Attacking the Offense Away from the Back
MQ breaks down a simple and adaptive Creeper attacking away from the RB.
As the development of the passing systems grows at all levels of the game, being able to attack the box without sacrificing coverage is becoming an integral part of a defense’s structure. At the turn of the century, while offenses were feeling their way through the evolution of the RPO from Zone Read to uber-RPO-everything schemes, defenses attacked the RB when blitzing. For the most part, the RB side of the box was where everything was happening.
Horizontal WR screens (Bubbles) were popular and used the pressure from the overhang against the defense. The issue with WR screens on the perimeter is the offense is asking a “premium” athlete to block and the throw is at a lower percentage of completion. Defenses began to shift to more trap coverages (Cover 2), inhibiting the throws to the sideline. Eventually, offenses began running Fin and Slant routes to gain a greater advantage and higher completion rates.
Running in-breaking routes allows the ball to be thrown directly in the QB’s vision while allowing his shoulders to be pointed in a more natural manner. For instance, a right-handed QB throwing a Bubble to his right has to snap his hips all the way around to dive the ball fast and wide. That extra split-second helps the defense. Breaking a route back to the QB allows the thrower to ride the mesh and quickly throw the ball because the route is breaking into his natural vision. No extra motion is needed.
I began noticing in 2018 that offenses, even at the high school level, were steering away from horizontal screens and throws, focusing on Fin and Slant routes to target how defenses had evolved to play the RPO. One key element in the evolution was how defenses teach the overhang to the RB’s side. In a base fit, the overhang to the RB’s side is out of the fit and can cover down (move closer to the Slot WR). The width plays on the pre-snap “gift” read for the QB. Post-snap, the overhang is allowed to sit (Don’t-go-’til-you-know!). The objective is to create a door instead of a window for the QB.
As most defensive coaches understand, playing with static feet is not a technique you want to teach. To counter, over-aggressive players can step towards the box creating space for the WRs to move into. The paradox of modern football; a defense has to constrain space outside and inside the box. I coined the term Spatial Darwinism to explain the age we are in. Defenses at no other time are stretched to the max.
The answer for many defenses was to move to the Tite or Mint Front to close the B-gaps and allow for maximum cover downs. One of the main issues with the Tite Front is its lack of pass rush. It is difficult for many 4i’s to work back into the C-gap and gain a contain rush. Even with the addition of delayed rushes away from the RB, defenses had to blitz to create pressure. Anytime a defense blitzes an “option” team, there is always room for error because the defense is creating a void in the zone.
Defenses also began running more single-high coverages to place defenders on top of the Slot WRs and funnel everything to the Post-Safety. The issue here was the ILBs are allowed to be aggressive to fit the run in the box while the overhang is aligned outside of the WR. Though the alignment of the overhang inhibited WR Screens and horizontal throws, it opened the defense up to Fin and Slant routes underneath. To combat the onslaught of Slant routes single-high (MOFC) defenses started teaching their Post-Safety “cheat” steps on early downs.
Offenses use run-action to create space for the QB to throw. Offenses are also passing more at all levels. The issues with MOFC and Tite Front defenses have become exacerbated by the parallel evolution of the modern RPO offense. Starting in 2020, many teams began to shift to more four-down alignments to gain a greater pass rush. Defenses at the higher levels also started to pair their even fronts with two-high shells. Though the three-high defense has become a standard at the lower levels of football, it appears the four-down front is making a return (Time is a flat circle!)
The best example of this is the Fangio system that uses a two-high shell to spin to MOFC post-snap. By spinning post-snap, the QB is now forced to continually calculate where defenders are. Using leverage as a tool, defenses are taking back the space on the field.
Complementary to a four-down base from a two-high structure is the use of Replacement (Creepers) and Simulated pressures. The ability to run even and odd-spacing fits along with MOFC and MOFO (Quarters) from static pre-snap looks has been the main trend in today’s game. Creepers and Sims allow the defense to pressure the box without sacrificing coverage integrity. Adjust the pressures to match the RPO style of the offense and a defense can attack the box with pinpoint accuracy.
Most good modern defenses are going to be multiple in coverage, fits, and fronts. For instance, being able to fit certain looks from even (four-down) spacing and then changing that up by fitting the box with odd (Tite/Mint) spacing forces the offensive line to block more than one style, which can be an issue. Offenses would rather defend one or the other. Great defenses have found a way to fit the run from both philosophies. One way of doing this is with Creepers and Sims from four-down alignments.
The use of “safe” pressures aligns with the philosophy of using static coverage shells to change the picture for the QB post-snap. Creepers and Sims use four rushers to attack the box, but manipulate where the insert comes from. The pressure gives the illusion that everything is changing post-snap. Wisconsin used their Peso (2-4-5) alignment this year to wreak havoc on the Big 10.
Jim Leonhard is one of the best DCs in the country and had it not been for Georgia’s dominant season on defense, the Badgers would have been the talk of college football. Leonhard meshes even spacing alignments with traditional Tite Front Creepers. The above image is how the Badgers can fit a typical Y-Off formation from a basic “G” Front (2i), in single-gap even spacing.
The front is what I have talked about since the beginning of MatchQuarers. The 30/30 alignment of the ILBs allows the Badgers to stay static pre-snap. In some cases, defenses will shade their ILBs away from the coverage rotation, but as more teams begin to run hybrid schemes as a base, any two-back formation signifies a 30/30 alignment.