Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Attacking the "Back to Back" keys with the triple - part I

Sorry for the delay in getting up a new article as I was a little under the weather.

Over the years, the two most prominent comments I hear from defensive coaches are “If you insist on running the option we’re going to hit the quarterback in the mouth every play till he says ‘uncle!” (commonly referred to as “back to back” reads.) and “a 4i totally eliminates the fullback from the triple.” Very simplistic approaches to defense indeed but I still get numerous emails from novice and veteran coaches alike that have a problem with this format of defense. So let’s take a look at some answers when both these problems are present. (see fig.1)

First and foremost, when we built our offense system we built in the answers to these problems so that they can get reps every day, give our quarterback confidence that the answers are there and he does not have to “read his way out” when he is having trouble doing it, and we can execute answers within our system and not be surprise by a defensive front popping up on us each and every week.

We do not, all of a sudden, say “This week we need to put an answer for back to back in.” We do not grab back every week and expect our quarterback to execute the “plays of the week.”
Since our system is based on concepts built within packages, we will handle the 4i and the “back to back” with the following concepts, all taught from the first week and instilled within the system:
1. 42 – 48: Our base triple.

The concept here is that we are a veer / arc scheme whenever possible with the exception being a fifty. We are reading the handoff key (#1) and pitching off the next man. (#2) Built into the concept is the fact that we will not read a 4i, instead we will block the 4i, wrap the FB and turn it into a double option keeping the QB and pitch alive.
2. 41 – 49: Our loop / arc whenever possible scheme. (the exception will be a fifty front or certain 4-3 configurations)

We will again be reading the handoff key (#1) and pitching off the next man out. (#2) In this concept we never block the 4i and will read our way out. Thus all three of the options are alive.

3. 44 – 46: This is our load scheme

We are reading the handoff key (#1) and pitching off support. #2 is going to be blocked (except in a reduced front where he is the handoff key) In this scheme we are basically becoming a QB / FB play although the pitch is alive on the perimeter.

4. 42 – 48 Charity:

In this scheme the 4i is blocked as in any 42-48 (see above) except it is a predetermined give with the FB wrapping around the 4i and making a “soft shoulder” cut under the linebacker who should be, by sound defensive theory, scraping over the top. This keeps the FB alive with the 4i. (It should be noted that in this scheme our tackle only splits 2’ to facilitate the FB’s path.)

For the sake of space we are going to divide the article into two parts. In this one we will deal exclusively with reading out way out. (41-49) In the second article we will deal with the other three ways to block ourselves out.

Reading Back to Back: (41-49) (fig.2)

Over the years I’ve really become more and more favorable to this scheme and, being a triple option team, we will always start off this way: “reading ourselves out.” I know most people frown on this as a method that causes fumbles and insecure quarterbacks. However, I have not had those problems and have linked our success to three reasons:

  1. Mechanics of the mesh and off the mesh.
  2. Teaching spatial focus through the mesh
  3. Practice organization including reps with this scheme every day regardless of what e “expect” to see.
  4. Confidence by the quarterback brought on by pre-snap reads and clues, repetition and knowing we have answers if he cannot accomplish the feat asked of him.

(I cannot emphasize the confidence factor in the quarterback, by teaching all of the above factors and knowing he has another way out – alternate blocking scheme, the quarterback can attack this read with confidence.)

A. Mechanics off the mesh

It is important that the proper mechanics be practiced without the complexity of the read. This simplifies the learning process as he only has to concentrate on footwork necessary to protect himself and the ball without worrying about reading. We do that in a section of practice called “handoffs.” Every offensive day the quarterback will practice all our meshes and where applicable there will be two gives and two pulls. On the first of each segment, he will sprint off the mesh as if there is a soft key. On the second he will use the mechanics listed below for a crash or “back to back” reads. This segment allows for perfect execution of the technique without having to worry about the read.

The mechanics are simple but must be practiced. Versus a crash we want the quarterback to retrace his first two steps, pulling him away from the pitch key and creating better separation (pitch relationship) with the receiving back. (see fig. 3 below) Basically, as the quarterback sees the flash of the crash (see spatial focus below) he will “retrace” his first two steps, snapping the ball to his chest in good position and placing himself in a seated position. The pitch will come out as soon as the second step is in the ground.

It is important to note here that what you say to the quarterback about his job with the pitch key is critical. It is not the quarterback’s job to get hit by the pitch key; it is his job to “absorb” the pitch key. We define absorb to mean that the pitch key does not make the tackle on the pitch. PERIOD, nothing else! If done properly the quarterback should never be touched by crashing end.

(It is important that you explain this and the situation to the refs PRIOR to every game. The rule states that, after he pitches the ball, he is not there for target practice. Only if hit while pitching or upon releasing the ball is it legal.

About 7 years ago we played Madison High School, whose coach made the statement that we’d be lucky to have a quarterback by the end of the game. Needless to say, despite crashing every down with an all-area player, they never hit the quarterback once. Late in the game, frustrated, the player continued on his course, was flagged for 3 unsportsmanlike penalties, and finally ejected from the game.)

B. Spatial Focus

This is perhaps the most important aspect of teaching the quarterback the back to back read. To easily understand the difference of spatial focus to fine focus, picture yourself driving to work this morning. Although you were focused on the car in front of you, you were also aware of the car to your left or right and everything else you could put into your peripheral vision. Spatial focus is simply seeing through the handoff key to the pitch key. Although detail both of the handoff key and, to a greater degree, the pitch key is lost, the quarterback can still differentiate gross motor movements.

Fine focus is the narrowing of scope to a fine detail within a scene. On the drive this morning it would have been to focus in on the license plate number of the car in front of you. Once you do that your peripheral vision becomes narrow. In the case of reading the handoff key, fine focus would be zeroing in on the helmet stripe or the far shoulder. This prevents the quarterback from reading to back.

In order to accomplish this, your methodology of teaching the quarterback must be in terms that align themselves with gross muscle movements. Our thought process for the quarterback is “I will give the ball to the fullback every time unless the handoff key makes a direct path in front of the fullback’s crease.” Nothing more. No helmet strips. No shoulder turn. No far shoulder read. (for those that think this is too general and aligns with misreads, I invite them to talk to teams that have played mine or seen my game footage at clinics. Even with the notorious “up move” our quarterbacks read at a high level.)

With the back to back look we teach the quarterback to react to the flash (gross muscle movement / out of focus but none the less seen) of the pitch key coming down the line while reading the handoff key; not after it. The reaction to this “flash” should trigger the quarterback to perform the mechanics mentioned above, abort the ride, and pitch the football.

I don’t mean to be critical of other methods but if you read the helmet stripe, shoulder turn or far shoulder you have to refocus on the pitch key once the pull decision is made. In essence you have to read twice. If you do that it takes an added split second, just the time for the pitch key to get a shot at the quarterback. I really hope that if you use a fine focus key you think about it. You will always have trouble in any combination reads: back to back or stacked.

C. Practice organization
After we initially teach the quarterback the mechanics of the mesh and the initial handoff key looks and we cover the pitch technique versus the various reads, we always include a pitch key in our reads. We never just have the handoff key. In essence we force our quarterbacks to spatially focus in everything he does. We do this in three phases of the practice schedule.

1. Mesh drill

This is where we just have the quarterback’s and fullbacks. Most teams do this with just the coach as the handoff read. We however always include the pitch key but using the rotating quarterback and placing the rotating fullback in a stationary “relative” pitch position. We get multiple reps and spend 5 minutes on this every offensive day. (2 ½ on back to back; 2 ½ on stack) I simply single the read (extra QB) behind my back on what read I what.

2. Ride and decide.

This is exactly as above except we add the c, g, t and interior defensive players. Even though the halfbacks are working on blocking or receiving, we use a pitch key by incorporating the rotating quarterback and he rotating fullback as the pitch man (stationary) thus getting carryover even on defense. (they get pretty good at gining the same looks!) This is a 7 min segment 3 ½ to the right and 3 ½ to the left with no huddle to get maximum reps.

3. Team ½ line

Everything is scripted and all echo and back to back stunts are included regardless of the defense we are seeing that week. If you are to “read your way out” the quarterback must be exposed to these stunts; full speed and as a surprise. We’ve had more then one QB get knocked on his butt by stepping into a crash end in this segment of practice. Usually it only takes that one time to get the message across to the quarterback. Additionally, in the previous two drills, as much as we try, without full contact on the quarterback he can never learn to read it properly. Over my years of running the triple I can safely say that the biggest problem in dealing with the crash off the mesh is not the recognition of it but the game speed it occurs with.

D. Development of quarterback confidence.

In order for the option quarterback to develop confidence he must be given a good set of pre- snap clues. We teach the quarterback to look for the following:

  1. Position of support player: You will rarely get back to back in a reduced flank without the appearance of a support player outside. It is simply defensive suicide if the pitch is made.
  2. Subtle changes in defensive alignment. A crash read must be close enough to crash and reach the quarterback. With the advent of the rocket, this is usually a tighter alignment than normal.
  3. Change in stance. A parallel stance player will usually stagger into a racehorse stance.

All of the aforementioned pre-snap reads can be enhanced through sound film study.

Additionally, our quarterbacks know that if they are having difficulties, whether because of the speed of the stunt or the quarterback having a bad day, they know we have ways to block the stunt (or at least half of it) and simplify the situation for him. You will be surprised that by just knowing in the back of his mind we can save him; the quarterback will make a great effort to read it properly. Simply stated, he knows that we’re not going to let him fail regardless of what we initially ask him to do.

In part ii of this article we will explore the three other ways we block ourselves out of this stunt when reading it becomes a problem.

Have a great Thanksgiving

Thursday, November 6, 2008

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Setting a simple rule for when and why to run the triple to an a-gap player

There has always been much discussion with option coaches about when and where to run the triple. This article will deal with one of those discussions: “When and Why to Run the triple to an A-gap (guard-center) player rather than a B-gap (guard- center) player.” It will also present a set of rules that hopefully help the coach with his decision where to run the triple.

For the sake of this article, we are going to limit ourselves to the non-tightend flank and eliminate any formational or blocking adjustments and supplemental plays that may be called in order to counter some of the problems we will mention here. We are strictly going to be talking about running the triple.

That being said, we will then be limited to 2 flank looks: an “ace front” and an “reduced front.” We will define those as follows

ACE FRONT: #3 (counting out from the handoff key and eliminating a defender to cover the wide receiver) is outside the tackle and there is no linebacker inside the handoff key to that side. (fig.1)

REDUCED FRONT: #3 (same counting system as above) is inside the tackle box. (fig.2)

(Since we are concerned with counts here, coverage configurations are irrelevant. Also if a 4-3 goes to 3 deep, by definition it becomes a REDUCED FRONT away from the rotation.)

Looking at the ACE Front, in a basic triple scheme (read #1 – option #2) the playside halfback is need to arc on support, if the play is run to a b-gap linemen and the defense has a middle linebacker who is trying to get over the top to outnumber the offense on the perimeter (fig. 3), commonly referred to as "squeeze and scrape," the offense will be outnumbered on the perimeter.

The offense is only left with one alternative in order to keep perimeter numbers on their side: single the 3-technique and attempt to seal the box with the tackle (fig.4) The problem lies here in that the qb’s vision to the handoff key is blocked by the push of the 3-technique and on a “give” read the triple is effectively reduced to a zone dive. (If the handoff gets any chance at all!) A regular diet of this scheme will entice the defensive coordinator to force a give every time and make the offense a traditional one to his defense.

(It should be noted though that if a defense is effectively giving a “pull” read every time (we’ve all seen defensive coordinator’s get into this rhythm-thank God for them!).) the pre-mentioned scheme of singling the 3-technique and sealing the middle linebacker with the tackle is highly effective providing the guard can neutralize the 3-technique’s penetration ability. Width of the defensive alignment becomes a factor.)

If the offense runs the same scheme to the A-gap player, the tackle’s release (whether you are running loop or veer) gives the offense a chance to seal the box and not disrupt the give read. (fig.5)

(Note: when veering vs. a 4-3 the tackle should always work vertical first assuming that the MLB is running over the top and then adjust by his third step to the dive reaction.)

Now let’s look at the same play to the REDUCED front. With #3 inside the tackle, the HB can now be used to seal the linebacker so he isn’t a problem on the perimeter. However, the safety can be the player who outnumbers the option on the perimeter. (fig.6) if the tackle again is absorbed by the b-gap player in order to create the running crease for the fullback.

If the play is run to the a-gap player the tackle and the halfback both have a chance of getting the linebacker with the other coming off for the safety. In fig. 7 the tackle captures the linebacker allowing the Halfback to take off for the safety. In fig. 8 the linebacker scrapes over the top forcing the Halfback to block him allowing the tackle to come off for the safety.

(It should be noted again that if the defensive coordinator is giving the triple a steady rhythm of having the 5-technique take the fullback, the offense can single the 3-technique and create the same situation on the perimeter with the halfback and tackle accounting for the linebacker and safety.)

So what are the general characteristics that can be used to fomulate a rule as to when to run the play into the a-gap player?

  • The defense must be forcing the offense to take the ball to the perimeter the majority of the time, however, not all the time. If the defensive reaction constantly becomes a give read the play can be run to the 3-technique providing the guard and tackle can get movement of the 3-technique vertically allowing a two way cut for the fullback. Also, as we saw previously, the play can be run to the 3-technique if the defense constantly makes the offense take the ball to the perimeter and the guard can keep the 3-technique’s penetration to a minimum. (See that DC a birthday gift!)
  • In all cases the offenses ability to handle the 3-technique must be a factor. If the guard can handle him or if the combo from the tackle can secure the guard quickly enough to get to the backer (ACE only) then this isn’t a factor. So the width and ability of the 3-technique’s alignment becomes a factor in game planning or an in-game decision. Additionally, if you get enough movement on the 3-technique to cut off the linebacker (happens often) then you can run it to the 3-technique. The linebacker’s depth has a lot to do with this.
  • The defense is absorbing both the tackle and halfback as blockers while running an unblocked player from inside the handoff off key out. (In the ACE example, the halfback is absorbed the playside safety and the tackle by the 3-technique with the linebacker running from the inside free. In the REDUCED example, the 3-technique and linebacker use up the tackle’s and halfback’s block allowing the safety to run the alley.) Of course if the defense is not runningthe linebacker in an ACE or the free safety and linebacker both in the REDUCED defense, the need to run to an a-gap player is off!)

So as a general rule we use the following summary to decide if we need to run the triple to the a-gap player:

“If we cannot handle the three technique with our guard (rarely can we) and / or the defense has absorbed the blocks of both the tackle and the playside halfback and are outnumbering us on the perimeter by running somebody from inside the handoff key outside, we will then run / check the play to the a-gap player.”

This is where the coaching staff either needs to check the play or formation the a-gap where you want him. Of course there are other answers in schemes, formations, and auxiliary plays to handle this problem but we never want to get far from our roots – the triple. Additionally, we will run the play in this situation occasionally to the 3-technique and leverage pitch negating the inside backer or put the pressure on the free in the alley to make the tackle. Depends how good we are.

Then there’s the tightend flank but that’s a whole other animal……..

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