Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Ready for a Return

I have been wanting to make a comeback for a while (6 Years). When I last posted I was coaching Safeties and now I have been a DC, and most recently a head coach. I don’t know if anyone follows this blog anymore, but curious to see.

Like anything, as you learn more you feel like you know nothing. I have a bit of writers block, if anyone has a topic they would like me to tackle, let me know. Let’s start at home base with something 4-2-5. Reply here or on twitter @Mike_Evans12

Friday, January 6, 2012

Exploiting Situations: West Virginia vs Clemson

Dana Holgorsen has earned a reputation for himself by fielding offenses that light up the scoreboard and put up monster stats. He doesn't do this by playing small ball; picking up a few yards here and there. He does it by creating explosive plays. Big plays happen when the offense exploits a weakness in the defense or a defender or two blow their assignment. In the first quarter of the Orange Bowl, the West Virginia offense completed a 34 yard pass to a wide open receiver. This play is an example of how the offense can create explosive plays by exploiting a weakness in the defense.

The play that will be analyzed can be seen here:

This play was created by exploiting 4 primary factors:

1. Situation (Down and Distance)
2. Ball Position
3. Formation
4. Personnel

The first factor is probably the biggest one on a football game meta-level. The final 3 can be chunked together into one thing.


In a previous post I covered down and distance strategy. The goal for the defense is to get the offense into a manageable 3rd down situation (3rd and 7 +). The way to do that is to limit gains on first down to 3 yards or less. This is why the running game is so important to the offense because it can keep the offense out of difficult third down situations.

This play occurred on first down. It is in Clemson's best interest to keep the West Virginia offense from gaining more than 3 yards. In order to do that they can't be overly worry about the big play. This does not mean you allow the big play, but that you get defensive calls in that are more aggressive towards the run. Because of this principal, Clemson would most likely be run conscious in this particular situation. "Run Conscious" meaning probably in a base front with zone coverage.


These next three factors work together.

Ball Position

The ball is on the hash, it is on or around the hash approximately 80% of the time. Modern defenses are even more concerned with ball position because opposing offense have become more creative in utilizing it. The hash is such a concern that many defenses will call coverage strength to the field the majority of the time. One of the few things that will keep a defense from calling its passing strength to the field is trips formations.


This brings us to our next factor. Holgorsen uses a trips formation on this play. Defending trips involves a varied plan of attack in and of itself. When you combine the formation with the ball position a very particular set of circumstances need to be considered. First, the trips are into the boundary. This is not a common occurrence for the defense. Most defensive trips schemes are built on the premise that the offense is running trips towards the field. Boundary trips is in the back of the defensive coordinators mind, but does not call for concern like field trips does.

How does boundary trips effect the defensive thought process? First there is one WR with a ton of field to work with. This makes you think twice about putting a corner one on one with him. Second there is more space to work with for outside running plays, option or stretch being the most probable in this situation. Third, the constricted area that the 3 WR's have makes many trips side passing plays not likely. Finally, the offense can still out-flank the defense albeit with less space. This is still a cause for concern, because if not properly aligned, the defense can be hit for a 5-10 yard running or passing play easily despite the lack of space.

Because of this the defense still needs to align properly to avoid getting out-flanked while being concerned (even more so) with weak-side (field side) runs or passes.

The defense has the classic trips problem, but magnified to the open side. Which side has priority? The trips or open side? One of the things some defenses factor in is the alignment of the back. However, in this particular formation this is no help, because he is aligned directly behind the QB.


Finally the personnel is a cause for concern. In this particular play one player is the main concern. The single side WR Stedman Bailey #3 does not have the most catches on the team, however, he leads the team in yards per reception, yards receiving, and touchdown catches. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that he is doing it on big plays. Bailey's alignment is a concern as well. He is in a position to run a quick out, comeback, fade, or anything else. His alignment opens up a large range of potential routes.

Putting it Together

Factoring all things together it is probably in the defense's best interest to free the field side safety up and have him help on the run and with coverage on Bailey. Calls like Solo or Mable would not be ideal for this situation.


Clemson's Defense

They opted for a basic 4-2 front alignment and the backers are not overly cheated one way or the other. This is considered typical for this formation. The secondary is showing a two shell, which could mean anything. This could be a disguise for any number of things. The alignment that stands out is the boundary side corner. He is aligned outside the #1 WR 7 yards deep. He is not likely to come down into a 1/2's concept. Plus if the corner was playing a 1/2 concept he would need the field side safety to cover #3 vertical or a backer( vs this play that would not have been a good idea either). He appears to be getting ready to bail out.

They end up playing some type of 1/4's concept to the trips side with a 1/2's concept to the open side (could be a bracket).


It appears that the QB might have been (don't know for sure) looking towards Bailey 1st on some type of Air-Raid "Choice" concept.

Upon seeing the double coverage, the QB would work his progression back to the trips side. This is where Dana Holgerson's play call most clearly exploits the situation. If he gets Bailey one on one, then great, throw him the ball (he actually still gets behind the double team). If they double cover him, then he has a play that will exploit the likely coverages that a defense would run on first down.

If you look at the routes, this play type can be effective versus most first down defensive calls. It really hurts Clemson's quarters concept.

The H vertical route draws the Strong Safety's attention. He cannot play the post route by the Z because the H would be wide open. The corner cannot get into coverage of the H or Z because of his outside alignment. The only thing the defense could have called to be solid versus these routes is a 1/4's bails (pure zone). That is not a sound call on first down.

This play makes the corner irrelevant and forces the SS to make a decision. He chooses to cover to the H (wise choice) and allows the z to come open on the post.

The defensive coordinator had to recognize the possibility of these play types, so he must of had a plan for them. Many defense's use backers to play wall technique on the first route to work towards the middle of the field, this forces QB's to throw high balls that give DB's time to break on it.

So where were the backers?

Its was a first down situation, and the offense showed run first. The play action kept the backers from assisting in coverage. You can't blame the backers either. Its first down, Division I linebackers are taught to play run first especially in a 1st and 10 situation.

The play action draws the backers up and because of the coverage called the Z is able to get wide open. What other zone coverages could cover these routes effectively and keep the defense from covering Bailey 1 on 1? Besides pure zone quarters, none really without linebacker help

I am not gonna draw them all up, but think about it.

1/2's: Who is gonna cover the post? There is 3 vertical routes to stress the safeties.

Cover 3: The H is gonna open on the seam with no-one to jam him, unless you play a mable tech and drop the SS down. I already discussed that this is a bad idea considering the other things the offense could do in this situation.

Special: Same problems that Clemson had, the SS is in a tough situation.


This play shows how the defense can be manipulated on 1st down. Given the situation, formation, ball position, and personnel the defense will be influenced to do certain things. If the offense understands what the defense will do, then they will be able to create big play opportunity. This shows why Holgorsen has been successful

Thursday, October 6, 2011


In this post I will focus on defending the trips side of a 3x1 formation. There are certain considerations that need to be made when planning out a strategy for dealing with trips. Here is the good news, usually, defending 3x1 is much easier than defending 2x2 formations. The defenses that have trouble with 3x1 formations are usually defenses that prefer to play the game with balanced fronts/coverages (hence the discomfort with the overload that trips create) or don't understand that defending trips like anything else is a risk reward game. The defense cannot stop everything, every play. The goal is to have the defense in the best position to defend the most likely range of plays the offense can run in a particular situation. Lets look at some different options you can run towards trips.

1. A Cover 3 concept.
2. An X-out concept like Special
3. A Pattern-match coverage with a safety poaching #3 (solo)
4. The Classic: Straight up Man or Man-Free

Using these 4 options we can up with a plan for handling trips in a general strategy. I am not gonna get to much into the technique or scheme of each of these, the links provided offer that. The first thing to consider is disguise.


Disguising coverage in football is done in 2 primary ways.

1. Stemming and Moving around constantly every play to the extent that the offense does not know what you are in pre-snap

2. Show the same look every-time and then stem to your coverage right before the snap.

Either approach can work, but I will discuss the 2nd because it will easier to explain, and in my opinion is easier to execute.

I like running 2-Solo, so I prefer to base my trips look out of that.

From this look you can stem and work into the other looks without much difficulty.

Lets look at the others.

Looking at these alignments it should be evident that there is not too much movement involved in the stemming of each.

Again these are simple examples, but even in their simplicity they can be difficult for the typical High School QB to read. The other disguise principal involves the movement of the SS. Since it is harder for the SS to align himself out of position, he can be the defenses most liberal person stemming. He can move around, show blitz, man, ect.


This comes down to game-planning. The generic rule is to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each coverage. Here is a simple list. It is not complete nor detailed, but sufficient to illustrate the point.

Ideally, the defense wants to be in a coverage that best defends what the offense is trying to do. If the defense expects run toward the trips, then 3-Mable or 2-Solo are best. If the defense is worried about middle and quick game, then cover 1 is the best bet. Finally, if the single WR is a concern, then special bracket is optimal.

No matter what trips coverages the defense has in its package, they need to be coordinated and planned. The best way to protect each one is to mix them up and have a sound disguise for them. This post was a simplistic look at disguising and calling different coverages to trips. If anyone has any questions about anything let me know in the comment section.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I'll be back!

Sorry guys for not keeping up with my posts, I have been in transition. I am getting everything together, and should start getting some posts back up in the next week or two.

Some of the topics will be

*defending trips coverages, strategy, and technique (disguise) By Request

*Drills and Technique for coaching Safeties

*Man Coverage

If any of you have any suggestions please leave a comment, it is a lot easier to write posts when someone gives me some ideas of what people are interested in.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Stopping the Power Running Offense with the 4-2-5 Part II: Double Tight I

In this part, I will look at run fits and alignments versus Double Tight I formations. These are not hard fast rules and techniques. These are not always ideal given the talent or distribution of your players. This is just a base to work from that works the majority of the years. If you want more detail on basic alignment, look at this post.


The call is TITE-2 SKY. The front can set the strength either way, the ideal situation is to have it set towards the WR side. However, you can't always count on that; motion will have jumping and shifting all over the place. The read side is normal, nothing has changed. The FS, SS, Corner, and front align like they versus regular pro-I. The away-side is where things change. The WS shifts to a tighter alignment (anywhere from 1x1 to 5x5; it really depends on the player) angled in 45 degrees. He is the force player. The corner is aligned 4-6 yards behind the DE. Finally the nose shifts to an inside shade on the guard versus the TE. (You could put the corner in force alignment and stack the WS behind the DE, all you would need to tag is TITE-2 Cloud)

The big change here is the play of the corner. The corner is pass conscious but as soon as he gets his read he is into the run fit. If you don't like your corners playing like this, you could personnel another backer/safety into the game or just run cloud on the back side.

The corner has a flat foot read of the TE. If pass shows he has him up and in. If he is out the WS will play him and the corner will gain depth. On run he is a fill player. He works inside out on runs to, and plays the cutback on runs way. You can't let the TE worry the corner too much, you need him active into the run fit. He is essentially a player that has linebacker type run fits, with corner coverage responsibilities. Again, find which player is best at this role.

You really have to get the corner confidence in this technique. You don't want the offense running the ball right at you, with the corner over a nub TE running backwards worried about a TE beating him on deep ball. However, if its third and long and the offense is still in double tight I, then the corner should know that he is not needed in the run fit as much, and can play more pass conscious


Isolation plays create an EXTRA GAP. To remain sound versus this play, the Defense will need to either have a player 2-gap or involve a secondary player in the run fit. This is where the corner playing cutback comes into the picture. When defending the ISO an important thing to consider is how the backers leverage the fullback. Brophy wrote an article about Bo Pelini's defense, and specifically the lever/spill/lever concept. This is one way to treat run fits. I have become a believer in the linebacker making good contact head up to across, and letting the other backer and cutback player, fill where needed. Carl Pelini mentioned the concept at clinic. He explained that offenses were getting better at scheming run-fits. To combat this his linebackers needed to change up the way they hit and leveraged fullbacks and other pullers.

In the diagram the Sam hits the fullback as close to LOS as possible. (If the backer cannot physically handle the fullback then cut him) The Mike will then fill off the Sam, and the corner will work to cutback. The FS will work downhill and fill off the linebacker. Finally the SS and WS will fold and play reverse to late pursuit. The FS and corner need to be aggressive about filling in the run. If the backers and D-line cannot stop the play themselves they should at least force the back to make a cut or two laterally, or cutback in the corner. Either way you want the FS/corner making a play on the back as close to the LOS as possible. If you allow the RB to get out of the hole and into open area at all, you corner/FS is stuck in an open field tackle situation. You are lucky to win those 70% of the time. Getting a tackle made close to the LOS is a higher percentage play.

A Side Note

Do you play the secondary this aggressively every play? No. You don't even do it every 1st down situation. You should do it a good amount of the time, but you need to mix in some more conservative pass coverages to keep the offense from play-passing you to death. In this particular call, the secondary should be alert to the game-plan, and that they need to be aggressive run players.


These fits apply to the counter GT and power plays. When planning for these types of plays, I try to simply them down into a concept for my players. So for simplicity I call these kick-seal plays. The PSDE will spill the ball (wrong arm the puller); he does not need to go to the ground just work inside the kick man. If this is done correctly the back will have to bounce the play a gap wider. Hopefully, the spill will deter the sealer and allow the backer to scrape off of the spilled kick player free to make the play. If the sealer works around the spill then the backer will need to fit up on him. The Mike needs to attack the sealer close to spill and rip across him. This action will turn the lineman's body and cloud the running lane for the back. The back will have to change direction to try to cut up in the small hole between the kicker and sealer or continue to bounce at an angle that's vulnerable to pursuit. The backs vision is clouded by having the backer rip across and turn the corner on the seal man.

The corner will work off the back. If he bounces or takes the inside route the corner needs to fly in there and fill. The back-side backer needs to avoid the double team on the nose. In circumstances like this I like this backer to work behind the double team and make the play in the backfield. (If the double team pushes the nose lateral, then the best thing for the Sam to do is work over the top.) Many times kick-seal scheme are stopped by the back side linebacker running through. Its hard for the offense to account for him. Ask O-line coaches that run the counter about it, they will tell you that the back side backer is the biggest problem for them.

On the backside of the D, the SS works to play reverse to late pursuit, and the FS will work and look for any cutback.


The linemen can't get reached or put on the ground. The tackle, nose and BSDE need to work laterally down the line. The SS sets the edge at a good leverage angle and forces the back to cutback or bounce outside at an angle vulnerable to pursuit.

The play of the PSDE on the TE is key. If the O-line works a full zone like the picture above he needs to push vertical on the TE and stay square on him. He works in this position until he sees the O-tackle release inside. When this happens he can become a c-gap player again. If the tackle keeps working with the TE on him, he needs to slowly work to the D-gap and let the backer worry about the back cutting back inside. The Sam has to be similarly alert to a full zone. He needs to work to a position behind the DE. if he sees the DE work inside to the C, he works around him and the TE and fills.

The FS fills the alley inside out. If the defense executes these assignments there should be nowhere for the back to go. Two players should be hitting the hole unblocked. If the TE happens to work down and block the Sam, then the DE will be free to make play along with the FS.


Again there are different ways to do things, these are the way I like to play the power running game. It part III I will look at defending unbalanced and 3-back running formations. If any of you reading want me to look at some other formations and plays leave a comment and I will try to fit it in.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Stopping the Power Running Offense with the 4-2-5 Part I: Principals

This is part I in a multi-part series. (Not sure how many yet.) In this part I will cover the basic principals to stopping the power running game with the 4-2-5. In part II, I will look at alignments and run fits/techniques versus double tight-I. In the part(s) I will cover unbalanced formations and adjustments like "Flip" and getting the safeties on the LOS to form solid fronts. (ie 4-3 under looks)

People new to the idea of using a 5 man secondary are skeptical, because it seems like it would be difficult to stop a power running team that uses bigger personnel. At times being smaller can put the D at a disadvantage, however, with proper game-planning and practice the 4-2-5 can become an excellent defense for stopping the power run.

I am going to cover some principals and show alignments with run fits versus different schemes. There are so many scenarios and play variations in football it would be impossible to cover them all. Understanding the principals and their applications to various formations in plays will put you on your way to using the 4-2-5 versus power running teams.


1. Align Properly

This is the most important aspect in defending any offense. It is important that you not only align soundly, but align in a manner that the offense is not sure what you are doing.

2. Spill and Overlap

When using a defense based on smaller faster players, you have to keep the ball moving laterally. Having the DE's wrong-arm plays is a must. You could try to squeeze or box pulling plays, but if you run into a team stronger than you, big holes are going to open up.

3. Attack the play before it develops.

There are many things that go into this. If I had to break it down into separate parts, I would say:

-Be Aggressive about getting people to the point of attack. (Be willing to play the secondary on the run more aggressively.)

-Don't let the back hit the hole running full speed. (This is why the spill and overlap concept is a big part)

- Force the back to either dance or make a quick decision into a free defender.

4. Play to win the down and distance game

The other principals are developed from this one. You ideally want the offense to go 3 and out. That can be difficult versus many of these offenses. The power running offense is predicated upon keeping the chains and clock moving. Before I get into the Down and Distance strategy for the defense, I will first look at the strategy for the offense.

Power Running Strategy

On first down the offense is happy getting 4 yards and into a second and medium situation. If they happen to get into a second and short situation they will be really happy. Second and short is the best down for the offense; this is where they will use play action passes and other plays with big play potential mixed in with enough running plays to keep the defense off balanced. If the offense ends up in 3rd and short, they are comfortable running any of their base plays. They feel they can get 4 yards at will with this offense. What they want to avoid at all costs is the dreaded 3rd and long. In this down they can't consistently rely upon their running plays to get the necessary yardage, nor can they utilize their play-action passing game effectively. The options they are usually left with are: 5-step passing, Sprint out passing, screens, draws, and a maybe a spread package. These things are outside the comfort zone of their offense. In short, the power run offense tries to avoid 3rd long more than other offensive systems.

Defensive Strategy

The goal of the defense should be to get the power running offense into a 3rd and long situation. How is that accomplished. Simple by getting the offense to gain 2 yards or less on 1st and second down. OK, its not that simple, but that's the general idea. The best thing the defense can do is get the offense to gain 2 or less yards on 1st down. This will put the offense into second and long, again this is a down that the offense wants to avoid, because it makes 3rd and long a real possibility. The offense has pressure to move the ball on second and long.

The general point is, you want pressure on the offense on 2nd and 3rd down. To accomplish this, you have to be aggressive on 1st down. This is the down to be aggressive versus the run. Most power running teams are not going to go for a pass or play pass on 1st down (unless they feel its high percentage). Because an incomplete pass immediately puts pressure on the offense. They don't want to pass unless its high percentage.

The goal of the 4-2-5 versus power running teams is to get them into a 3rd and long situation.

5. Play to get 3 and outs early in the game rather than later in the game.

This is especially true if you have a decent offense on your team. If you get them to go 3 and out on its first 2-3 drives, while at the same time score 10 or more points, then you have put them in a bad position. 1st, they won't have enough plays run yet to be sure of their adjustments. 2nd, they will not be controlling clock, which is a big part of their scheme. 3rd, they will be playing catch up with a ball-control based offense. If they are down by 10 points or more, then they are gonna have to play more aggressive themselves, this usually leads to turnovers and even more mistakes because they are stuck doing something that they are not as comfortable doing as they are in the running game.

In the next part we will look at the application of these principals by using alignments and techniques versus the double tight I.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


This is part III of the series on Bracket Coverage. You can read Part I and Part II to get caught up to speed.

Combination brackets are match style brackets. At times the coverages can appear like quarters coverage after the pattern distribution. The difference between combo brackets and match-up zone, is the more aggressive man nature of combo-brackets.

I use the term combo brackets for these coverage because they usually involve bracket concepts combined with a man read concept. Before I get to confusing about the whole process, lets jump in a look at 3 different combination brackets.


I have already discussed this coverage previously, but it is the first and easiest combo bracket to understand.

This coverage involves "cone"and "bracket"technique put together. The SS is playing out and up on #2 and the corner is playing out and up of #1. The FS is in the read technique. He is looking to cut and match the 1st inside cut of speed. The Bracket concept becomes clear when the 1st inside cut of speed occurs. If the slot is the first cut, the coverage works like "bracket" if the #1 WR is the first cut it plays like cone.

The key to a coverage like this is to know what it is great against. This coverage is designed to stop routes that involved people breaking to the outside. Specifically it can cover double out routes with no problem. Typical sprint out concepts have trouble versus this coverage. For Example:


Mix coverage combines the two main bracket types, in/out and under/over.

This is confusing for the quarterback and offers bracket coverage on both #2 and #1. This coverage is trying to get double coverage on 2 receivers using only 3 defenders. This might sound like a paradox but it really isn't. The underneath routes of #1 are handled by the SS exclusively hence the trail technique. The under routes of #2 will be handled by either the corner of FS. If both #1 and #2 are vertical the FS will be pushing #2 towards him while the SS will force a high throw to the #1 WR. In both cases the QB's throwing window will be an air ball towards a deep corner who will be in position to make a play on either WR.

If #2 breaks in you will have under/over coverage on #1 with the corner and SS:

If #2 breaks out, the FS will play #1 over while the SS plays under.

If the #1 WR breaks off his route the SS will take him, and you will have the FS and corner playing #2 in and out.

You can see this coverage is strong versus underneath routes. The major benefit to this coverage is that it can be disguised easily.


Squeeze might be my favorite combo-bracket of all.

I don't want to get redundant, but if you understand the principals behind the other coverage I have discussed in this article, then this should make sense. This is simply a combo bracket that closely resembles a pattern read cover 2. The corner is M/M out and up of #1 unless #2 works out. Essentially "Cone" with a read on #2. The SS is the inverse of the corner. Essentially playing deuce with a read on #1. The FS is looking to double the first up field route or split the difference between double verticals.

This bracket squeezes both WR's and allows most vertical and interminably routes to be played effectively. The problem routes are those that involve both WR's working in or out.

I am sorry these posts are coming out later than expected. Off-season, power-lifting, and standardized testing are in the full swing of things. I am looking to do more work on split safety zone blitzes, playing the power running game from the 4-2-5, and scheming empty formations. Is there anything anyone in particular is interested in reading about? Leave a comment if you have a suggestion; I want to write about stuff that people are interested in most.