The so-called “wide nine”

Apparently the buzzword around the NFL for sounding like you know what you’re talking about is the phrase “wide nine.” This refers to a technique the Philadelphia Eagles have used this season, where the defensive end in a four down lineman front slides a few inches or a foot or so to the outside and sometimes will tilt towards the quarterback. It is, in short, the defensive end getting in pure position to rush the passer. It’s called a “wide nine” because the technique, i.e. the specific alignment, of defensive linemen is categorized by a numerical system often credited to Bear Bryant (and also to Bum Phillips). The “nine” technique is the one outside the tight-end.

Greg Cosell of NFL films gives a decent version of the overly glowing if not mystical analysis of the technique below. (Of course the offense has only one tight-end, so the right defensive end isn’t really even playing a nine technique at all, but such details must bow before the intrinsic coolness of calling something “THE WIDE NINE.”)

Obviously there’s no magic to this: it’s just telling your defensive ends to pin their ears back and to rush on passing downs. Indeed, moving those defensive ends out that wide opens up all manner of attendant issues, issues that the Eagles opponent’s have routinely exploited this year. Specifically, by aligning the defensive end so wide the end has farther to go to get to the quarterback and, in the clip above, the left defensive end is so focused on rushing the passer he doesn’t bother getting a jam or chip on the tight-end. Moreover, this technique (it’s a technique if anything, there is no such thing as the “wide nine defense”), obviously opens up all kinds of issues in the run game: the defensive end aligns so wide the interior offensive linemen can quickly get up to the second level defenders like the linebackers, and the defensive ends are easy marks for traps, draws and counter plays as they sprint upfield.

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Bud Foster of Virginia Tech explains his “field dog” pressure

As I’ve previously explained, Virginia Tech’s “lunchpail defense” has gone through several evolutions, despite remaining one of the elite defenses in the nation:

In the nineties, many teams tried to emulate Frank Beamer and defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s scheme, with its premium on defenders stacking the line to either stop the run or scare the offense into abandoning it and apologizing for having considered such a silly idea. Yet the spread has effectively run the eight-man front out of college football — at least as a base defense — with its reliance on quick, easy throws, quarterback runs and “speed in space” philosophy.

But here’s the rub: While the defense Virginia Tech made en vogue was effectively countered, the actual schemes Beamer and Foster have put into practice in Blacksburg have evolved, year-in and year-out, to maintain the most dominant defensive legacy in the country: Since joining the ACC in 2004, the Hokie D has rebounded from subpar years in 2002 and 2003 to finish in the top-10 nationally in both yards and points allowed five years in a row — despite overhauling their base defensive scheme, to zero fanfare. . . .

As Bud Foster told ESPN’s Mark Schlabach, “Back when they played two tailbacks, you could put eight or nine guys in the box. Now they’re making it tougher to do that because of where they place their people.” And so, he explained, with offenses “putting five or six athletes out in space,” the Hokies too had to “put athletes out in space.” . . . [And w]hat makes Tech’s “quarters” coverage particularly interesting is that they have not actually changed their old “G” front, they have merely removed one guy from the box and lined him up at safety without changing his aggressive responsibilities against the run.

Below is a clip of Foster explaining some of the nuances of one of his base zone blitzes from the new(er) split safety/Cover four look I explained previously:

Paragraph of the day

Unlike GERG [former Michigan defensive coordinator, Greg Robinson] he [new Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison] has patience with questions, especially football questions. GERG wanted little to do with the press and had no patience with anything resembling a football question. (I asked whether he would be playing “one or two gap” a couple of years ago. He looked at me like I was crazy (maybe I am/was, probably the question was idiotic) but he responded (and repeated himself) with “Let’s just say by the end of the season you’ll be happy with our defense.” Uh, well, not exactly.)

That’s from Craig Ross’s writeup of the coaching clinic at Michigan over at mgoblog. Read the whole thing.

Anatomy of a game winner – TCU-Wisconsin

Sometimes you can scheme it up, even execute it up, and then some guy named Tank bats the ball down and you go home a loser. On the final two-point play, TCU had this defensive blitz on:

blitz

On the two-point play, TCU made two errors: the weak safety failed to cover the tight-end/innermost slot to the three receiver side, and had a blitz error:

block

Wisconsin used a 4 man slide to the right to pick up the TCU blitz. This should not be problem for the DOG blitz, because 5 men will be coming with only 4 to protect. (4 From the dog side plus the nose.)

Just looking at the side of the Dog, someone should be free. Even if the Wisconsin center and guard pick up the D-Tackle and Sam Backer (which they did) the tackle should be in a lose-lose with the D-end and SS. The breakdown happens here. Wagner [the right tackle] made a great play by pushing the D-End down to the ground preventing the end from cutting inside of him, and then came off to block the SS #28 Colin Jones. It was impressive.

I have not seen nor think I will ever see an O-Line coach expect one his linemen to block 2 guys like this. It goes to show how good the Wisconsin offensive line is.

And yet….

“I was definitely on the blitz,” Carder said. “We thought they were going to run. Coach [Gary] Patterson put me on the blitz. I got blocked so I stepped back and he [Tolzien] cocked his arm back and I jumped up and swatted it down.”

Wisconsin had, really, the perfect playcall, but it didn’t matter, because TCU made the play. Credit for the above to Runcodhit. Read the whole thing.

Eliminating “daylight” from the axiom “run to daylight”

[Ed. Note: This post is by Jerry Gordon, a defensive guru (and good friend of mine). He recently authored a book on the 4-3 under, Coaching the Under Front Defense.]

The only way to stop backs like Herschel Walker is to eliminate their daylight by filling all the gaps.

The term “run to daylight,” made famous by Vince Lombardi through a book named just that, became a mantra for running back coaches across the country. It is also (unsurprisingly) exactly what defensive coaches fear the most — a runningback who can see the hole and run to daylight.

I was a college running back coach for six years in the early and mid 1990s and coached a kid, Rene Ingoglia, who did a bit more than simply havet a cup of coffee with the Buffalo Bills.** I asked him what he saw when he ran the ball and how he always seemed to find the hole. He told me that all he saw were flashes of color and he simply went to the hole where there was no color.

From us defensive coaches, it is up to us to provide a solid wall of color that encompassing every possible hole or gap. Although this seems simple in theory, it is much harder than it appears. Defensive coordinators are confronted with a number of problems.

First lets take a look at the I-formation, the formation of the great running teams of yesteryear. Over the decades the I has produced some of football’s most prolific rushers, including Archie Griffin of Ohio State, O.J. Simpson of Southern Cal, and Herschel Walker of Georgia. Any defensive coordinator worth his salt has to have a plan for the I.

As you can see in the image below, an offense in the I presents seven gaps to defend.

As stated above our goal is to put a player in each gap. The problem is that the gaps are not stationary. Let’s take a look as the offensive lineman come off the ball to our left .All the gaps have moved. Each defensive player must move and still fit into his proper gap. Remember the offense know the snap count, we don’t.

In the diagram below, all our gaps have moved to our left.

In the next figure, we are aligned an under defense, which a common front against teams that have a tight end and two backs in the backfield. Under defense is generally characterized by a linebacker over the tight end, defensive ends aligned in an outside shade on the offensive tackles, a nose shaded on the center to the tight end and a defensive tackle in an outside shade away from the tight end.

The important thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter what front we present to the offense — all gaps must be filled with color. A motto that I picked up from CoachHuey.com is to “play defense, not defenses.” It’s more important that we play well as team than to present a ton of different defensive looks to the offense.

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My take on Penn State’s old school/new school D

Check it out on Yahoo! here. Thanks again to the Doc. Hope you all enjoy it.

Nick Saban schools you on how to play pass coverage

saban22This is seriously one of the best explanations of this I have heard, from a coach or anyone else. I guess it helps that he’s been doing it for thirty-years. And keep in mind, this is from his radio call-in show. Not your typical call-in.

Although Saban is known for having one of the most complex defenses schemes to play against, he has a pretty simple philosophy for how he wants defensive backs to defend opposing receivers, whether to play the ball or the man. He explained it without too much coach-speak during his radio show last Thursday:

“There were several occasions last week [against Florida International], where guys should have played the ball and they didn’t. That’s something [where] if you can see me on the sideline I’m always going to be yelling at them, ‘Why didn’t you play the ball? Why didn’t you play the ball?’

“Let me explain it to you this way: There’s two positions you can be in when you’re defending a receiver. You’re either ‘in-phase’ with him or you’re ‘out-of-phase’ with him. Now, . . . ‘in-phase’ means that you’re pretty much even with the guy [as he runs straight downfield], but if you can see the guy’s number nearest [to] you, you’re in-phase when you’re covering him down the field. So when he gets through the move area — the move area defined being 14 to 18 yards down the field where the guy’s going to break a route in or out — we play a lot of closed coverage, [i.e.] we’re in bump-and-run a lot; we’re in that position with the guy when he gets in the move area. Now, if you’re in-phase with him when he gets into the move area, you should be become the receiver and look for the ball. That’s what you should do, and then the ball has to go through you.

“If you’re in the out-of phase position, which means you can’t see his near number, you can’t be even with him, then you have to play the guy’s eyes and hands for the ball because you’re not in position and if the quarterback throws it correctly [on a fade type pass] you’re not going to be able to get to the ball — you’re behind him too far.

“Now, to explain why some of the guys didn’t play the ball last week, is [this is] what FIU is really good at: If you play bump-and-run and you have pretty good corners, and they keep the guys cut off, that means my shoulder is ahead of his shoulder going down field so I can control his speed and he can’t run all over the place, [and because] I have good coverage on him, they’ll throw it to what’s called the back shoulder [fade]. By the time you turn around he catches it.

“The way the defensive back should read that is you read the guy’s upfield shoulder and when his upfield shoulder turns back you should turn into him and play the ball into him and you’ll be able to play that pattern. I think with a lot of our guys we probably over-coached that last week and did it in practice a lot. They were waiting for the guy to make the back shoulder throw when he had him cut off and they ended up not playing the ball.”

So much good stuff in here, but I particularly liked this last bit about reading the receiver’s “upfield” (i.e. inside) shoulder so as to defend the back shoulder fade. The idea that your man coverage DB wants to turn away from the QB and “into” the receiver when he opens up to catch the back shoulder fade is a very good coaching point.

(H/t deaux on CoachHuey.)

Wild Bill: double coverage and drawing up plays in the dirt

belichickerSome interesting tidbits from the post-game pressers regarding Bill Belichick. First, his defensive tactics against the Falcons and how worried he was about Falcons tight-end Anthony Gonzalez:

Q: Can you talk about the job the defense did on Tony Gonzalez? He was a big topic of conversation this week.

Belichick: Well, he’s good. We devoted a lot of coverage to him. We doubled him a lot and he’s a guy — game plan-wise — that you’ve got to account for. You’ve got to put some coverage on him; he’s really hard to handle. Again, I thought our guys stepped up and did a good job on him. We doubled him plenty of times and he still caught the ball. He’s tough, but then we held up in some other spots as well. Terrence [Wheatley], Shawn [Springs] and Leigh [Bodden] really did a good job out there. We didn’t give them very much help and they stepped up to the challenge on a good group of receivers and did a competitive job. . . .

Q: Can you talk about the job Brandon McGowan did today? It looked like he was part of your coverage on Tony Gonzalez.

Belichick: Oh, he was. Brandon [McGowan], it seems like he does a good job for us every week in the kicking game and on defense. He’s involved in a lot of plays, makes tackles and is a good coverage player and he did. He had a lot of responsibility on Gonzalez today. But we put a lot of coverage on Tony, too, and I’m not taking anything away from the job Brandon did, but we gave him some help. I mean Gonzalez is almost impossible to matchup with. . . .

Q: Were there changes defensively in the second half?

Belichick: No, not really. It was basically the same game plan we went into the game with. The calls matchup differently like they always do. Certainly, a big part of this game was to deal with Gonzalez, which I am not coming in here talking about him being seven [catches] for 110 [yards] with two touchdowns. . . .

And then Tom Brady had some interesting insight into Belichick’s role with the offense, specifically in drawing up plays in the dirt:

Q: On the Chris Baker touchdown, a guy had you in his grasp, but you were able to get away from the defense and deliver the ball well.

Brady: Yeah it was great protection. It wasn’t how we drew that play up. It was pretty much on the sideline, Coach Belichick said, ‘Well, what do you think about this?’ The guys that ran the play didn’t run it all week in practice and they made an adjustment. Chris [Baker] has been really dependable for us since the day he got here, and he made a great catch and run. . . .

Q: You said Bill Belichick drew up the Chris Baker touchdown play on the sideline. Was he more involved in the offensive communication with you and the play calling this week?

Brady: He’s always involved. He’s involved in every play that’s called. That one, like I said, we just kind of drew it up there on the sidelines and made it work.

Monte Kiffin’s scheme for Urban Meyer’s offense

monteMuch of the offseason chatter around the SEC centered on how the legendary Monte Kiffin, now the defensive coordinator for the University of Tennessee under his son, Lane, would deal with the extremely productive but decidedly “college” (in a good way) Florida Gator spread offense, orchestrated and designed by Urban Meyer.

And, while the game itself, a 23-13 affair, was quite possibly a snoozer, the ennui that has followed the game has been remarkable. The storylines have swirled: Tebow’s passing was questionable, Meyer says that he put the brakes on because Lane Kiffin wasn’t interested in winning, and he mentioned that his team was flu-stricken. Yet there is no overshadowing that Monte’s defense did a nice job against Florida’s offense. His plan was to take away the inside run game and make the receivers beat them. And, indeed, the subtext of Meyer’s post-game comments indicate that Monte’s plan was pretty much on target:

“You don’t have to be a genius to figure out the strength of our team right now,” Meyer said. “And that’s a big offensive line running off the ball and a freak quarterback that just takes the game over.

“Is it perfect? No, it’s not perfect. But until we get the full allotment, the full compliment, of wide receivers playing at the level we need them to play, we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to win.”

So what was Monte’s plan? A few bullets:

  • The basic theory was clear: focus on Florida “inside to out,” meaning focus first on the line and the gamebreaking runningbacks, then on Tebow running and the inside receivers and tight-ends like Hernandez, and, only last, Florida’s outside receivers. I had predicted Monte might do this, but I was wrong with his prescription. I had said they might plan man and use Berry as a “rover” like Dungy used Bob Sanders. I was wrong: Monte played zone defense almost exclusively, played his cornerbacks way off usually to help deep inside, while the other nine guys — Eric Berry included — all kept their eyes in the backfield. And this is why Monte gets the big bucks: this was better than what I had suggested.
  • For example, Kiffin played a lot of Cover 4 or “quarters” against Florida. Florida, in turn, uses a lot of “trips” sets with three receivers to a side to try to force them out of it. The defensive adjustment is to have the safety to the single-receiver side cheat over and help with the inside slot. The diagram below shows this, though I admit it looks a little confusing. The point is that the safeties help with bracketing coverage but also fly up for run support; both guys can hit people on the line of scrimmage.
    cover4trips
  • Where are the weaknesses? To the outside receivers. The single receiver backside is basically in one-on-one coverage because the safety to his side has cheated over for trips. Yet Tebow could not get the ball outside.
  • And when he tried, the Gators looked awful. Tebow was 14-19 for 115 yards and an interception, and also took a couple of sacks. First, Monte was able to make Florida’s line look poor with a lot of stunts and occasional blitzes, though he never brought an all-out one. Frequently, Tebow had very little time to go through his reads.
  • But even when he did, he looked off-kilter. The interception he threw to Eric Berry was a prime example. Kiffin changed up his coverage to what was (I believe, the camera angles were not great) an “invert Cover two” where instead of two deep safeties, a safety and the cornerback played deep. Yet this wasn’t heavily disguised: Eric Berry just sat in the flat. Tebow stared at him, and stared at him, and stared at him…and then threw him the ball. (Senior?!) Anyway Kiffin was mixing up the schemes well, but again the common theme was zone with pressure on Tebow to get him rattled.
    berry_pick
  • Below is video of the pick; it should begin at the proper point. If not, skip ahead to the 0:50 mark.
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Breakdown of USC’s multiple D versus Ohio State’s Terrelle Pryor

Read the whole thing over at Dr Saturday. I discuss Pete Carroll’s move to more of a Cover 1 man look against mobile QBs, and at a few of the plays that OSU might use to counteract that. One I didn’t get into is one shown in the video below, a pretty nasty QB draw/counter play Ohio State used last season with Pryor.

For help I want to thank Art of Trojan Football Analysis and Jerry Gordon for their insights, and the invaluable Brophy for the game film that launched a thousand (or more) words. And for more nitty gritty, TFA has a nice series. See parts one, two, three, and four.