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).
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.
- 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 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".
- 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.
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.