Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sorting Out 1-Back Protection (2x2 / 3x1)

In this post, I am going to illustrate the simplicity and advantage to spreading the field out with 1-back formations as it pertains to securing the thrower.

When advancing the ball, the most efficient path is undoubtedly the best. The path of least resistance is often defined on the field by number superiority (more bodies at the point of attack than your opponent). This can be achieved by outflanking a defensive alignment to an offensive formation, both horizontally and by their vertical support.

An academically flexible attack based on this premise is the Air Raid 1-back philosophy by way of 2x2 and 3x1 formations. Similar to previously discussed 'divorced coverage' principles of the TCU defense, because the formation threats remain constant, you limit the variance of defensive looks you will receive simply by numbers.

With 4 receivers removed from the formation, the defense must displace players (to match) or risk being immediately at a disadvantage. Doing so leaves them with 7 defenders (11-4) against your thrower. In the box, the defense has matched the line, back, and quarterback in numbers, but it leaves virtually no help on the perimeter (speed option/screens) or any support with one-on-one receiver matchups. This Cover 0-type example is exactly why, if you plan on "spreading out", the very FIRST thing you do is have an answer for pressure/blitz (will cover in detail in later posts).

If you have any semblance of a passing game, the defense will be required to provide some type of deep support. By adding 1 deep defender support, you have now reduced the number available in the box to 6 defenders (11-5) . With your offensive line and back (5+1) you can easily account for the 6 remaining defenders. The only guesswork becomes,"who takes who"?

Through the Air Raid philosophy, the passing concepts are distilled down to elementary equations; what is launch point to be protected (timing)? No slide, zone, or calling backs in for protection, just declare who has what and it will all be sorted out post-snap.  What it essentially boils down to, when you spread the field horizontally, is that you only have to account for the defenders within "the box" (tackle to tackle).

To accomplish this, the vertical set protection is required. This is simply a retreat by the offensive linemen to put distance between themselves and the rushing defenders. If, to get to the passer, the defender first has to go through the offensive linemen, then negotiating that first obstacle only becomes delayed when the offensive line retreats. Much like we detailed in punt protection, the vertical set is a constant vertical plane that the lineman backpedals along ensuring that he never widens, chases, or otherwise out-positions himself from his assignment. This also aids in the simplicity of BOB (big on big) recognition. The linemen will pick up all down linemen, plus the middle linebacker. Since the middle linebacker may or may not be blitzing, the center will account for him wherever he is (and why whichever 2nd level defender near the center will be declared the MLB, regardless if he actually 'is' or not the actual "Mike") .  What it boils down to in a 4-man front is, the offensive line will automatically take the 4 down defensive linemen, the back will declare which side he is working, and the offensive line will declare/default the opposite 2nd level defender as the "Mike" and account for him.

In the example illustrated above, there will be a possible defensive pressure of 5+1. If the defense brings all 6, the offense has an answer and is in no reason to panic (feel pressured). If the MLB doesn't come, the center assists the near guard (usually against the 1 tech) or continues to retreat. If the 2nd LB doesn't come, the back can immediately flare/shoot into his route as the outlet receiver.

  • If it is a 4-man front, you will end up with 2 linebackers/safeties inside the box.
  • If it is a 3-man front, you will likely end up 3 linebackers/safeties inside the box.
The fronts associated with coverage (and vis versa) become a routinely simple pattern to identify, as detailed before. So with every front, pre-cadence;
  • The center will declare the front (family) and how the line intends to treat it.
  • Followed by a response from the back on which way he will be working (right or left).
  • The center then completes the call identifying the 2nd level threat opposite of the back, hence, the "mike".
The treatment of the front can be accomplished 1 of 2 ways; 'Nickel' or 'Box' calls. 'Nickel' will be any 6 man threat where there will be a 4+1 situation. 'BOX' will be any wildcard situation where the line will account for the immediate 5 rushers and all other blitzers picked up by the back and quarterback as they show.
Nothing changes with an odd front defense, the math is still the same, except that there is an additional 2nd level threat. All down linemen are handled by the offensive line, the back will declare which way he is working, center declares his second level threat (mike), leaving the remaining potential bandit accounted for by the uncovered lineman opposite the side the back has declared.

The previous example provided middle of the field support, but it leaves the defense extremely vulnerable to 4-vertical threats. This can render that deep defender nearly impotent (against 2 quicks to either side). To counteract this, most defenses will attempt to vertically constrict an offense by splitting the 53 1/3 yard field in half (or in quarters). This is the standard answer to bottle up a 2x2 formation, but requires an additional deep defender. With now 6 defenders removed from the formation (11-6), the defense is left with 5 against your passer, making the protection even simpler to recognize.
  • If it is a 4-man front, you will end up with 1 linebackers/safeties inside the box.
  • If it is a 3-man front, you will likely end up 2 linebackers/safeties inside the box.
With only 5 rushers, the offensive linemen can completely account for the threat and 'box' it all. Any wildcards or late prowlers can be recognized easily by the back, if needed.
When segmenting the field into consistent looks, the potential uncertainty (things that will foul up execution) becomes manageable, almost predictable. This is pivotal in efficiently implementing a game plan as well as simplifying the corresponding practice plan to accompany it.

This may SOUND like a lot to account for, lots of interchanging parts.  However, when you live in these formation sets, you'll begin to see that there really aren't a whole lot of fronts a defense can threaten you with and that protection sorts itself out fairly intuitively with your players.

By spreading a defense out, the offense can begin stretching the field to breaking points. When a defense breaks, the offense scores.


Anonymous said...

3 Questions:
Stunts...what does that change..does it force a check into a zone type pass block or a slide scheme?
Secondly, when and how is this back declaring his protection side or is it the center that tells the back where to go?
Doesn't this give away the play? I assume there are dummy calls and calls on runs too, so maybe it is disguised...
We tried the slide technique last year with the back going opposite and didn't like it too much.

brophy said...

Great questions and I apologize for not addressing them in the post

1-vertical set sorts out all post-snap movement. As you retreat, and your man moves away, you keep the vertical set, keeping the back flat, looking for work. You can spend a good deal of time in practice going of specific stunts an opponent likes to bring simply because there really isn't a whole lot to remember in protection (the simplicity the post reviews).

2-this pre-cadence routine (front,back call, mike declaration) happens every play not in up-tempo (indy/NASCAR). Whether it is run,pass, or freeze...they go through the same thing. This also sets up the use of center-called-cadences, where once the protection is called, the QB calls 'ready' (as he would in any cadence) and the center is the one who continues the cadence ("set-hut-hut") and snaps the ball (on his own command).

3-as mentioned, every play looks the same (same declaration routine).