By: Jackson Yanchus
How 4 Verticals and Quick Game Passing has changed run fits forever.
There’s nothing new about the idea that the spread offence has changed the way defenses are
designed and executed. Just look at the first page of every defensive playbook. Gone are the diagrams of base fronts and coverages drawn up against 21/22 personnel.
Not to say that offences aren’t running these sets anymore, but the concept that your defense is designed to fill gaps 1st, and set the coverage to satisfy that need does not match the dynamic conditions defenses find themselves in 2021.
Even in heavier sets, offenses are now built on an increased quarterback capacity to either alter the play pre-snap, or take advantage of options post snap to consistently “take what the defense is giving them.”
The Arms Race that led to the Full Field RPO
4 verts took the traditional model of playing “1 high defense”, and along with the advent of “option routes”
made playing these traditional looks a risky proposition for defenses.
Mix in increased quarterback efficiency, rule changes and hyper athletic slot players and defenses had
This led to defenses having to move to “2 high structures” in more and more situations. Two high structures allowed for better pre-snap leverage on vertical routes, and eliminated vertical defenders from having to play multiple
receivers at once.
The natural progression in the arms race was for offences to now use those option routes, and ever
improving quarterbacks to attack the field horizontally with Quick Game Passing. As defenses moved their WILL linebacker out of the box to close off quick game windows while maintaining a 2 high shell to prevent the vertical passing game, the RPO was born.
Allowing quarterbacks to attack the exact look post snap that the defense presents, RPO’s began to evolve. RPO’s, allowing quarterbacks to attack the exact look post snap that the defense presents, began to evolve.
RPO’s have become not just horizontal throws into open space, but rather down field concepts which led to more explosive results when defences remained gap sound in their run fits.
Changing the fits can minimize, but not eliminate conflict
As defenses adjust to this new reality of spread offences, there are a number of strategies they can use to remain viable in a post snap world. Understanding those are a key element in why I believe dline movement can be a versatile, scheme agnostic option for handling the variety of RPO’s seen in modern offence.
The first major shift was to attempt to take the linebacker to the side of the running back (the most likely to be read defender) out of the run fit, and thus removing them from their run/ pass conflict. To do this, the “overhang” defender away from the running back would be “in the fit”, and the end away from the back would be a “heavy 5” and be “B gap responsible” in the run game.
This was effective and is still a viable option when defending half field RPO’s. But naturally, it wasn’t long until the offence advanced the arms race, and started reading both side of the field.
Full Field problems need full field solutions
Offences having the capability of creating conflict for both overhangs (will & nickel/sam) pre & post snap have made it a necessity for defenses to have full field answers to eliminate their overhangs from conflict.
Don’t get me wrong, removing both your overhangs from conflict, and remaining in a two high structure leaves 5 athletes to defend the box, creating an inherent opportunity for offences to run the football.
1 high structures have their pro’s especially when defending the rpo. Don Brown famously “solved his problems with aggression”…. and mostly with 1 high coverage meaning his defenses saw far less RPO’s than most since the arms race began.
That approach does come with its challenges, including putting stress on your db’s to handle man to man responsibilities consistently. Playing 2 high structures with some of the tools like playing a “heavy 5” away from the back can eliminate some of those concerns, but they don’t fully eliminate the element of conflict offences are now so good at creating.
Which brings me to the main focus of this article, which is ultimately defending 10 personnel, spread formations with 5 box players, allowing you as a defensive coordinator to take the ball out of the quarterback’s hands, and having the option when necessary to become predictable and hand the ball off.
Fitting the run with 5: The Answer to Grounding the Air Raid & Defending RPO’s
Math is math. You can’t fill 6 gaps with 5 players at once, but it is possible (and I would argue worth
while) to defend 6 gaps with 5 players, especially defending the zone blocking schemes that are prevalent in today’s 10 personnel run game. In a 4 down, even structure to me, the best way is to use an old TCU classic, the “Read Tex” stunt.
In short: Set the “3 Tech” away from the side of the back. The end to the side of the back will shuffle and be the quarterback player. The overhang to the back is out of the fit and can relate to the route run in the RPO concept. The mike is “B to the back.” the 3 tech is responsible for the B gap, and the end away from the back will execute the “Read Tex” assignment (read the tackle: horizontal shoulders = set the edge. vertical shoulders loop to the A gap).
Shuffling the end to the back should force the give, removing the qb as a run threat on any form of zone read.
The mike and nose should force the ball to the frontside, into the “Read Tex Stunt.”
The “3 tech” should work vertically up the field through the b gap, ideally creating dent and making it harder for the guard and tackle to pass off the potential twist from the Tex Stunt.
The end away from the back will read the departure of the tackle. If the tackle works vertically (showing inside zone)
the end will jab step up field, and loop inside cancelling the open A gap.
The angle of the RB, along with the alignment of the RB can be a “tell” as to the type of zone the end will see. If the back is even with the qb, often the back will take a wide zone path. If the back is vertically set from the quarterback, inside zone is more likely.
EXECUTING A READ TEX STUNT
The End away from the back (involved in the Tex Stunt) ultimately has the challenging job in this scheme, but the more film I watch, even against really good competition, the more I believe this is a technique that can empower your edge players to be dominant.
Here we see the shuffle technique and the backside fitters (the nose & to some extent the mike) force the ball frontside. The mike is playing what I call “The B to the Ball” Technique.
To me, this means playing the “backside” B GAP until the ball clears to the frontside. If the backside tackle blocks down, the shuffle technique may ultimately cancel that B Gap. Especially when the angle of the block is downhill, the mike can hang in the B Gap and force the ball frontside.
In terms of executing the Tex Stunt on the frontside there are multiple schools of thought. One key, no matter what is the 3 Technique, must get up the field.
If the 3 Gives up any group, it will make the end’s job significantly more challenging. Aligning the nose shaded on the centre can help make it more challenging for the OLINE to double the 3 Tech. Also widening the 3 Tech to almost a 4I Technique can help him get some upfield penetration against the guard.
As seen in the image above, the 3 technique working Upfield allows the end to work overtop and cancel
the A gap. The back has no cut back options because of the wall created by the mike and the 1 Tech.
Going into this film study I was concerned about the degree of difficulty involved in closing the frontside a gap. After watching the film, while this is a challenge, it is an even greater challenge for the offensive line to consistently manage the stunt.
Pre and Post Snap Indicators for the End (and the Mike)
Running Back Location
Presnap, the defence can get a lot of clues about The potential type of run from the depth of the back.
The deeper the backs heals, and the tighter they are to the quarterback, the more the defence should lean towards Inside Zone.
The wider the back, and the closer to the Quarterback’s toes the Running Back aligns, the more likely the back will take a wide zone path.
Post Snap Reads
Post snap you have two options for how to teach the end to read the run and decide to execute the “Read Tex” or to set the edge. Reading the running back can be simpler, but the backs angle at times can be misleading. Depending on the team, and how they protect their runs, this can be an effective way for the end to make their decision.
Offensive Tackles Departure
You can also read the departure and first step of the tackle. This can be effective and gives a more true assessment of the plays intentions, but this can be later developing than reading the initial step of the running back. Because of the potential for the read to take more time, it can be seen as a more challenging way to read the situation.
Inside Zone: If the tackles first step passes their inside foot vertically, and their shoulders stay square to the end, (not the sideline) read inside zone. If the end is reading the angle of the running back, If the backs 3rd step is vertical, read inside zone.
Outside Zone: If the tackles first step stays behind their inside foot (first step drops), and their shoulders open to the sideline, read outside zone. If the end is reading the angle of the running back, if the 3rd step is horizontal, read outside zone.
Speaking of trends in offensive football, creating isolations, and using formations that highlight one on one matchups are increasingly prevalent in offences today.
Defending trips, and how you adjust your defense to the changes that come from one on one matchups, is critical. Whether it is traditional 3-1 formations, or formations into the boundary, these isolation formations only increase the importance of defending 6 gaps with 5 players.
This allows you to defend the trips side with 4 coverage players, allowing defenses to maintain leverage both vertically and horizontally based on the coverage options the dc chooses to employ. It also allows you to “double” the isolated receiver. Most importantly, it allows you to remove your overhangs from conflict, “RPO proofing” your 3-1 defensive structure.
From an alignment standpoint, the defense needs to decide how they get a 4th defender to the 3 receiver side. Many teams will bump the mike out to become the overhang to the field, and have the will take over the responsibility of the mike backer. My advice would be flip the will to the field to become the overhang to the trips. this leaves the mike in his comfortable role, and lets you cover down to the trips with a more experienced coverage defender.
From there, the location of the back will determine the front (setting the 3 tech away from the back) and therefore which side (away from the back) is responsible for running the stunt.
In the image above, we see how this stunt can mitigate the conflict on the boundary safety if an
offence chooses to set the back away from the trips. Offenses love this “bang 8” concept has been really effective for teams like Alabama and Clemson to isolated receivers.
When the back is set away from the trips, the safety is in immediate conflict in most defensive structures with the 3 set to the field (typically responsible for the b or c gap depending on the role of the end).
By using the tex stunt, you can leave the boundary safety “on the roof” eliminating this popular window for modern offences to attack. Typically to do so would expose your field overhang (in this case the will), as they would need to trigger into the fit opening them up to run/ pass conflict to the 3 receiver side.
By using the tex stunt to cancel the field side a gap post snap, the defense removes the conflict from the will,
allowing the defense to have a confident plan of attack for force passing offences to hand the ball off, and create some built in advantages within the run fit.
Formation into the Boundary
If an offense chooses to shift the formation into the boundary, they can create some numbers and leverage challenges for defences. Especially with offences running more elements of their offences out of these sets, FIB is another reason why having a tool in your tool box to defend 6 gaps with 5 players is critical.
The beauty of this solution is it plays out the same as trips. your nickel/sam will align over 2 weak as the passing strength has now shifted to the boundary. The will backer will relate to 3 weak, and your field and boundary safety will switch roles (you could also consider switching players to keep them comfortable.
From that alignment, the front will be set the same, and keep all your athletes in their typical role and responsibility. Simplicity isn’t always better, but in this case it should allow your athletes to play fast, and be confident, despite the “new challenges” the offence thinks they are creating by switching to formation in the boundary.
Why the Tex Stunt?
The evolution of offensive football has made it a necessity for defenses to make changes to both their structure and execution. Priorities, at least many coaches priorities have shifted from the tried and true “stop the run and run the football”, to creating turnovers and preventing explosive plays.
The Tex Stunt is just one way of forcing the offence to run the ball, and then responding in a way that increases your athletes opportunities to be successful in winning their one on ones. There are lots of other options, and ultimately what you are defending consistently should guide you as you prioritize your response as a defense.
While it is far from the only tool that manage RPO’s, here are some reasons I believe it is a tool worth carrying for defenses in 2021.
Full cover downs make RPO offenses predictable
Get the OC to put the marker away…. if we present a 5 man box, spread passing games & RPO’s no longer have the vertical seams or horizontal space they so desperately covet. Their answer is to “run the ball into favourable boxes.”
The issue is when the defense is giving you crumbs, many OC’s (and quarterbacks) can’t help themselves. They won’t consistently do what they should do, which is hand the ball off. Especially when they are behind or against the clock, this forces them to do what they don’t want to do, which is slowly move the ball down the field.
Also, once we know that the pre snap and post snap alignment and assignment of defenders should force the give, now we can set our mind as a defense to attacking that decision.
That’s where I believe this method of defending 6 gaps with 5 athletes gives defenses and advantage. Instead of defending 3 plays post snap in a true full field RPO, the division of labor allows each set of athletes to defend their own responsibility, without the potential conflict in the second and third level of the defense.
It allows defense to play in a post snap world
Offenses are using post snap leverage of defenders to more accurately attack defenses where they are weak. The logical solution is to do the same to them.
By reading the departure of either the back or the tackle post snap, the end involved in the “Read Tex” stunt can use the cues the offence gives them to “have the pen last” and defend the specific attack being used by the offence. While there are challenges associated with this, we all “pick our problems with our choices.”
Offenses create problems, and spread based RPO offences are creating more dynamic and challenging problems for defenses than ever before, so no solution will come without its challenges.
But the “Read Tex” as a strategy to defend 6 gaps with 5 players eliminates a number of the offense’s most explosive options, and gives your athletes a specific tool to fight back post snap.
Versatility is value
While designed to stop the run, a Tex Stunt is a great way to layer your pass rush as well, many teams will “run the tex” if the offensive line shows a drop back pass.
This has added value in disrupting potential draw concepts. Also, as quarterbacks become more athletic, creating multiple waves in your pass rush is a great way to try and keep dynamic quarterbacks in the pocket.
Against quick passes (1 step drop) you can also teach your end away from the back (typically to the side of the quarterbacks first read) to get their hands up immediately instead of running the twist. Because of the natural delay in their rush, this is a great option.
As a structure (over hangs “capped” to” steal an R4 term by safeties to each side ) creates a balanced defensive picture which can allow you to disguise blitzes to complement your “5 to fit 6” concepts like the “read tex”. By mixing in pressures (like the one shown on the right) you can keep the oc and most importantly, the quarterback guessing long into the play clock.
When used in a package that allows for other options including 6 for 6 run fits. I think the Read Tex is a Powerful weapon for defending not just RPO’s, but Spread passing attacks that necessitate fully covering Down 2 and 3 receivers surfaces to eliminate easy Throws, and simple reads for the quarterbacks and Coordinators.
Modern offenses need modern answers,Pairing this “fitting 6 gaps with 5 players” concept is a Valuable tool in any DC’s tool box.