Examining The Relationship Between Blitzing and Pass Coverage: Part II

As I noted in the first installment, I think on the surface cover 2 seems super simple. There are a lot of reasons for it, but when the crowd starts to utter a groan when another 7 yard hitch is given up, the reflexive response is for me to scream “that is supposed to happen!”

Playing pass coverage and doing it right is all about concessions and risk management. There are a lot of ways to get it done, but marrying scheme, the opposition, and your personnel in the secondary it creates a never ending gauntlet of issues to navigate. In regards to complexity and difficulty from a scheme standpoint, zone is much more difficult than man to continuously execute successfully.

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Examining the Relationship between Blitzing and Pass Coverage: Part I

Being a defensive coordinator, if a person would ask me what defense I would build my program around, that answer would have been different 15 years ago, and even 5 years ago. I went from a 4-4, to being a 4-3 wonk and now I am solidly in the camp of the 4-2-5. The reasons are numerous as to why I have changed my defensive philosophy over the years.

The biggest reason as to why my base defensive philosophy has changed, is in part because football has changed. At the college level, you can recruit to some degree, the types of players that fit your vision but at the high school you have to have a system that fits the personnel you have and is adaptable enough for the opposition you play. Not every defense is designed to handle whatever the opposition with throw at you any given week. Not every defense is created equal in adaptability  either.

When you discuss scheme it is an amalgamation of the fronts you use, the stunts, the blitzes, and coverages. Moreover it is every adaptation, every rule, and alignment adjustment you have to make every week to remain sound. Remaining sound is of importance, in that your scheme needs to answer what the offense challenges you with, and to remain sound and be effective scheme are a challenge sometimes.

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Spring Game Wrap Up

I watched the film that Alpha put up in the #37 Club. Thanks for that Alpha.

I made my point about choosing to be an optimist over a pessimist, just a view point, here are a few limited observations. I wasn’t at the spring game, just followed it on twitter and saw limited clips. So this is hardly a comprehensive look, definitely a view point based upon a snap shot in time…

#1: I WOULD be concerned, if two things occurred this spring that occurred in regularity last fall. First from what I saw on film this spring the compete level, the attitude in a million times better than last fall. Whether that hangs around, I don’t know, but early reports the coaches attitudes along with players are at least anecdotally better. Second, I saw coaching adjustments. Limited film obviously, but Stitt has said every year that he would correct things. The spring both offensively and defensively I saw some things that I like. If we saw a repeat of last fall (2×2 formations, man coverage, etc) despite the increase of talent, I think we would have a right to be concerned. I think we see some continued evolution of scheme to match personnel.

#2: I get the lamenting over the QB play, but I think it will be fine. I saw three picks into disguised coverages. Two yesterday (Phillips both times) and Jensen the week before. Semore was throwing some zone drop scheme, tampa 2 and some switch coverages. Phillips, Jensen and Hill all showed significant upside, but their basement right now is lower. Phillips obviously struggles with pressing balls into tight spaces. That was a great play call defensively to run a zone drop. Phillips didn’t see him, and was baited into the throw. Hill is a bit like Chalich, in that he has happy feet and will run a bit even when the pressure isn’t there. If things slow down, Hill will be fine. Jensen makes a ton of heady plays but he isnt at times very good at diagnosing defenses. He is a freshman, and I do believe he has the highest upside of the three.

I didn’t see a lot of vanilla from the first team defense, and maybe that was out of design. I would, because I think it is a bit better to evaluate quarterbacks. Semore made the first team experience offense difficult, because that first 11 he has is at this point miles ahead of the offense.

#3: This defense can be really, really good. Remember it was missing several key elements of the defense this spring (including the whole linebacking corps) and all it did was show that it has some skill to go along with a further developed defensive scheme. I think there were a number of adjustments that had to be made.

  • Semore had to have known that staying in man, had to have been a significant weakness in last years scheme. The variance in coverages, the changes in alignments, position changes, and blitz concepts show that Semore and his staff spent a lot of time this winter creating a deeper and more diverse scheme.
  • A person might be apt to down play the offense, and that too would be appropriate, but the most significant part that I like about this defense is that it has the three A’s: assertive, attitude, and athletic. Moving Sandry put him in a position to be a better player. Reduces reads. Sims is going to be a force inside. He was already a FBS fringe player at end, but moving him inside permanently is going to make Semore’s defense much more the utility tool that he wanted it to be last year. Sims is athletic enough to play DT, DE and ILB.

#4: I would need more film to confirm it, but I really do think the O Line will show incredible growth. Schye/Sims are just plain freaks and I think it is good to remember that. Apparently Jace Lewis is too. A lot of the pocket break down wasn’t from blunt force 4 man pressure. Semore brought 5/6 man pressure with stunts, odd fronts and unique blitz concepts. What I saw on a number of the pocket breakdowns is fixed by film work. A lot of doubling a guy, but not getting their eyes right or following a stunt inside and getting beat with a loop.

  • The O-Line missed Reece, and yes Ralston and Beaver got waylaid by speed rushes by DE’s. I don’t think you can dismiss that, but a lot of that is fixed by two things. The first is a full depth offensive scheme that will slow down the d-line a bit. I think that showed on some of the third and long stuff, and neither really have had a tremendous amount of time at the position. The second is an increased emphasis on footwork. You can tell they were a bit tall on certain cases, or their kick steps weren’t as deep or as assertive as some OL coaches want.
  • From limited viewing the QB’s and RB’s will help as well. Spring games are sort of a perverse universe. You are repping 3 new quarterbacks, you don’t have your full allotment of RB’s and a scheme that is at this point a bit restricted. I think it creates an environment where the offense can be far more passive than the defense. Defenses are almost always miles ahead because you can cover up issues in spring ball by bringing heat. Heat was going to cause the QB’s problems, and the o-line too.
  • I also think we’ll see an emergence of two or three guys in fall drills, with an extra summer of footwork, drills and experience to increase competition on the OL. I think the group is attitudinally different, and I think will respond positively. At least that is at least what I am to gather from the word on the street. They got their asses handed to them at times this spring, but they played with good edge and competed.


The pessimism reigns supreme. The offense wasn’t all that efficient, but I don’t think it is the island of misfit toys that it was the past two years. I think that we will see growth, in part because this at least from removed observers point of view, seems to be a much more cohesive unit offensively. I think the parts work better together. It might be rough early, but the upside for this group is higher I think than the past two  years.

To me Semore dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s on the checklist of things that needed to be tweaked in his scheme, personnel decisions from last year. There is a bevy of talent in the front 7 and an emergent group at safety that could prove to be a more comprehensive group than we have had since the 2011.

I don’t think I saw much of anything this spring, other than I hoped one QB would have taken control, that would lower expectations for the upcoming season. There is a whole summer to tweak, bring some new faces in over the summer and get back to doing work work in the fall.


Stitt’s Zone Passing Scheme

The statistics from Saturday’s loss to Cal-Poly are pretty telling. Brady Gustafson completed 47 of 59 passes for 400 plus yards. Jerry Louis McGee tallied 21 receptions in the loss. A pretty good day for the offense as they tallied 41 points in the loss.

Yet there is still at this point some significant confusion and even frustration about the nature of Stitt’s zone passing scheme and what the end result is.

The zone passing scheme that Coach Stitt employed for vast chunks of the game resulted in lots of little completions and very few big vertical completions down the field. Most of the passes were thrown and completed within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, and were designed to get the ball in the hands of the fleet-afoot receiving corp to make plays against a largely 1v1 coverage by Poly. Early on those plays went for five or ten yards. Late those same receptions went for negative yards. As the production waned from the offense, the criticism increased not only for what the offense is supposed to accomplish but also for what the counters are.

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Cal Poly Aftermath

Some quick observations after the University of Montana’s loss at Cal Poly 42-41. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

From a coaches perspective, especially from the defensive side there is going to be a lot of rehashing on the trip home. The offense held its end of the bargain, but the defense struggled to handle the enormity that is the Poly offense.

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Crafting a game plan for Poly

What makes triple option teams so difficult to plan for is that orthodoxy is a little bit out the window. Unless your defense is ideally suited (5-2, 4-4,4-6) you are going to spend your time trying to craft a game plan that requires typically a lot of deviation from what you normally do. Coaches spend time, probably way too much time, trying to create a scheme while technically sound rarely if ever approaches the type of execution efficiency to be successful in the way that you want to.

Maybe the cardinal sin a defense coach can do is create a game plan for a team that his players cannot execute. Failure in a game plan can come from all angles. Superior opponent and scheme, personnel, conditions, and plain old luck. Most coaches have been there at one point in their career, a perfectly molded game plan has failed miserably on Friday night. You look at your call sheet and you have nothing. Then you find yourself fired and looking for employment.

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Cal Poly and the Triple Option

The question every year that we see Cal-Poly on the schedule and it comes about 12 seconds after the schedule release is “How do we stop the triple option?”

Lots and lots of consternation because the UM hasn’t done well in recent years against the option. There are so many ways to skin a cat in this regard and there are few really good solid answers on how to contain it.

One realization is that we won’t. Just get used to it. They will gain yards, mostly in excruciating fashion. They’ll hand off the ball to bowling ball running back who’ll even run into his own man bounce off him, break a couple of tackles (at least one for loss) and it all for a three yard gain on first down. They will make our defenders look silly. The hope is that in the end they get their yards on 60 carries versus 30. There is no silver bullet.

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Multiple Defense Part I: Conventionality of Offense

He’s on to your game. You gotta throw something at him he’s not ready for.

            -Ned Yoast Remember the Titans

 The definitive line of the definitive play of the movie Remember the Titans. A revelation that resulted in a perfect play design that resulted in a last second touchdown that ended up winning the state title for T.C. Williams. How many of you when you watched the movie, while ecstatic, quietly was underwhelmed by the call for a reverse? In today’s game, the reverse isn’t a sexy offensive choice.

The play call was perfect for that moment and that era. The way you

A rough scheme drawing of the backside reverse that TC Williams ran against Marshall's flow call.
A rough scheme drawing of the backside reverse that TC Williams ran against Marshall’s flow call.

defeated a lot of veer attacks was overwhelm teams at their mesh points with superior numbers or withering pressure. The flow call, which is a slant and a slant angled blitz to overwhelm a perimeter attack puts essentially 5 guys where only three offensive guys are at. Very effective especially if you are Herman Boone who runs 6 basic run concepts and a bevy of play action passes. If you are going to beat TC Williams, you gotta sell out to stop the run. Defenses aren’t asked to sell out 9 guys against the run anymore and defensive coordinator s don’t have a lot of flow calls in their playbook anymore. Why, because at one point or another, offensive coordinators saw a lot of 5-2, Bear, and 4-6 defenses to stop veer and power running attacks. Everyone on the defense was chasing the front side of that play. They hadn’t seen anything else, so we have to fly to get to the frontside. Those kids (theoretically of course) heard that all week. That is why the reverse works. Those defenses were meant to stop power run. Those defenses were effective but in a schematic sense, completely and totally unsound.

But they were effective. Effective because the offense didn’t ask the defense to consider anything else and most coaches were like Herman Boone. They ran six to 10 plays and eventually you wore them down. I remember a distinct conversation from my coaches about Van Troxel’s Hellgate High School offense. You are going to give up 200 yards. You’ll give up a big play or two. You know they are going to run it. You gotta make them work for every yard.

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To Chalk or not to Chalk…

When I was a freshman in high school, then Big Sky High School head coach Gary Eckegren, had all the freshmen attend a chalk session before the varsity football game. As coach Ek went through his game prep chalk to the varsity players, I was thinking about how big the varsity players were, how the coach over the in the corner with the chew spit dribbling down his chin scared the living crap out of me, and where I would be standing on the sideline that night. I have no clue what he was talking about in scheme. No idea. I was in essence that night, what coaches hate about chalk and why they don’t use as much as they should.

In my 15 years of coaching football, many of the coaches I have worked with prefer to instal, tweek and teach plays and scheme on the football field. First because it is more efficient use of time. Football at the high school level has tremendous amount of time limitations and spending time in a classroom teaching the game theory behind a play just doesn’t work. They prefer to instal as a whole, go to group to focus on the individual part and then run through the play as a part of the team session. Regardless of where I have been, successful programs or not, chalk has been rarely apart of high school programs.

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