Ndamukong Suh, the Huskers dominated opponents through the season and narrowly missed an opportunity at a National Championship ( after completely dominating the explosive Texas Longhorn offense in the Big XII championship game).
With such a phenomenal athlete graduating, you'd be hard pressed to believe the defense in Lincoln could improve on such a performance. Think again....
With up-and-coming Sophomore phenom NT, Baker Steinkuhler (55), and his returning linebackers Will Compton (51) and Sean Fisher (42), this youth movement will prove to be a integral part of the Blackshirts rebirth in 2010.
In this post, we'll look at how the Nebraska base front sets the philosophy behind everything Pelini does. In subsequent posts, we'll look at the secret behind their overwhelming pressure and how it relates to these base defensive principles.
Pelini has a made a name for creating fundamentally sound defenses that play fast, year in and year out. Among the signatures of these defenses is a dominating front 7. The fundamental concept behind this defense is his use of the Under / Over defense. This is a 7 man front, complimented by 8-man (front) principles (of bringing a safety down in support).
Pelini will install his entire defense within one practice. This simplicity affords built in answers to everything an offense can present, as well as a foundation to build off of for multiplicity.
Every offense, according to this philosophy, is determined by numbers. The key factor that swings numbers for the offense (at the point of attack) is the Tight End. Pelini spends a lot of time teaching identifying and explaining why teams get into those personnel groupings, then how to handle all adjustments. Once the defense recognizes what an offense presents, it can begin narrowing down the types of actions the offense can deliver in any given personnel grouping. For instance, "21" (2 backs, 1 TE) would predominantly run-centered defense, primarily geared to attack to the Tight End side. "11" personnel eliminates the threat of lead runs and is geared more to the passing game. With "10" personnel, they just need to determine if it is a pro or slot look. The entire defense is built off of where the TE is. So by identifying personnel groupings immediately after a play, the defense narrows their focus to determine if they have to look for a TE or a slot.
"Once you know the personnel you can anticipate formations by process of elimination.
- We treat 12 & 21 the same. In 12 we consider the U the fullback
- Vs. 21 think I-pro or I-slot.
- Vs. 12 think pro or slot pair.
- Vs. 11 we are thinking in terms of doubles (2x2) or trips (3x1) & since there is a TE they can still form a slot. We always go into a game with a check vs. slot trips
- Vs. 10 we are thinking in terms of doubles (2x2) or trips (3x1) & since there is no TE they can’t form a slot.
- Vs. 20 A pro set is the only formation that can be formed. Any change of strength motion, same as, “Y-TRADE.”
With a Tight end in a formation, the Under front allows the defense to match numbers by aligning a linebacker tight, outside the tight end. This gives the defense 4 defenders to a 3 man surface (neutralizing any offensive numbers advantage). Shown here is the under alignment:
The remaining linebackers are protected in the front with a 7 technique and 1 technique in a strong side bubble with the Mike. The common weakness in a tight end formation is the weakside bubble. The under front now covers up this liability with a 3 technique and 5 technique end. This alignment effectively covers up the bubble and protects the 10 technique Will linebacker.
To simplify things, Pelini categorizes his fronts into families, coded by east and west coast cities. Under is west coast, over is east coast. The Under family is based out of Frisco (Under Zone X) and Vegas (man) and its compliment is Boston (Over Zone Y) and Philly (man).
Pelini's defense will always align in a 2-high shell, to always present the same presnap look. Though presenting a 7 man front, the defense will drop the safety away from the Buck to serve as the backside contain player. This method known as "Lever-Spill-Lever" and through it, the defense evens up the numbers (gap fits) available with 2-backs in flow action.
- B-force (curl/flat)
- M-Lever (hook)
- W-Spill (hook)
- BS-Lever (curl/flat)
Dropping the safety, creates an 8 man front, and obviously puts the secondary in a 1-high (MOFC) coverage that essentially amounts to cover 3.
If the front is set (by the tight end), the easiest thing an offense can do is move the tight end and reset the strength of the formation (trade). Bingo! Now, the offense has moved away from the teeth of the defense and has reset against the defense's deficiency.
With each Under concept (play) introduced, Pelini also introduces its front compliment (opposite). If the TE motions or shifts, the Buck linebacker will adjust. If teams attempt to Y-trade (shift the TE after the front is set), the defense already has a built-in answer. Because there is already an automatic response to TE trades/shifts, the advantage for offenses has been neutralized. This effectively eliminates matchup exploitations and offense could typically use before a game has begun.
If more than one player shifts, the defense will simply reset the front (see example below). Notice the DT and NT adjusting their alignment ('1' to a '3').
With the Over front, the same principles apply, with the exception of the Buck linebacker making the adjustment (away from the TE) and shifting the front (1 & 3 tech).
The Lever-Spill-Lever concept still applies to the Over front, simply by adding a down safety (away from the Buck linebacker) into the 7-man front.
As you’ll see in this example, Virginia tech comes out in slot to the field (walking the Buck out on the slot) and attempts to set the front with a tight end and upback to the field (quads). You can see the linebackers attempting to set an Over front (and looking at the front like, “you can’t be serious – who are you fooling with this quads set?”). Tech quickly shifts (aha!) to outflank the defense, only to have the linebackers simply reset the front with little thought required.
The corner assumes the boundary role to the closed side and acts as the force player (with the SS as help over the top).
The flow action has the corner establishing leverage to cut-off the perimeter and the Will (#52) fast-flows to leverage the runner as the ‘lever’ player. The Mike (#51) slow plays the action to squeeze the runner inside-out as the spill player.
The ball carrier is left with no legitimate options to find daylight (bounced to boundary corner or trapped by the spill / backside lever player). The backside Buck (#42) enters the play in a controlled lever position.
In subsequent posts, we'll take a look at how, out of these base concepts, Pelini routinely generates pressure through personnel groupings and coverage to frustrate and stall offenses.