Saturday, January 29, 2011

4-3 vs. the Flexbone - CB Play


The CBs or the Safeties can be the Force player in the 4-3 defense depending on your coverage philosophy and personnel.  Most teams ran Quarters coverage vs. the Georgia Tech Flexbone in 2009 and utilized their Safeties as the Force players.  The CB in Quarters coverage is is a pass-first defender who is man vs. his WR unless he runs a Shallow route or unless he cracks the Force player, the Safety.  When the WR crack-blocks the Safety, the CB will then become a run-first defender.  If he does not, the defense will have nobody on the pitch back, allowing the Flexbone offense to make big plays on the perimeter.

CB as Secondary Force

The CB is the Secondary Force defender vs. the run in Quarters coverage.   He will become the Force player for the defense when the Safety is crack-blocked by the WR or when the Safety loses his outside leverage.  The CB must see the WR angling inside and come off of the WR to become the new Force player for the defense.  He will now be responsible for the pitch back as the new Force player for the defense.  The CB must quickly read this crack block and give a "Crack!" call immediately to the Safety to keep him from getting ear-holed. 

It takes all 11 guys to defend the Flexbone running game and the CB cannot just be a finesse coverage specialist.  He must be able to support the run when needed and become the Force player for the defense when the Primary Force player is cracked.

The CB in Quarters or Cover 3 is a Secondary Force defender who must keep outside leverage vs. the run once the ball crosses the LOS (line of scrimmage) and Force it back inside to the rest of the defense or big runs will happen.

CB as Primary Force

Iowa and also Jacksonville State did some nice things vs. the Option and they were Cover 2 teams, utilizing their Corners as their Force players.  Iowa really opened a lot of eyes with the job they did vs. the Flexbone in the 2010 Orange Bowl. They didn't do it with anything new or complicated, they just played outstanding fundamental defense. They stayed in Cover 2 vs. the Double Slot Flexbone look and checked to Cover 3 vs. any Trips setsthat was all they did in terms of  "X's and O's" in defending the Option.  The scheme didn't matter near as much as the execution of each individual player on the Iowa defense.

Jacksonville State often cheated their CBs a few yards inside of the WRs which, although great vs. the outside run, left them susceptible to 4 Verticals as the outside WRs were allowed a free release and put the Safety in a 2 on 1 situation that resulted in some big plays for the Georgia Tech offense.  

It is imperative for defenses to collision and slow down every WR that can threaten the holes in the deep coverage.  For Cover 2, the holes are on the outside and in the middle.  For Cover 3, the holes are down the hashmarks.  If the WRs are not collisioned and slowed down, the defense will give up big plays as a result.

Iowa showed that you didn't have to cheat your CBs in to properly defend the perimeter and Force the ball inside. They had their CBs line up in normal Cover 2 alignment (roughly 5 yards deep with outside leverage) and they read the Offensive Tackles for their run-pass read. As soon as the OT blocked down on Inside Veer, the CB charged in to be the Force player and took away the Pitch.  One CB read it extremely well and he was on the pitch back before the QB could blink.  It looked like a very clean and easy readone CB executed it extremely well, but the other CB was not quite as good.

The CB in Cover 2 must be disciplined as the Force player for the defense.  He cannot stay wide and leave a huge Alley for the defense to be able to run the ball. Rather, he must squeeze the Alley and constrict the offense's ability to be able to run on the perimeter.

CB Keys
1.  Cover 2: Force, Run Read - OT
2.  Quarters: Secondary Force / Crack Replace
3.  Cover 3, 4: Secondary Force - Keep Outside Leverage

CB Mistakes
1.  Cover 2: Poor Run Read.  Must Read OT's Down Block Quickly.
2.  Cover 2: Force Player Not Squeezing the Alley
3.  Not Keeping Outside Leverage vs. the Run
4.  Quarters: CB Must Stay on Top of Post Route

Thanks again to my guest writers OJW, Deuce, Brophy, and Jerry Gordon who all did a fantastic job in contributing to this series on Defending the Flexbone.

Check out the article on the Auburn Fire series (Buck sweep, Reverse, and Play-Action Pass) here:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

4-3 vs. the Flexbone - FS/SS Play


The CB or the Safeties can be a Force player in the 4-3 defense depending on your coverage philosophy and personnel.  Most teams ran Quarters coverage vs. the Georgia Tech Flexbone in 2009 and used their Safeties as their primary run players.  My next guest writer is already an accomplished author and an expert on the 4-3/Under front Defense, having written the book Coaching the Under Front Defense, which you can get here Coaching the Under Front Defense if you haven't already.  Ladies and gentlemen, Jerry Gordon...

4-3 vs. the Flexbone - "Safety Play" by Jerry Gordon

One of the most critical aspects in defending the Flexbone is the play of the Safeties in combination with the Corners.  Most good Flexbone offensive coordinators are going to try to put some doubt in your Safeties mind to confuse them.  The point you must try to remember is that they only have to confuse a H.S. kid, not a 40 year old man.  We need to keep reads simple, concise, and clear.  Our Safeties must have an understanding of their assignments.  On every play the defense must have a Dive player, one or more QB players, a Pitch player and a Pass player. 

There are basically 4 types of motion a Safety will see when facing a Flexbone team:

1.  Deep motion - Backside A Back running through the heels of the FB to become the Pitch player.

2.  Twirl motion - A Back going into motion as if he is becoming the Pitch back but now reverses course and becomes the blocker for the primary Force.

3.  Insert motion - A Back goes in motion and inserts himself into the A or B gap. There is no longer a Pitch back.  This play is generally an Isolation or Midline.

4.  No motion

There are also basically two types of releases a Safety will see:

a.  Arc release - A Back blocks the Safety and the WR blocks the Corner.

b.  Crack release - A Back blocks the Corner and the WR blocks (cracks) the Safety.

Let’s go through a couple of scenarios:

1a.  Deep motion w/ an Arc release:

Frontside Safety:
The Frontside Safety is now the Pitch player.  The Pitch player needs to play the pitch through the outside shoulder of the A Back trying to block him.  He should use a dip and rip technique exploding through his assigned blocker.  Since this Safety is now the primary Force player, he must play from outside in, never allowing the ball carrier to get outside of him.  All his help will come from the inside.  If a pass were to emerge, the Safety would become a late Flat defender.

Backside Safety: 
Motion is away, and the Backside Safety is responsible for #2 going vertical.  If there is not a #2 going vertical, he will play the middle third much as he would if he were a 3 deep defender.  The reason we say #2 vertical is because the offense could run #1 and #2 vertical or they could run the Switch concept.  Playing the Backside Safety on #2 vertical allows the Frontside Safety to be a run only player.  This allows the Frontside Safety to play with reckless abandon.  The Backside Safety must “stay behind” the motion until after the ball is snapped because of the threat of Twirl motion, thus placing the Safety too far out of position to play the pitch.  Once run is declared, the Backside Safety now pursues the ball from the inside out.

1b.  Deep motion with a crack release:

Frontside Safety:
Once the Safety’s A Back crack releases, the Corner must yell “Crack, Crack”.  The Corner now becomes the Primary Force.  The Safety must aim through the upfield shoulder of the WR trying to crack him.  He needs to keep outside leverage in case the A Back runs a Wheel.  If the WR does block him the Safety now becomes Secondary Contain.  If the WR does not block him and continues on for a pass, the Safety now has the A Back man to man. The A Back is now probably running a Wheel route on the Switch concept (Post by outside WR, Wheel by the A Back).  

Backside Safety: 
The Backside Safety is still responsible for #2 going vertical, but he needs to be aware that there will be a new #2.

2.  Twirl motion:
The Safety must stay behind the motion so as not to be out of position once the A Back reverses course.  Once the A Back reverses course, the Safety must be able to get himself back into position to become the Primary Force player.  We tell the Safety to be “physically patient and mentally alert.”  If the Twirl motion man has a tendency to be a pass receiver in this situation (3rd and 10), some teams will lock the Frontside Safety on him man to man and play the Pitch with the Backside Safety, thinking that they will be able to catch up to the Pitch back as he is not in motion before the play starts.

3.  Insert motion: (there will not be a Pitch back)

Frontside Safety: play QB inside of your OLB.

Backside Safety: if the Frontside A Back releases, play pass. If the front side A back blocks, play the run inside out.

4a.  No motion, Arc release:
Safeties have their A back man to man.

4b.  No motion, Crack release:
Safeties will play their quarter.

As you can see, there is much to prepare for a Flexbone team.  A team that can have a few weeks to prepare as Iowa did in the film clips surely helps the defense prepare for the onslaught of problems that a Flexbone team can present.

Here's the video:
FS/SS Keys
1.  Quarters: Safety Force
2.  Cover 3: SS Force
3.  Cover 2: Secondary Force
4.  Quarters: Stay Outside of Slot and Be on Top of Him if He Runs Wheel Route
5.  Quarters: If Slot Motions Inside the Box to Lead Block, Be Ready to Fill Fast

FS/SS Mistakes
1.  Force Player Must Stay Outside of Lead Blocker
2.  Quarters: Slow Read / Poor Read
3.  Cover 3: SS Force Player Not Squeezing the Alley
4.  Cover 3: Not Getting Jam on #2
5.  Force Player Must Stay Outside of Slot and Run with Him on Wheel Route

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

New blog I found: 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

4-3 vs. the Flexbone - OLB play


The OLB position vs. the Flexbone has a lot of keys and reads compared to other positions in the 4-3 Defense, so I got a great coach to explain it.  My next guest writer is a man who needs no introduction.  He is an outstanding football coach that has taught me a ton about football and technology over the years.  He is the author of one of the best articles written on defense (here), and he has the best football coaching blog on the Internet (here).  His site has more posts than days of the year and they contain a wealth of information for fellow football coaches.  Let me introduce the one and only Brophy...  


Stopping Option, much less Flexbone, requires an entire team performance; no part is greater than the sum.  Each position must function together within the supporting framework of the front and coverage. The Option attack will stress a defense’s fundamentals; therefore, there must be clearly defined assignments of Dive (FB), Quarterback, and Pitch, with disciplined backside gap support.

With the other front positions expertly covered by the other coaches, I will provide an overview of preparing the Outside Linebacker against the Flexbone Option offense.  The ‘easy’ part of this equation for the Outside Linebacker is that he is supported and protected by the coverage.  With a 2-high shell, he is afforded the luxury of being a perimeter defender without being the Force player.  The 7 man box of the 4-3 means that the Corner will be force in Cover 2, the Safety will be Force in Cover 4, or if indeed, the Outside Linebacker is the Force player it will be against the weak side of the offensive formation (no Tight End) and be some type of Quarter-Halves variation (coverage rolled away from this backer).  This allows him to be free from interior fast-read trash (allow him to process the offense response) and position himself for leverage for block destruction. 

By not acting as the Force player, the Linebacker isn’t pressured with the ‘don’t get reached’ mantra and is allowed to be more aggressive in attacking the ball and blocks.  The area of importance for the Outside Linebacker will be flow-to C gap and flow away A gap (strong) or D gap and B gap weak respectively.  This short-area focus allows him to efficiently act as a fulcrum between the Force defender and the interior mass of the front.


What do you have to stop against the Flexbone and how does it relate to the role of the Outside Linebacker?  The focus of this series has been about stopping the Option with the 4-3, so we will begin there.  However, the drills and training used for this will also support the complimentary plays of Flexbone: Power, Buck, and Counter.

The immediate threat to the Outside Linebacker’s position is the Outside Veer or Quarterback-to-Alley phase of the Option.  To reduce the focus and create confidence in assignment, the Outside Linebacker should be trained to react to the initial steps of the end man on the line of scrimmage (EMOL), coupled with the nearside Wing.

This training is done with respect to provide the player with focus and avoid succumbing to a “looming effect” due to the bone’s heavy use of misdirection and pre-snap motioning of Backs.  I will reiterate the importance of stressing this player to think of himself as a short-area player, this way his movement is deliberate and efficient for leveraging the ball.

With each bread-and-butter play you will generally get a consistent picture provided to the defense.  The movements the Linebacker should be proficient in identifying and correctly stepping with are:

Wing Motion TO (the Linebacker)
If the Wing remains to the side of the Linebacker, he usually will be involved in blocking the perimeter on runs (or twirl motion back inside for Iso). He should assume he will be threatened immediately and fast-read the EMOL’s first step and pad level.

Wing Motion AWAY (from the Linebacker)
With Wing motioning away from the Linebacker, he can condition himself to slow-play his reads, as in most situations the offensive play side will be away from the Backer.   With Wing motion away, it is easy for the offense to lull the Linebacker into a trance with the orbit motion, thinking that anytime the Wing motions, the play will be away from the Backer.  This is why we want to drill the Linebacker into making the ‘robotic’ 2-step shuffle into B gap (looking to A) to not position himself out of supporting a weakside / Counter run.  You will see in the Iowa clips vs. Georgia Tech, the Outside Linebackers executing this dogmatically ensuring they are always in position to make a play.  With motion away, his eyes should immediately snap to the EMOL.

Reading the EMOL
·         - TURN-OUT / BASE
    - DOWN
    - ARC / REACH
TURN-OUT / BASE - If the EMOL quickly steps inside and turns his head (see his earhole) to get inside the Defensive End…with a Fullback moving inside or away, the Backer should 2-step shuffle (remaining square the line of scrimmage) and fit himself into his interior (backside) gap support.  He will also 2-step shuffle and fit inside if he sees the EMOL base block the Defensive End.

To the playside vs. Zone Dive, the NT has the A gap, the Mike and OLB both have the B gap, the DE has the C gap, and the Safety is the Force player and he has the D gap.  The OLB Fits on the Outside Half of the B Gap to allow the Mike LB to come free and make the tackle:

DOWN - If the EMOL blocks down hard with low pad level (can’t see the earholes) to wash down inside (down on 5 tech or TO the backer)….with a Fullback moving toward the Linebacker, the offense is setting up Power/Counter (the Wing motion really helps this out).  If the 9 tech DE is being loaded on, the Tight End will come down inside to get on top of the Linebacker.  The Linebacker should see this and attack it much like he would against an Isolation block, engage with the inside flipper and shed into the C gap. 

ARC / REACH - If the EMOL (TE) flattens his release outside, and Fullback heads towards the Linebacker, he will likely be heading upfield to block the Safety and/or Corner (depending if there is a crack block by the Corner) on an arc release.  The arc or reach block is a dead give-away to outside run-action.  The Linebacker should not be in a rush to get outside of the Tight End here, though (remember, he isn’t Force in C2/C4), but should maintain leverage on a leading fullback and/or a reaching tackle.  The Linebacker will want to spill the runner outside of him, therefore it is essential that he maintains leverage on the blocker while pressing the LOS until the runner clears.  The premise here is to string the runner outside to support and not allow him to cutback, maintaining enough position to still make the tackle on the ball carrier.

These looks can all be presented at a high rate of speed, and should simply just be 2-3 step reactions to the EMOL movements.  It is important that you reiterate the purpose of the drill (to give a conditioning look to build confidence in the linebacker’s assignment), to ensure the defender gains assurance in his responsibility and reinforce his ability to identify what is presented to him.  The ‘scout’ looks given should be exaggerated to make the identification simple (players will attempt to ‘trick’ each other with looks, which is counter-productive to drilling a response).

The simplest way to train the Outside Linebacker for the type of looks he will see against the Flexbone is through constant repetition against EMOL first steps.  During Individual / Pre-Practice periods, the Outside Linebacker should rep.  Using the same looks you used above from Pre-Practice / INDY, you can bring the exact same looks to a bigger picture, working all Linebackers at once to provide a complete picture of offensive looks and gap support.

You can put this altogether (with the entire Linebacker corps and/or Safeties, too) with the IN-AT-OUT drill.  Using this drill to represent the Bone, you really only need the relevant pieces, which would be the 3 Backs and 2 EMOL (2 TEs or 1 TE + 1 OT).  The offensive players can be scout defenders (backups) and just given play cards to quickly rep the motion and action to emulate.

The drill is credited to Jeff Walker, author of “Coaching the 40 Nickel Defense” (who now runs a 33 defense).  It is simple and effective, just set up the ball and appropriate landmarks / necessary offensive players as needed.  The necessary components are the Wings, Fullback, and EMOL; these are the only players needed to provide the looks for the linebacking corps.  The action presented will only attack 1 of the 3 areas.  The Linebackers should then appropriately step-react to the looks given, and end up in their gap fit.  This can be a full-speed or a ¾ speed drill.  Tackling isn’t what is being reinforced here, it is proper footwork and leverage. When repping the 1-step reactions, you want to ensure your defenders are using correct movements, with this drills you should be hammering away at your players to be in the correct (gap-fit) leverage position.  Never forget that this is a muscle-memory exercise.  I should note that the success of this drill will depend on how mature your Linebackers are.  Use the minimal amount of stimuli possible and add offensive players as your Linebackers become more proficient.  Starting out, you could actually just use a Fullback (path) as the reactionary stimulus (if Fullback takes this path, fit here….if Fullback takes this path, go here).  You want the end product being your Linebackers being able to key off a pattern and not fixating on one player (i.e. the Wings).

With the Triple Option, the look is provided in the graphic below to give you an idea how this works.  Once the EMOL steps down inside, the Fullback veers toward the AT gap, the SLB would squeeze down to fit into the Quarterback-to-Pitch relationship on the option.  With the backside Wing orbiting away from the WLB, he should execute the backside shuffle technique.  This provides continual reinforcement of the 1-on-1 drills you used earlier to bolster the confidence of the Linebacker.  The entire picture will be supplied during your TEAM periods. 

With a Midline look, the Linebacker would be given an set block by the EMOL with the Wing heading inside, the Fullback attacking the cylinder of the A gap.  Since Fullback is IN, the near Wing is IN, the Linebacker would execute his backside 2-step shuffle technique and look to maintain his outside shoulder free, squeezing parallel to the line of scrimmage.

As an addition, the Outside Veer will present itself similar to the Triple, with the Fullback attacking the AT and the Wing arcing.

With Speed Option, the reach block is presented by the EMOL with the Wing arcing reaching with the EMOL.  It is important here for the SLB to not give ground, to attack the Wing with his inside arm (engage the blocker first), and explode his hips to separate when the Quarterback appears.  It isn’t important if the SLB makes the tackle here, if he forces the Pitch within 2 seconds (and forcing the ball into an area he is not responsible for; “OUT”) he has ‘done his job’.  Again, reinforce the short-area premise we spoke of before.

With the extreme reach block presented by the backside EMOL and the Wing in motion, the WLB here should “get width/ get depth” as he is now in a backside support role.  He movement should be gaining depth while squeezing inside to the ball, in a steady, parallel shuffle , but never cross the A gap.

This type of ‘controlled vignette’ environment helps tremendously overcome the distraction of multiple moving parts your players will see prior to TEAM practice against the scout offense.  Building your players reps piece-by-piece, in digestible amounts is essential to build a TEAM defense approach against an attack as complete as Flexbone.


I have provided a basic overview for developing your Linebackers to face the Flexbone Option attack.  The simplicity of the Bone is part of its charm and sophistication.  With a few base plays, Flexbone offenses typically adapt new wrinkles and blocking adjustments that run counter to how an opponent would actually defend them (adjusting who the read defender will be; blocking the same play 5 different ways).  As such, it is important for the defensive staff to thoroughly game plan and appropriately rep the looks the specific opponent will give.  You may have to face 2 or 3 Flexbone offenses in a season, yet prepare for each in a different fashion.

Good luck next season!
OLB Keys
1.  Clear Read / Slot Fold
2.  vs. Uncovered Guard Coming Right at You
3.  vs. Rocket
4.  vs. Run Action Away
5.  Cover 3 (Backside of Trips): You are Force Player
6.  vs. Twirl Motion
7.  vs. TE - Keep Outside Leverage

OLB Mistakes
1.  Slow Read / Poor Read
2.  Not Slow-Playing Pitch
3.  Unless Slot Folds Inside, You Don't Need to Fill B gap When You are to 3 Tech Side
4.  QB to Pitch Player Must Stay Outside QB
5.  Coming in Too Far vs. Twirl Motion
6.  Not Keeping Outside Leverage vs. TE
7.  Must Fit Outside of TE Fold Block Like You Would vs. a Slot

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

The Ph.D. of PowerPoint, Andrew Coverdale, is on the Coaches Corner show to talk about Spacing and the quick passing game.  Click here to go and listen the podcast.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

4-3 vs. the Flexbone - Mike play


I have learned a lot about 4-3 defensive fundamentals from my next guest writer.  He has tremendous knowledge and experience on defending the Flexbone from the 4-3, and he has been amazingly gracious and patient enough to answer all my questions over the years.  The keys for Mike LB play in the video are simple enough, but the position requires a high level of instincts, physical ability, and fundamental skills to execute effectively, as my friend from the "Darkside" will discuss. 

Mike Fundamentals 
I have always been an Over front guy, and in particular, the old Miami style of the Over front.  Offensively, the Flexbone and the Triple Option has always been my staple in terms of what I have run as an offensive coordinator.   The Over front, and its play of the Triple Option, is what sent Triple Option football back to the dark ages in early to mid-80’s in college football.  I am going to discuss the nuisances of how the “man in the middle” of the Over front, can lead to huge success when playing any Triple Option style of offense.
The Middle Linebacker, in most coaches’ Over front, is usually the best defender on the field.  Without going into specifics, if he isn’t, you had better find your best defender and put him here, especially vs. the Flexbone.  In my early years, I played the Flexbone the traditional wayall the linebackers at their standard depths, and keying 1 thing, the Fullback.  The Middle Linebacker had 2 responsibilities all game, and that was to check for Dive leakage (Defensive End not tackling the Fullback), and he had inside half of the Quarterback, or what some would call cutback.  Later on in my career, I learned a newer approach of deepening the Middle Linebacker, to help keep him out of the “wash” by the Offensive Line.  This is how I play it today, and this past bowl season I witnessed this very same technique when Iowa defeated Georgia Tech. 
The Middle Linebacker, or Mike Linebacker as I call him in our defense, will align six to seven yards deep, over the Center, or in the A gap opposite the Nose Guard.  This is based on the Middle Linebacker’s ability to see his key, the Fullback.  The Middle Linebacker moves in relation to the Fullback at all times.  The only time he changes direction is when a Guard pulling goes opposite of the Fullback’s path.  Against the Inside Veer, the Middle Linebacker’s responsibility is to check Dive, to inside half of Quarterback.  He does this by mirroring the Fullback’s steps, and staying on the inside hip of the Fullback.  As he mirrors, if there is an open window, the Middle Linebacker fills this window immediately.  This is basically the “Zone Dive” portion of the Flexbone offense.  There will be an open B gap window, because the Tackle and Guard are zone blocking.   

vs. Zone Dive, Mike sees an open window and will fill it immediately: 

vs. Midline, Mike sees a closed window and will scrape over the top:

vs. Inside Veer, Mike sees an open window initially, so he will check Dive first:

Now the window has closed, with the DE executing his Block-Down-Step-Down technique.  Mike will scrape over the top for the inside half of the QB:

Common Mistakes

Some common mistakes by the Middle linebacker are that he overruns the ballcarrier and allows for the cutback.  Most Flexbone teams like to run the Zone Dive at the 3 technique so the ballcarrier can cut back.  The Middle Linebacker has to be patient here and respect the Fullback’s ability to cut the ball back into the A gap.  If the Middle Linebacker gets a closed window, or cloudy read as some call it, he is to continue to scrape downhill, keeping himself on the inside hip of the Quarterback.  As he does this, he may encounter the Offensive Tackle along the way.  The depth of the Middle Linebacker helps to make this a tough block for the Offensive Tackle; however, the Middle Linebacker must be able to rip across this block and get his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage to prevent the Quarterback from cutting back, or cutting up in the option Alley.  

A costly mistake by the Middle Linebacker is to align too shallow to fight across this block, getting caught up in the B gap.  This now has the defense with two players playing the same gap: the Defensive End and the Middle Linebacker, and nobody in the C gap to take the Quarterback.  Another common mistake is overrunning the ballcarrier, or not staying on the backside hip of the ballcarrier.  This allows for the cutback by the ballcarrier and can lead to very big gains for the Flexbone Offense.
Vs. Counter Option, or “G” option, the Middle Linebacker has to step and honor the path of the Fullback, but then must redirect, once he reads Guard pull, to once again play the inside half of the Quarterback.  Again, the depth of the Middle Linebacker helps in this case, as does the play of the Defensive End on the Offensive Tackle.  The Middle Linebacker should redirect, and rip across the block of the Tackle, staying on the inside hip of the ballcarrier at all times. 
Some other common errors Middle Linebackers make when defending this offense are slow reads.  Slow reads get a Middle Linebacker blocked, which leaves 1 phase of the Triple Option offense unaccounted for.  This is why I recommend utilizing what we call Perimeter Drill weekly during the season.  Flexbone teams commonly use a drill called Half-Line to get as many reps against the defense as they possibly can.  Perimeter drill is the defense’s Half-Line drill.  Set up half of your defense with a Tackle, End, Outside Linebacker, Middle Linebacker, Safety, and Corner and have your scout team run the Inside Veer at your defense.  The easy part of this drill is that you do not use a football.  This eliminates false reads and miscues when players see the football handed off or pulled.  Now the players have to execute based on reads and keys that should already be built into your defense.

In a nutshell, the Middle linebacker’s job against the Flexbone Triple Option offense is an extremely important one.  He has to be able to fill an open window and plug up the inside gap on the Zone Dive, as well as being able to read a closed window and scrape outside for the Quarterback.  He also needs to be able to see the offensive lineman pulling opposite of the Fullback’s path, so he can help defend on the “G” Option.  All these reads and keys must be practiced weekly for the Middle Linebacker to understand his reads and his role in the defense.  I highly recommend practicing these keys and reads weekly, as game week is too late to begin training your middle linebacker, for what is ultimately his toughest test.  

Mike Keys
1.  Clear Read - Fill
2.  Cloudy Read - Run Over the Top
3.  vs. G Load Option

Mike Mistakes
1.  Slow Read / Poor Read
2.  Not Getting Over the Top of OT
3.  Not Staying on Back Hip of Ball Carrier / Not Coming Tight Off of Cloudy Read
4.  False Step
5.  Not Aligned Deep Enough

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

Also, Deuce has a blog at:

Saturday, January 15, 2011

4-3 vs. the Flexbone - DE play

Introduction - Evolution of the DE

The keys and mistakes video cut-ups for the DE are the longest for any position group in the 4-3 defense, likely making it the most complicated position to play vs. the Option.  This position usually has a good athlete playing it (e.g. the basketball player who just came out for football), but Option teams historically have been able to take advantage of the lack of discipline and proper coaching at the DE position through the years.

What we are now beginning to see today is the athletic and well-coached 4-3 DE who can really wreak havoc on the Option offense—as a result there are many plays that are designed to confuse and slow him down.  Urban Meyer talked about how much of what they did in their Spread Option at Florida was designed to control the DEs, because they are such tremendous athletes that they can take over a game by themselves.

The 2010 Orange Bowl showcased the freakish talents and abilities of Iowa DE Adrian Clayborn, who just about shut down one half of the field vs. the potent 2009-2010 Georgia Tech offense.  Guys that are 6-4 250+ and can run as fast as many RBs are becoming entrenched at the top of the NFL draft and are becoming multimillionaires because of their ability to dominate and impose their will upon opposing offenses. 

The aggressive DL philosophy of the 4-3 Defense has allowed the DE to showcase his God-given talents.  Instead of being a "contain" guy, the 4-3 DE could really strike fear into the QB by coming down at him hard and following the Block-Down Step-Down rules that OJW talked about in the last article.  The switch from the 50 to the 4-3 Defense has allowed the DE to evolve from being stranded on an island to being a one-man wrecking crew vs. the Option when he is coached correctly.

Back for an encore presentation is the Outlaw Josie Walesbig thanks to him for sharing all of his great wisdom and experience with DL play.  He is an invaluable resource to other coaches on the Coach Huey site, and he has helped me tremendously over the years by patiently answering all my questions about the 4-3 Defense.

DE Fundamentals

The play of the Ends is similar to the play of the Defensive Tackles.  It is one of the important points of the 4-3: all four defensive linemen can be trained together.

The basic stances are similar.  However, most coaches say the closer a lineman is to the ball, the lower his tail needs to be.  All four linemen are trained to have their inside hand down and their inside foot back.  This is very helpful to staffs who only have one defensive line coach, as they can all be trained together.

With that in mind, the Ends are in what many call a sprinter's stancetail is higher and the feet are closer together.  They are also angled inward so as to see the ball and get a good jump on the offensive player they are aligned over.

The importance of the 4-3 defensive linemen getting a jump on the offensive linemen cannot be overemphasized.  Most coaches teach that the first player to get their hands on the other player will be the winner.  Defensive linemen must work to get their feet into the LOS (line of scrimmage) before the offensive linemen can get their hands on them.  Take-off drills must be done every day.

The Defensive End attacks his offensive counterpart by moving as fast as possible to his landmarks.  His inside hand is on the middle of the breastplate and the outside hand is on the outside edge of the shoulder pads.  If this sounds familiar, it is.  It is exactly the same landmarks as the other defensive linemen (again, simplicity of training all four linemen the same).

It is best to not switch sides with the Defensive Ends, but to allow them to stay on the side that best suits their abilities.  Often a larger man will be used on the defensive left side and a faster man will be used on the defensive right.  However, this is simply personal preference by a coach.

The End attacks his man and sees and feels what is going on.  If his man blocks down (toward the Center) the End will feel this and then step flat down the line.  This is the use of the famous Block-Down Step-Down rule that he must obey.

It is also important to realize the angled Ends affect the blocks of their offensive counterpartsthe TE release is slowed, as is the Offensive Tackle's release.

There Is No "Contain" in the 4-3

There are several plays that will unfold when the End's man blocks down.  The most common plays he will see are the Counter-Trey play, the Power play, or the Option play.  In all these plays, the End must obey the "Wrong-Arming" rule as discussed in the DT article.

It is vital to the overall consistency and philosophy of the 4-3 for the End not to be trained in any type of contain principle.  It will be contrary to the other things that he must execute.

The long trap, or Counter Trey a.k.a. Counter-Gap play affects the Defensive End.  He will feel or see his landmarks move inside, usually that is the Tight End.  He must step inside and will see the Offensive Guard pulling toward him.  The Defensive End will attack the upfield shoulder—the shoulder closest to the LOS.  Often coaches describe this event as a "train wreck."  We desire to create a pile of bodies at the POA (point of attack).

Again, we do NOT want the Defensive End to have to worry about contain.  In the 4-3 defense there IS no contain.  The word "contain" isn't part of this defensive philosophy.  The End is attacking the pulling Guard and forcing the ball carrier to deviate from the place he wants to run.  This causes him to bounce outside and again, fall prey to Corner Force or Safety Force, depending on the secondary call.

The End will defeat the block of the Fullback on Power-O by attacking the same upfield shoulder that he attacks on the Counter-Trey play.  The only difference is that the Guard will be attempting to block in him the Counter-Trey play as opposed to the FB's block of the Power-O play.

DE vs. the Option

While correct End play is important in the previous two offensive plays, it is absolutely imperative in the Option.  A Defensive End must Step-Down inside as he recognizes the down block. This moves his gap-control one hole inside.  For the 9 tech End, in the case of the Triple Option Outside Veer coming his way, he will be in a position to take the Dive.  This allows the Sam Backer the ability to scrape around him for the QB.

The angled Defensive End is very important in defending the Option play.  For the 9 tech End, in the case of an arc-blocking TE, the End is able to slow the TE's release and still fulfill his duties of attacking the QB on the Option.

For the 5 tech End, if the Option play is directed toward the weakside of the formation, the angled 5 tech End attacks the Offensive Tackle and slows his release as he is attempting to block the Mike Backer.  This puts the End in position to take the Dive portion of the Triple Option and allows the Mike to scrape over the top and take the QB.  The Will Backer can assist  on  the QB or attack the Pitch phase.

Concluding Thoughts

It is important to remember that the 4-3 defense was originally organized to attack the Triple Option Wishbone offense.  While it is not possible to totally stop Option attacks, the 4-3 gives us a weapon against this offense.

With that in mind, it is important for coaches to learn, follow, and teach the rules that were laid out originally with this defense.  Every position and technique of the 4-3 Over has its important part to play if the Triple Option offense is to be held in check.  The 4-3 Over is best described as "a complicated dance" where everyone must do their part or the whole thing will come apart.  Coaches should be advised to learn the elements of Block-Down Step-Down, 1-gap 1/2 a man defensive line techniques, the idea of "Spilling" the ball carrier, and lastly Force vs. contain.

While the ideas of the 4-3 Over Defense were radical when they were first presented in the 1980's, they are now considered the basis for modern defensive football.  It is now the standard for defensive football at most levels and is an important weapon against the Triple Option offense.
DE Keys
1.  Block-Down-Step-Down vs. Inside Veer
2.  vs. Run
3.  vs. Loop, take QB
4.  Run to You: Cross Face of OT
5.  vs. Rocket motion
6.  vs. Pulling Guard "Log" Block
7.  Run Away: Check for BCR (Bootleg, Cutback, Reverse)

1.  Not Getting Hands on OT
2.  Not Crossing Face on Run to You
3.  Not Holding Your Ground
4.  Slow Off the Ball
5.  Not Taking QB vs. Loop
6.  False Step
7.  Not Looking Inside for Pullers
8.  Not Checking for BCR on Run Away

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 OJW any questions about DE Play.