By Wagner College Defensive Staff
See how Wagner used Zone Pressures to finsih first in the Northeast Conference in scoring defense yielding only 17.4 points per game and total defense surrendering just over 320 yards per game.
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Editor’s Note: After starting the season at 0-3, Wagner College rolled off nine consecutive wins en-route to a FCS playoff birth-the first time in school history- and they did it with defense. Wagner was first in the Northeast Conference in scoring defense yielding only 17.4 points per game and total defense surrendering just over 320 yards per game. X&O Labs Senior Research Manager Mike Kuchar spent some time this past Spring talking football with the Seahawks defensive staff.
After having tremendous success defensively last season which included a run deep into the FCS national playoffs, the Seahawks are beginning to experiment with new forms of pressure this spring, including at two-deep four under concept from their "Dog" or Okie Front (Diagram 1). After running mainly three-deep, three-under blitz rotations last season, defensive Coordinator Malik Hall and his staff decided to integrate some two-deep concepts to keep offensive off-balance. "It takes away the three step game which we were tired of giving up," said secondary coach Ryan Fullen. "We are a quarters coverage team by nature, so we keep the two-deep shell plus we also don’t give up the flat so quickly as other some three-deep, three-under structures."
In order to disguise its pressures, Wagner will use a "walk out" technique by its Corners post-snap, regardless of whether it is a two-deep or three-deep rotation. "It confuses the QB because he sees a hard corner post-snap," says Fullen. "You can get him to clutch the ball on the snap or cause an interception because the QB doesn’t see the corner squatting." Assistant head coach Tom Mesalla agrees, "There comes a point in time you want to eliminate the quick game," he told us. "Those players are too good to see the speed out by the QB. There are also times where the CB’s are really not that good. Cover Two protects those Corners. In Quarters coverage or in three deep they are on an island. "
Wagner understands the importance of teaching coverage first before any blitz pattern, it’s a lesson learned by Mesalla when he was the defensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech in the early 2000’s. "We used Razor, Blade and Cut as words that denoted two deep zone pressures," he said. "It eliminated confusion in our kids. They knew right away by the call what coverage we are in." Mesalla brought the same philosophy with him to Wagner and taught it to Fullen, who was an assistant with Mesalla when he was the head coach at Fordham. Now in the Seahawks scheme, Cut coverage means there is NO rotation in coverage and the inside and outside linebacker to the same side will blitz. One of the more prominent calls is called "Bomb" (Diagram 2). While Mesalla admits it’s a good pressure to the field side, it can be used effectively against the strong side run game with a tight end. In theory, the Corners are responsible for any flat threats, while the Safeties are the deep halves players, playing on top of number one. The linebackers that are not involved in the pressure are "seam" players, meaning they must carry the vertical of any number two receiver.
For an in depth look at the technique of the Secondary in Cloud, Clamp and Trap support coverages, click here to join the Insiders.
One of the reasons why Cut coverage is the hardest to teach is because the linebacker away from the blitz must push to the blitz side to wall off any number two vertical threat. He is responsible for the Seam, Curl, flat responsibility. "If two is going vertical, he is pushing to carry two vertical," said Fullen. "If two is working to the flat, the corner has him and he is pushing to see of any in breaking route of number one (Diagram 9). The inside linebacker must push to blitz to take care of number two vertical. He may get caught up in the vertical of two if it is a play action which is why we tell the Safety to hang on number two if he is vertical."
According to Fullen, concepts such as the Stick Concept, made popular by West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen, particularly out of a 3x1 sets could be stymied with these concepts. The number one receiver runs an outside vertical, number two runs to the flat and number three hits up away from the curl/flat defender (Diagram 10). "Cover Two play with two hard corners can easily defend those stick route concepts," said Fullen.
To learn more about the adjustments against 3x1 formations and defending common "Stick" concept, click here to join the Insiders.
Sure, that’s all day one material and looks good on paper. But once offenses decide to present various formations and start to spread the field with trips formations, adjustments have to be made which is why Wagner will use a variation they refer to as Saw (Diagram 20). In Saw, the coverage is rotated to the trips for field side. "We will bring the backside safety over to play one hash while the backside Corner plays the other hash," said Mesalla. " The Strong Safety runs over the top to play number two, because the Sam is in the blitz. The Strong safety can play run. The backside Will is the trap player it to the boundary. The Free Safety will start to cheat during cadence. He will line up on hash and start to get to where you need to be- whether it’s cloud or Clamp. The Mike and Sam blitz. The Weak side inside linebacker is pushing to number three. Five-yard throws will not beat us."
However what can be challenging against two-deep pressure packages is the threat of four verticals out of trips because the linebacker away from the blitz is forced to carry number three vertical. One of the options that the Seahawks can use to protect itself against this is to check the blitz to a two-deep zone pressure with the Outside and Inside linebacker blitzing from opposite sides (Diagram 21) or by checking to a three-deep, three-under pressure concept.
To see cutups of these concepts from the spring, click on the link below:
Join X&O Labs Exclusive Insider program and gain full access to the entire Wagner College report which includes:
The technique of the Secondary in Cloud, Clamp and Trap support coverages.
Adjustments against 3x1 formations and defending common "Stick" concepts that offenses are using to attack zone pressures.
Blitz checks that include the Saw concept- a rotational cover two zone pressure that is used to the field side against trips formations.
Game film of Wagner College implementing these concepts this Spring.
We wanted to present this piece to our readers because of the increasing popularity of utilizing two-deep zone pressure concepts. Wagner has found a way to package it’s two-deep and three-deep zone pressures into the same system while varying its support calls based on what offenses present.
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