Defending RPO and Triple Option – Case 1: Odd Front Structures to Defend Flexbone Option

Sep 9, 2016 | Defense, Game Planning, Defending Specific Offensive Systems and Concepts

By Mike Kuchar
Senior Research Manager
X&O Labs
Twitter: @MikekKuchar



It’s not an aberration that when the Naval Academy and Army compete against each other in December, they are utilizing odd front structures.

In fact, 27 percent of coaches choose to utilize and odd front when defending flexbone triple option concepts. And while we will present various sources viewpoints on using the odd front, it’s important to note that many odd front coaches continually change their assignments when defending triple option concepts. Part of the complexity of defending triple option is having the discipline to play your assignments properly. We all know that. The successful option offenses will continually monitor how you are defending them and adjust accordingly. So while as a defensive coordinator, you may be confident in delegating these assignments to your players it may all come to naught by the second series of the game.

In this study, we sought out defensive coordinators that were successful in defending the option. In fact, many of them see it in practice every day from their own team. These offenses aren’t going away anytime soon and you’ll need to know how to defend them in order to have some deal of success. Every offense has some element of option football and in this case we will study pure triple option concepts from the flexbone and how odd front defenses are defending them.

First, we found that 88 percent of coaches have some experience in defending flexbone option offenses. By flexbone, we are referring to the Navy system, two slots (or A backs) a B back (FB) and two wide receivers. While these formations can change, the personnel usually does not. We also found that when defending these schemes, 64 percent of coaches use a phase base system (dive, pitch keep) while 19 percent use a gap based system (A gap responsible, B gap responsible, etc.).

Below, we selected a couple contributors to our study to explain the base way they defend option from their odd fronts.

Base Defensive Assignments:

We studied how each type of odd front prepares to defend the triple option. We classified odd front structures based on 3-4 or 3-3 fronts. While we will go into further depth on how specifically, option football is defended, below is a general synopsis of how odd front coaches are playing assignment football. These responses were generated from our reader survey.

3-3-5 Base:

John Martin, Mt. Anthony Union High School (VT): “We run a 3-3 flex defense which gives us a pure gap alignment. From there, we are able to gap exchange easily on the snap, while still being gap sound. This ensures that we are ready for option football once the ball is snapped.”

Eric Firestone, Hazel Green High School (AL): “We run a 3-3-5 System. Our defensive ends are in 5-techniques. They and the middle linebacker are responsible for dive. Our stack linebackers will play quarterback to pitch. Our free safety will play pitch. Everyone else is secondary in the phases.”

3-4 Base:

Bill Debernarde, Calvary Chapel High School (CA): “It really depends on the athletes on the offense, and the athleticism of our personnel. In general, our responsibilities are as follows: nose and inside linebackers have dive; defensive ends have quarterback; outside linebackers have pitch; safeties have ball (RB to QB to pitch); and the corners have pitch.”

Mike Gutelius, Lindsey Wilson College (KY): “We use a 3-4 base with outside linebackers walked up with 4i techniques from the defensive ends. We move the front post-snap one direction or the other and roll the coverage based off of option action.”

Mark Lyons, Central Valley High School (PA): “In our 3-4 structure, we use the nose guard and 5-techniques play the dive. The inside linebackers play dive to quarterback, while the outside linebackers slow play for the quarterback. The safeties will play alley quarterback to pitch.”

George Balian, Burlington High School (MA): “We use a 3-4 defense vs. the flexbone option. The inside linebackers has the dive; the outside linebackers have the quarterback while the safeties play pitch. The corners are locked man to man in coverage.”

Mark Brown, Carroll High School (IN): “The defensive line handles the dive back whether it is the running back or quarterback. The outside linebacker is the QB player or outside runner. The inside linebackers play quarterback to pitch. The safeties play pitch.”

Odd Front Systems to Defend Triple Option:

While those might be the base ways to defend triple option concepts in the odd front system, we wanted to single in on some specific programs to research how they were defending pure option football. We selected six programs from all levels who had a winning percentage of .750 or higher in defending option football. We presented a synopsis of how each of these systems defend option football. While much of our contributions come in the form of defending flexbone option, we’ve found that coaches are using these same principles to defend spread option concepts as well. We broke down each of these systems on the following: