Thursday, July 28, 2011

Unbreakable Fire Zone

As touched on earlier this year, Manny Diaz makes a great point when he says that his fire zone “is the safest thing I can run”. Coupled with pattern-match principles it allows the defense to congeal itself into whatever form the offense runs like a veritable coverage jiu jitsu.

The point of this post will be to illustrate the flexibility the concept provides where most blitzes would ‘break’ or require a check out of. We will concentrate on how coverage defenders should respond to challenging patterns from typically stressful formations of 1-back and empty. This is an element that we enjoy discussing here; the evolution and adaptations within the game of football.

The key to the success of this type of defensive application remains the teaching methodology that carries concepts over from Cover 1, to Cover 3 pattern match, to Rip/Liz match. The combination of these fundamentals are what the success of the fire zone is built upon. Neglecting or not thoroughly teaching the roles will limit the effectiveness of how players operate within the fire zone.

For the sake of discussion, we’ll narrow the application to the “NCAA Blitz” fire zone that everyone runs, but keep in mind, just plug-and-play personnel groupings because it’s all relative regardless if it is a safety, backer, or lineman taking on the role of one of the underneath defenders. For the sake of clarity in this review, terminology varies from staff to staff, but I will refer to the wall/flat player as the ”SCIF” player and the middle hole/hook player as the “final 3rd” defender.

As we’ve discussed before, any defense can line up against 2-back pro formation, it’s what the defense has to become when confronted by 2x2 or 3x1 sets that determines what the defense actually is.

The best way to conceptualize the coverage matching is that you will zone into the pressure / man (match) away from the blitz.

2 x 2

With the fire zone you’re essentially getting 3-deep coverage, a seam player, and one final defender to match the third receiver to either side (or cut any crossers). Because 2x2 is one-back and essentially a ‘spread’ set, the Rip/Liz check becomes the standard way to aggressively handle the two seam receivers. Instead of passing off receivers or spot-dropping, letting voids develop – this method ensures the routes will be accounted for while still avoiding the inflexibility of true man coverage.

How the remaining back will be accounted for is all that really differs from Cover 3. This also plays into how shallow crossers will be handled (with inside verticals compensated with Rip/Liz). Without the ability to funnel the back between two linebackers, you only have one backer (and lose the ability to ROBOT away inside routes). This essentially has the middle hole player assigned to aggressively match the back (who is #3 receiver to whichever side he releases).

2x2 out of a 3-deep concept (fire zone) will be handled simply by Rip/Liz in all cases. This remains true unless a receiver immediately breaks inside under 5 yards. With inside breaking routes, the defenders will not chase but alert the final 3rd player that he has a route approaching (“cut” as the hole defender). The final 3rd defender will receive an “UNDER” call from one of the outside defenders (an inside breaking route under 5 yards). This is a post-snap call on Rip/Liz to zone off into a 3 deep principle (#1 or #2 takes route inside).

Typically with a shallow, it is paired with a back flaring to the side of the field where the shallow originated to serve as an outlet receiver. This makes for an easy exchange, just like a “rat” call in Cover 1. The SCIF and final 3rd player just replace one another’s receiver, though the distribution remains consistent (the shallow becomes the 3rd route, the flare is the 2nd route, and the post is the 1st route in the distribution).

A more challenging route package for matching would feature the shallow to the same side as the flare. In this example, both SCIF players would carry #2 vertical with the Rip/Liz rules and the final 3rd player would pick up and carry the crosser after receiving the UNDER alert. With all threats leaving his area, the away-side corner would sink and high-leverage the dig route.

3 x 1

Trips formations can be a bit more challenging to the fire zone because it can immediately out-leverage defenders by alignment (3 receiver side). Even though it presents a horizontal stretch, the 3 receiver set can be handled using the same method as the zone-push concept, “Mable”. The first outside receiver would be manned by the corner. The second and third receivers will be (banjo) matched by the SCIF and final 3rd player underneath with the corner to trips manning on the #1 receiver. The away-side SCIF player would immediately look to match the back or whoever became the #4 receiver in the route distribution.

Here, just like in 2x2, the shallow by X precipitates an UNDER call by the corner letting the final 3rd player know he has a receiver crossing the formation (becoming the 3rd receiver / 1st receiver inside to trips) to cut. The away side corner would high-shoulder squeeze the shallow into the formation until picking up the (meshing) drag by Y. This leaves the away-side SCIF player free to jump the back releasing to his side.

The previous two examples showed #2 in the trips being the first underneath out route. What happens if #2 releases inside (such as with spacing shown here)? The H receiver would become the first receiver inside, with the Y being the first receiver outside. Since the H is no longer the #2 route in the distribution, he is passed off to the final 3rd player. The SCIF player matches the Y as the first of these two ‘outside’ underneath.


With empty, the only check required would to be ensure that the rush is coming away from the 3-man surface due to leverage issues. With two receivers away from trips essentially in man coverage and zoning to the trips, it would require the zone defenders to the trips side to be afforded the best possible positioning on the two inside receivers (just flipping where the overload is coming from).  Just like against any trips set, the trips-side defenders would Mable (zone push) into the route dispersion. The away-side would aggressively man the remaining 2 receivers and retain the middle-of-the-field safety.

** PS **
The slot coverage post is coming.  This pattern match post just happened to be ready first and I don’t want to sit on anything that could help.

Also, if you haven’t figured it out already, our former YouTube account that included many of the cut-ups featured in previous posts has been deleted by Google/NFL Properties.  Hope you downloaded / picked up on those video illustrations while they were up.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Coverage: It’s Academic

Believe it or not, we’re entering the fifth season of this blog, though only getting the hang of it for the last three.  That being said, the next few posts will lean heavily on archived content so not to insult any of you readers by retreading previous topics.

As we’ve covered before,  remaining gap-sound in run-support is a fundamental equation that is addressed every snap based on the formation.  In this post, we’ll look to set a foundation of defensive concepts through fragmentation.  After setting this ground work, it will be followed with different alternative coverage adaptations available to a defense.

One of the biggest mistakes for those learning the game of football is to fixate on the minutiae of various “brands” of defense.  Tying oneself to the dogmatic thinking and going-through-the-motions of “how we’ve always done it” without understanding the rationale of how it all works creates an intelligence rut that becomes a liability.  Defenses exist to defense an offense – they do not exist within vacuums.  On every play you’re defending something the offense is doing to advance the ball.  For this reason, defenses aren’t static entities – they must respond (adapt) to the stimuli they are presented with.   You will hear people declare, “we are a 3-4 Quarters defense” or something to that effect.  That’s great, but there is a reason a defensive concept is employed on a given down, and there is no catch-all defense available.

"Exhibit A"
Belichick on Defense

“At the Browns we played a 4-3,” Belichick said. “We won two Super Bowls playing a 4-3. In ’01 and (‘04). Second half of the ’01 season, we played 4-3 after Bryan Cox and (Ted) Johnson got hurt.”
“In all honesty, most people thought we played a 4-3 at the Giants,” Belichick said.

“Lawrence Taylor did a lot more rushing than he did pass dropping. He was probably 90 percent of the time, 80 to 90 percent of the time he was the rusher in the defense. Now not every play was a pass, but certainly in passing situations and on a lot of pass plays, he was the designated fourth rusher which really put us in what amounts to a 4-3. I think honestly that’s somethingthat’s a media fabrication. There are a lot of different alignments out there, you see 4-3 teams use odd spacing, you see 3-4 teams use even spacing.”

“Look, you have 11 players,” Belichick continued. “You can put them in various positions. Whether you want to put it in the pregame depth chart as one thing or another I think is a little bit overrated. You play different fronts, you play different spacings and you teach the techniques of your defense and that is what is consistent. The techniques that are taught in the different defensive systems, whichever one you want to talk about, are consistent within those systems.

A defense really just needs to be concerned about offensive numbers (and how to match them) and the offensive capabilities from their alignment.

While touched on a while ago with TCU’s split-field philosophy,  the divorcing of the secondary from the front minimizes the detail of checks a defense would need to concern itself with as well as compartmentalizing the teaching method for each player position.  While coverage and front remain related by arithmetic, they can become independent of one another and still function together seamlessly.

its nothing but numbers

First things first is to match the front.  In every offensive formation you will have 5 offensive linemen, creating 6 gaps for an offense to attack.  The defense should have a plan to account for these 6 gaps presented, typically with 6 defenders (i.e. “the box”).  If we (continue to) use the 42 Nickel as a base concept (all of this remains true if you’re a 4-3, 3-4, 33, 50, etc), your bare minimum in the box will be 6 defenders that won’t ever have a reason to “break” their alignment because they ARE the box (they are the minimum gaps being defensed).
As more offensive players are introduced into the box, they create additional areas of attack through leverage (gaps).  The defense will fundamentally respond by adding more defenders to this area or risk being out-numbered at the point of attack.


Adding an additional back or tight end to the formation creates even more running lanes, necessitating yet another defender into the box to compensate.

All of this becomes a very academic application that generally gives you a clue as to what and how an offense is trying to set up its next play;
  • if you get 1-back you’ll have 7 gaps
  • if you get 2-back you’ll have 8 gaps
It also lays a conceptual ‘budget’ for the coordinator.  If you get X personnel grouping, you need to respond with Y defensive package and anticipate a limited selection of attacks.

After addressing the numbers in the box, you will have to figure out what you’re going to do with those other guys left in the secondary.   For the remainder of this post (and subsequent posts), we will ignore the box defenders and fragment our discussion into the leftovers of the formation.
With 1-back, we’ll have 2x2 (4 immediate vertical threats) and 5 defenders to match them. image
With 2-back, we’ll have 3 immediate vertical threats with (essentially) 4 defenders to compensate.  With 2-back (or 3x1), you can get away with doing some flexible things to the single-split side without carrying tremendous risk.

Like we discussed in the earlier TCU 2-Read post, we’re going to narrow our focus on the 3-on-2 matchup to the slot receiver side.  When the defense is presented with two split receivers it faces an immediate horizontal stretch (away from the box) while being threatened with a vertical / levels attack.
Fortunately, because of the numbers advantage, there are several ways to play this set between these three defenders (with each having distinct advantages).  Keep in mind, the variations listed below could plug-and-play any one of these defenders into a role (hence the multiplicity in how slot is treated).

You could feature 1 underneath force player and 2 deep coverage defenders (sky, cloud,  buzz).  This could be country Cover 3, quarter-halves, or bracket coverage on the #1 receiver. image_thumb5
You could have 1 deep defender over the top of 2 underneath defenders.  This could be anything such as traditional Cover 2, robber or bracket coverage on #2. image_thumb6
Or have 1 deep defender with 1 underneath (seam) defender that could be Quarters (Meg) or fire zone. image_thumb7

Or it could simply be man-under coverage with deep help. image_thumb8
All of these alternatives can be played from one defensive (presnap) alignment, yet create a world of hurt if an offense filtered their throws through defender reads.

A feature of this exposition should be to illustrate how "what TCU does" (in the secondary) is actually what every other defense (NCAA/NFL) does - they both end up in the same scheme when its all said and done.  With TCU's patented "3 coverages", you end up with a combination of 9 coverages available (2, Blue, 5, 25, 2 Blue, Blue 5, Blue 2, 5 Blue, 52).  All of this is a result of how the slot is played.  Whether you are the Horned Frogs, the New York Giants, or the San Diego State Aztecs.....whatever scheme you call yourself playing; you arrive at the same destination.

With this preface set, in the next few posts we will discuss the many different slot coverage adaptations available to a defensive coordinator.  We’ll explore how they work within the overall scheme, why it is advantageous to not only treat slot sets differently, but also how to effectively keep quarterbacks guessing when confronted with all the variations the defense can give them.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Bama Defensive Fundamentals

We have some things in the works that may prove worth the wait, but here’s our tribute offering to you to TIDE you over….

Fundamental defensive work from Alabama

More videos here Youtube Channel

Friday, July 1, 2011

Food for thought….

Just passing some things I found to particularly interesting as we wind up towards another season….

Noel Mazzone 1-Back Offensive System
why the hell not?

Using the Tony Franklin model of marketing and production, it looks like the charismatic, innovative, and altogether-likeable coach’s coach, Noel Mazzone, has his trademarked football system available through Championship Systems.  Though I know little about this new product, I'm sure this will be a great resource for coaches, the same as “The System” has been for so many others.

If you've seen any of Mazzone's presentations this year or caught any of his webinars with Glazier, you'll know he's pretty liberal with the game and (recent) practice footage and explaining in detail each concept he uses and how he applies it in a game.

We currently have all the drill and play clips from Coach Noel Mazzone’s ASU spring practices and hundreds more offense clips for client coaches to study.  He has already completed his spring install schedule with ppts and play rules, his HS playbook, and video cuts of QB drills.  We also have his 48 page QB manual and 40 page QB techniques/fundamentals book for the development of young QBs for coaches to print and have.  
We have just put up his OL techniques, vertical set, and pass protections webinars and his whiteboard series filmed at ASU has been a huge hit with clients!  He begins his summer webinar series this Thursday for all his members only coaches and will be covering his entire offense from A-Z with drills, video, play cut-ups, and coaching strategies.  His HS playbook, install packets, and QB drills/video are excellent!  Plus, he just finished a one on one session with one of our client college staffs in Minneapolis and a team camp for a high school in Idaho!!  Everywhere he goes, he gets rave reviews on what he is doing with his system!

Visit their website ( ) or give them a call at 719-964-2111 for more information.

* if we’re lucky, hemlock will return soon with a deep look at Mazzone’s philosophy over the years, trending the prevailing memes of the game from the past two decades.

Paul Alexander’s Peak Performance
For those with a sense for deeper reflection and cognitive understanding, Oline guru, Paul Alexander is self-publishing a work that shows considerable promise helping coaches become more efficient skill teachers.
This should provide a real interesting and dispassionate perspective about coaching and training their students for unleashing consistent excellence.