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Understanding Houston’s stack defense

There are a multitude of ways a 3-4 can be modified using this system, and the Cougars really liked this look in 2016.

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Okay so now we have a basic understanding of some 3-4 philosophies. I do have to point out that this is how I ran my multiple 3-4 defense, but there is more than one way to skin a cat. Some use terminology (over/under, Eagle, stack, and the list goes on) to define different formations. I did that a few times, but found calling out the techniques works better because you can use a rules based approach for each technique. This allows everyone to understand exactly what they are doing on a given play. Also, minor adjustments (5 versus 7 technique) can change the entire look of the defensive front.

We talked about 55, and we talked about how the A gaps are left vulnerable to the run in 55. These vulnerable areas in a defense are called “bubbles” — the goal of defensive design is to minimize the number and size of these bubbles, although in passing situations, sometimes bubbles can be ignored in order to allow for a better defense against the pass.

So, how can we minimize the bubbles caused by the alignment in the 55? One way to minimize this effect is to use a stack defense. I call this defense 55 stack. A stack call tells the will to stack the end. The mike stays in the middle, and the rush stacks the tackle.

The diagram below shows a 55 stack call in a cover 2 look with a buck over. Buck over tells the buck to line up on the same side as the rush. In buck over, normally the buck takes D gap and the rush takes the uncovered inside gap (C gap for a 5 or 7 and B gap for a 3).

In this formation, the rush has B gap and the mike and nose both share double A gap responsibilities. The will has B gap and the end C gap with the buck taking D gap. This call can be made without the buck over call in a passing situation, allowing the buck to line up as a slot defender, but the safety has and rush both have to help on cover the D gap in the case of the run.

Also notice the buck is aligned in a 9 technique because he has a 5 to his side with a tight end. To allow the buck to line up in a 90 technique, a 7 call can be made in this formation. Below is a diagram of 75 stack buck over cover 2.

I teach both the will and rush in the stack alignment to step and “fit up” with the tackle or end’s feet, about two yards off of the linemen and look for the flow of the running backs.

If the running back is flowing downhill, the buck must shoot B gap. If the flow is to the outside, they wait for the running back to commit to the outside run. Once the running back breaks the plane of the inside shoulder of the offensive tackle, the will or rush or will will press up field to make the tackle on the ball carrier (in the outside gap).

We expect that if the ball carrier is going to attempt to cut back at this point, they will have to stop their momentum, and our pursuit should be able to catch up and make the tackle.

We now see that there are still bubbles in the middle of the field in 55 or 75 stack. We have more linebacker freedom to reduce these bubbles, so that helps, but there are other things we can do to help with these bubbles as well. A zebra call tells the end to attack the B gap. This not only solidifies the potential weakness in the B gap, it allows the will to flex with the slot receiver, providing better pass coverage. Below is an example of a 75 stack buck over zebra call.

A look at Orlando’s defense last year reveals that instead of using a zebra call, Orlando will often put the end in a 4i technique to cover the B gap and allow for the linebacker to cover the slot receiver. I do not like this alignment, because it allows for an easy C gap run play to the weak side.

This can be done with an run-pass option, a pitch option, or the slot receiver running a crack on the mike linebacker with a G block by running a G play.

All of those plays do basically the same thing — the tackle blocks down on the end and the guard and slot receiver account for the mike and the will. A review of Houston’s games this year reveals that some success was had running the G play away from strength against Houston’s defense. Here is what it looks like.

Lastly, I would like to point out that 55/75 stack can be run as a nickel package. In the nickel package, I usually like to take the rush out and replace him with a defensive back. The buck would play in the position of the rush and the defensive back will play the buck.

Depending on personnel, I will change the rotation on the nickel package. If the rush is a superior pass rusher and sufficient in run defense to play as the end, I will move the rush to the end position and take the end out in the nickel package. There are a multitude of other possibilities, but it really all depends on personnel.

Lastly, there may be a situation where I line up in a split 55 stack cover 2 with no buck over. This allows for better pass defense, but I must have help to the tight end side (if there is one) on the run. The same alignment can happen on a field 55 stack call if the tight end is into the boundary, so 55 stack cover 2 looks like this.

Today we talked about the stack alignment. Obviously, this can be run with a cover 3 look or a cover 1 look which puts the strong safety in the box, allowing for even better run defense. Also, there are a multitude of blitz and line stunt possibilities out of this look.

Lastly, we will talk about the reduced front. A reduced front (35 or 37 call) puts the tackle in a 3 technique. Below is a picture of tight 35 buck over cover 2.

With a 3 technique, the R lines up in a 6 technique and has C gap with a tight end to the defensive strength. Either the strong safety or the buck has to support D gap, hence the buck over call.

This defense further reduces the bubbles if run with a split call, but this creates some vulnerabilities in the pass defense, especially when there is a slot on the back side — although the rush can drop into coverage on the slot, he is at a speed disadvantage and is giving a head start to the slot receiver.

A smart rush will use angles to his advantage and read the quarterback’s eyes to put himself in the passing lanes instead of attempting to chase a much faster receiver. Also, cover 1 or 3 can be used to take away the slot in the short passing game, but leaves some vulnerabilities in other areas of the passing game. Below is a look at split 35 cover 2.

In the next post, we will discuss how the Longhorn’s personnel match up with the different positions in this defense, and what Herman’s staff will have as options in 2017.