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mtstBy Mike Kuchar, Senior Research Manager, X&O Labs

See how Montana State defensive coordinator Jamie Marshall uses what he calls “backer” check, which tells the bubble linebacker in his four-down front to pressure the B gap as a first and second down call in the run game against 11 personnel run game.

By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikeKKuchar

Editor’s Note: The following research was part of XandOLabs.com special report on “Developing an Effective Pressure Check System.” To learn more about this special report, go here.



mtstA two-man surface clearly eliminates an extra gap in the run game, which is probably why many coaches prefer to blitz the two-man surface in passing situations. However, we did find that some coaches are using a two-man surface pressure to affect the run game, but not the weak side run game. Montana State defensive coordinator Jamie Marshall uses what he calls “backer” check, which tells the bubble linebacker in his four-down front to pressure the B gap. It’s a solid first and second down call in the run game and fits well against 11 personnel run game. It’s a three-deep, three-under pressure out of the four down front.

“We like it against pin and pull or full stretch teams,” Marshall.  Any three-man surface runs.  We play with a 7-technique in our front so our D gap defender will usually be a secondary player whether it’s a Corner or Safety.  Backer changes the force player by having the strong side defensive end be the D gap player. Our 7-techinque is moving out to the D-gap.  He is gap rocking. Our DE sets the edge and let’s everyone runs it down from behind.” 


You will see in some fronts the Nose will blitz the Center.  “If the Center steps to him, he crosses his face,” said Marshall.  “If the Center steps away either climbing to weak side backer or on heavy stretch play we will allow the Nose to climb off the backside of the Center and get to the A gap from the back door.”    


Pressure Checks: Game Film

Join X&O Labs’ Insiders (an exclusive membership-based website) and get the full-length version of this special report. Here’s just a short list of what Coach Marshall reveals…

  • The “blitz the guard” technique that Coach Marshall uses for pressuring the linebacker in the B gap.
  • Diagrams of the “backer” pressure against the following formations: 2x2 open, 2x2 closed, 3x1 closed, 3x1 open, Y-off the ball, bunch, stack and empty formations.
  • VIDEO: Watch game film of Montana State’s pressure checks.

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While most programs will have automatic pressure checks against the open side of the formation in passing downs, the backer check provides for immediate force in the run game, particularly against perimeter run schemes.


Developing a Pressure Check System

This special report is centered on pressure: where to bring it, how to bring it and when to bring it.

When creatively designed and accurately called, a pressure system cannot only be detrimental to offenses it can be downright degrading. But what if you don’t call it right?

This is why we’ve found 49.7 percent of coaches are now implementing a pressure check system, a pressure called by player pre-snap, to put their defense in the most advantageous situation. In fact, the majority of these coaches will check their pressure on 50-74 percent of all defensive snaps. It takes the guesswork out of calling pressures, and if done properly can be a tremendous hindrance to up-tempo, spread offense.

While offensive coaches spend hours watching game film on how to attack defenses, defenses are finding new ways to counter what offenses present and they are doing so by pressuring tendencies on a down-to-down occurrence. What if you were able to put your players in the best possible situation to be successful each and every play? You’d be foolish not to. A pressure check system allows you that opportunity.

This special report, Developing a Pressure Check System, is presented in three cases with over 40,000 words and 52 video links that detail how to implement a check system into your program.

Here’s a quick look at just some of the coaches who contributed to this special report:

  • Bud Foster, Defensive Coordinator, Virginia Tech University
  • Chris Ash, Defensive Coordinator, Ohio State University
  • Tom Mason, Defensive Coordinator, Southern Methodist University
  • Tyrone Nix, Defensive Coordinator, Middle Tennessee State University
  • Wallie Kuchinski, Defensive Coordinator, St. Thomas University
  • Jeff Judge, Defensive Coordinator, Defiance College
  • Tim Schaffner, Head Coach, Butler Community College
  • Plus various high school level coaches who have found ways to attack offenses by using a pressure check system

Case 1: Implementation Variables and Communication Protocols

In Case One of our special report, we focus on the variables that coaches use when implementing their pressure check system and the communication process they use.

These variables include down and distance, field zones, personnel groupings, formations and personnel weaknesses. We also center this data on the communication protocols coaches are using in their systems to get checks communicated pre-snap and implemented post-snap.

Here’s a quick look at what you’ll find in Case One:

  • How a check system could be the perfect complement to up-tempo offenses and how, if calculated correctly, can harness unpredictability in your defense and create negative plays
  • The methods coaches are using to devise their pressure check system including how they compile tendencies in the film room.
  • Why 3-5 pressure checks should be the benchmark per game for high school coaches, while college-level programs will use between 8-10
  • The various pressure check variables coaches are using in their system including personnel groupings, field positioning and formations
  • Why double calling, bluffing and killing pressures can provide headaches for sideline control, up-tempo offenses
  • The 11 most common indicators quarterbacks are using to check plays at the line of scrimmage and how to dissect these “tells” each week to build into your check system
  • How to package your check pressures into one-word defensive calls and how many coaches feel they need to carry going to game week
  • Why 76 percent of coaches feel more comfortable with their players making the checks and they talk about the process by which they train them to do so

Case 2: Formation and Personnel Pressure Checks in the Run Game

In this case, we will present our research on the most common pressure checks against various offensive formations and personnel groupings.

According to our research, 74 percent of coaches choose to pressure certain formations and personnel groupings, more so than any other variable. While this may be true, we found it necessary for coaches to be efficient with teaching their players formation structures before installing their check system. Many of the coaches we spoke with when conducting our research said that they will install all of their various types of pressures, field, boundary, tight side, open side, etc. before getting into specifics about formations.

This is just a few of the things Case Two reveals:

  • Decifering your check system based off formation classifications and surface classifications
  • Some of the most productive run pressure checks against three-man surface formations
  • Some of the more productive run pressure checks against two-man surface formations including Montana State University’s “backer” concept, which cancels seven gap run concepts
  • Various B.T.F (Blitz the Formation) protocols including the ones used by Jeff Judge at Defiance College, a Rex Ryan disciple
  • How coaches like Neil Hatfield from prep powerhouse Hudson High School (WI) have classified every possible formation into four distinct groupings, and the pressure checks his outside linebackers make in his odd front to each of them
  • The most productive pressures to attack 21 or 12 personnel, 11 personnel and 10 personnel
  • How coaches are tagging their pressures to the back in 10 personnel for run purposes, including pressure concepts designed exclusively to stop the power read and read option schemes
  • Most productive four to a side pressure checks, including trap coverage concepts used at powerhouse Dutchtown High School (LA)
  • Field and Boundary pressure checks based on two and three-man surfaces including the ones used at Virginia Tech under Bud Foster
  • The field pressure check system currently used at the University of Massachusetts under defensive coordinator Tom Masella

Case 3: Using Pressure Check to Attack Protections

In this case, we focused our research on how coaches are attacking protections.

When conducting our research, it becomes tremendously apparent that coaches are spending ample amounts of time dissecting offensive pass protections to get an advantage in their pressures. In fact, there were a good deal of coaches in our survey who talked about using a pressure check system solely in third and long or passing downs when they can beat a protection.

Once a coordinator has a “tell” on where the protection is being set, the possibilities become endless in attacking those protections. How this ties into a check system is simple: Coordinators are devising their 3-4 most productive pressures to attack certain protections and letting their players make the adjustments. Our intent in this case is to present some of those pressure concepts so that you can have an idea of what to bring and how to bring it to attack protections.

These are just a few of the facts our research uncovered in Case Three:

  • Protection identifications and an explanation of vulnerabilities in protection
  • The protocols coaches are using to break down protections in the film room and how they are devising the framework to attack them
  • How coaches are finding ways to get an overload on the back in six-man protection and how they are changing their methodology against Pistol formations
  • Pressure checks to attack full slide protection teams including offenses that “scan” its back in protection to work across the formation
  • Pressure checks to attack half-slide, insert protection teams including how coaches are overloading the man side using picks, twists and stunts
  • Pressure checks to attack big on big or man protection teams including how coaches are finding ways to put the Center in conflict post-snap
  • Pressure checks to attack sprint out or rollout protection teams including various trap coverage concepts to get help on the perimeter against bubble, speed sweep and sprint out teams
  • Pressure checks to attack certain offensive personnel (including skill players) based on vulnerability in pass protection or personnel
  • How defensive coaches are finding ways to manipulate the protection they want by stemming and shifting into different fronts pre-snap

Here’s Your Invitation: So, I want to take this time to invite you to get instant access to this entire special report because it’s full of all the information, drills, game film and strategies you need to significantly improve your pressure check system. This special report is located in our exclusive membership website, Insiders.

Get Your Insiders Membership Here.




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