This is part 1 of a 2-part series on alignments. The alignments I will discuss are in no means things I would do every time. Doing the same thing every time to a particular formation is a recipe for disaster. The offense will be able to scheme you, because they will be able to predict what you are doing. Also, you will be in a position where the offense will predicate to you what you will be in defensively. So when looking at these alignments, consider them a solid base alignment that can and should be adjusted to keep the offense off balance.
In this part, I will discuss alignments versus 10 personnel. Doubles and trips variations will be the focus. In part II I will cover spread sets that involve tight-ends and pro running formations.
The 4-2-5 Defense is very flexible to multiple formations. The fundamental thing to keep in mind when aligning to various formations is common sense. The quarters coverage concept is very self-adjusting and does not require too much movement. An important point is linebacker alignment versus 10 personnel spread formations.
The idea behind alignment and coverages in this scheme, is to create an advantage where there is one more defender to each side of the formation (+1 Rule). If there are two WR's to a side, the defense wants to put 3 people in coverage to that side. The linebackers are the people for the most part that allow for this advantage to happen.
As a rule of thumb, the linebackers should slide over to the side that is needed to create this advantage. This usually fits into two rules.
1. Versus a 2x2 formation the backers should slide towards the away-side of the coverage.
2. Versus a 3x1 formation the backers should slide towards the trips.
ALIGNMENT vs 2x2
Versus doubles in the middle of the field, the alignment is simple. If the call is 2-blue-solo. The read-side would be in cover 2 (robber) and the away side is in blue coverage. I will not go into the rules of these coverages, I have discussed this in a previous post. The linebackers slide toward the away side. In the above diagram, the read side is arbitrarily to the left, not because of the back. The read side could just as easily be set to the right. When the ball is in the middle of the field, other factors (devised by game-plan) dictate which side is the read side when the ball is in the middle of the field. A particular receiver, the quarterbacks preferred side to throw, and the opponents bench could all be factors that push one side to be the read side over the other. The time the back plays a role, is the option. If the team is able to run the option well, then the back is an important consideration. However, the offense can easily move the back to the other side and or stack the back behind the QB. This is why the back should not be a dominating factor when setting the read side.
The backers slide to the away side in order to get the mike backer closer to his coverage responsibility and maintain effective positioning on the run. Also, the FS will be involved aggressively to the read side. This allows the backers to slide toward the away side.
One problem with this coverage to the middle of the field is the soft cushion to the slot on the away side. If you sit in this look the offense will attack the away side heavily. The smash, All hitch, and other quick combinations are difficult to cover consistently from away-side blue coverage in the middle of the field. In short, the away side is susceptible to the quick game.
Fortunately, there are a couple things that alleviate this problem. First, the ball is not in the middle of the field often. Usually the ball is on a hash. With ball on the hash, these problems are not as significant.
Blue coverage is much more sound on the hash. The rule for setting the read side in this situation is the field. Versus 2x2 on the hash the FS should set the read-side to the field side. Away side blue is better on the hash for two reasons. #1 The mike is in a better position to get under both WR's, and #2 the receivers do not have as much room to maneuver.
The other thing that alleviates coverage problems when the ball is in the middle of the field, is the ability to mix in coverages to the away-side. The easiest adjustment to the away side is to get into man. Man coverage is designed to take away the quick passing game. If the offense has to guess whether or not the away side coverage is in blue or man, then they will have a harder time attacking you. They will have an even harder time if the WS and away corner do a good job stemming their looks. The backer does not need to stem coverage because his alignment is the same.
The backers do not have to change their alignments. The only thing that changes, is the the away-side backer (mike) is now responsible for forcing the ball and covering the pitch on the option. Again this is not an adjustment that you do all the time. But mixing in blue and man to away-side, when the ball is in the middle of the field, is a solid strategy for dealing with 2x2 formations.
Another important consideration versus 2x2 sets is the splits of the WR's. There are many different variations in their splits, too many to cover in this post. The important point is this: receivers usually alter their splits and alignments for particular reasons. If a slot receiver aligns closer to the core of the formation, he is usually leveraging an outside cut, conversely, if he aligns closer to the sideline, he is leveraging an inside cut. These variations must be accounted for. Here is a common example.
When the receivers get closer to one another, they are usually going to cross somehow. In this particular variation #1 has closed his split and # 2 has widened and deepened his. This is a common adjustment by the offense when the defense puts a defender in outside alignment on the slot. In robber coverage the SS aligns outside the #2 WR. However, versus this variation this would be a bad idea. The offense aligns like this to put the SS closer to the #1 WR. This allows the #1 WR to get around and inside the SS on a slant route easily. The FS will not be in a position to stop the completion. The play to expect here is a Bubble by #2 and a quick slant by #1.
The adjustment in a quarters concept is to adjust the coverage to leverage the most likely route combination. Versus this variation the read side should check into blue coverage. This moves the SS inside the slot in a position to slice the #1 WR, in this case, the slant route.
If the offense does run the bubble slant combination the coverage will be able to play it perfectly. The diagram below shows how the defense should cover these routes.
ALIGNMENT vs 3x1
Versus trips the alignment is simple. The backers should now slide toward the trips side. The base coverage adjustment to trips is to play SOLO coverage. Solo allows the read side to play cover 2 on the #1 and #2 WR The read backer and WS will be responsible for covering the #3 WR.
The backers slide to create a 4 on 3 advantage. The read-side backer is responsible for the short wall of the #3 WR. What this means is he cannot let #3 run a short crossing route. If he lets #3 get across the formation there is going to be a problem, because there is no one on that side to pick him up. The away backer and away corner are both in man coverage, and are not guaranteed to be there. The WS is responsible for covering the deep vertical and post routes by the #3 WR.
Not all trips are created equal. Offenses think too! (For the most part.) Different trips variations are common place in today's game. Some of these variations will make x-out adjustments (like special) more effective. Versus displaced trips alignment should look like this.
The read-side corner will man #1 (x-out), the SS and read-backer will banjo the in and out routes of #2 and #3. The FS will be in deep 1/2 to provide deep support. The SS, FS, and read-backer are playing blue coverage on these WR's. The away side can vary their coverage. In the above diagram I have shown man with the WS in 1/2's. You could also run a 3-way with the backers and SS.
ALIGNMENT TO EMPTY BACKFIELD
Empty backfields are not a major alignment problem either. Keeping with the idea of common sense and the +1 rule, aligning to empty is a simple process of following the rules. If a team run an empty backfield, there are only two things they can give you. 3x2 or 4x1. The same split variation principals apply here as well. Versus a 3x2, alignment should look like this.
The backers should stack behind their respective ends and read for the QB draw. Once they clear the draw they are on slice responsibility. To the read side the corner x-out's #1 so the read backer is slicing #2 and #3. This is the same technique he would be in versus any trips with an x-out adjustment being run. This is not different. To the away-side the backer plays the same technique that he would play versus a 2x2 set. To him it is still just two WR's.
If the offense runs a quads set, there is only one simple variation. Because the offense has 4 WR's to a side, a backer need to now get out of the box entirely to remain consistent with the +1 rule.
By bouncing the backer out, the defense now has a 5 on 4 advantage. The mike is now the short wall player and the WS can run his solo technique, this time reading the #4 WR. Again the #1 WR is discounted because the corner has him on an x-out.
Again these are just some of the things you can do in split-safety coverage in the 4-2-5. The rules are simple and allow you to leverage the formation and plays the offense is in a position to run. In the next part I will cover TE spread formations and 2-back sets.