Friday, February 4, 2011

A NUMBER OF WAYS TO DEFEAT THE SAFETY IN THE ALLEY WITH AN EIGHT MAN FRONT

If you are a triple option coach for any period of time you’ve come across the eight man front with the free safety running the alley. He can either be a pitch player (fig 1) or a QB player (fig. 2) with the strong safety playing opposite his fill.







In order for this defense to be successful a couple of specifics must happen:

  1. The defensive end must squeeze hard enough to keep the tackle to the a-gap defensive linemen from getting a clean release to the lber and then up to the running safety. This necessitates a tighter alignment / shade of the 5 technique
  2. The inside linebacker must successfully read the veer scheme so that he can scrape tight and hard and absorb the halfbacks block from the inside –out. He must also widen this block to either help the Strong Safety bide time (Free safety on pitch) or not make the alley too big to cover the quarterback (Free safety on quarterback)
  3. The Strong Safety (outside linebacker) must bide time for the Free safety. If the Strong has the quarterback, he must sit and play the quarterback from a squat / feather position. This allows the free to get to the pitch and allows the Strong to turn and run and become the overlap player on the pitch.
    If the Strong has the pitch, he cannot just run to the pitch. He has to play the pitch from the line of scrimmage so as not to open up so wide of a lane that the quarterback can run away from or gain a two-way cut on the free safety
  4. There must be a way to handle the slot vertically. Either the free safety must read through #2 on his way to his option assignment or what Utah does is cushion the backside strong safety (OLB) and then run him through the middle on playaction pass. (fig 3)



  5. The corners must have inside leverage to take away the post. (Free safety vacating the middle) and can either play zone or man concepts. Regardless of their technique this basically will become man on any deep patterns.
    Attacking this defense means taking advantage of what the defense does. It does not mean forcing a bad situation. Consider it like Judo and use the power of the defense against itself.
    In the next couple of articles I will define a number of concepts for an option team to use against this defense. Hopefully one sticks in your mind and helps you with your game planning. There is no definitive answer. A lot depends on personnel (yours and theirs), the entire defensive structure, and your packages available. Over the years, I have used or practiced most of these. A couple where mentioned are ideas I’ve accumulated from other sources but have not actual run.

    Concept #1
    Based on personnel run your regular offense including the triple.


I know this sounds like a copout but it really isn’t. Too many times offensive coaches see this defense and immediately say “I’m outnumbered. My triple is dead.” There are a lot of factors that indicate your offense may be alive.

  • The athletic ability and speed of the safety. If you watch an old film of Air Force vs. a Brian Urlacher lead defense from the 90’s, you will see that he made every tackle waiting on the line of scrimmage for the pitch man. You need adjustments now. If you watch William Paterson University vs. Springfield College in 1996, you get a whole different perspective. As the offensive coordinator at WPU, I watched as Springfield shredded our defense without making a single adjustment. Our starting free safety was out and the replacement simply could not get there. He ended up chasing from behind every time. So be aware of personnel.
    (What helps this is the act that the use of motion allows a flexbone team to get a “running start and pitch flat down the line rather than a backward pitch common with the old bold teams. (see below) Additionally, the use of leverage pitching combined with the flat pitch angle allows the QB to pitch off an outside linebacker who is slow playing the pitch while bidding time for the free safety to run the alley in order to play the quarterback. The same is true if you reverse responsibilities of the defenders. An earlier leverage pitch off the outside linebacker gives the pitch man a greater chance to outrun the free safety running the alley to the pitch. These techniques were thought previously unsound in the old option days where the pitch was made backwards and only after a firm commitment by the key allowing the slow play defender to run it down.)
    NOTE: In analyzing personnel, this advantage is not diagnosed prior to the game on paper but during it in seeing if the safety can get there. (If you went on a pregame analysis Navy would never even try to run a play!!!!)

  • The threat of your fullback and the ability of your offense to get the balls in his hands despite this scheme. If the fullback (and the quarterback for that matter) remains a threat to crease the line of scrimmage then the free safety must be slower in his path to the pitch or face the threat of every 5 yard gain becoming a home run with no back line defender available to save the touchdown. (Bowl game Navy vs. Utah a couple of years back. Utah plays this defense flawlessly except for the 3 or 4 times the fullback creases the front all resulting in TDS or very long runs setting up scores. Navy wins.) Simple put – you must slow down the free and give yourself an advantage in the footrace to the corner. In a latter part of this article we will discuss ways to keep the fullback alive.)
  • Your ability to “flat pitch” down the line rather than back into the backfield. One of the advantages of running the flexbone over the traditional bone offenses is the ability of the pitch man running (motioning) prior to the snap. This not only makes a 4.8 seem like a 4.6 in the footrace with the safety but also allows you to pitch flat down the line of scrimmage rather than backward which restricts the ability of the pursuit to catch up to the pitch.

    An offshoot of this reason that is seldom talked about is the ability of the back to square his shoulders to the line of scrimmage when catching the pitch. This allows the back a “full field” cuts rather than restrict him to a one way go. (fig.4 and fig. 5) Anybody’s who taught on the defensive side of the ball realizes the hardest tackle to make in football is the head on, one-on-one tackle with the back square to the line. When running the safety in the alley it is far easier for him to keep his inside-out leverage on a pitch man who is already turned to the sideline. You must strive to catch the pitch going north and south.











Your ability to “tempo” the free safety in relation to the ball. How many options do you run? I ask this because most options contain the same aspects (2 way – QB and Pitch or 3 way – with a dive, quarterback, and pitch.) Well from a free safety’s aspect all of those options represent a different angle of approach and speed to the perimeter. Additionally the entry points of the backs are all different causing the threat of the creased front going the distance. (see above) Add in the rocket which is a whole different angle and speed and the threat of play action pass and you force the free safety, already placed on a one on one tackling predicament to think about a whole lot more. An example of this is the midline tuck play run with normal pitch motion or Rocket Motion (fig. 6)




  • How complex is the defense scheme. Some teams play quarterback and pitch responsibilities regardless of the option while others try to read and adjust to everything. The former is easy to scheme for with many of the specific adjustments or tags we will talk about throughout this article. The latter makes running your entire offense and forcing the defense to execute vs. all reads the way to go. (all with a couple of “screw ‘em” reads thrown in for fun.) Remember that since the back end of the defense has been jeopardized playing this way you have a lot of chances for a big play.
  • Patience. This is a defense that when played right will have a player for dive, quarterback, and pitch. It will be very tough to “grind against this defense and you will have a lot of zero to 2 yard plays. However, you will also have the chance for big plays.

    COMING UP IN THE NEXT PARTS OF THE SERIES: Formationing a blocker on the free safety, read cracking and play action passing the free safety, catching the free with leaning or slowing him down with formations, letting 2 people play one option to block and play action the free, running double options to account for the free safety and play action off them, keeping the triple concept with 2 options to gain a blocker, getting the defense to play 2 people on one option and allowing another option to uncovered, and keeping the fullback in the game.

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