Tuesday, January 4, 2011

4-3 vs. the Oregon Spread - LB / Nickel Play


How you defend the Spread formation depends on what kind of Spread formation you are facing.  Some teams are better at throwing the ball than running the ball.  The Oregon Spread of 2010 is a more dangerous beast than earlier versions in that it can beat you both running the ball and passing the ball.  Still, the explosive Oregon run game is what opposing DCs must stop first.  Most 4-3 teams play Quarters coverage vs. the Oregon Spread to help to defend the run.

LBs like Quarters coverage because it allows them to run and play fast.  The safeties will be involved in run support and they will take care of the cutback, which allows the LBs to attack and play downhill.  The Quarters Safeties will also take care of Gap Exchange and scraping to take the QB on the Zone Read play, allowing the LBs to only to focus solely on the RB and the Dive portion of the Gun Triple Option.

I had to do a good bit of research to write this piece to supplement the video.  I played Inside LB in H.S., but it is the one position I haven't ever coached.  Stuff I borrowed most from was from the 2008 Nike COY book, Pat Narduzzi from Michigan State's talk on The Flexible 4-3 Over Defense.  Also, I got good info from the 2009 Nike book, in talks from Mark Dantonio from Michigan State and Nick Rapone from Delaware, and from the 2010 book, Jay Bateman from Elon University, Mike Cassity from Marshall, and John Chavis from LSU.  I meant to look at Jerry Gordon's book for more info on Quarters coverage, but my 15 mo. old put it somewhere that I can't find it, lol.

Setting the Front

Having two high safeties means that not every WR will be covered by a LB/DB.  The LB can find himself in a catch-22trying to be in the box to defend the run and out of the box to help defend the pass.  LBs must be able to run to do both vs. the Spread, but how you set the front can help your LBs to do their job.

The defensive call will be "Over 4."  Over sets the Defensive Line and Linebackers to the strength of the formation and 4 is Quarters coverage.  The strength will be set to the TE side.  If there is no TE, the strength will be set to the Field versus 2 X 2 sets (2 WR/TEs on each side).  The 3 technique DT, the 9 technique DE, and the Mike LB will always align to the strength call.   The 1 technique NT,  the 5 technique DE (Fox), and the Will LB will always align away from the strength call.  Arizona also lined up their strong-side DE in a 7 technique instead of a 9 technique quite a bit.

The Nickel/Sam LB will normally align to the Field (except for 3x1 Trips into the Boundary) and  vs. 2 WRs, he will walk out half-way between the #2 WR and the OT.  He is completely out of the box.  His width can be adjusted according to down-and-distance.  He can be walked all the way out over the #2 WR in passing situations or he can cheat in his alignment in running situations.  The Nickel/Sam LB will walk out halfway between the #2 and #3 WR vs. 3 WR sets.   

The Will LB is in the biggest position of conflict vs. 2 X 2 sets, and he will align into the Boundary, away from the strength call.  Setting the strength to the Field allows the Will LB to play the #2 WR and be responsible for the B gap instead of the A gap, so he doesn't have as far to go.  The Will LB doesn't have to walk out half-way to the #2 WR; rather, he can stay in the box to help vs. the Oregon run game.  The weakness of this defense is the Out route by the #2 WR.

Here are some ways to address this coverage weakness while staying gap-sound vs. the run.  The first thing a DC can do is the pinch the DE into the B gap so the Will LB now has the C gap.  I saw Boise St. in a bowl game a few years back actually align their Boundary DE in a 3 technique so their Will LB was able to widen all the way out to the #2 WR since he was a C gap player.  Personally, I prefer to pinch the DE on occasion because you don't give away what you are doing by alignment.  Also, the DE in the 3 technique every play will have a difficult time being the Contain rusher, much less getting a pass rush.

Another thing to do is to employ a "2 Read" concept to the Boundary.  "2 Read" can mean different things, so let me explain.  2 Read is actually Quarters coverage unless #2 runs an Out route, then the CB will break on #2 and the Safety will cover #1.  This is a dangerous coverage if it is only something you only run on occasion because of the risk  of mental busts and giving up big plays.  An easier way to prevent the Out route on 3rd and 4 is to run Cover 6 (Cover 2 to the Boundary and Quarters to the Field).  I personally don't feel that it's worth the risk of  busting a coverage and giving up a big play to stop a 5 yard pass, so I would rather show Cover 4 pre-snap and roll the Corner down to Cover 2 to the Boundary as a change-up to Quarters.

The LBs need to know that the strength call changes vs. Trips sets in 10 personnel (1 RB, 0 TEs).  Now, the strength will be set away from Trips into the Boundary to the 1 WR side.  This is done to help out the Will LB, who again is in the biggest position of conflict.  He must be able to match up vs. the #3 WR in Trips vs. the pass in addition to having gap responsibility vs. the run.  Setting the strength to the 1 WR side allows him to be a B gap player instead of an A gap player to shorten the distance he has to travel between the two responsibilities.

If the Offense lines up in a 2 X 2 set with two TEs, the strength is set to the Field. Trips Empty sets with a TE will still have the strength set to the TE side.  If there is one TE, the rule is to always set the strength to that TE.  

Trips Empty 3 X 2 sets will be the same as Trips 3 X 1 sets, where the strength call will be set away from Trips. 

Also, to the nub (TE only) side, I would check  to Cover 2,  making it Quarter-Quarter-Half or Cover 6 (Cover 2 to Boundary and Cover 4 to Field) to put the Force player, who is the CB, in a position to attack the offense at a 45 degree angle to better constrict our opponents' strongside running game.  I will show the video in the DB Play and Coverage Fundamentals post coming in a few days that shows the benefit of Cover 2 to the nub side.  Also, look at The Force article video I did recently for some good cut-ups of this.

Run Fits vs. 10 Personnel

Quarters coverage allows the LBs in the box to fast flow to the playside because they don't have to worry about cutback.  The Force players to each side (Nickel and FS) will take care of cutback on Full Flow (QB and RB in same direction) run away from them.  Also, vs. Split Flow or Triple Option, the LBs do not have to worry about gap exchange with the DE.  The LBs are only concerned with the RB and they are fast flow.  The FS will take care of the QB on the Option to either side.

Here is the video:

LB / Nickel Play
1.  Good LB Play
2.  Good Nickel Play
3.  Nickel - Force on Run to you, must cover Bubble Screen
4.  Nickel Mistake - Fit outside of RB
5.  Will vs. Power - Shoot thru first playside gap you see
6.  LB Mistake - Backside LB must shoot thru first playside gap he sees vs. Power
7.  LB Mistake - False step
8.  LB Mistake - Stay on feet
9.  LB Mistake - Missed tackle
10.  LB Mistake - No one in A gap
11.  Will LB Mistake - Must attack
12.  LB Mistake - Fill to wide vs. Power, must come tight off double team
13.  LB Mistake - Must get over top of double team
14.  Will LB Mistake - Stay in box, tight D gap

Also, Boise St. got some huge tackles for loss plays by blitzing their Mike LB to the A gap away from the RB.  He may have been just reading it really fast, too.  It was hard to tell.  Check out the cut-ups:

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.

New blog I found: http://studentof-thegame.blogspot.com/


  1. Coach Hoover,
    Great stuff here. We played a few spread teams this season. The best being Calhoun who lost the State Championship this season to Buford in OT.
    Calhoun has a great cutback runner, he ate us up. They would put us in 3v1 set with 11 personel. Forcing our corner over the TE to the short side to play Force....which he is not used to doing at all. Tough to get a corner to step up and make an OLB play.
    Great post again!
    Archie Scott

  2. Archie, thanks for the feedback. Good to hear from a fellow Georgia coach. What coverage do you guys normally run?

  3. Coach,
    We mainly run cover 3 or cover 1. Those are really the only two we run. We base out of a 4-4 look, but are very versatile.
    We generally bring our weak side OLB over to the trips side which leaves our corner on the weakside alone vs. the trips/closed look.

  4. Coach Hoover,

    1st off this is great, great stuff. Very informative read. I've been following this site since late 2008. I was very shocked and suprised that you chose to shout out my blog, Student of the Game. I've long been interested in coaching football but the fact that Im currently serving in the navy overseas (will return to the states, Mississippi, later on this month), I havent been able to actually coach. Im looking forward to getting with some high schools when Im get back stateside and hopefully get my career started.

    P.S. I think its only fair that I let your readers know that my blog is basically a away to adapt some real life coaching strategies in a football video game.

    Again Coach, Great stuff and keep up the great work!

  5. Archie, Cover 1 and 3 are good to cover up all the WRs with a defender, which is good vs. Bubble Screen. Tez, first off, thanks for serving our country. I enjoyed the posts you had on Robber play, which touches on what Brophy, Run COD Hit, and others have talked about.

  6. Is there anyway to get these cutups where I can put them on our editing system to show our kids.

  7. Coach, good question. You actually have to start a new account on www.vimeo.com. It's free. Then you can download all of the videos of mine that you want. It's a bit of a hassle, but vimeo allows me to show and share good quality videos, so hopefully it will be worth it to you.

  8. hey coach i was wondering if i wanted to run a 4-4 against the spread would i just bring the SS down and bump the line backers over?

  9. Gene, that is what I would do. You would have your two LBs in the box and it would be similar to the 4-2-5. Check out some of the 4-2-5 links for more info. They bring the boundary Safety down to give a 4-4 look and they can also keep him back deep and bump one of the ILBs over. The 4-4 is good, but you are kinda locked in to either Cover 3 or Cover 1 Man-Free with only 1 High Safety. The 4-2-5 gives you the same look with more versatility.