Attacking the Alley Against Odd Front Defenses

Jun 13, 2011 | Offense, Game Planning

Researcher's Note: You can access the raw data - in the form of graphs - from our research on Attacking the Alley Against Odd Front Defenses: Click here for the Statistical Analysis Report.

It’s a classic case of the tail wagging the dog.  With the advent of four receiver spread formations infiltrating the collegiate and prep landscapes, defenses have been forced to adjust.  Commonly referred to as "sub" personnel, our researchers at X&O Labs have found that many four-down (defensive line) teams have shifted to three-down structures just to match speed with speed.  What started out as nickel packages has grown more into an every down occurrence.   Coordinators are replacing one of their defensive linemen with linebacker/safety hybrids in order to combat the speed and defend the width of the field.

After surveying 2,000 college and prep coaches, we’ve found that the most difficult challenge when facing odd front teams is finding a way to occupy the alley defender (usually an outside linebacker or drop safety).  Often taught to be the force player, it’s this overhang player that can cause problems for offenses wishing to push the ball to the perimeter.  Sure, it’s offensive pedagogy to attack the B gap bubbles vs. odd front teams, but it’s only a matter of time until defenses try to take that away by slanting or stemming to a four-down front pre-snap.  Eventually you’ll need to get to the perimeter, so why not save time by getting there immediately?  Our researchers at X&O Labs have sifted through your feedback, and we’ll show you how to do just that below.

Case 1: Using Tight End Structures, Particularly 12 or 11 Personnel Even if you don’t have a tight end in the program, start to develop one.  Over 80% of coaches polled by X&O Labs attack odd defenses by using various tight end formations. Whether by using 12 personnel (two tight ends, one backs) 11 personnel (one tight end, one back) or 21 personnel (one tight end, two backs), the implementation of the tight end seems to be a pivotal tool in the run game.

We’ve all seen how productive spread offenses like Oregon, Boise State and Florida have been within the last three years.  What separates those teams from traditional spread teams is the implementation and execution of the tight end on normal downs.  According to our research, using a tight end in spread personnel accounts for two valuable advantages:

  • It changes the structure of the defense: No longer can that safety/linebacker play in space, which is exactly what he wants to do.  Now he’s forced to cover down on a bigger, stronger opponent, giving you leverage to get to the alley.
  • It provides for an instant mismatch in the run game: Many of these hybrids don’t like to get their hands dirty.  These types, who usually weigh in the 180-210 pound range, are forced to balance up and fit in the framework against bigger tight ends.

Mike Canales, associate head coach and offensive coordinator at the University of North Texas, contributed heavily to this Coaching Research Report.   Canales has modeled his spread scheme after studying the details of what Oregon does to attack the perimeter with their speed-sweep and option series.  "Anytime we’re going to get odd fronts, like we do when we play Louisiana-Monroe, we need to make some adjustments to our scheme," said Canales.  "Teams are going to give you a six-man box, regardless of what you’re putting on the line of scrimmage.  Handling that overhang player with a six box is a bitch.  You can’t stay in 10 personnel with no tight ends because those slot receivers aren’t big or strong enough to handle those safety types one-on-one, so you need to get into 11 or 12 personnel to force the defensive coordinator’s hand."