A lot of teams today are switching to the 4-2-5 TCU defense which typically packages a 2 deep or quarters based coverage with a robber safety that goes with #2. Because of the nature of that safety, he can be aggressive in the run game, which essentially presents a 9 man front to traditional 21 personnel I formation teams. As an offense then, your goal must be to fit inside that safety and keep him flat footed and out of the box. If that safety is a real game changer, you need to stretch him vertically and horizontally through the quick pass attack, inside runs, and vertical passes. EDIT: I made some silly errors the first time around, so I edited the article and added some more content to it as well.
Strengths and Weaknesses of the TCU 4-2-5
The 4-2-5 can be presented in a number of ways. Many people think cover 3 is the predominate defense ran by 4-2-5 teams, however, that tendency is changing rapidly. Many teams play a split coverage, a version of cover 2 “robber”, with the cornerbacks playing a 2 “cheat” position. This, in my opinion, essentially equates the team to a quarters concept when the robber safety is involved. The safety reads #2. The corners read #1. If #1 or #2 go vertical, the corners and the robber safety will lock onto their respective threats and cover them essentially man to man.Herein lies the greatest weakness, isolating receivers one on one.. With the split coverage philosophy, even if the TCU 4-2-5 is presented with 4 WR (another topic entirely), it can cover 4 verticals and stand stout against the run.
Defenses, like the 4-2-5 generally, have two key purposes besides winning and keeping the score low. Don’t give up big plays, and don’t let the team run it down your throat. Considering this defense can cover 4 vertical rather simply and insert an extra 9th defender in the box versus the run, this can spell problems for many teams. Just look at the success of Virgina Tech in the 1990′s and TCU recently to see that this is ther case. However, the TCU defense is still very vulnerable to both of these things, maybe even more so than others, when the offensive football team develops a strong gameplan devised around quick passes and play-action fakes.
Attacking the 4-2-5 with the I formation with Quick Passes
The 4-2-5 plays cover 2 cheat with both corners. One of the primary goals of the offensive gameplan must be attacking them with quick curls and outs. If you are on the hash and can create wide seperation between #1 and #2, slants can also be effective. Limiting the flat or arrow route by #2 should be a strong consideration in your offensive gameplan. Depending on the coverage, #2 is read by the corner and the robber safety intially to determine the play’s intentions. If #2 goes flat, specifically in “Blue” coverage, the corner will come down hard and fast to #2 in the flat. In this scenario, the #1 route is covered by the robber then (who is thinking Curl to Post). Essentially, the corner and robber switch assignments. In addition, if the coverage is “Cover 2″ (often presented to the Tight End side of the offense), the strong safety or spur in the box will play the flat or arrow route by #2. The strong safety always maintains outside leverage on #2 in the TCU 4-2-5 cover 2, so the arrow route again becomes a tough matchup.
Running regular 4-6 yard 3-step drop curl routes accross the board will keep the robber safety flat footed, and in the box. The corner will have to come up to make the play. It is worth noting that the offensive strongside curl is an understood weakness of this defense, and many defensive back coaches will have the corner cheat and read the QB after reading #2 to see him hitch up at 3 steps. If the QB hitches up at 3 steps and drops the shoulder preparing to throw, the DB is often okay to jump the hitch. Herein lies the second weakness, double moves and pumpfakes, which is my next point. Based on the concept that any flat or arrow routes are outleveraged much of the time versus this defense, a curl by #1 and by #2 should be effective. A gameplan adjustment versus 4-2-5 teams may be to also have the #2 receiver break outside on his curl. Then, the QB only needs to feel that leverage by the strong safety, as he would versus a flat defender in cover 3. Overall, the QB may want to start his eyes inside and work outside. Doing so could keep the strong safety closer to the box. Because the offense wants to prefer the 1 on 1 matchup on the outside, this should leave more room for the #1 receiver running his curl.
On the backside, the curl may succeed as well. A major coverage for 4-2-5 teams on the weakside, besides “Blue” is Bronco. The TCU 4-2-5 Bronco coverage presents man on man in the secondary on the weakside (so the weakside safety and the corner). If you isolate #1 to the weakside far enough, big play opportunities do exist one on one with the corner there as well. Especially because in Bronco versus the I-formation, the weakside safety is thinking run first.
Attacking the 4-2-5 with the I formation with the Pump Fake and Double Moves
The pump fake is the most underutilized weapon an offense has in my opinion. Coverting a 3 step vertical after a pump fake to a short curl (which we’ve now converted into a vertical or go route after the intial move) and leave the corner isolated. With #2 running a curl or vertical himself, he occupies the robber safety, essentially leaving our corner 1 on 1 with no idea whether or not he should give up a quick 4-6 yards on a hitch or if he should ignore his Defensive coordinator and take a risk to stop it for no gain. Now, defenses have other coverages (corner play the flat, roll the typical robber safety over the top for instance), but most defensive coordinators want to play something comfortable and if they do change the coverage they’ve opened up our playbook which includes smash routes and outside runs to the strongside right at the flat corner.
The double move and pump fake can also cause that robber safety all kinds of problems. Perhaps my favorite is Y-Sail, which could be with a power play action fake or by itself. The Y or TE takes a vertical release of about 8 yards and breaks to the corner, #1 goes vertical right now,and a fullback sneaks into the flat. The Y should fake the post quickly before breaking to the corner. At this same time, the QB’s eyes should be on said robber safety and lead him towards the post. There should now be 2 or 3 steps for that big tight end to out manuver that safety. Another adjustment, if you believe you can outmatch the corner or safety, is to tag the route with a post by number one (Rt 74 Y-Sail X-Post). A scissors concept to some, this will now isolate both the corner and safety. The skinnier the post, the better, because you want to avoid any backside help.
In addition to that there is the Y Freeze route. The Y or Tight End takes a vertical release making eye contact right now with the robber safety. He will then read his leverage and break opposite at a distance of 9-10 yards, coming back to the LOS initially. #1 will run a post at about 12 yards, exploding past the corner and over the top of the robber safety, who is now at least flat footed (or totally covering) the Y or tight end. I like packaging this with a hunt by #1 backside, in order to hold the LB’s accountable incase the safety plays the post and the Y opened to the wrong side of his leverage. This can be combined with the draw isolation fake to help hold the safety still if he’s talented enough to get back or if the linebackers underneath are causing you fits.
Defeating the 4-2-5 with the Running Game from the I formation
When you combine the quick pass game with the play action, your running game should open up nicely. Once that robber safety is completely flat footed, power is now a lethal weapon. Why? You can have your tight end work outside or almost arc release to the strong safety in the box. This isn’t a typical look for a robber safety, as they expect a down block to a backer or on the 7 technique end versus power. This should stress the 7 technique defensive end, allowing your fullback to kick him out (the 7 will think you’re running stretch or outside zone). Becasue the robber safety is an alley player lined up probable over the guard or tackle to the strong side, his path should take him a little further out with that arc release as well by the tight end. The guard can easily wrap underneath and the rest is history.
In addition to running power (and stretch with it), you should be able to run iso. The force players, no matter what, should be staying outside the box (if they’re falling the play and causing problems, you need to work that flat after a playaction iso fake). Iso is nice because in addition to the downhill version we all love, there is the draw iso fake, which I referred to earlier. Draw is great because the play action pass pro is easy (… block draw… duh), and the defense is often out of position. Again, this works great because the Y might be able to work to the robber blocking him thanks to the Y freeze play. The force player to the strongside shouldn’t be a threat (if he is, draw action with a flat route where he should be), and you should get a nice chunk of yardage if you can really sell the draw.
Working weakside can be a challenge depending on how the defense plays the backside bandit or strong safety. If he’s out of the box, RUN THE BALL there, if not, you can use twins sets to pull him out of the box (because the force player safety always keeps outside leverage on #2). Watch out though, you will likely pull the robber safety with him. If that robber safety comes over and you have a numbers problem, to the strongside you can have your big tough tailback, in a perfectly drawn play, end up one on one with one of those cover 2 cheat corners. Lovely matchup (got to get it blocked though!). Otherwise, if you do pull the force player safety out (which you should be able to with a twins look) and the robber safety, weakside iso is still usually good for 3-5 yards a crack.
Overall, although the I formation can get over whelmed by the 4-2-5 when they get into some of their blitzes (you should run screens then my friend and get them back into their split coverage concepts), you should have success against their base defenses. Again, the key is a balanced attack with a strong game plan. You don’t need to use these examples, but you should be able to come up with elements in your own I formation offense to the same effect.
Sorry for the late post… I got married. I have time again (until football… which starts in t-minus 17 days). Also, check this out for other play action pass concepts.