The following research was conducted in part of X&O Labs Special Report on Phase 2: 4-2-5 Defense.
By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
Editor’s Note: The following research was conducted in part of X&O Labs Special Report on Phase 2: 4-2-5 Defense
Like most defensive outfits, Stony Brook prides itself on stopping the run and everything they do so is based off the four-down front. So, when the Seawolves transition into either their Double Eagle or the 3-man fronts, it's almost the exact same defense. “We just tell the Anchor that either you are already aligned in the gap you are assigned, or you are moving back to the gap we want you in,” said defensive line coach Rob Noel. “if we have a blitz called in a four-down front, we can very easily run it from the 3- down front and Eagle package by using a different word that they already know. If the blitz is called something in 4 man package (say Bronco) then in 3-man fronts it might be called Orange.”
Regardless of the front, the Anchor will be asked to execute the following three techniques based on run to or run away from him. These are all techniques that we will cover in this case.
- Hold the gap Technique:
- Lag Technique:
- Fold Technique:
According to Coach Noel, the purpose of using multiple fit patterns is to alter blocking schemes at the line of scrimmage. These fit patterns are tied into two factors: coverage structure and block recognition. But regardless of the fit pattern called, it can be changed based on the offensive blocking scheme. For example, “lag” fitting doesn’t happen when it’s a gap scheme because most gap schemes will entail some sort of pull. Therefore, the lag fit becomes a “fold” fit. Even though these fits are executed at the first level, second level defenders are expected to know where they fit based on the blocking scheme. “In most cases, the linebackers will work to play behind on zone schemes and fit their gap on gap schemes,” he said. “If the Anchor is folding fitting the gap, the linebackers push a gap further away from the run action. It's all based off the flow. We tell them they have this gap in base flow and this gap in pull. No communication has to happen.”
The last fit technique that is taught to the Anchor is the Fold fit. This seems to be the common technique used when the Anchor gets pulls away from him. The Anchor who is aligned as a stand-up C gap or even D Gap player will take the B gap or A gap based on what the specific defensive call asks him to do. In studying Stony Brook’s film, we’ve noticed that these players are mainly fold fitters in two circumstances: when they get pulls away from them and when they are to the side of zone pressures. In these situations, he will be the third linebacker in coverage and would be an off-the-ball reader based on flow.
According to Coach Noel, the Anchor will fit a gap based on flow and he will have a couple of different ways to teach the fold technique, mainly based on flow to or flow away. It can be done from three down and four down looks. He will mainly fold back and fit the first open gap when the run concept is away from him. “When he’s fold fitting, he must see big picture seeing all three linemen- Tackle, Guard and Center based just like a linebacker,” said Coach Noel. “He gets a call that tells him what we want him to do on the call.”
“There are times when he is reading the Tackle and /or the Guard and he will loop into either the B or A gap,” said Coach Noel. “Other times the Anchor will move to the A or B gap on the snap. This is done because it’s so tough for the offensive line because they don't know where he is going to fit and they are thrown off. We mix it up, by bringing them outside and inside.”
Fold Film Analysis:
In the clip below, the offense is running an insert zone concept. The Anchor falls back inside to the first open gap and makes the play on the ball carrier.
I first heard about this concept last summer...
I was talking with a source of mine at the collegiate level. We were discussing the biggest challenge facing 4-2-5 defenses today: Not being able to protect overhang defenders in the RPO game.
More specifically, we were discussing how the influx of RPO offenses using tempo with hi-speed skill players are forcing more and more defensive coaches every year into using both Odd and Even front structures...
This is when my coaching source told me about Stony Brook University (NY). He said they had developed a simple, but innovative solution to fight modern offenses with the 4-2-5.
Now, if you’re not familiar with Stony Brook, they’re gaining attention with their unique 4-2-5 defense. As my source told me, this is the next phase of the 4-2-5.
And after sending our managing editor, Adam Hovorka, to Stony Brook to investigate, what he brought back proves my source right...
This IS the Next Phase of the 4-2-5 Defense
Facing a majority of offenses that ran tempo-based RPO in 11/12 personnel, head coach Chuck Priore and his defensive staff didn’t want to move wholesale to an Odd front—and end their 20 year history of running the 4-2-5.
Instead, they focused their efforts in developing the one position that would allow them to be more multiple in front and coverage structure without sacrificing their base. This position is the boundary defensive end or whom they call the “Anchor.”
The Secret Sauce
While the adjustment may have been routine from a structural standpoint, the results were anything but…
Using the system that Stony Brook created to develop the Anchor position to be versatile allows their defense to play with more flexibility in coverages and pressures with their best-athletes because they can secure edges in the run game, manipulate protections as rushers in the pass game and provide sound coverage concepts—and most importantly, they can do all this without EVER taking anyone OFF the field. It’s fast and it’s seamless...
They’re turning the tables on modern offenses and re-gaining some of the advantages that was lost during tempo/RPO boom years...
What Are We Talking About?
To be clear, they are taking the boundary defensive end and cross-training him using the developmental system that they’ve created…
This player—whom they call the Anchor, while others call him the Beast—cross-trains with both linebacker and a defensive linemen groups. As our investigation discovered, there will be times when he’s working with the defensive line and times when he’s working with the linebackers to learn coverages and run fits. He’s truly a hybrid positional player.
And once this player has been thoroughly trained—he becomes the third linebacker. He’s the adjuster that can play both on and off the line of scrimmage and in the run box. By using him, coaches can alter their front structure by getting into five down fronts, four-down fronts, and three-down fronts on each snap of the ball.
This allows 4-2-5 coaches to still play split-field coverage with five true defensive backs, and do so with a three-linebacker grouping—all without changing personnel.
It’s easy to see why we’re calling this the next phase of the 4-2-5 defense.
Want Proof This Works?
When you run a hybrid, or an “Anchor” as Stony Brook calls the position, this player becomes one of your most productive defenders—more production than just a boundary defender in the 4-2-5. Just this past season at Stony Brook, this player finished the season...
- 4th in tackles
- 3rd in sacks
- 5th in TFLs
So, not only are you being more flexible in your defense, being able to quickly switch from Odd to Even fronts without changing out players—you’re also getting more production from this new hybrid when compared to your boundary defender.
Do You Need a “Freak” Athlete to Do This?
No—and this might be the best thing about this new phase of the 4-2-5...
Many coaches already have this player on their roster. It’s a player that may not have the range to play as an interior backer position and lacks the strength to play on the line of scrimmage 100% of the time. This hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end can be versatile enough to do both of these things from time-to-time. Developing this player allows coaches to play multiple fronts and pressure packages without taking anyone off the field. This relies heavily on the skill set of this defender.
Is This Easy to Do?
Yes—it’s easy to implement. It’s easy to find players on your roster for this hybrid position. And it’s easy to train them… as long as you use the cross-training system we’ve pulled from Stony Brook...
The staff at Stony Brook University has developed an efficient and effective system to train this player. Their system is the result of hundreds of hours of trial-and-error—until they found the right cross-training mixture.
I’ll show you more about this cross-training system in just moment, but I’d like to answer one question I know we’ll get asked from our high school readers...
Will This Work at the High School Level?
We shared our findings from Stony Brook with several high school coaches and asked them one question... “What impact could this have at the high school level?” The response was fast and straightforward...
“Heck, yes, it’s going to have an impact at this level. Having this type of player on the field means I don’t have to change personnel to play four down coverages or drop eight to play three down coverages while keeping our pressure packages intact.”
“Seeing how we run the same three run fits Stony Brook uses, we’d be able to dictate blocking schemes to the offensive line by shifting in and out of three-down fronts. I’ve already spoken to our defensive coordinator—we’re implementing phase two this summer. Thanks, Mike!”
The Bottom Line...
Phase-Two of the 4-2-5 is proven to work, it’s easy to run—you already have this hybrid player on your roster—and it neutralizes the tempo in modern offenses while dictating blocking schemes in RPOs.
All this sounded pretty good to us when I first heard about this—and we think it’s better now that we’ve spent the last 3 months working with the innovative defensive staff at Stony Brook University to understand every aspect of it.
That is why I am proud to announce that we have just released a brand-new report called, Phase-Two: 4-2-5 Defense in our exclusive Insider’s membership website.
X&O Labs’ Phase-Two: 4-2-5 Defense Report
When you join X&O Labs’ exclusive membership website, Insiders, you’ll get instant access to the full report detailing everything you need to install Phase-Two of the 4-2-5 defense in your program—all the game film, diagrams and install materials you’ll need. Plus, you also get the Anchor training system developed by the coaching staff at Stony Brook University.
Here’s a short list of what you’ll find in this brand-new special report...
Case 1: A Communication System to Support Multiple Front Structures
In order to keep consistency in scheme and transition seamlessly from Even and Odd front structures, a communication process must be established. This is the foundation of having that Anchor handle multiple responsibilities while not overwhelming him with too much information. Communication must be concise and logical. In this case, Coach Noel details the communication system he uses at Stony Brook University that allows the Anchor to be able accomplish all of these following tasks on any given snap of the ball:
- Play as a stand-up defender in a four-down front
- Play as an edge defender in a three-down front
- Play as box linebacker
- Rush the passer from the line of scrimmage
- Rush the passer from depth
- Cover a tight end or RB in man-to-man coverage
- Play a zone technique in the pass game
- Know his responsibilities in multiple run fits
Case 2: Responsibilities and Techniques for Anchor vs. Run
Defenses can no longer use one fit pattern to defend certain run concepts. Offenses are too good nowadays and the advent of RPOs only add to that predicament. As Coach Noel told us, “If defenses know what your fit is, it doesn't matter how good for football players you have. Some of the biggest plays we gave up this year were when the defense figured out what we were going to be in and dictated to us.” That is why regardless of the front, Stony Brook University will alter its fit patterns, and at the crux of this change is the Anchor, who will be asked to execute three different kinds of fit patterns based on run to or run away from him.
These are his specific fit patterns that we will cover in this case:
- Hold the Gap Technique:
- Lag Technique:
- Fold Technique:
According to Coach Noel, the purpose of using multiple fit patterns is to alter blocking schemes both at the line of scrimmage and at the second level. These fit patterns are tied into two factors: coverage structure and block recognition. And each of these fit patterns come with a certain technique. In this case, we researched how Coach Noel trains the Anchor on the when and why to use these varying fit patterns.
PLEASE NOTE: This case includes 18 videos featuring Stony Brook games—all shot from the end zone. Coach Noel also included all the coaching points you’ll need—to ensure we answer all your questions before you need to ask.
Case 3: Responsibilities and Techniques vs. Pass
In this new evolution of the 4-2-5 defense, the Anchor position is no longer purely a pass rusher. While he may be asked at times to rush the passer, the Anchor at SBU was third in sacks last season, he will also be asked to handle the following coverage responsibilities: play the weak flats, bracket the number one receiver to the boundary, play the weak seam in three-deep coverage and play a tight end or running back in man-to-man coverage. In this case, Coach Noel provides the coaching points he uses to train the Anchor on how to play all of these coverage responsibilities in both pressure and non-pressure downs.
PLEASE NOTE: This case includes 17 videos showing this concept in real-world, game situations. Plus, it includes all the coaching points and diagrams you’ll need to implement this concept into your program.
Case 4: Developing a Practice Plan and Drill Work for the Anchor
Because this “hybrid” player is a mix between a defensive lineman and a linebacker, practice time needs to be delegated between both these position groups to develop the skill sets needed to play this position. There are certain periods where he’ll work block destruction and pass rush with Coach Noel’s defensive line and other times where he’ll work on those three run fit reads and work coverage responsibilities with the linebackers. In this case, Coach Noel details the specific drill work he’ll use on a weekly basis to prepare the Anchor to execute all of the assignments asked of him, both in the run and pass game. Coach Noel provides coaching points and film to support each of these drills.
PLEASE NOTE: This case includes 10 practice videos showing how Coach Noel trains the Anchor—along with all the coaching points and insight you’ll need to implement this concept in your program.
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