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Football Concepts, Schemes, Formations: TDG Football Seminar Week 4

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We cover the difference between gap fronts and preview TCU's defense.

Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Week 4 of TDG's Football Seminar. This week, we transition to our second book The Art of Smart Football (ASF), by Chris B. Brown. Last week, we assigned the first four chapters from ASF. They were on the 4-3 Under defense and the purpose of being aggressive, Mike McCarthy and the pass game, the long ball legacy of Al Davis, and Zone Blitzing. Because we've covered some of these topics in previous seminars, I will focus this week on some terminology, and then discuss Gary Patterson's 4-2-5 in preparation for this week's matchup.

If you are just joining us, you can read all previous seminars at the following links.

  • Introduction
  • Week 1
  • Week 2
  • Week 3
  • Aggression and the 4-3 Under

    Pete Carroll's Seattle Seahawks have been a premier defense for the last few years. The Legion of Boom brought devastation and elastic interpretation of pass interference calls to the NFL, and the Seahawks were within one play of another Super Bowl last year. The Seahawks have an excellent offense led by Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch. Wilson in particular was a draft steal, and his play is even more impressive given that he thinks bubbles in water prevent concussions.

    Still, while the Seahawks's offense is talented, it is the defense that has been the calling card. Their success is based on putting players in positions to be aggressive in a system that Carroll has been using for his entire coaching career-the 4-3 Under. Carroll first learned the 4-3 Under as a graduate assistant at Arkansas back in the 1970s under Monte Kiffin, and has believed in to an almost zealous degree.

    The 4-3 Under means four defensive linemen and three linebackers where the defensive lineman line up away from the strong side of the formation. Since coming to Seattle, Carroll has not infrequently run this formation out of 3-4 look, but are distinctly a 4-3 team.

    Take a look at this picture because I'm going to use it as reference to define some verbiage. Each lineman is playing some form of "Tech" or technique. The system of numbers was invented by Bear Bryant and Bum Phillips back in the day when all college football coaches had amazing names. Each of the techniques refers to the gap that the defensive lineman is responsible for. There are eight gaps by symmetry. The 'A' Gap is between the Center and the Guard. The 'B' Gap is between the Guard and the Tackle. The 'C' Gap is between the Tackle and the Tight End. Finally, the 'D' Gap is the last outside core blocker.

    Defensive linemen are characterized by their techniques to cover these gaps. Defenses face a basic choice in alignment. A team can either be a "one" gap or "two" gap team. If the defense is the former, each defensive player in the front seven (plus a safety) has responsibility to cover one gap. If a team is the latter, then defensive linemen may have multiple gap responsibilities. In a two gap system, the defensive linemen will react to the play and drive his man into the gap the offense wants to use. This is a more conservative system than a one gap system because the linemen's job is not simply to go downhill and hit somebody.

    Carroll's teams are one gap teams. They want to be aggressive as often as possible. In the above picture the nose guard is playing 1-Tech or 1-Technique. In other words, he lines up between the center and the guard. The 3-Tech lines up to the outside of the guard between the guard and the tackle. The 5-Tech lines up directly outside the tackle.

    Minnesota almost undoubtedly bases out of a one-gap run fit. Below is an example run defense set during last year's Michigan game.

    As can be seen by the annotations, the Gophers defensive tackles are lined up in the 1-Tech and 3-Tech, shading to one side of the guard or the other. Distinctively from the Carroll's Seahawks, Minnesota's defensive ends play far outside, shading a hypothetical tight end. Claeys's puts his defensive ends this far out because they have one mission: hit the QB.

    What Carroll's Seahawks and Minnesota's defense shares is a distinct desire to bring pressure and aggression. Carroll's teams do it through superior talent and large, lanky cornerbacks. Minnesota's DBs are notably tall and lanky. Both teams like to press often, and use fire zone blitzes to bring "safe pressure."

    Gary Patterson's 4-2-5

    Speaking of excellent defensive football coaches, it would be hard to argue there's a better one in college football than Gary Patterson. Since taking over TCU, Patterson's teams have dominated the defensive side of the ball, while basing almost entirely out of the 4-2-5. That means they use four defensive linebackers, two linebackers, and five defensive backs. Patterson's defensive philosophy is Multiplicity by Simplicity. From the 4-2-5, Patterson can present a quarterback with an endless variety of looks, pressures, and post-snap adjustments.

    Patterson's 4-2-5 is descended from Jimmy Johnson's 4-3 Over. Like Claeys, Patterson likes to position his defensive ends in a Wide-9 technique and give them the responsibility to go get the quarterback. Inside, the defensive tackles are responsible for controlling the B-Gaps, leaving the linebackers to fill in. Because the six down defenders are responsible for the inside gaps, they can use stunts and different checks to change who has responsibility for which gap. This increases the possibilities for Patterson, especially when he chooses to blitz.

    Moreover, because the six interior defenders are covering the six interior gaps, Patterson can divorce them from his defensive backs. That means that on a given play, TCU has different calls for the interior and the secondary. Patterson has always relied on a 5-spoke secondary. He believes that having five secondary players allows for better disguising of intentions, and that it allows TCU to match up better. By having multiple safeties, Patterson can also maneuver his secondary independent of each other, at least pre-snap. The Free Safety makes a call for himself, the strong safety, and the field corner. The weak safety makes a call for himself and the Boundary corner. Consequently, TCU will frequently be playing multiple coverages on each side of the field.

    TCU's Defense Explained Further

    TCU's Defense Explained Further

    Defending in this manner is well suited to the hurry up no huddle (HUNH) era, and it is no coincidence that TCU has maintained a dominant defense since moving to the spread no huddle happy Big 12. While comparatively few teams have been able to copy Patterson's specific defense, Multiplicity by Simplicity is an excellent mantra for any defense to follow.

    Readings for Next Week

    Next week, we will cover Five Stories About the Spread, The Quarterback Curve, and Total Package:"Packaged Plays" are Changing the Way We Think About Offense.