While there are different ways to play 3x1 formations, we highlight our base “Midpoints” check that we use to defend formations that involve a detached #3 receiver in a traditional 10 personnel spread formations.
By Kurt Twichell
Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers Coach
Portage Central High School (MI)
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Trips sets are football’s simplest unbalanced concepts and require some sort of compensation from the defense to match the numbers advantage created by the offense to the trips side. While there are many types of 3x1 sets and therefore many different ways to play them, I am going to highlight today our base “Midpoints” check that we use to defend formations that involve a detached #3 receiver in a traditional 10 personnel spread set.
Midpoints is something we learned from Pat Narduzzi’s staff in his time at Michigan State, and it plays off of the mathematical trend that the least targeted receiver in 3x1 is the farthest #1 to the trips side (7% of all 3x1 targets against us in 2019). As the name implies, Midpoints is going to align our corner to the trips side 7 yards deep and halfway between the #1 and the #2 receiver, or on their “mid-point.” Midpoints dares the average high school QB to make the farthest throw, while leveraging our defenders to the much more accessible interior receivers, who are also matched by an underneath player.
It is also worth noting for us that in 2019, nearly 80% of our defensive snaps took place from a hash, further increasing the distance from the QB to the #1, and thus decreasing the chance that he will be targeted. When we look at the math, we can see why. On a high school hash with a straight QB drop of 7 yards, the distance of a throw to the opposite sideline of 10, 15, and 20 yards downfield is roughly 39, 41, and 45 yards, respectively, that the ball must travel through the air.
We feel that the biggest strengths of this check at our level of high school ball, compared to other ways to play against 3x1, are two-fold. The first is the ability to protect the deep shots, limiting the big play capability of an offense by leveraging the spacing of our 4 defensive backs with their 4 primary receivers, while also gaining re-routes on the interior receivers. Secondly, Midpoints keeps us truly split-field and allows us to keep our boundary safety to the short-side to assist our corner with the receiver - who oftentimes is the offense’s most explosive player. We have multiple ways of involving our boundary safety to combat the offense’s tendencies, which I will briefly touch on later, but using Midpoints to stay split field gives us maximum flexibility.
The early version of how we taught this had the safety follow a similar horizontal alignment rule mid-pointing the #2 and #3, but we have since moved him on top of #3 after we had some difficulty with the #3 on bender routes in the middle of the field.
Our overhang/Nickel, who is fully out of any primary run fit versus a detached #3, will align on the inside eye of #2 at 5 yards and follow his standard C4 rule of walling #2 from entering the middle of the field. The Mike is the #3 wall player and will align in a 50 on the outside hip of the OT.
I should also note that we prefer to set the strength away from a detached #3 to reduce the conflict of the Mike (RPO) by giving him the B gap, and also protecting the boundary Will with the presence of a 3-technique weak. You can see our alignments below.
We believe that, regardless of what concept you are installing with your kids, there are 8 opportunities for our players to learn a scheme. Some are visual learners, some are kinesthetic learners, and some are both, so providing these opportunities allows us to hit on multiple learning styles:
- Pre-meeting diagrams, film, voiceovers (HUDL, GoArmy Edge, Google Classroom, etc.) – coach-provided, player-driven
- Pre-practice meeting – draw it on the whiteboard (#2), show film (#3)
- Pre-practice walkthrough (#4)
- Practice – Indy, Group, Team (#5-7)
- Post-practice film (#8)
As a split-field quarters team, we have always found our most effective method of install is from a half-line/half-field perspective in our group work with DB’s and LB’s. Our staff split allows us to have 3 defensive coaches with eyes on the rep, while 2 run the scout team and cards. In a 15-minute group period, we can get 30 combined reps in a good period (filmed as well). In camp, this is done almost daily as we work through our installs.
Again, one of the things we love about Midpoints is the ease of transition to our other checks. For our corners, it is the same as Cover 3, safeties the same as 2-Read, and the Nickels the same as base quarters with added urgency to find #1. Any time we are drilling those concepts, we are getting work on a large portion of our scheme.
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- Why teaching a side-shuffle/kick technique, rather than a square pedal, for the field corner allows him to drive on underneath throws, while capping the vertical of number two.
- The difference in technique of the Free Safety which allows him to add on to any late screen concept.
- How Coach Twichell teaches his Nickel to transition his eyes from the re-route of number two to any underneath route of number one.
- How Midpoint coverage adjusts to horizontal concepts such as double outs or bubble/slant combinations.
- How Midpoint coverage adjusts to 3x1 attached formations.
- Plus, game film of this concept.
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Midpoints is a great base check to detached #3 sets because it plays to the math of the field dimensions (hashes) and invites the QB to make a long, low-percentage throw. Most high school QB’s either do not have the arm, or the confidence, to push the ball to a wide #1. If the offense wants to move the pocket and shorten the distance, then they also must do so with the QB on the run and a flat defender working underneath. There is a give and take.
The ability to stay split-field also gives Midpoints it’s due in a DC’s toolbelt to protect the boundary defenders from being overmatched by a stud receiver or a running QB. When paired with other 3x1 checks such as Special or Solo, plus multiple 2 over 1 boundary checks to the single split, a DC can be very multiple in their presentation to the opposing coordinator while staying in their base quarters coverage.
Meet Coach Kurt Twichell: Kurt Twichell is entering his 3rd year as the defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Portage Central High School in Portage, MI. Prior to that, he was the safeties and OL coach from 2014-2017 at Portage Central, served as the defensive coordinator at White Pigeon High School (MI) from 2012-2013, and was on staff in various roles at his alma mater Haslett High School (MI) from 2006-2011.