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By Mike Kuchar Senior Research Manager X&O Labs mikek@xandolabs.com

"In our regular quarters scheme, the safety is a peddler against two wide." Chris Ash, DB Coach, Wisconsin

This week’s X&O Labs’ Coaching Research Report features the "robber" concept, a coverage that was made notorious by top-tier defensive programs such as Virginia Tech.  Ironically enough, the Hokies matching wits with Stanford University in the Orange Bowl last night.  Known for their defensive dominance, the Hokies believe in a steady dose of "robber" coverage – an eight man front structure that can involve a possible ninth defender in the box to stop the run.

Before we go any further, it’s important that we define what robber is.  Verbiage varies from program to program, so for this report we focused solely on the coverage where corners are asked to play a "cheat halves" technique.  The free safety will "rob" by playing the alley-fitter in the run game and man-to-man on number two against the pass.   While there can be several changeups to the coverage based on offensive personnel, our research has shown that in order to be efficient, you must play the coverage against all personnel.

It’s important to note that while a quarters coverage scheme can be beneficial to protecting a four vertical threat, our research has shown that staying in a robber scheme, and just varying who your robber defender is, can be just as productive to limited big plays.

Case 1: Matching the Proper Personnel

According to our research, the base rules of a robber scheme out of a four-down front are simplified below:

  • Defensive line personnel will consist of a nose guard, a strong defensive end, a rush defensive end and a 3-technique defensive tackle who according to 63% of those surveyed will line up to the tight end.
  • Two 30-technique backers, who will stay in the tackle box and are core inside linebacker types.
  • Two corners who will play the "cheat halves" technique.
  • Three safeties, a strong safety and weak safety who are outside linebacker hybrids, and a free safety who is essentially the "robber" lining up on number two to the passing strength.

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According to a recent X&O Labs’ survey of coaches, over 60% of respondents employ some type of robber scheme.  We’ve found three specific advantages to playing a robber concept to all offensive personnel and structure:
  • The core will not change: Inside linebackers can be inside linebackers and be physical against the run game.  Many quarters or two-high teams need to remove their inside linebackers from the box forcing them to play in space, which can be uncomfortable and compromising.  In the pass game, since the safety plays number two man to man, the strong side inside backer doesn’t have to be concerned with that.
  • Gets more speed on the field: Having a 4-2-5 base with five defensive backs on the field, provide an instance answer to spread-like formations. Sound run support against option: with the free safety being the "sniffer" he can pursue everything from inside/out being an aggressive alley player and often unblocked ninth defender in the box.

Case 2: Robber vs. Single Width/Pro Formations By structure, the corners are asked to play a deep half technique taking away anything down the hash.  Our research found that Bud Foster at Virginia Tech teaches his corners the following:

  • Start at seven yards inside of number one receiver; end up at nine yards on snap.
  • Cheat for depth before the snap of the ball.
  • NEVER let a number one receiver cross your face
  • Stay square on backpedal until your cushion breaks.

Sure, the element of disguise is crucial to the success of the corner.  Many teams will start in a "two high" look, and then creep down to their robber structure pre-snap.  But, if offensive coordinators and opposing quarterbacks know you’re playing a form of "cheat" halves (which simply means your corner is playing hash coverage instead of a traditional safety) they will bang you with the three-step continuously.  In order to combat this, we’ve found that 52% of our survey respondents simply teach the corners to play man-to-man on the inside shoulder of number one.  It’s an off-technique read, which forces the corner to read the three-step drop progression of the QB.   Some teach their corners to shuffle or even walk back in order to make sure they don’t get beat on a quick hitch.


Researchers’ Note: You are reading the summary version of this Research Report. To access the full version of this report – including the corresponding Statistical Analysis Report featuring the raw coaching data from our research – please CLICK HERE.

Concluding Report

As defensive coaches, we all try to instruct our players to be aggressive, to "get more hats than the offense can block."  We all know that those offensive guys are getting coached to, so to be effective, you must find ways to create a mathematical disadvantage for the offense.  During our research, Division 1 coordinator told one of our researchers that it’s his goal on every scheme he draws up to have an average of 1.5 players more at the point of attack than the offense can block.  Playing a robber concept gives defenses that advantage, but like anything else, your success lies in training the eyes of your players to recognize run vs. pass in order to effectively play both. Copyright 2011 – X&O Labs



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