Sunday, December 27, 2009

4-2-5 Away Side Run Support

4-2-5 Run Support

One of the biggest questions coaches unfamiliar with the 4-2-5 defense is playing the run. The idea of stopping the run with one less linebacker is scary to some. This is an easy misconception to dispel. The 4-2-5 can be as effective as any other scheme at stopping the run out of standard sets.(Double tight three back sets can call for different personnel if size/strength is an issue.)

First, it is important to note that the 4-2-5 vs 2 back 1 TE sets (21 personnel) acts as a 9 in the box defense versus the run. See Diagram below.

Versus the standard pro-I run strong, the run fits are similar to traditional split-6 cover-3 run fits. There is a major difference, in the 4-2-5 the safeties remain flat footed and do not move until they have a run pass read. It is not unusual to see the safeties making tackles right up on the LOS. The aggressive play from the safeties allows the linebackers to play the run fast because there is a safety covering the cutback.

The aggressive play of the safeties also affects the way you can use your front. In this scheme you can (and should) have your linemen wrong-arm blocks and spill the ball outside. This is advantageous because you have fast-flow linebackers and safeties that can quickly get to run plays that spill outside. Look at the diagram below and see how the outside support can get there quickly.

The linebackers and FS are pursuing the ball inside-out while the WS is forcing the ball back to them. If the ball carrier happens to cutback, the SS is folding to the cutback. However, it is important for the pursuit and alley players not to over-run the ball. It is not sound to put the SS on cutback without any help.


One of the things that makes the 4-2-5 unique is the run support games and run techniques it utilizes to the away side. The first thing to understand is the positioning of the away side linebacker in respect to the away side coverage and formations it faces.

In this example the away side is in cover blue. The WS is aligned 8-10 yards deep and the C is 4-6 yards deep. It is difficult for players at this depth to play the run quickly while maintain good pass responsibility on the WR's. (If you put either the WS or corner on force/pitch in Cover Blue vs a twins set, you will be short handed.) The away-side linebacker, the Mike (M) in this example, stacks behind the DE to assist here. There are two advantages with his alignment. #1 he is in better pass alignment for pass coverage whether or not he needs to slice under #1, man the back, or drop and cover the middle hole. #2 On weak-side runs that attack outside, he can take the pitch on option and funnel runs back to the other linebacker and FS.

If the away side is in man, he needs to align here as well to cover the back and force the ball inside. Away side man looks like this

On weak-side runs, it is hard to count on the WS or corner to help out on the run, when there are locked up in man. The one thing you can do is teach your WS to read the WR for run/pass. The coaching point here is teaching the WS to read the WR's eyes. If the WR looks at you, it is probably a run, take a step inside to check. If the WR follows your step, get around him and play the run. On the other hand, if the WR is not looking at you, he is most likely running a pass route, because he is looking for his aiming point to catch or break off from his route. Teaching this takes times, and good teams will run your WS off on run plays so, on runs weak the linebacker is needed to force the ball.


The linebackers alignment can change depending on the zone coverage you use on the away-side. For example, if the call puts the Safety on pass-first and the corner playing the flat/force (squat-halves coverage) the backer may need to play closer to the slot receiver. This allows the backer to wall the slot easier and prevent the slot from catching quick throws. (This is not a necessity but can be a great scheme that throws off the offense.)

This alignment at first glance looks like 5 in the box. For the standard spread team, this appears as an ideal run situation. However, on run plays, the box quickly turns into 7 people. The flat-footed FS and away-side linebacker can quickly fall in. The important thing for the linebacker is that he fall into the B-gap. In this front the nose is to the away-side, so the linebacker is assigned the B-Gap. But, what happens when the Tackle (3-tech) in the B-gap is aligned to the away-side? This can be a problem, but the scheme can answer this. Will Muschamp at the University of Texas (a 4-3 base team) handles this situation by stunting the tackle into the A-Gap, allowing the linebacker less ground to cover on run plays.

Muschamp calls this a "SPIKE" technique (TCU calls this a TAG). The idea here versus the spread is to push the ball to the B-gaps. In split safety coverage this allows the secondary to play the run easier. In MOF (Middle of the Field) coverage, you do not need to do this.

Strong run support and weak run support look as follows with the TAG (Spike) technique. (The Read side is Cover 2 (Robber).)

In weak-side runs it is important for the FS to check the B-gap before pursuing play side. This gives the SS time to pursue to the cutback.


In 3x1 sets the WS usually has force. For example, if the trips call is SOLO, the WS aligns 1x6 off the offensive tackle and is responsible for force/pitch. on run read plays his job is to turn the ball back to pursuit. Also, the linebacker can move back into the box over the B-gap, because of the WS alignment.

In this scheme it is important to have good communication between the safeties and linebackers. Even more important on the away-side. The WS needs to let the backer know what the coverage is so he (linebacker) knows where to align and play on the run. Versus spread teams it helps to put the linebacker in similar positions.

I am planning to cover box run play in the 4-2-5, linebacker reads, and squat/halves and blue coverage more in depth in future posts.


  1. Coach..Thank you for your detailed explanation of the 4-2-5..especially the run fits..I never really could figure it out..Just a a 2x2 set with 10pp in the game with action away from the free is he responsible for checking the B gap and having #2 vertical?

  2. That is a difficult situation, the major concern is the run/pass read of the FS. He should be keying an uncovered linemen. If the linemen does not release forward he must remain conscious of a play pass and be in position to cover the #2 receiver.

    With aggressive safety play you run the risk of getting beat over the top in situations like this. If it does happen you should have the corners deep playing pass first able to make a tackle.

    Game-planning and and preparation play a big role here.

    Great question.

  3. Also the FS can be a little patient because the SS in attacking the cutback aggressively.

  4. Just not going to let that happen (in HS) unless we were in a 3rd and 10 or a must pass situation

  5. It cleared that doubt that I have about it. Thanks I didn't know that 4-2-5 was that kind of effective. It makes the online bookmaker happier.