Saturday, January 1, 2011

4-3 vs. the Oregon Spread - DL Play

The Oregon Spread - definitely "blurrier" this year

I am starting a five-part series on defending the Oregon Spread offense that will run up until the National Championship game.  This series was inspired by watching the DL play of Arizona and Boise St. vs. Oregon last year.  I have always heard that the 4-3 DL's top priority was to not get reached.  This made sense since the 4-3 is a gap-control defense that is dependent on each defender playing his gap.

I heard a different viewpoint of 4-3 DL play last year on the Coach Huey site.  Coach Currier said that he taught his DL to work vertically vs. a reach block.  He also mentioned that this is the way that Nebraska teaches their DL.  I looked at all the Oregon Stretch plays from 2009 vs. Boise St. and Arizona, and these words came back to mind as I saw this same technique being used very effectively.

The video will show how the playside DL will work to push their OL vertical into the backfield vs. the Stretch play.  Fritz Shurmur talks about attacking the offense on their side of the line of scrimmage in  the defensive bible, Coaching Team Defense.  This type of pressure "reduces the angles and options for the offense and makes the gaps smaller.  If players' pursuit lanes to the ball are only lateral and not toward the offense, the chances for the opening up of of wide cutback lanes are greater."

This brought to mind the painful (for a Dolphins fan) Miami Dolphin-Buffalo Bill contests of the early 90s.  The Buffalo Bills used to kill the Dolphins on the Stretch play.  The playside Dolphin defenders would be in their gap, but the Bills OL would push them past the play and Thurman Thomas would cut up the seam and gash the defense time and time again, year after year.  The Dolphin defenders might as well have been on roller skates the way they were being pushed horizontally.  The problem was that the Dolphin defenders were not working to get vertical into the Buffalo backfield.

The playside DL may get reached a bit initially by the OL, but as he works vertically, he is able to re-gain leverage and his outside gap.  Let me use physics to  try to describe how this works.  If the OL is applying force horizontally and the DL is applying force vertically, the resultant vector will be at a 45 degree angle into the opponents' line of scrimmage.  Both the OL and the DL's shoulders will be turned at this angle, and once the OL's shoulders are turned, he is beat.  The 45 degree angle is the exact angle a defender wants to be in to defend the run, and the exact same angle we want our Force player to attack blocks to force the ball to cutback inside  with as little room for the ballcarrier as possible (see previous post).   

The playside DL will "set the post," as our DC, Coach Miller, likes to say.  The backside DL then must pursue quickly to suffocate the play, but they must stay in their gap.   It is also important for the backside DL to stay on their feet so they can pursue quickly enough (this is why Alex Gibbs teaches his backside OL to cut on Stretch).  

Everything starts with the get-off and punch for the 4-3 DL.  The DL will get-off the ball quickly to get his hands on the OL first.  He will then "follow his hands."  The DL must learn to trust his hands because they will take him to the play after the initial punch.  The 4-3 DL wants to get vertical against the reach block, but he does not want to get vertical if he is not being blocked.  A DL who gets vertical without punching and getting his hands on the OL will be easily trapped or teams will option him and run right by him.  This is why the hands are so important. to the 4-3 DL  (thanks to Jerry Gordon for pointing this out).

Watch and see for yourself:

DL Keys vs. Stretch
1.  Frontside - get vertical push, Backside - pursue in your gap

DL Mistakes vs. Stretch and Other Keys
1.  Frontside - going horizontal, not vertical; Backside - not pursuing in your gap
2.  DL vs. Power
3.  DL vs. Screen
4.  DL - Ricochet Technique
5.  Hands Up vs. Pass

4-3 vs. the Oregon Spread - schedule of posts

Jan 1 - DL Play
Jan 3 - Zone Blitzes
Jan 5 - LB Play
Jan 7 - Defending Bash and Midline
Jan 9 - DB Play and Coverage Fundamentals
Jan 10 - (National Championship Game - Oregon vs. Auburn - 8:30 pm)

After the National Championship game, I will have an outstanding series of articles and videos with some terrific guest writers that Brophy talked about in his blog recently.


  1. Coach, how does Arizona and/or Boise coach their players to handle inside zone? Do they react as on a regular base/combo, or do they try to get vertical push like against stretch?

  2. As Coach Currier explained it to me, the DL will work to get vertical push only when the OL is attempting a reach block and is really working horizontally. By doing this, he will re-gain leverage, as the diagram and cut-ups show.

    Versus Inside Zone, the DL would treat that like a base block and his force is directed at a 45 degree angle toward the OL. This allows him to maintain his gap and it keeps his hips in the hole.

  3. Thanks, Coach!

  4. Coach, I run a 3-4 defense and it seems that these techniques (wrong arm, bdsd) would work with what we are trying to do. this isnt 4-3 exclusive stuff, or is it?

    thanks for the great info

  5. Jon,
    Unfortunately the 3-4 is a totally different world than the 4-3. The 3-4 has most of their DL as two-gap players where the 4-3 DL are one-gap players. Also, the techniques are totally different. I am not an expert on the 3-4, but you can ask on Coach Huey and someone would be able to help on defending the spread.