Defending the Spread Option Attack

When defending the spread option, the first thing we think about is what form of structure we want for our defense.  As all football progresses in cycles, what we are really defending is the triple option without a seal block.  The offense is trying to seal our LB by the action of the RB.  We choose to defend the spread attack using a 3-4 (5-2) defensive structure. We like this defense because it adds an extra athlete to match the athleticism of the offense.
Next we have to analyze what the offense is trying to accomplish with its spread. Is the offense spreading us out to give the ball to the RB, throw to the wide outs or truly run the read?  Most spread option teams we face put the best athlete on the team at QB and let him run the show.  This is the type of team we will defend today. These teams generally run inside zone, outside zone, speed, ISO, read, and the bubble. Our philosophy will change when facing other types of spread philosophies.
Our whole philosophy is based on winning first down, making for 2nd and 8+, thus creating opportunities to pressure blitz on later downs.
Our philosophy is to try to get into the QB’s head by presenting him with slow reads, gray reads and hard fast reads hoping for a mistake.  We also like the 3-4 because we will attack the center snap, hopefully creating a long day for the center creating some bad snaps that can affect the QB/RB mesh.
Most offensive coordinators are not patient people. Our team realizes that a great QB will get some yards.  How do we react? What is our demeanor?  Remember, the opponent does not get any points until the ball actually crosses the goal line.  Keep fighting good things will happen on play 8 or 9.
Our base looks like this.
The DE’s and the DT must attack the LOS and create as many double teams as possible.  The can never be reached or cutoff by an adjacent offensive linemen.  The nose will attack the center and play the backside “A” gap. The great thing here is that the center can never be wrong.
Sam and Will are “C” gap players. Action away we will give a slow read to the QB resulting in a handoff to the RB. You are responsible for the RB if he winds it all the way back.  Action to: you are a “C” gap player primarily stopping the outside zone.  The linebackers are lined up over the tackles in a 40 and are reading the flow of the RB. With any crossing motion of the RB the front side LB will attack the front side “A” gap forcing the O-lineman to come off their double-teams sooner than they would like. 
The front side LB can cheat his alignment to 30 with the RB aligned away from him.  The backside LB will mirror the QB with action away. There is no seal, so the LB can freely move over the top and tackle the QB if he keeps the ball.  It is important for the LB to keep his shoulders square.  As the QB is the best athlete, we want a body on a body, grab cloth, and wait for the cavalry.
Obviously, if the QB hands the ball off as we expect, he can be a late fold player into the core. QB fakes tend to diminish as the game wears on.  Free and SS are in Man coverage, they are pitch/bubble players.  Corners become pitch and bubble players when any crack occurs.
The second way we defend the read is to swap responsibilities between the backside LB and the Will.  Again, we are baiting the QB into giving the ball. Obviously, not great vs. the speed but with D+D and stance tendencies we feel the risk is minimal.  This is also a great 2nd and 3 call when teams might take a shot at a pass, thinking they can pick up an easy 3rd and 2.
The third way we defend the read is to “fire” the Will directly at the QB. The Will’s initial aiming point must be the outside shoulder of the RB in the event of speed.  We pray for a pull here hoping to “rattle” the QB’s teeth.
Luckily, our staff coaches both offense and defense. Our head coach realizes the best way to stop the opposing great QB is to have him sitting on the bench sipping water while we are running unbalanced power down the other team’s throat burning up the clock.
As we progress along the triple option cycle, I expect to see more triple run to the TE with the TE “sticking” the 9 technique and the QB reading the unblocked LB.  Teams will also try to find a way to seal the scraping LB, probably ending up with three back in the backfield.
Jerry Gordon is currently the defensive coordinator at Potomac Falls High School in VA.  He has previously coached on the staffs at Northeastern University, University of Massachusetts and Yale University. Jerry has also had articles published in Gridiron Coach Magazine and Personal Selling Power magazine.
He can be reached at:  [email protected]

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