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Cancelling Gaps in the Run Game

Editor’s Note:  The following article was submitted by Andy Guyon, the defensive coordinator at Xavier High School in Middletown, Connecticut.  As of November 14, 2011, Xavier High School is 9-0 and ranked no. 1 in Connecticut. 

By Andy Guyon Defensive Coordinator Xavier High School (CT)

Despite the constant evolution of various styles of offenses, there is one constant and that is the importance of an effective running game.  Which is why defensively, there is nothing more important than stopping the run.  Spread offenses have made it difficult to defend the entire field and still be able to lock the run game up.  Those spread option offenses force defenses to stay gap and responsibility sound.  For that reason, we base our defense out of a 3-3-5 alignment. We play with a nose, two defensive ends, a Sam, Mike and Will linebacker, two corners, a Rover and both a free and strong safety (diagram 1).  We play this front at Xavier because are able to find more of the linebacker/defensive back type players than defensive linemen.  This defense also allows us to be flexible and adjust easily to any formation we see.  Since we starting using this front, we’ve won two Division Championships, make two playoff appearances, and win a state championship. During the 2010 season, we gave up 8.9 points per game including holding three teams who averaged over 31 points per game to an average of 11 points. Our defensive team statistics were solid.  We had 62 tackles for loss, 26 interceptions, 56 pass break ups, 10 fumbles recovered, and 40 sacks – all in a 13 game season. The most important statistic that led to all of this was our rushing defense that yielded an average of only 46.7 yards per game. This included two games in which we held our opponents to negative yards rushing.

We achieved that success because we mixed our front movements with zone and man to man pressures. Our most productive man to man blitz in run situations is called THUNDER. This is a blitz we use when the run/pass ratio is better than 65/35 (run to pass).  Our players have belief in this pressure; it is the first one installed in spring practice and training camp. It acts as our base defense and allows us to line up quickly because of the way we set our front. We are a field and boundary team, meaning we have set our strength to the field or to the two quick receiver side (diagram 2). The only people who do not move are our defensive linemen.  Our five technique defensive ends play to the left and right side.

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This success of the Thunder Press is two fold:  it puts a tremendous amount of stress on the edges of the offense and it closes up the inside gaps often forcing the ball to go east and west making it difficult to block our linebackers.  This blitz puts three rushers on each side of the center. It’s considered a run blitz because it is an even distribution, it’s symmetrical by structure, whereas a pass blitz with man to man coverage would typically overload one side of the center with a 4 to 2 distribution. What makes this blitz so effective is that we keep two linebackers in the middle of the defense and bring a tremendous amount of pressure off the edge (diagram 3).

The coverage for this blitz is straight man.  We like to keep the rules simple so that there is no confusion and we can get lined up and play fast.  We number the eligible receivers from the outside in. The corners are responsible for the #1 eligible receiver to their side. The free safety is responsible for the #2 receiver to the strength while the strong safety is the only player in our defense who has an adjusted assignment. We usually like to put our most intelligent and most versatile players at this position. He is either responsible for the #3 receiver to the strength or the #2 receiver to the weak side (diagram 4).

We do our best to disguise what we are doing on every snap. Our players are prowling from gap to gap and alignment to alignment so the offense does not get a pre-snap read on where we are aligned. With that in mind, we are going to have our Rover aligned to the field and on the #2 receiver.  He will hedge on the cadence and blitz on the snap. The Rover will keep the ball to his inside shoulder and near arm all kick out blocks. His aiming point is the hip of the fullback in a two-back set and the hip of the quarterback or running back in a single back set.  The Sam linebacker will start in his base alignment, stacked behind the 5 technique defensive end, and then on the cadence will hedge to blitz the C gap. The Sam can spill all kick out blocks and is a quarterback player on option.  The defensive end to the call will line up in a 5- technique (outside shade of the tackle), pinch into B-gap, and will spill all kick out blocks. He will be a dive player on option. The Nose will align head up on the center and cross face the center into A gap away from the call. He is a dive player on option. The defensive end away from the call will vary his alignment depending on his talent level. If he can pinch inside from a 5-technique alignment, than he will.  If we have to align him in a 4- technique (head up the offensive tackle) then we will.

Both defensive ends will pinch into B-gap away from the call and become responsible for dive on option.  The Strong safety will vary his alignment. We like for him to give the quarterback a two-high safety look pre-snap then creep down to blitz on the snap. He is a contain blitzer much like the Rover. He is aiming for the outside hip of the fullback in a two back set.  However, if the offense comes out in a one-back set he will check out of his blitz and communicate to the Will that the Will must be the blitzer.  Here he will need to cover number 3 (the tight end).  When facing a single back offense we will have the Strong Safety check out of the blitz and send the Will off the edge to the weak side. They give a signal to each other to communicate the switch (diagram 5).   Against the run he will keep the ball on his inside shoulder and will near arm all kick out blocks becoming a pitch player on all option plays.

The two remaining inside linebackers (usually the Mike and Will) will cover the running backs man to man in a two-back set. They will cover whatever running back releases to their side.  They align in their base alignments stacked behind their defensive linemen but will move to align over the guards during the cadence.  Against the option game, the Mike will play quarterback to pitch vs. option and the Will plays dive to quarterback.  Away from the strength, the Mike can play the strong A gap for cut back and the Will is a free hitter to the ball.  If the running backs stay in for pass protection they will add to the blitz with a hug-up technique, which means they will be free rushers (diagram 6).

Our last adjustment is if a team comes out in Empty (diagram 7).  In this case, we still can run Thunder.  If a team comes out in empty we just have the remaining linebacker, the Mike, cover the #2 receiver to the weak side.

Video Analysis: X&O Labs' Insiders members can access game footage of Guyon’s Thunder blitz package - click here to login. 

Researchers’ Note: You are reading the summary version of this Clinic Report. To access the full version of this report – including the corresponding game film – please CLICK HERE.

Questions or Comments? Coach Guyon is available to answer any question you have concerning this report.  Please post your questions or comment in the "Comments" section below and Coach Guyon will respond shortly.

Copyright 2011 X&O Labs




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