Run Defense

The Big Red Machine's Coaching Clinic Series

In this installment of the BRM Coaching Clinic Series, let's work on tactics and techniques for run defense. This is a clinic I originally wrote last season, but I've updated it with some new techniques I've learned over the past year.

Good luck,

Mike Hatam - KC Chiefs

Outside runs are big-play weapons that can produce large gains. Inside runs are powerful ball-control weapons that can move the sticks and tire out the defense.

Either of these kinds of runs can be well defended with the proper techniques. The problem is creating defensive plays that sufficiently stops each kind of run without leaving gaping holes and weaknesses against other kinds.

Keep in mind that no defensive play can stop every kind of offensive play. Every defensive play has it's vulnerabilities. Your challenge as a defensive coach is to leverage your personnel and create a system that stops enough plays enough of the time.

Defensive systems: Big-play, or Bend-but-don't-break

Your defensive plays, gameplans, and profiles create your overall defensive system. Each of these three components is critical to create a system that works best with your personnel and against your upcoming opponents.

Big-play defensive plays are generally more extreme in nature. They are excellent at stopping certain kinds of plays, and poor at stopping others. When you use a big-play philosophy, your counting on guessing right often enough to stop some drives and produce some turnovers. If you have a weak defense (or poor DBs), which is low on endurance, and is generally outgunned by the offense of your opponents, you should consider using a big-play defense.

The advantages of a big-play defense is that your defense is not on the field for long stretches of time, and you are hoping to get lucky often enough in the game to stop a drive or get a turnover. It really helps if you have a strong offense who can keep the ball and keep your defense fresh.

Bending defenses are more safe and conservative in nature. They are not perfect for stopping any kind of play, but they at least average against every kind of play. The goal with this kind of play is to use your superior talent and endurance to keep the offense from having many scoring opportunities in the game, and eventually wearing them down.

If your defense is deep, has good endurance, and is above average in talent (especially DBs), you might consider a bend-but-don't-break defense. The advantage here is that you can survive your opponents few scoring threats, and over the course of the game, wear them down and stop them often enough. This kind of defense is a very good compliment to a high-scoring offense. If you have a great offense, and you use a bend-but-don't-break defense, you have a high likelihood of outscoring your opponent.

As you study the following techniques for stopping different kinds of runs, keep in mind what kind of defensive system you are going to build, and design your plays to be consistent with your philosophy. Make the plays either extreme, or conservative, to fit your system. Remember, your overall system is the ultimate goal, not any individual play.

Outside Running Plays

Keys to good outside running plays

A successful outside run depends on one of three things happening at the "corner" (the area outside of the offensive tackles where the runner 'turns the corner'):

Good coaches design their outside runs to attempt to use one or more of these strategies.

For example, I might use my fastest guy and sprint him to the corner, taking a long/wide pitch, hoping to beat any defenders to the corner and be able to turn the corner.

Or I might pull a couple of OL, and lead with a FB or TE, and have 3-4 blockers at the corner to block 2-3 defenders.

Or I might use an RB with very high AG/ST to break a tackle (usually it only requires breaking one tackle at the corner to have a long gain).

Defensive keys to stopping outside running plays

Given the offensive keys listed above, the defensive strategy is to be prepared to counter each of these strategies (not knowing which one will be used on any given play). If you scout your opponent, and know which of the three strategies above that they use most often, you can tune your defensive plays to be especially effective against them. However, in general you want defensive plays that are balanced and able to defend each of those three offensive strategies.

Also, keep in mind that spreading out your defense opens up the inside run for the offense. Keep in mind what kind of defensive system you are building. And as I always mention in my coaching tips, do not become predictable, or you are easy prey for a good coach.

That said, here's the keys to an effective defense against outside runs:

Let's look at each of these in more detail...

Have defenders waiting at the corners

There are several ways to have a defender waiting at the corner:

Put a guy in zone coverage with his zone area being outside at the corner. The advantage is that this will also tend to help pass plays. The disadvantage is that the zone defender can easily be cleared out (pulled inside) by a receiver sent through his zone. The smaller the zone, the better it will be against runs, and the worse it will be against passes.

You can try to avoid having your defender "cleared" by giving him "stop-and-wait" logic before he goes into his zone logic. Set the "stop-and-wait" long enough that any receiver will already be out of his zone. Keep in mind that this provides no help against fly-route or long passes.

This is my prefered method. Put a guy at each corner (4-8 yards off the LOS) in a "spot-zone". A "spot-zone" is a zone that has a tiny area (you just click the mouse to make a single point as the zone box). This prevents the defender from being "cleared" unless the receiver literally runs into him. This also has an advantage over the "stop-and-wait" method, as the defender can instantly shift into it's run logic when it detects a run (rather than having to wait for it's "stop-and-wait" logic to end first). Obviously, this provides very little pass help, except for short out passes and screen passes.

Read defenses are less predictable, and players will respond to the play based on their IN/DI much more than any other kind of defense. You can use "read" logic for a player placed out at the corner, possibly preceeded by "stop-and-wait" to prevent and "clearing".

Never get caught outnumbered at the corner

Do not count on one defender to protect a whole corner. It's easy for the offense to have a lead blocker take him out. Design a defense that will send more players to the corner if the offense brings players to the corner. One example of this is M2M defense.

The advantage of M2M is that any skill players that are sent to lead block, or clear zones, will also draw your defenders into the area. The disadvantage is that they can be led out of the area by a receiver (similar to clearing a zone), where they just follow the offensive player away from the action. M2M defenders should be very fast to prevent being beaten to the corner by a fast RB.

A good strategy is to use of one the the methods above to have a defender waiting at each corner, and mix in some M2M defenders to keep from being outnumbered.

Use strong defenders (high ST) at the corners

Contrary to common sense, SP is not important for defenders who you have waiting at the corners, since they are already there! SP is very important if your defender is assigned M2M coverage on an RB who is racing toward the corner. Therefore, as a rule of thumb (don't become predictable!), use strong defenders at the corners, and fast defenders in the middle, so that they can persue toward the corners.

Inside Running Plays

There are generally three kinds of inside running plays:

Power runs rely on strength to plow up the middle, and push defenders back. These plays are very good ball-control plays, that can churn out 3-5 yards per pop. Power runs are effective against zones or spread defenses, since the lead blockers will outnumber the defenders in the middle.

Spread runs are designed to beat M2M defense. They use WRs and fast RBs as decoys, going way to the sides of the field, pulling all the M2M defenders out of the middle. Then a good RB runs it up the gut where the OL will be evenly matched against defenders. This kind of play can spring for big gains.

Cutback runs are designed to beat M2M defenses and are also decent against zones. The Runner starts moving one way for a couple of steps, then cuts back the opposite direction. If he has high AC/AG/SP, his M2M defender will have moved the first direction, but won't be able to stop and reverse direction fast enough. These runs are usually off-tackle.

Defensive keys to stopping inside running plays

If you are playing a team that has fast RBs that are not too strong, and they don't have good strong OL, you might not need to worry too much about inside runs. You might want to focus more on stopping their SP by paying more attention to the outside runs and pass plays.

If you are playing a power team that uses a ball-control offense, get ready for a major dose of inside running. If you want to stop their drives, you have to be able to neutralize their inside running game. Be careful, because over-committing to stopping the inside runs can leave you very vulnerable outside and deep.

Here are some techniques that are effective against inside runs:

Additional Tips and Techniques

Here are some other things to keep in mind as you design your defenses...