Packaging Your Creepers & Sims
MQ details how Wisconsin uses their BREES path to attack spread offenses.
In his fourth year at the helm of the Wisconsin defense, Jim Leonhard has firmly planted his flag as one of the best Defensive Coordinators in college football, even garnering interest from NFL teams the past two offseasons. Wisconsin plays Leonhard’s take on the Aranda/Wilcox version of the Tite Front front, but he has put his unique brand on it. Leonhard is a staunch believer in single-high coverage, more like Wilcox than Aranda, but the hybrid fronts and pressures are ever-present.
In 2021, the Badgers featured a linebacker group that has allowed Leonhard to bounce between his base 3-4 and Peso (four-down) packages fluidly. The combo of Chenal, Sanborn, Herbig, and Burks constantly make plays in the backfield and apply pressure to offenses from all over the box. Wisconsin does base from a 3-4.
Still, the ability to run Creeper and Simulated pressures from hybrid four-down fronts allows Leonhard to apply pressure in various ways without losing coverage ability. The 2-4-5 alignment of the Badgers keeps them in a hybrid defense that can still survive the run action. Go “big” and Wisconsin subs in an extra DE to replace the Ni.
The Peso package is not just for 3rd Down or 10 personnel heavy attacks as seen in previous years. In ‘21, the Badgers usage of the package is up because of personnel. With dynamic LBs, Leonhard has opted to keep them on the field. The ability to rush or drop into coverage from the first level allows Leonhard to pinpoint pressure while keeping base coverage integrity. With LBs as the EDGE players, dropping into coverage isn’t a foreign idea; if needed, they can fold into the box on run plays.
When Wisconsin opts to move to their Peso package, they either shift the two DEs inside and take off the Nose, or take one of the DEs off and move the other inside to the 3 technique. Either way, the EDGE players are the Field (F) and Boundary (B) stand-up OLBs. In the Badgers base 3-4, the OLBs are used in coverage and understand how to read run-pass from the edge of the box. Wisconsin uses their LB corp to then attack offenses using several different Creeper and Sim paths.
Related Content: 3rd Down Study: Wisconsin vs Oregon (Rose Bowl ’20)
The Peso package in Madison has moved away from a 3rd Down defense and more to a base alignment. It fits their personnel and matches what defenses are doing across the landscape of college football. Though some teams are moving to a 3-High system, more Power 5 (P5) defenses align with a hybrid defense that reflects the Badgers. Additionally, some of the top defensive minds across the country are moving to more hybrid fronts and utilizing their athletes by running higher volumes of Creeper and Sim pressures.
The movement is also reflected on Sundays as more defenses jump from a 3-4 against 12 and 21 pers. to four-down (Peso) Nickel and Dime defenses against 11 and 10 pers. packages. The transition forces offenses to have a plan for Odd and Even front alignments. On paper, this would be complex to teach since the defense is bouncing from two uniquely different styles. In reality, the defense only changes structure while the pedagogy stays relatively the same when running replacement pressures and Sims, which only require four in the rush. Leonhard has taken the complexity of a hybrid front and made it simple, as I explained below.
The use of Creepers and Sims allows the defense to send four rushers while not sacrificing coverage integrity. When defenses utilize replacement pressures, they use pressure from a second or third-level defender to attack a section of the box while dropping a first-level defender (usually the EDGE) into coverage. The EDGE can quickly drop into an area on a passing down, but on early downs, the defender must read run-pass before he drops. Creepers use best practice paths and movements to attack an offense while protecting the defense.
Related Content: Building a Creeper Toolbox
Another trend on Saturdays is simplifying the call sheet while using different presentations and attack points to throw off the offense. Wisconsin in ‘21 has trimmed the fat from the call sheet and got simpler while still being complex enough to keep Big 10 offenses on their heels. Like Saban’s Mint Cover 7, the Tite Front, designed by Baylor Head Coach Dave Aranda, has a system built into its basic alignment that allows the defense to adapt to how the offense aligns. Leonhard has taken this system and packaged some of the calls similar to how the modern offense packages plays. Below is the standard call sheet on Saturdays for Wisconsin.
The main pressure run by Wisconsin is the BREES path or boundary edge replacement pressure (Creeper). In BREES, the “R” or Will LB will work in the C-gap as the Cut-Back/Reverse (CBR) player. If the RB is to the pressure, the OLB will have the QB, and if the RB is away, the OLB is allowed to attack the RB. The boundary EDGE (B) has a TRACK path or heel-line path, making him the “Dive” player versus Zone Read. The 3t will stunt into the A-gap reading the Center’s block while the Nose will COP or contain rush through the B-gap. Finally, the “F” will secure the run then drop or fold back into the box depending on the block of the Tackle.
In 4-2-5 terms, this is a WICK (Will to C, below) pressure, but the field DE (F) will drop into coverage. Each Creeper can be paired with Quarters or Cover 3. As stated earlier, Leonhard is a single-high defensive coach. The use of the BREES path is not what makes Wisconsin unique. Most in the Aranda system use this path.
The real genius is in how Leonhard has packaged his calls to attack different parts of the offense: the TE, open-side, or RB, even attacking the field or boundary off this path. Yes, the original BREES call attacks the boundary, but defenses can use the path to the field as well. Packaging the call to attack a part of the box allows the defense to run the path to the place Leonhard wants instead of guessing or designing another call completely.