Defensive coordinator Todd Agresta believes in using Match Coverage to defend RPOs, bunches, stacks and whatever else offenses can throw at him. And he explains why he does it, and how he does it in this exclusive clinic report.
By Mike Kuchar with Todd Argesta
Montclair State University (NJ)
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Montclair State University is a program rooted in successful tradition. One of the top Division III programs in the Northeast, the Red Hawks have been playing football for 87 years and head coach Rich Giancola has been coaching for 37 of them. He’s the active NCAA Division III leader in wins, compiling a 239-121-2 mark since taking over in 1983. Defensive coordinator Todd Agresta has been with Coach Giancola for 20 of those 36 years and it’s no coincidence that for 10 of those years the Red Hawks have been in the top three in the conference in every major defensive statistical category.
Like most successful program, they believe in what they do defensively and what they do is play with a middle of the field safety on over 85 percent of snaps. It’s a philosophy that Coach Agresta has developed and refined to defend the modern RPO offense. “I just believe in having a post defender,” he asserts. “I don’t feel comfortable with the teams we play playing with two safeties. You still need to stop the run. Our run fits are easier and it’s easier to teach.”
While the coverage can routinely change, one thing will not: there will be a safety in the middle of the field. And at the hierarchy of the Red Hawks defense sits its bread-and-butter coverage- Rip/Liz Match, or what Coach Agresta calls “Cover 9.” It’s the latest off shoot of man vs. zone, it looks like Cover 3 when it needs to and it looks like man coverage when it needs to look like man. It’s a coverage commonly associated with five-man pressure defenses and Montclair State runs it just as good as anyone.
Editor’s Note: Due to space issues, this report is designed exclusively around the coverage aspects of Rip/Liz match. X&O Labs already devoted an entire report on how to fit the run with this coverage with the University of St. Thomas (MN).
Personnel and Defensive Structure
The genesis of the Red Hawks scheme is based on an Odd front with the following denominations:
- Two-Gap Nose
- Base 4i Techniques at Defensive End (may be 5-techniques in Dime)
- Inside LBs: Mike and Will
- Outside LBs: Star (left) and Dime (right)
- Money: Strong Safety
- Jack: Free Safety
While Coach Agresta modeled his defensive scheme around the New England Patriots, he calls his outfit a “junk front,” which can align in various positions along the line of scrimmage. These fronts can transition into the following:
Base Coverage Principles
There is a myriad amount of pressure patterns that can be devised with this coverage, so we wanted to first spend time detailing the technique associated with each of the coverage defenders in Rip/Liz Match. The defenders in this coverage consist of the following:
- Two Outside Third Defenders
- One Deep Third Defender
- Two Seam 2 Droppers
- One 3 Hook Defender
According to most coaches, including Coach Agresta, the key to making the coverage efficient is a cross-training approach so that each back-end defender (LBs and DBs) understand how to play each of the above coverage concepts. It’s why the defensive staff at Montclair State spends the majority of spring practice (D-III is non-padded) working how defenders relate off each other. “Communication is the key to this coverage,” he told us. “Which is why we have buzz words for each scenario.”
While, we will provide the vocabulary behind the communication when we present the pass concepts that affect this scheme, we wanted to provide an overview of the responsibilities of these defenders.
Types of Pressure Patterns
While this report is not devoted to pressure patterns- Coach Agresta admits to having nearly three dozen in this coverage- we did want to provide some examples of the common pressure patterns that Coach Agresta is using in this coverage:
Gut Pressure Pattern
5 Up Pressure Pattern
Inside/Outside Pressure Pattern
Overload Pressure Pattern
In order to get these concepts taught, Coach Agresta and the defensive staff breaks down route progressions into a two-man side and a three-man side. He will teach the following circuits: seam player circuit, curl flat circuit and hook/curl circuit. “It’s a seven minute station and then we switch,” he said. “We will work on denying vertical entry with seam droppers from a buzz technique and we’ll work on reading inside receiver routes. The next day we’ll put the concepts together. We take their top five routes and work our coverage against it.”
Continue to the full-length version of this report...
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- The divider rules of his outside third defenders and when and how to communicate under routes.
- Why he differs in the teaching progression of his corners based on the drop of the QB.
- Why “buzz” and not “shuffle” footwork for his 2 seam defenders helps deny vertical entry by receivers.
- The variants of defending 3x1 formations, including “4 Out” scenarios that protect the underneath defenders against overload formations.
- How he troubleshoots common Rip/Liz match beaters including Smash concepts, Under-routes and Dig routes.
- How he adjusts the coverage to defend stacks, bunches and RPO based offenses.
- Plus, game film on all these concepts
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The beauty of Rip/Liz match coverage is that it plays like Cover 3 when it needs to and it plays like Cover 1 when it needs to. But, in order to get the concepts taught correctly, coaches need to spend time working all of the underneath defenders reads based on the all the possible route combinations that can affect them. Once the coverage is taught, the blitz patterns are endless, and a whole another story.