Category Archives: Under Front

5 Keys to Developing a Defensive System in Football

Last year, I was asked to put together a new defensive system for our football team. We were moving from the Fritz Shurmur Eagle 5 linebacker defense to a more modern 4-3/4-4 defense.

As I was sifting through endless books, playbooks, and clinic materials to compare what all the best and brightest minds in the game of football were doing, I realized that there are five keys to creating a defensive system, and only 2 have anything to do with X’s and O’s.

football defensive systems

Fritz Shurmur’s 5 Eagle Linebacker Defense wasn’t cutting it anymore.

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Defending the I Formation like Pete Carroll’s Seahawks Defense

The Seattle Seahawks dominated many I formation teams this year. Under Pete Carroll, the Seahawks defense had a nice little adjustment to pro style formations, like the I formation.

Especially in 21 personnel, 2 backs and 1 tight end, the Seahawks defense matched up well. One way they did that was playing a “heavy” end on the weakside.

Many defenses declare passing strengths instead of declaring it to a tight end and then they set the shade side, or open side, to either the tight end or the split end.

seahawks defense vs pro formation

How Many Teams Play the Over Front vs 21 personnel

The Seahawks do it a little differently. While the Seahawks defense in 2013 set the reduction, or 3 technique side, to the tight end in many situations. The nose and Sam linebacker get set to the split end. The strong safety, who I call the Rover, is set to the 3 technique side.
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Demolishing Weakside Iso with the 4-3 Over Front

Often considered the longtime nemesis of the 4-3 over front is the weakside iso play. Because of the “large” gap between the outside linebacker and the inside linebacker, the play has some success.

The key to defending the weakside iso play with the 4-3 over front is the personnel matchup.

Many coaches, including myself for a while, always set the “Sam” to the tight end, regardless of whether or not they are in the 4-3 over front or under front. The Will played on the “weakside”.

The Will for many is an undersized player. Because of this, when he’s set over an open guard, he’s usually got a matchup problem, especially with a tough guard or fullback. This tends to happen on Weaskside Iso plays.

This article should give you an overview on how to stop the this often gut-wrenching play by thinking of your 4-3 defense a little differently in terms of identifying roles of your players and setting your strength. Continue reading

The Popularity of the 3-4 Defense: What’s Old is New

Guest Blog Post

This is a guest blog post by Cameron Soran, a lawyer. While not a coach, I think you’ll find he has a strong football mind and understands a lot about the game.

“There’s a lot of ways to play football,” Chip Kelly told  room full of reporters. “Trends go one way and the other. … if you weren’t in the room with Amos Alonzo Stagg and Knute Rockne when they invented this game, you stole it from somebody else.” While ostensibly Kelly was discussing offenses, his insight equally applies to the opposite side of the ball. More and more it seems, NFL and college teams are moving to 3-4 defense (or 3-3-5) defenses over the 4-3 counterparts. To some, this might signal that the 3-man front is somehow a superior defensive system. But recent trends in football are just that: trends. While the 3-4 defense offers certain advantages, it is by no means superior. To explain some of the reasons for the recent change, and to understand the numerous different flavors of 3-4, I think, to quote Oliver Wendell Holmes, that “a page of history is worth a pound of logic.”  Continue reading

Tips for Understanding Defensive Line Techniques

I find this as a common question, that really a lot of coaches can’t answer. What are the popular defensive line techniques, and why are they called that?

Well, great question. First of all, let’s find the “genius” (please notice the quotes…) of the system. Continue reading

The 4 Most Important Aspects of the Under Front Defense

The 3-4 or 4-3 under front defense is popular, especially versus 21 personnel. In my opinion, there are 4 critical elements of the defense that as a defensive coordinator, you need to know them as your strengths. As an offensive coach, you can try to break down for some success.

Under Front Defense: The Tandem

The tandem is one of the 4 most important elements of the under front defense. The tandem basically is the outside alignment on two adjacent linemen on the end of the line of scrimmage. Versus 21 personnel sets, you get this to both sides. Continue reading

Defensive Gap Exchange

Gap Exchange between Defensive Linemen, Linebackers, and Safeties

Gap exchange in defensive football occurs between defensive linemen, linebackers and safeties is a critical element for many over fronts and under fronts.

Gap Exchange: Block Down Step Down

The basic gap exchange concept begins at the defensive linemen level, where the defensive linemen responds to a down block by an offensive linemen or tight end. The linemen is likely taught the theory of block down step down, where if the linemen blocks inside he must step inside, disrupt said linemens path, and spill kickout blocks.

The Will Linebacker and the Defensive End in the Under perform a Gap Exchange

The defensive end must keep the tackle off the linebacker by pushing him, and the will must come up quickly to G gap.

The linemen, given the block down step down rule, cannot play his original gap. In essense, he is playing his immediate inside gap. He needs to also focus on getting hands on the blocker who stepped inside while keeping his shoulders square. The defensive linemen simply needs to give a push with one hand, enough to keep the linemen off the playside linebacker or knock his path on his way to a backside linebacker. The defensive linemen, be it end or tackle, must focus, at this point in the play, at keeping his shoulders square. Turning his shoulders this close or on the defense’s side of the line of scrimmage will make it easy for another linemen to log him or, depending on the play, to get around him completely without making the blocker take a better pull path.

Gap Exchange: Open / Closed Window

Inside Gap Exchange between Mike and 5 technique End in Under Front

The End and Mike perform an Inside Gap Exchange, in these cases the defensive end must disrupt the offensive lineman's path

The linebacker needs to read the open or closed window. This should be an easy read as the linebacker flows to his gap. An open window essentially means that the gap he is assigned to his open. A closed window means the gap is blocked and the runningback will not see that hole.

Why is this important to gap exchange principles? As the linebacker reads his hole, if for some reason the defensive linemen is in his gap (he got washed down, or even a called stunt—which means a predetermined gap exchange), then the linebacker needs to work one outside gap, or to the next open gap and press the line of scrimmage while keeping his shoulders square. By pressing the line of scrimmage right away, this causes problems for offensive plays like power where the kickout and wrapping pull blocker occur quickly.

Gap Exchange: Secondary Run Support

Sam Linebacker and Safety Gap Exchange

The Sam Linebacker Follows Block Down Step Down Rules, Safety Reads Him and EMOLOS and Comes Up to D Gap

In many cases, a safety or even a corner, depending on the defense and the formation, may be called upon to gap exchange with a defensive end or EMOLOS. This is common in the Under front, where the Sam linebacker, lined up in a 9 technique outside the offensive tight end, must follow block down step down principles. In this case, the safety must be ready to come up quickly and exchange gap responsibilities with the Sam linebacker.

Gap Exchange – Conclusion

Overall, gap exchange is a good way for a defense to take advantage of the spill technique and use the sideline and team speed to its advantage. If the team has good speed and the front 7 have great hip explosion to help execute some of the technique (wrong arming or spilling), then this can be a great asset for undersized defenses.

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