By Steve Erxleben
South River High School (MD)
In today’s modern challenge of defending offenses that feature multiple formations made up of multiple personnel groupings with multiple forms of tempo, Defensive schemes have to be sophisticated enough to challenge the run, pass, and protection schemes while also be simple enough to allow players to play fast. As a defensive staff here at South River High School, we decided years ago to transition from more of a base front and coverage team to a scheme rooted in zone pressure and match-carry-deliver principles on the backend.
Within our culture defensively and as a staff we believe with the personnel we have and the style of offenses within our league, hanging our hat on zone pressure allows our scheme to be balanced, have specific force and alley rules, has a reduced amount of checks, is highly adjustable, and allows us to prevent explosive plays, all allowing our players to play fast. Furthermore, we fee that being a high pressure team on early downs allows our front and second level defenders to successfully funnel the ball to an unblocked defender if we do not get a clean run through.
This past season in 2021, out of 631 plays in 11 games, we zone pressured 71% of the time in multiple down and distance, personnel, and +/- situations out of multiple fronts, pre snap movements, and coverages. Specifically, in what we refer to as heavy run down and distances, we were an 83% blitz team but these percentages could vary based upon the personnel on the field. “Run Heavy” can also be very comparatively speaking based upon the opponent but for the sake of argument we refer to heavy run downs as 1st and 10, 2nd and 3-1, and 3rd and 3-1.
In these “Run heavy” down and distance situations, we feel confident our litany of Fronts, Pressures, and pre-snap movements match up well versus 10 and 11 personnel runs (zone, power, duo, etc.).
However, when teams utilize 20 or 21 personnel, our mentality does not change but how we handle force, especially to the weakside of the formation, is critical to getting stops and forcing a longer 2nd or 3rd down situation. Looking at forcing the run in a more “worst case scenario” mentality, we expect runs to be cut back away from the side of the pressure, which creates the need for varying ways to set the edge, force the ball, and create B gap integrity. Having multiple ways to attack an unbalanced grouping like 20 and 21 has created multiple ways to force the ball and successfully rely in alley fits and pursuit to “cage the run”.
BASE FRONT TERMINOLOGY AND HOW IT RELATES TO PRESSURE
Since this report is about effecting runs and corresponding Force elements, it is warranted to first touch on our Base verbiage and what the Blitz and non-pressure sides are doing (DIAGRAM #1). In our base defense, we will set our front either to the field or the boundary, to or away from the multiple receiver side, to or away from the TE, or to or away from the Back in the shot gun. Where we are setting the front is a weekly game plan decision. Every snap we make either a “Roger” or “Louie” call which dictates where the 4th rusher is coming from and, if we are in a 3 deep situation, where safety support is spinning. Our Interior linemen always slant away from the front call (Roger/Louie) as the 4th rusher (our call side OLB) becomes the C gap player/5 technique call side. The reduction side call correlates with a coverage call to establish who the force player is to the reduction side as well as who the seam player will be. All of our same-side ILB/OLB or “edge” blitzes correlate with a Roger or Louie call, which we feel makes it easier for our players to identify and gives them a chance to focus more on disguise and triggering the blitz from a proper depth and angle.
In our terminology, any front that begins with the letter “S” determines the pressure side is to our “SAM” backer. Our SAM backer is our hybrid OLB/DB kind of player and is the adjustor to the field and formation. If our front call is an “S” front the SAM now is the 4th rusher and the reduction is to that side as well (DIAGRAM 2).
Conversely, if the front begins with an “A” we are setting the pressure and reduction AWAY from the SAM, so now our WILL OLB is the 4th Rusher and the pressure side is set away from the SAM. (DIAGRAM #3)
In diagrams 4, 5, 6 and 7 our Force and Leverage rules are explained from our initial install each Spring. For this report, we will be applying pressure to either the “SAM” side or “WILL” side of the formation, but forcing the ball in space weak will be through the eyes of the WILL backer primarily.