The counter is a staple plays that is run across many offensive philosophies. It is the hallmark of angle blocking teams. It can cause numerous problems for the defense, and put tremendous pressure on the d-line and backers. Stopping it is a priority for most teams, whether it is run from the I, wing-t, or spread. Defending it well requires sound alignment, gap-control, and a keen understanding of run-fits. The first step to defending it, involves understanding what the play is designed to do and what key things must happen in order for the offense to execute the play effectively.
STRATEGY OF THE COUNTER-GT
The counter blocking assignments are simple. One player is assigned to kick-out an edge defender (most likely a DE), another is designed to seal a linebacker, and the rest block down and away from the play. The backs job is to run between the kick-out and seal blocks.
The rules for the blocking are quite simple. The biggest thing the offense must determine is which player will be kicked out.
The key block in the play is the Double team of the play-side defensive tackle. Whether the tackle is a 3 or shade-nose makes no difference. The goal of the offense is to blast this player backward into the backside linebacker. The aiming point for the double team is to take the d-tackle past the center. This accomplishes two goals. One, it walls off the backside backer from pursuit, and two, it widens the running lane for the back and stresses the play-side defensive end and linebacker.
If the offense can create the above situation, the defense is in trouble. Determining how to defend the counter is irrelevant. Deciding between squeezing and spilling will make no difference, because the play is gonna gain yards period. Squeezing occurs when the "kick-out" defender squeezes down the line (with the down-block) and makes contact with the guard, keeping his outside shoulder free. The idea in a squeeze is to condense the running lane and push the ball to the linebackers. However, if the double team is able to push past the center the running lane cannot be condensed adequately.
Here the DE does a good job of squeezing, however the running lane is too large because of the double team. The back has enough room to make a cut off the seal on the linebacker. The backside backer cannot help stop this.
Spilling involves the DE and backer essentially trading responsibilities. The DE's goal is to get inside the kick-out and spill the play outside where the backer can make the play. Even with a good spill the counter can still go, if the double team pushes the d-tackle past the center.
Even on a good spill the DE has to much ground to cover to properly play inside the kick-out. The back simply needs to hug the line of his center and double team. The Seal block can easily get the linebacker despite the spill.
DEFENDING THE COUNTER
Handling the Double-Team
This might seem obvious to the typical reader, but is the most important principal when defending the counter. DO NOT ALLOW THE DOUBLE TEAM TO GET MOVEMENT ON THE D-TACKLE! This is a must, don't be stubborn about it. If the O-line is strong enough to drive your D-Tackle back, and no technique can prevent it, then have the tackle cut the linemen and create a pile. You cannot allow the offense to put stress on the play-side defenders.
Once you take care of the double team, you can begin to formulate a strategy of how you are going to defend the counter with your play-side defenders. The main ways are to squeeze and spill. Prior to determining those two techniques, it is important to know how your players will fit into the run. The basic run-fits are detailed below:
(these can change slightly when spilling if the Tackle runs around the guard)
Versus any kick/seal play the two offensive blockers create three running lanes or "gaps". A lane on the outside of each of them and one lane in between them. The idea for the offense is to ideally create an open lane in between them. For the defense, you must be able to place defenders in a position to defend these three areas. If you do not have these three covered the offense is gonna have a running lane. Here is an example of the run-fits if the defense chooses to squeeze. (More on the squeeze will be discussed in part 2)
Using this framework, it should be easy to diagnose the problem that occurs when the double-team pushes the d-tackle past the center. Lane #3 is undefended.
This is just an introduction into defending the Counter-GT. In this section, I talked about the goals of the offense, the most important priorities for the defense, and the principals for defending the play on the play-side. In part II I will go more in depth into the techniques and principals involved in squeezing an spilling.