I realized defending trips is about defending what teams do out of trips.  There would be teams that gave up leverage and numbers to trips all night, teams that gave up single side runs all night, and teams that compromised the integrity of their defense by creating a new defense to defend trips.  There are two major things I look at when I watch my team on film defending trips....

1)Can I or someone else watching my team tell what we are trying to play?
2)Is what I am trying to play defending what they are trying to run?

What I would like to talk about today is how you can defend trips formations to take away the things that your opponents do in trips.  Like any good defense you must first understand the strengths and weaknesses of your concepts, and then match that to the strengths and weaknesses of your opponents offense. I recommend having 2 or 3 ways to handle trips in your base defensive package.  There should always be one standard check that your defense has to trips formations when you are playing base defense. This should be what you think is your best trips coverage and something you feel comfortable doing every week. Off of that you should have 1 or 2 checks that strengthen the weaknesses in that particular coverage, and counter the strengths of the offense. I am a huge fan of the book "The Art of War" which discusses the strategies of war used by Chinese General and Philosopher Sun Tzu.  One of my favorite quotes is"Know thy enemy and Know thy self and fear not 100 battles." (Get "The Art of War" on Amazon) That is really what defense comes down to in general terms.  Let's have an idea of what we are trying to do, and let's have an idea what they are trying to do to us.

My base trips coverage is an x out theory that will help my kids turn a 3x1 formation into a 2x1 formation.  We will play man to man on #1 to the trips which allows us to play 2 Read on the remaining 2 receivers with the Down Safety and the FS.  This also allows us to play our Cover 2 Concepts to the single receiver which helps with run support weak, and helps alleviate the pressure of playing the single receiver man to man.  What it also does is it puts us in a better leverage position to defend the bubble by #3.  The Down Safety is 7 yards off and 1 yard outside the #2 receiver to the trips side. The Free Safety is 10 yards off and 1 yard inside the #3 receiver.  These players will play 2 Read concepts with their primary read being the #3 receiver.  That means if #3 runs the bubble the Down Safety drives it immediately and he is outside the #2 receiver with better leverage. 4 Verticals should not be a problem because I have 4 DBS in position to play the 4 Verticals. Now with that being said, this coverage is weak to perimeter runs to the trips side and intermediate spacing routes to the trips side. I would only play this coverage in a Nickle Package or if you think your OLB can run with a Vertical by the #2 receiver. 

Stress or Solo or Trap coverage uses the backside safety to handle the Vertical of the #3 receiver.  This seems to be the most popular version of coverage for teams that only deploy 2 safeties in their base scheme. This coverage allows you to play regular 2 read concepts on the #1 and #2 receiver to trips so it is nothing new for trips side corner, free safety, and OLB. It is better for run support to the trips side with the OLB in a better position to play the run. 4 Verticals should not be an issue because of 4 back end players ready to handle that concept.  However in this coverage you are out leveraged on the bubble to #3.  You are also in man to man on the single side receiver with the weak ilb playing man on the back if he releases to the single side. The quick passing game to the trips side is an issue but that is something you will always deal with in quarters coverage concepts.  The field side flat is rarely attacked in high school so you can get away with that weakness.

Roll coverage is usually some form of 3 Deep coverage with a strong side roll to the trips.  It will help defend the quick and intermediate passing game and should help with perimeter runs to the trips side. This is a very good change up from 2 high structures because it can be disguised very easily and you can change who you want to roll down to the trips side. I have seen teams roll the coverage with the corner or a safety, depends on what you are trying to defend. The weakness with this coverage is the strong side roll makes you a little more vulnerable to weak side runs and weak side throws to the single receiver. It also becomes a 1 high structure which opens up the possibility of 4 verticals.  Very nice concept to defend trips side spacing concepts that hurt your 2 high structures.

Those are not the only versions of trips coverage, but just a general look at how each coverage has a strength and weakness.  The key is identifying the opponents strengths and trying not to match it with your weakness. Your film study will become very important to determine how the opposing team attacks out of trips formations and where they align their best players.  Again the whole concept of this blog is to get lower level football players to play fast by avoiding confusion.  Have a plan defending trips and then have a backup plan to alleviate the weaknesses in that coverage.  Get your kids to recognize trips and the plays that come out of it, then get as many reps as possible.


Adding Helmets with 3 Back Offense


For me the idea of using 3 Backs in the backfield started about 5 years ago watching a Green Bay Packers game.  They were using 2 fullbacks or a TE and a fullback along with the tailback in the backfield.  They were running typical zone plays with the fullbacks iso blocking LBS or kicking the edge on their zone plays.  As a spread team I started running into problems when my opponents would load the box and play zero coverage to my 10 personnel sets.  I got to a point where I conceded the run game vs. these looks and tried to throw the ball every down.  The two big problems i ran into were 1)I felt like the defense was dictating what I did and 2)Their cats were better than my cats so they completely shut down my passing game.  I did not want to incorporate Tight Ends into my offense because I had a hard time finding good ones every year at a public high school.

So after getting beat one night 21-0 I decided that I was going to add a 3 Back set into my offense to help equal out the numbers in the box vs those defenses.  What i stumbled across was a great short yardage offense that not only helped me on offense but also helped my defense defend hardball running plays.  We turned it into an up tempo package, added play action and waggles, and it is now one of my most called running plays every year.  The fact that the tailback is in the pistol gives us the ability to run the blast play and our waggles to either side at any time.  The set became so good for us we added two more versions of 3 back sets using the same personnel, made them up tempo formations, and now have the ability to jump into 3 different 3 back sets very quickly without changing the personnel on the field.  Let's take a look at the simple blast play from this set.

We are going to use a down gap scheme with the front side fullback kicking the DE, and the backside fullback pulling and wrapping for the PILB vs 7 man boxes.  It is actually a power scheme without using your backside guard as a puller.  This allows us to account for 7 defenders in the box while using a very simple gap scheme that should help avoid penetration in the backfield and be solid vs. stunts and blitzes.  If you get 8 man fronts you can put the backside fullback on the play side olb or force player to account for him.

Always remember that a good offense should have plays that protect your plays.  Off the same run action we can use waggles to move the pocket, slow down the safeties, and give us 1 on 1 match ups on the outside to help convert 1st downs.  Make sure your QB'S understand to get depth away from the LOS after fakes to buy time for the comeback and the drag routes, but also to get separation from any front side unblocked edge pressure.

The next thing we added was a play action pass to take "SHOTS" down the field.  This also helped slow down the invert of the safeties if the defense was playing quarters or robber concepts with the safeties.  We run a post on the front side while running post corner on the backside.  It is an 8 man protection so it is a very safe play that can account for pressure and keep the QB on his feet to make plays.  If the defense is 2 High and slamming safeties down we will look for the post route, if they are 1 High we will take the 1 on 1 match up with the post corner route.

Blending 425 with 3-3 Stack


I switched to the 425 defense 2 years ago and it has been very productive for us so far.  This past season we had a record setting year at our high school and the 425 was a big part of that.  It finally gave me the structure I needed to play sound defensive football every week against the plethora of offensive schemes a High School defense will see.  The one thing I incorporated this year was the use of Odd front packages to protect the Over front.  The idea is to give the offense multiple looks while maintaining simplicity on defense for my players. The 3-3 Stack is a great look to generate movement.  Keep in mind that making the offense spend time during the week preparing for multiple looks adds time to their preparation which may take time away from their execution.

So let's take a look at some of our generic d line games in the 425 and how we transfer them to the 3-3 Stack.

This is a simple twist game between the 3 Tech and the 5 Tech.  3 Tech penetrates B Gap first and ricochets outside for contain vs. pass sets.  The 5 Tech long sticks the A Gap after the 3 Tech movement.  The Mike will become a C Gap player.

Now we have gotten into the Stack front without changing personnel.  We put the Nose stacked behind the Tackle who is head up on the center.  We run the same game using the same terminology and we have changed the look for the offense without changing a single thing for the defense.

Very simple 5 man pressure with man free behind it.  We spark the Rush End into the B Gap and send the Will off the Edge.

Now we run the exact same Will 1 Free pressure from the Stack front.  It looks like a lot more movement to the offense but it actually is the same terminology and assignments with the same personnel for the defense.  Simple front adjustments like these can get a lot of mileage out of your base defensive package.  You are eliminating the need to teach several different concepts to be multiple. By changing your looks without changing your structure you can be sound and play fast because your kids are playing the same assignments and there is a direct crossover between the two concepts.  If you are in Tampa at the Glazier Clinic this week come see me on Friday afternoon and Friday evening presenting offensive and defensive topics.