Wednesday, January 12, 2011

4-3 vs. the Flexbone - DT Play

Introduction - Defending the Flexbone with the 4-3 Defense

The Flexbone is a difficult offense to slow down, much less stop.  Defensive players must be disciplined and fundamentally trained to be automatic in their responses to what the offense is doing.  This automaticity that is required to defend this offense does not occur in one week of practicerather,  it  must be practiced against at the beginning of the year in spring football, fall camp, and in small segments throughout the year.  

Paul Johnson and the Georgia Tech coaching staff do a phenomenal job of coaching the Option, and in his second year at Georgia Tech, the Flexbone averaged 35.3 points per game for the 2009 regular season. They won the ACC with an 11-2 record and faced Iowa in the Orange Bowl. Iowa DC Norm Parker took full advantage of the added preparation time for the bowl game to thwart the Georgia Tech attack. Iowa's scheme was simple, disciplined, and very effective in holding the vaunted Georgia Tech offense to only 14 points.

I was the Offensive Coordinator for a team that started out running the Option this year, but the Flexbone offense has fascinated me for years from a defensive standpoint on how to defend it.  My film study this past off-season started with investigating the Iowa game and expanded to a study of the Georgia Tech offense vs. 4-3 teams for the 2009 season.  The cut-ups are a great teaching tool in themselves, but to top it off, I have assembled a dream team staff of defensive coaches to talk about the fundamentals for each of the positions in the 4-3 Defense: DTs, DEs, Mike LB, OLBs, FS/SS, and CBs.  The best thing about this great collection of coaches is that these guys are all about helping other coaches and they have been more than willing to share all they know in these articles.  The result will be something that I hope will be an invaluable resource for coaches.   

Cripes!  It's All about Fundamentals!

The emphasis of the film study and these articles will be on fundamentals, not on scheme.  There is no one defense or exotic blitz that can be installed in one week's time that will magically shut down the Triple Option.  Any success had by 4-3 defenses vs. the Georgia Tech Option in 2009 was due to a focus and emphasis on defensive fundamentals for each position.  

The best coaches also know that the emphasis on fundamentals must be season-long.  Teams cannot stop working once they reach a certain level of fundamentals and expect those fundamentals to last for the rest of the year, for they will certainly atrophy and waste away.

The guest writers have an expert knowledge and experience in defending the Option and they will talk about the fundamentals for each position as well how to teach them.

We will start this series with the defensive line.  Deuce says that, "You build a house from the foundation up...the line is YOUR foundation..."  The play of the DTs in the 4-3 is where we will start building this house and I got the best six-shooting 4-3 DL guy I could to write up on it...the grey rider himself, Outlaw Josie Wales. 

History of the 4-3

Back when I started the 50 and the Split-4 were the standard defenses for most schools.  The 50 dominated college ball.  The 50 in particular was not designed to stop the Triple Option, it was designed in the 1950's to stop the T and the Wing-T offenses by reading the Guards.  However, the 50 was out of its element in trying to stop the Triple Option offense.

The Defensive Tackle sat on an island and was the object of the 1st phase of the Triple Optionmeaning the Veer and the Wishbone attacked the Tackle in the 50 and worked from there.

When I first learned the principles, rules, laws, and philosophy of the 4-3, I found it very radical to everything I was taught.  So much so, that I had a hard time convincing staff members to accept the ideas.

Also, remember that the "newest" competing defensive idea was the "46" or Bear defense,  with the success of the Chicago Bears defense in the mid to late 1980'sthe very time that the U. of Miami was developing their ideas of the radical 4-3 defense.

The 4-3 defense was developed to stop the Wishbone Triple Option offense, it was later found to work on everything else.  However, as I was taught, it was has a weakness in the Off-Tackle areaa reason the that Power-O has become a favorite play with power-running teams.

However, the Miami 4-3 was a defense that was created in our generation.  Its principles and philosophy guide most football teams in America.

Block-Down Step-Down (BDSD), Spilling, and Wrong-Arming - The Philosophy of Defense That Holds the 4-3 Together

The origins of Block-Down Step-Down (BDSD) are murky to say the least. However, up until I was taught the 4-3 by Tommy Tuberville in the late 1980's, the entire idea was only thought of as "squeeze down."  Even then, it wasn't a hard and fast rule, more of a suggestion.

I think that the 4-3, which I affectionately call the Miami 4-3, is the defense of our generation.  The other defenses that dominated football when I got in were from a previous age.  The 4-3 was codified by the coaches at the University of Miami back in the mid 1980's to do one thing: stop the Wishbone offense of Barry Switzer.  More than X's and O's were at play herelots of history between Barry Switzer and Jimmy Johnson.  Out of this grudge-match came a defensive idea that took the world by storm: the Miami 4-3.

It was the first defense that I actually learned on paper. The other defenses that I coached were taught to me through other coaches through the years.  It was very radical and violated most of the philosophies that I was trained in, both as a player and as a young coach.

That being said, I think that the "glue" that holds the entire thing together is the idea of closing down all the inside gaps and forcing the ball carrier to run where he doesn't want to go.  This has been labeled "Spill" by most coaches.

The 4-3 defense has "Spill" philosophy as its main theme, however it doesn't actually work unless the defensive linemen obey the "Block-Down Step-Down" law.  Since the 4-3 is a gap-control or 1-gap defense, the defensive linemen absolutely must maintain their control over the gap they are aligned in.  This is the reason that the defensive linemen must be coached on maintaining their fundamentals.

It is important for coaches to learn these basic tenants and then teach them to their defensive linemen.  Every part of a defensive lineman's individual technique goes together in an exact way to give him his best chance for successeverything from his stance all the way to his tackling technique is important to make this entire defense function.

Block-Down Step-Down comes from a defensive lineman's hand landmarks. The lineman will come out of his stance aiming his inside hand at the middle of the breastplate and the outside hand attacking the outside edge of his particular offensive lineman's shoulder pad.

As he is going for his landmarks, he will see or feel his offensive lineman doing something.  This "doing something" is his clue. I use the word clue because so many defensive coaches do not use the work "read."  They think that "read" is a bad word because they say they are NOT a reading defense but an attacking defense.  This is totally semantics.

A defensive lineman "reads" at the snap.  His clue is what the offensive lineman is doing.  If that offensive lineman down blocks, also known as blocking toward the Center, the defensive lineman will react to this move and Step-Down hard inside.

The next part of BDSD that works together with the Spill concept is called "Wrong-Arming."  The idea is that the defensive linemen or End attacks the upfield shoulder of the trapper.  Even if the "trap" is a kick-out block by the Fullback.  The term "Wrong-Arming" comes from the act of doing the opposite of what was taught by defensive coaches for ages.  It means to attack the trapper with what would naturally seem to be incorrect.   In fact, it is incorrect, if you are running a 50 front defense as it was originally taught.

All three of these concepts work together to operate under the 4-3's philosophy of "Spilling."  It all must work together.  The 4-3 is a system that is held together by a philosophy of defense.

BDSD - The One Little "Trick" That Changed Option Football

In the past, the Wishbone offense would put the Defensive Tackle "on an island" and whatever he did created the actual offense.  Wishbone offenses ran roughshod over the 50 defenses of the 1970's.

BDSD defeated the blocking of the Wishbone offensive line by successfully moving inside by rule and not by choice.  The defensive linemen no longer had a choice of going to the FB or QB; his rule was to Step-Down inside, every time.  The Triple Option then became a double option by rule.

The Defensive End also followed BDSD and this stopped both the Outside Veer dilemma and the QB keep on the Triple Option.  QBs had to begin to fear a fast onrushing Defensive End essentially stunting toward him every play.

The Defensive Tackle shutdown the Dive and the Defensive End shutdown the QB Keep.   This left the Pitch as the only play left in the Triple Option playbook. Coaches who know the Wishbone realize that this is actually the weakest part of the Triple Option—the ball simply isn't pitched that much.

This fulfilled the philosophy of shutting down all the inside gaps and forcing the ball carrier to the edge where the Cover 2 Cornerback would cut down the Running Back.

Without BDSD, you cannot shutdown all the inside gaps and force the ball to the edgeit cannot be done.

The new trend of Midline is essentially a Trap play, much akin to the Wing-T Fullback Trap.  The rules of BDSD tell the defensive linemen to step down hard inside if his lineman is blocking inside toward the Center.  BDSD works well against a standard FB Trap.

On the Trap, the defensive lineman attacks his offensive lineman and feels that lineman blocking down toward the Center.  He immediately steps down into the gap.  In fact, he is literally dragged into that gap if he is properly attacking his offensive lineman.  His landmarks move inside, therefore he moves inside also.  This also has the added effect of keeping that offensive lineman off one of the linebackers.  In the 4-3 it is usually the Mike Backer that  the linemen are attempting to block.

DT Play vs. the Flexbone
Defensive linemen in the 4-3 must stay within the principles and the overall philosophy of the defense: stance, inside hand down, inside foot back, get-off faster than the offensive linemen, and proper hand placement to the landmarks are all very important in making the 4-3 defense work.  This defense has a greater dependence on defensive linemen getting all parts of their fundamentals done correctly than any other defense.  It is very linemen-centric.

Also at issue is that the Flexbone isn't an offense that is seen very often.  The spread offenses, with their emphasis on the pass, have caused defensive coaches to spend most of their practice time on pass rush and pass rush schemes.  Because of this emphasis, many 4-3 philosophy fundamentals have been neglected.

There are two other areas that a pass-rush mentality of defense causes poor Dline play:

1) Playing too high and getting pushed off the LOS (line of scrimmage) and 2) not dealing properly with double team blocks.  With emphasis on the speed rush needed to stop the spread offense, linemen are simply getting knocked off the ball.  A defensive lineman CANNOT allow himself to be pushed out of his gap.  This is an idea from a "bygone" day, however, the Flexbone thrives on pushing defensive linemen off the ball.  A linemen must attack quickly, this is true; however, he must NOT give up his gap.

A defensive coach must practice a Dlineman defeating a double team. The Flexbone will double team at the POA  (point of attack).  While there are many strategies and methods, a particular method must be adopted and worked.  (Ed. note - Both DTs in the 4-3 will end up facing double teams vs. Inside Veer to their sidesurprisingly Georgia Tech ran this play a lot to the 3 technique side in 2009 and it was very effective.)

Coaches and defensive linemen must remember that the 4-3 defense was developed in the mid 1980's to stop the Wishbone offense and was very successful at doing so.  The Flexbone is a form of the Wishbone offense.  However, the fundamentals that made this defense work when it was originally developed must be learned and adhered to at all levels.

The concept of Block-Down Step-Down is a very important element in attacking Triple Option offenses, however many coaches do not spend the proper time on BDSD with their linemen.  Plainly statedyou cannot run the 4-3 Over Defense properly without adhering to this concept.  The defensive lineman MUST step flat down the line when his corresponding offensive lineman blocks inside toward the Center.  That "inside" block is the "Block-Down" portion of the equation, and the corresponding action by the Defensive Lineman is to "Step-Down" inside and take away the Dive portion of the Triple Option.  The 4-3 defensive lineman is not given a choice which player to attack vs. the Triple Option Offensehe simply obeys his rule.

Defensive linemen not following the Block-Down Step-Down rule make the entire 4-3 Over Defense untenable.  This seemingly small mistake causes the 1-gap "Spill" philosophy to be nullified and the entire defense to collapse.  It only takes one defensive lineman not doing his part for any Triple Option Offense to become successful.

Here is the video:

DT Keys
1.  Block-Down-Step-Down vs. Midline
2.  vs. Run
3.  vs. Double Team
4.  vs. Sprint Pass

DT Mistakes
1.  Not squeezing down hard enough
2.  Not getting hands on OL
3.  vs. Double Team, must put hips in the hole
4.  Don't go behind the play
5.  Slow off the ball
6.  Too high

4-3 vs. the Flexbone - Schedule of Posts
Wed. January 12 - DT Play
Sat. January 15 - DE Play
Wed. January 19 - Mike Play
Sat. January 22 - OLB Play
Wed. January 26 - FS/SS Play
Sat. January 29 - CB Play

Feel free to ask any questions for OJW or any of the other guest writers to answer.


  1. Thanks for the info. For the BDSD, is this something used just against the midline or a standard technique? I think I read somewhere that against zone blocking, you want your DT to push vertical? I tend to feel that BDSD would work against zone as well.

    Secondly, what exactly happens when a DT doesn't get a DB read. What changes in the technique if it is a double team or reach etc...?

    Thirdly, is there an advantage of putting the 1 tech tackle on the center as the vid shows? What if you kept him aligned as a typical 1 tech on the guard? Advantages/Disadvantages...

    In past seasons, we've had our 1 tech align on guard and angle to center to control gap and draw double team. We would take 3 tech and angle him toward tackle to do the same thing on his side. I see that creates space if the guard blocks down in the BDSD concept. Thoughts?

  2. Defense has to adapt and adjust to be able to stay ahead of offenses. This year I've particularly noticed the 3 tech inside stunt because of Auburn's Nick Fairly. In many of his big QB sacks he gets there by slamming inside (don't know what it's actually supposed to be called). Since we don't have game film from Auburn, I don't know what everyone else is doing to cover for him.

    However, I have noticed that he usually comes through totally unblocked. Don't understand this because he's only the best Tackle in the SEC, so you'd expect he'd get triple-teamed.

    Anyway, this inside and then upfield charge has been very effective for this player. So, don't know if this is a trend or not.

    The alignment of fronts is a personal thing. Some coaches refuse to move to a front that looks like a 50 and others have it in their standard package. I also don't know the individual techniques that are used in this.

    Do coaches have time to teach 2-gap AND 1-gap individual technique? I don't know this either, depends on the kids.

    However, I would like to say that there is a world of difference between a 1-gap individual technique (you know-rules of engagement) and a 2-gap individual technique. They are so different that only advanced players should attempt to learn both. At the high school level and lower, I don't recommend this unless you have a senior heavy group of linemen that's you've worked on for years.

    Simply, I just don't think that younger kids have the ability to learn every proper aspect of a 1 gap, gap-attacking 40 front defensive individual technique AND a 2 gap head-up attack. (I'm not referring to stunting here where the lineman runs past the offensive lineman). Just too much.

    A good 40 front defensive tackle, playing proper gap individual technique, moving at top speed, taught 1 or 2 pass rush moves-is much more than most high school and lower offensive linemen can handle. That's just how I see it.

  3. Great post, one quick question that I am struggling with.

    The difference of the DT's playing the midline option vs. playing the trap. The initial key of the OG blocking down are the same but after that what is the difference in the keys, it would seem that wrong arming would take the DL out of position to stop the dive, or vice versa attacking the FB would leave the DL in a postion to get trapped. How would you teach the visual keys.

    Thank you

  4. Coach, here is where a 3tech's individual technique and, particularly, his fundamentals must be run properly.

    In the Midline, the Offensive Guard is trying to slip inside and get to the Mike Backer. That's what the offense wants to do. Then, they will isolate the 3tech and bait him, just like the old Wishbone teams did to the 4tech Tackle in the old 50.

    You simply cannot allow this to happen. Like in the pictures that are in the article, you can see that the 3tech must attack the Offensive Guard and get to him before he gets off the LOS. Remember, 1st one into the neutral zone wins.

    So, speed is very important to a 4-3 Miami defender.

    The 3tech attacks the Guard and doesn't let him get away. Remember he must use proper hand land marks (inside hand to chestplate, outside hand to outside edge of guard's shoulder pads).
    He then "feels" the Guard pulling inside, by knocking the Guard off his path and pushing him inside, the hole gets smaller NOT larger.

    If he lets that Guard get away, the hole gets huge and then he's standing there with the FB and QB playing a game on him. No, slam the hole shut, and keep that Guard off the Mike Backer.

    As the 3tech moves inside, he stays as square as possible (lots of training here) and takes on the Dive back and knocks him down hard. If he waits, the FB might knock the 3tech back. We don't want that, we want to rock the FB and cause the QB to bubble back a little.

    Very important. You don't want the 3tech trying to play their game. Fill the hole with both himself and the Guard. Tackle the FB and make it count.

    This will give the Mike Backer time and freedom to move over to the hole and wait and see who gets in there.

    The reason I say this is because some teams will motion the Back for pitch action and then slam him into the hole trying to seal the Mike Backer inside.

    The problem for them is that this play allows the the Defender in charge of pitch to see it and get himself there too.

    But anyway, lets say that doesn't happen.
    The Mike is attacking the B-gap because he knows what this play is. He will blow up anything that shows in that hole because he was allowed to move there freely. BECAUSE, the 3 tech has done his job and kept the Offensive Guard off of him.

    It has to work together.
    If any of the fundamentals are neglected, especially by a slow moving or lazy 3tech, this play will run all over you.

    The key is to keep that Mike free by having the 3tech follow the famous Block-Down Step-Down philosophy.

    Hope this helps a little

  5. OJW, thanks for the great explanation. Also, the Safety play article coming up will show how the defense fits up vs. Midline with both Slot backs inserting and leading into the hole.