Formation Based Defensive Game Planning

Sep 14, 2020 | Defense, Scouting Reports, Game Planning

By Vince Luvara
Defensive Coordinator/Secondary Coach
Washington & Jefferson College (PA)
Twitter: @Coach_Luvara



At Washington & Jefferson we are a 3-4 multiple front quarters team.  We are not a heavy pressure team; in 2019 we blitzed at 25% clip for the entire year.  We believe in having as many tools in our toolbox so we can adapt to whatever type of offense we are seeing week to week.  We have 20 different fronts we can use: both 4 and 3-man fronts.  We use 4 different versions of Quarters, five different versions of Cover 2, four different versions of Cover 3, two different versions of Cover 1, two different versions of 2-Man and 17 different 3x1 adjustment.  While we might not install everything in camp, we feel it is necessary to have these options when the situation presents itself.


Essential Questions

There are many things to think about when game-planning against an opponent.  Here are the questions we ask when making our defensive game plan.

  1. Who are their key players and what do we need to emphasize to be successful?
  2. What do we need to do vs trips and empty?
  3. Do they run unbalanced, is it end over unbalanced or true unbalanced?
  4. How are we getting off the field on 3rd down?
  5. What does the offense like in the Red Zone?
  6. How are we handling Wildcat?


Key Players / Emphasis

The first thing we look at is what did we do well last week and what didn't we do well.  Most offensive coordinators will try to attack your weakness, so the first thing we do is come up with a way to improve what we did poorly the week before.  For example, if we felt our tackling was poor the previous week, we might hit our tackle circuit double.  Or if we felt we didn't handle a route combination well we will go over it in an extra half-field coverage period

Then we look at who is their go-to skill guy and what do they do well and what don't they do well.  For example, does a QB escape to one side better than the other, if so, we will try to flush him to that side.  Do they have a higher percentage of times they are throwing to a certain guy in critical situations?  What is their go-to run play?

To do this we might decide we are going to double team a certain guy or on passing, situations run a twist or pressure from one side of an opponent's formation or only on a certain hash.  It might be we are running gap scheme movements this week as opposed to our zone scheme movements.


3x1 Thought Process

Back Strong / Pistol: What RPO’s are they running? Are they Sprinting out? Then try to match our 3x1 coverages to what they are trying to do out of 3x1 Back Strong / Pistol.

Back Weak: Are they releasing the back or is he staying in the protection? If their best WR on the backside of 3x1?

For the 3x1 Back Strong/Pistol we are going to play more drop-down coverages from the field safety so we have 3 over 3 pre-snap so the read is telling the QB to hand the ball.

With 3x1 Back Weak we are going to look at stuff that is going to give us 3 over 2 into the boundary to hand and route combinations from the single receiver and the running back to take the linebacker out of conflict.


3rd Down Thought Process

3rd down is its own entity and a ton of film preparation goes into how we will play it. Here are the questions we will ask ourselves as we prepare for 3rd down. 

  1. Who is the go-to guy? If there is a designated go-to guy, we can double that guy, roll coverage to him or put our best defender on him.
  2. Is the QB a Runner?
  3. What is the Protection? Slide or Man? 5- or 6-Man Protections? We will design our pressure based on the protection.
  4. Run / Pass vs. Down and Distance. There is usually a cut-off point for each play-caller when they will run the ball vs when they will pass the ball.
  5. Pass Type (3 Step, 5 Step, Sprint Out, Boot, Screen) & Concept vs. Down and Distance.