Smart Links – Strategery Round-Up – 2/27/2012

Strong Scrape Fire Zone and Fire Zone Adjustments:


I have borrowed a lot from Manny Diaz when it comes to Fire Zone adjustments. There are many adjustments that can be run, which include having the DT being a dropper at times, but there are two adjustments that I think are the most important. Diaz talks about how the coverage needs to be the easiest thing as far as Fire Zones go, so it is important that we not over-complicate things. If a defender blitzes the wrong gap, you may have a bad play but it won’t be a disaster. Now, if there is a mistake in coverage, that’s a disaster.

Bill Belichick’s blitz package versus empty:

The Ravens have five potential pass blockers. It doesn’t take great mathematical abilities to realize that if the defense brings 6 rushers there will be a defensive player unblocked. New England gets a free rusher while only rushing 5 by having the Mike and SS execute a read out blitz based on the slide of the protection.


The SS is reading the block of the Left Guard. If the LG blocks the DT the SS blitzes and is unblocked. That is both what is diagrammed here and what happened in the video clip. The Mike is reading the guard to his side as well. If the guard is stepping toward him he will drop out, looking to cover the hot route from the opposite side. The Mike knows where the hot route is coming from because the protection and hot routes are linked. The offense can pick up 3 rushers to the defensive right of the center with 3 blockers. . . .

The offense is more likely to slide to the Mike linebacker than toward a SS. Bill Belichick is manipulating the pass protection by exploiting the offense’s expectation of the SS’s role on defense. A SS should be covering a receiver or a zone not walked up into the B gap to blitz. Where else can you find this pressure concept? In the Alabama playbook of former Bill Belichick assistant Nick Saban.

In defense of success rates:

When I began playing with play-by-play data in the spring and summer of 2007, I decided to take a look at the success rate measure Aaron had created at F.O. for two reasons: 1) it existed, and 2) it made sense to me. As I’ve mentioned before, I love baseball stats, but I don’t really enjoy baseball. I wanted to see what tenets of baseball statistics could be used for football. Success Rate made sense to me, not simply because of Moneyball or because “On Base Percentage >>> Batting Average,” but because efficiency is a good thing, and Success Rate is an efficiency measure (and a pretty good one).

I wasn’t exactly sure how much stock to put into success rates, really, until I began to look at the difference in performance rates between standard downs and passing downs. The clichéd “stay ahead of the chains” truism turned out to be, well, true. I began to find that pursuing an element of efficiency (staying on schedule) alongside your explosiveness makes you infinitely more likely to succeed.

An Interesting Twist on Defensive Line Play in the Four Man Front:

In my early years, wrong arming was the new wave of things, and the “big four” reads above were just being taught. I remember sitting in clinics thinking of how simple and sound this stuff was compared to the old DL reads I’d been teaching in the 50 defense (yes, I was an odd front guy, many moons ago, but not by choice). Anyhow, my defensive coordinator at the time was switching to the 4-3, and all of this made sense and really came into play. We put teams on their ears as they did not know what to do with this new DL technique. Wrong arming was especially tough on our opponents. Back then we taught one-for-one and had our lineman cut any pullers they came up against (we were taught that way back then). Later on we changed this to “running the circle” and getting a two-for-one advantage.

Then comes the spread!

Why did Rich Rodriguez fail at Michigan?

The upshot is that, while Michigan’s offense was largely succesful once Denard Robinson was in place, it never hummed in the way Oregon’s offense did (particularly against better teams) to overcome Michigan’s defense or special team liabilities.

The problem, therefore, was not so much with having a spread-to-run offense in the Big Ten, as failing to adapt to what defenses have done to face spread offenses. Rodriguez may face some of those same problems in the Pac-12 unless he similarly evolves.

Defensive backs in the 46 Nickel:

  • Strong Safety (Spur)- The Spur is a good “all around” athlete. He’s probably the second best pure athlete on your defense. He has the ability to play in space, but is not shy about playing inside the box. He must be physical enough to play the seven technique, yet agile enough to cover a slot receiver man to man.
  • Weak Safety (Whip)- The Whip is the least athletic of all of the DB’s in the 46 Nickel. Even though he aligns in the box, DON’T think linebacker (LB) here. The Whip is protected by two defensive linemen (DL) and an outside linebacker (OLB), so he doesn’t have to be as physical a player as a LB. He does need to like contact, I mean after all, he’s on defense! The Whip should be able to cover man to man, look for that ability first, then move on to what else that player can do.
  • Free Safety- This is the man in the middle. He’s the best athlete in the secondary, and possibly on the team. He must be able to cover ground, love to hit, and tackle well in open space. He must also make all the adjustment checks in the secondary. This is probably your best football player on the team. DO NOT skimp at this position!
  • Corner- Corners are cover guys. The more physical the better, but it’s not a must. The ability to be able to cover a receiver in single coverage is paramount, everything else is secondary. Look for good feet and hips, speed is a plus, but not a must.

Indy clinic nuggets:

“Run the Vertical concept on FIRST and SECOND down, NOT THIRD down.”

Pat Donley, St. Francis (IN)

“On the goalline, the QB should throw a 2 ball and not a 3 ball”

Jay Wilkinson, Broken Arrow High School (OK)

“Avoid throwing to the hitch from the hash to the boundary…@ 35 yard pass to gain 6 yards…”

Josiah Sears, Franklin College (IN)

“Get the Hitch and GO and Slant and GO on tape…it’s one way to ensure soft coverage”
“Why did the Hitch get picked? Probably because you haven’t ran Hitch and Go!”

Kyle Hockman, McEachern High School (GA)

  • Chris, is bill’s empty defense influenced any by situational circumstances? Does he always call this when the opponent lines up in empty, or does he have other things he uses for empty as well?  Thanks for all you do!

  • trusseld

    I’m not Chris, but I am certain he likes the call but has many ways to attack empty. Also, not all empty sets are equal. If the offense uses the te position, they can keep their numbers in pass pro by max protecting. Against such a look, its not as good of a call. 6 v 6 and time to throw against cover 0. Not something most d coordinators are comfortable with. Can also uses 2 tes so the defense cannot be certain where the strength of the protection will be.

  • Tracer Bullet

    I’m a little confused about that first graphic. If “SS” is the strong safety, then what is the “$”? A strongside LB? If so, 1) wouldn’t a SAM come off the field in a nickle and 2) would a SAM be aligned as deeply as the FS?

  • Late in the game the Ravens threw from spread on running situations, making it obvious what the call was, and not utilizing Rice as a play pass threat. Went from taking it out of Flacco’s hand on a series of hand offs, to not disguising his intent when it was time to call for a pass.

    Think with big passers you can challenge them to throw quicks by coming down on routes anyways. Their arm span is so long that the release point of their throw radius will be such that the ball leaves a bit later and it lets the window tighten for possible contact at catch time. That can seriously reduce yards after catch and make wideouts hesitant.

    Most notably the throws to Bolden in that game. Huge catch radius, but a slower guy who lacked the speed to run defenders off his break point.