With Adam Hovorka, X&O Labs Managing Editor
In 2017, Alfred University (NY) gave up a TD roughly 43% of the time an offense would get in the red zone; an improvement of nearly 30% from the prior season. How did they do this?
By Lazarus Morgan
Alfred University (NY)
With Adam Hovorka
X&O Labs Managing Editor
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If you do not let the other team score, it is hard to lose the game. Sounds simple enough, right? Our defense wants to be the absolute best at not allowing points. Yards tell lies, so at Alfred University, we strive to be the best scoring defense in our conference every year.
In 2016, we had a great season: a 12-1 record, a run to the elite 8, and we finished number 1 in several defensive categories in the Empire 8 Conference. But, we were awful in the Red Zone. We gave up a TD approximately 70% of the time an offense would get into the red zone against us. Going into the 2017 season, I knew we had to get better in that area.
In 2017, we gave up a TD roughly 43% of the time an offense would get in the red zone; an improvement of nearly 30%. How did we do this? First, we changed the culture in the program regarding how we viewed the red zone. Then schematically, we simplified things so our athletes could play fast when the size of the field had become much smaller.
In changing the culture, the mentality of the defense now became that it did not matter what happened that allowed the offense to get to the Red Zone. We taught our players and trained them to block that out. Now it is all about holding the offense to a field goal attempt, or better yet, getting the ball back.
When an offense had a short field, in the past we would see some kids have that “here we go again mentality” that carried a very negative vibe and led to finger pointing. We changed that mentality, encouraging our players to be very excited because it was now an opportunity to show how great we are as a defense. And they loved embracing that challenge.
This past season during a typical game preparation week, we practiced red zone defense three times a week. In this report, I will focus on how we play defense in the red zone from the 20 to 10 and the 10 to goal line, since for us those are two different defensive areas.
In the red zone, we do three things: we play a two-high coverage, a one-high coverage, and have a pressure package.
Everything we do for the most part as a defense in terms of coverage is from a two-high shell.
Our two-high coverage is good for any type of 2x2 formation, or a pro or twins set. It allows us to commit nine players to the run game and gives us four defenders to play four verticals by the offense. Let’s start with the run first. Our coverages and our run fits are married together. In our defense, if you are the widest defender, you are a “force/fold” player, while all other players that are a part of the box are “fast” players.
One High Coverage
Any 3 by 1 formation from the offense will get us into one of our one-high coverages. Now we can straight call one-high, but typically when we call our defense we will have a one-high coverage check built in.
When we teach our one-high zone coverages, we don’t put positions on the board for our kids. We simply use 4 X’s and 3 Y’s. Our kids understand that any of our 7 players who are not defensive linemen could be any one of those Xs or Ys based on the call. The Ys are all deep third players, we will have a player in the field-side third, middle-third, and boundary-third. They are all pass-first defenders. We will typically press our boundary defender as doing so limits the routes you are going to see from that WR. The press typically makes our corner think about a fade or slant. If the WR is running a different route our defender knows he has inside help. The middle-third defender, otherwise known as a post/seam defender, can be a late ninth man added to the run game. We will play him deeper, the reason for this being that we want all of his breaks on the football to be coming downhill, with the indicator the football is coming out from the QB being the hitch up and long arm.
When we get teams in passing situations in the red zone, we like to bring pressure, letting our play makers make big plays for our defense. We can bring 5, 6, or 7 in the pressure, which will vary based on our game plan that week. We can play zone or man behind the pressure and we can do this from a three or four man front. When we zone blitz, we call the players who are not blitzing “steal players.” They read the QB, his drop, his shoulders, and his eyes.
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- Details of the “steal technique” that Coach Morgan uses inside the 10-yard line, which gets non-pressure players to react off QB’s drop and eyes.
- How Coach Morgan trains his force and fold defenders in two-high structures to react off the number two receiver.
- How he gains a plus one advantage in the run game by training “Steal” defenders to react off “low ball” reads from the QB.
- How he’s able to add the post defender as a ninth run defender in the box based on QB’s actions.
- The most efficient front that Coach Morgan will use inside the 10-yard line.
- Plus, game film on all these concepts.
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Red Zone defense is very important. If you can hold teams to a field goal attempt, or better yet, get a turnover, that is tremendous from a momentum standpoint. In order for the kids to understand its importance, dedicate more practice time to it. Keep things simple; players play faster when things are simple. Do not over-complicate things. As a defensive coach, win the game with fundamentals, not with schemes. Keeping things simple will allow you to teach offense and focus on getting off blocks and making tackles. Last but not least, think players not plays. Build your red zone defense around what your playmakers do best. Put them in position to make those negative plays and get those turnovers for your defense. I am confident if you do these things, your team’s red zone defense will improve.
Meet Lazarus Morgan: Coach Morgan has spent that past 4 season at Alfred University and the past two seasons serving as defensive Coordinator. Prior to becoming the defensive coordinator, he was the secondary coach at Alfred University and Utica College. Coach Morgan’s defenses over the last two seasons have ranked #1 or #2 in the Empire 8 Conference in scoring, yards per game, rushing yards per game, passing defense, sacks, third down defense, passing yard per attempt and interceptions, respectively.