By Adam Hovorka
Managing Editor, X&O Labs
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 Coach 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: In most times this defender will be asked to hold the C gap, but may be the B gap in certain pressures. Whatever the situation, he is responsible for his gap. He can either align in it or blitz to it. Here, the Anchor is in single gap control and must get upfield right away on the snap.
- Lag Technique: Lag means that if the offensive lineman tries to reach the Anchor, he will play to his butt side and play the inside gap. He will allow himself to get reached and not worry about holding the outside gap. These are used in zone schemes to prevent any wind backs. It allows for big plays in the A and B gap.
- Fold Technique: Here the Anchor who is aligned as a stand-up C gap or even D Gap player will take the B gap or A gap. This is mainly used against gap teams when the Anchor gets pull schemes away from him. In these circumstances, he's not responsible for CBR (counter, boot, reverse).
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.”
According to Coach Noel, these are all built in calls and will change the fit of the other defenders. For example, “Pirates,” could mean four down front (Pittsburgh) with a lag fit. It’s a premise that the defensive staff at Stony Brook implemented recently to break tendencies for opponents. “At this level, if defenses know what your fit is it doesn't matter how good for football players you have,” he said. “Some of the biggest plays we gave up this year was when the defense figured out what we were going to be in and dictated to us. So, we decided to not check our fits anymore based on an offenses formation. There were teams that knew in certain formations they're going to get Quarters coverage out of us and they were going to get the match-up they wanted and exploited us for some big plays.”
In order to get it communicated, Coach Noel will use one-word calls that tells the defense the front, the coverage, and the fit. "For example, Bronco may tell them it's a four-down front with a lag fit," he said. "Where Texans could mean it's a three-down front with a lag fit. Or maybe Steeler tells us it's a lag fit from a quarter, quarter, half coverage structure. All NFL teams could be four down fronts with lag fits.”
Hold Gap Technique:
The first thing the Anchor is taught to do in the run game is to hold his gap. The hold gap technique is a single gap control technique where he is asked to either align in the gap he’s responsible for or blitz to it. He must be able to align in his gap and hold it in either 3 or 4-man fronts. This includes blitzing or moving into his gap as well. Therefore, this player has to be able to easily move in and out of the 3- and 4-man fronts because he's making a lot of the same reads.
“He's going to fit a lot of the same gaps and in a two-point stance he’ll be a bit further from the line of scrimmage,” said Coach Noel. “So that's what helps us be able to move in and out of this very easily. We are not asking the guy to suddenly do something in the 3-down package that he doesn't already isn’t doing in the 4-man front. There's not a single thing that is different.” So, if the Anchor is responsible for C gap control he can do so at the line of scrimmage or back off the line of scrimmage to play it.
The reads in the hold gap technique may change based on opponent, according to Coach Noel. There are times when he must have “bigger vision” like a linebacker or he might key the guard and tackle to his side. “He's got to look at both of those (Guard and Tackle) in a 3 or 4 down front,” said Coach Noel. “Since he needs to see the whole picture, he can't just get what he needs to do from one guy. We will drill that when we are not in pads. We will go on barrels, we will do walk-throughs, and will do this as a group. He will just get his block reads a little bit different. They're just kind of walking through plays and we're getting our block recognition.”