Quick defensive overview
By: Cory Ridgway (email@example.com)
This post is intended to be part of the WAFL clinic. If you are not
interested in advice on developing a defense then you shouldn't read
First the basic terminology, starting with the field. The playing
field is usually broken up into seven large areas. There are two
"goal-line" areas (inside the 5 in FPS). Two "red zones"; the area
in which you can be reasonable sure of scoring and where the back of
the end-zone begins to effect defensive play. These areas are between
the 6 and 20 yard lines (there is no FPS analog). The two "field
goal range" areas extend from the deepest part of the "red zone" to
the maximum FG range of each kicker (around the 35). The last area
is that between the FG range areas yard lines - the "midfield".
The field is typically broken up in this manner because defenses
change their style of play in the different areas. Playing softer
the further they are from their own end-zone. Simply because a
critical failure is less costly from the 20 than from the opponent's
20. Some defenses have an entirely different set of plays for use
in their own "red zone". Playing more man-to-man and blitzing more
often. All defenses use different plays in goal-line situations.
Within these large areas of the field a more subjective subdivision
is made. One relating to the defense. The traditional parceling of
the field includes 8 rushing zones, 6 short pass zones, and 3 long
pass zones. In goal-line situations the long pass zones are not in
play. Being out of the back of the end-zone. Because of the poor
play of safeties in FPS it might be wise to include 4 long pass zones.
And perhaps add a 7th short pass zone as well. But I'll stick with
the standard scheme.
The 8 run zones are left and right wide, off tackle, guard-tackle
gap, and center-guard gap. The 6 short pass zones are left and right
flat, seam, and middle. The 3 deep zones are left, middle, and right.
So what we have are 17 defensive zones (14 in goal-line situations)
and 11 players to handle them. A defense doesn't have the players to
cover every zone even in goal-line situations. So it has to make
compromises. And that means defenses probably need to use mixed
strategies to produce a robust defense. Otherwise it will run the
risk of an opponent finding a weak spot and exploiting it repeatedly.
Such as the teams that blitz-seven and use four short zones on every
down (Berlin last year) or rush-six and cover five in tight man on
every down (Los Angeles).
Now on to the next step. Examining the purpose of defense. The
goal of defense is not only to stop your opponent from scoring, but
also to provide scoring opportunities for your own team. This is
often forgotten by advocates of the "bend but don't break" school.
Who allow their opponent to hold the ball and often put their offense
in a hole even when they do keep the opposition from scoring. The
value of creating scoring chances is rarely over-emphasized; Buddy
Ryan's approach being a notable exception.
Forcing fumbles can be done by standing one's opponent up and then
stripping the ball. "Tackling the ball", that is attempting to wrest
the ball from a player who is still capable of running with it, will
create few turnovers and lots of long gains. First stop the ball
carrier, then strip the ball. In FPS, this doesn't work, as ball
carriers either break the tackle or go down. They can be stood up by
running into their own men. But not by defenders. And even when
they are I haven't noticed an increased rate of fumbling.
The most common cause of fumbles in FPS is when the QB and RB are
not on the same page. The QB reads the RB's motion and pitches the
ball along his projected path. Then the RB makes a cut while the ball
is in the flight and the twain never meet. The second most common
cause is when the QB is hit while trying to execute an exchange. And
the third is when the RB is hit before receiving the ball - the QB will
still try to give the ball to the RB rather than abandon the play.
Unlike real football where you can coach your players to force fumbles
the only way to increase the number of fumbles caused in FPS is to get
defenders into the offensive backfield quickly.
Interceptions are most commonly caused by a pressured quarterback
throwing the ball where he shouldn't. This will rarely occur in FPS.
Another common cause of interceptions are missed reads. Either the
quarterback expects a defender to move away from an area when he is in
fact moving into it. Or he expects his receiver to cut one way rather
than the other. The former happens in FPS on occasion when the QB
leads his receiver right into a defender. The latter only occurs on
timing passes where the receivers is bumped off of his route. The one
type of interception that occurs as often in FPS as in real football is
when the QB sends up a wounded duck as he's hit.
The best way to get interceptions in FPS is to pressure the QB with
defenders in the short seam zones. However, this takes a lot of men.
The next best way is to have defenders where the QB will lead the
receiver and throw the ball right to a defender as mentioned above.
Small zones (small so that the defender will stay put) to the outside
or deep are best for this.
Turnovers are less common in FPS than real football. And most are
due to poor execution by the offense. As a result, playing to force
turnovers in FPS is not a highly productive strategy. And I don't
advise trying to build a defense around playing take-away. However,
the defense can still help the offense by stopping the opposition
quickly and keeping them from being placed in a hole. A defense that
allows few plays per drive will also give their offense more chances
during a game. Note that this usually allows more possessions to the
opponent as well, so a bad defense should probably play "bend but
don't break" and let the offense fend for itself.
This is even more true of FPS than real football. In part because of
the inability to play for turnovers. But more so because of the sad
kicking game. The FPS punters have apparently never heard of the term
"coffin corner", and the kickers are quite unreliable even from in
close. As a result, allowing your opponent to penetrate into your
territory is not as costly as it would be in the NFL.
Remember though that the emphasis is on the "don't break" part. The
"bend" part is a concession to the offense. If your defense cannot
stop the opponent once they reach the "red zone" then you don't have a
"bend but don't break" defense, you have a bad one. The idea is to
force your opponent to make 4 or more 1st downs to reach the "red zone".
In hopes that somewhere along the way a bad play will stall the drive.
Once they have reached the "red zone" you need to switch to a "stiff"
Overall I still prefer a "stiff" defense. And it's easier to design
such a defense. But there are some teams that will burn you repeatedly
if you play "stiff" defense against them.
This changes the subject from the secondary goal of defense; to help
the offense by giving them good field position and more chances. We're
now discussing the primary goal; stopping the opponent from scoring.
Based upon the considerations we've just discussed, "bend but don't
break" should be a better choice in FPS than in the NFL. Unfortunately
this strategy relies on zone defense a great deal. And the zone logic
in FPS is seriously flawed. The defense doesn't adjust to unbalanced
formations. Even worse, the zone defenders don't really play zone; they
play man-to-man against the deepest man in their zone. In a real zone
they should only turn their backs on the QB and run with their man as a
last resort. The zone defenders should back-pedal and sidle, keeping
the play in front of them and their eyes on the ball so that they can
Since zone defense doesn't work well it becomes very hard to build a
"bend but don't break" defense that actually doesn't break. As teams
can easily overload one side of the field and so get a man wide open.
Or they may simply beat a deep safety in FPS just as they would were
he playing man-to-man. The advantages of zone over man are almost
entirely absent in FPS. The zones can be beaten deep even more easily
than man. And the run support isn't there unless you use read logic,
as zone defenders react slowly to plays developing in front of them.
The only advantage that remains is the ability to defend specific areas
of the field. And even that is undermined by the fact that defenders
in FPS don't jar the ball free from receivers as often as they should.
Probably a compensation for FPS QBs' tendency to throw "jump balls"
(passes in which the receiver is standing still with a defender right
next to him). Defenders in proper position may knock the ball down.
And can time their hits occasionally. But not nearly as often as they
would in real football. Having a defender near the ball in FPS is
less effective than you might hope.
FPS's man-to-man coverage is also flawed. The shading options are
limited. And their execution is very bad. Bump-and-run coverage is
also poorly modeled. Because the defenders cannot shade properly the
offense needn't guess on its routes. Which is OK, since it is also
not possible for the offense to have a receiver read the coverage and
adjust his route accordingly. The two oversimplifications cancel one
another out. Leaving man coverage vulnerable to out, corner/fade,
crossing, and comeback routes.
Using wait logic with man can help get a defender to stay underneath
his man and improve the defense against a comeback route. It also
helps against outs. But is extremely vulnerable to any type of deep
pass. And so should only be used in goal-line situations or when the
defender has deep help. Either in an under/over double-team or with
a safety in zone. With the safety help a lot of testing is necessary
to avoid having the him either too deep or too shallow. In goal-line
defense the delay in moving into coverage can result in a quick pass
for a TD if the defense is not well designed.
Soft man-to-man can be an effective strategy in a "bend but don't
break" defense. But you should use double-teams, read, or zone logic
to supplement the short coverage. Otherwise the offense will be able
to pick up good yardage all day long on short outs and hooks. Two of
the most common plays you'll face.
The best bet in FPS is to rely primarily on man coverage with some
zones mixed in to stop the routes against which man-to-man is weak.
This can be done by adding small zones to man coverage on a given play.
These small zones put a player in a specific spot and keep him there
unless someone runs right into him. Such zones can be particularly
useful against out and hook routes. Using 6 to 8 men in coverage like
this limits the pass rush and run defense options. Making it suitable
for a "bend but don't break" scheme. But less so for an aggressive
defense. For a "stiff" defensive scheme the mixing in of zones may
mean a few pure zone defenses to go with primary pure man defenses.
These pure zones would be used mostly in third down situations as
"sell out" calls to stop a particular play or set of plays. Though
some teams like to use the pure zones to free up seven men to rush
the QB. A very effective strategy if the offense is not prepared for
it. And totally ineffective if they are.
Aggressive play on the defensive front can be quite profitable due
to the poor play of FPS blockers. As stated earlier it can also help
produce turnovers. You should generally have all of the players on
your defensive front use pass rush/blitz or aggressive run defense
This does reduce the run pursuit you get from the defensive front.
If you want more pursuit from these players then you sould make sure
to use those who set up off of the line of scrimmage. Otherwise they
may get caught up in traffic. And you'll get neither penetration nor
pursuit from them. You can improve the pursuit of defensive linemen
by "flexing" them; that is moving them a yard or two off the line of
scrimmage. Having those player who will attack the line hit the gaps
can help with pursuit. This can cause both of the nearby linemen to
go after one attacker and give the players behind the line a fraction
of a second more to react before having to deal with a blocker. This
can also help with stunts in pass rushing situations.
In attacking the passer the strategy depends upon how many men that
you have rushing. If only three then it really doesn't matter what
kind of rush you use. Someone is going to have to shrug off a blocker
to make a play. With four, you should move the rushers in some way to
try to get the blockers moving around. As they do a very poor job of
picking up a rusher while shifting. With five or more men rushing you
have all sorts of options.
The inside pass rush is preferred by most teams. That is where the
blocking logic is the weakest. As blockers eagerly shift to pick up
the outside rush, even when there is none (closer to the concession
stand I guess). However, most good offenses expect this inside rush
and handle it pretty well. The outside rush is not as good at getting
to the QB, but provides a good chance of a big loss on an outside run.
And so should be used against teams that like to run wide.
Stunts aren't all that effective in FPS. As the pass blocking more
closely resembles a zone blocking scheme. Rather than one wherein the
blocker has to follow a particular defender. In real football stunts
should occur on the offensive side of the line of scrimmage to reduce
the chance of a defender being caught out of position on a running
play. This doesn't work in FPS as defenders will be engaged by pass
blockers as soon as they cross the line. So you must stunt on the
defensive side of the line of scrimmage. Furthermore, players don't
move past each other well in FPS. This hampers stunting defenders
nearly as much as it does pulling linemen. If you use a stunt you
should test it extensively to make certain it works as planned.
A delayed rush up the middle can be effective in FPS because of the
tendency of pass blockers to gravitate toward the outside. This sort
of rush is also fairly good against inside runs. For this purpose the
blitzer should time his arrival at the line of scrimmage to meet the
runner. If he arrives too soon he may be blocked, go to the wrong
hole, or simply rush past the runner. If he arrives too late then a
quick run may pick up 2 or 3 yards before contact even if the he does
make the tackle. If the blitzer sets up too close to the line then
there is a danger of getting caught in traffic. But a deep set is less
effective in rushing the passer. And also adds the danger of tangling
up a man in coverage and allowing a receiver to get open.
Here's a checklist to help you design a defense. It is mainly meant
as a list of reminders. A defense built around a coherent strategy
will tend to be more effective than one that is a disjoint collection
of plays that you believe work well.
1. Will the primary defensive strategy be "stiff" or "bend but
2. How do you change your defense (if at all) when the opponent
- a. The midfield area?
- b. Field goal range?
- c. The goal-line area?
3. Will you typically use three defensive linemen or four?
4. Are you going to use mostly man, zone, or mixed defenses?
5. Are you going to blitz a lot or not?
6. How are you going to rest your starters; in specific defenses
(if the back-ups are very different than the starters) or as
called for by fatigue (if the back-ups are similar)?
7. Are there key plays that become ineffective if one of your
players gets hurt?
- 8. Do you have defenses that stop the most common offenses;
- a. Outs?
- b. Wide runs?
- c. Runs to the guard-tackle gap?
- d. Corners?
- e. Comeback routes in the seam or middle zones?
9. What is the smallest set of your plays that can defend well
against all 1st and 2nd down offenses (if it's more than about
four plays then you need to go back to the drawing board)?
10. Do you have defenses that stop plays into each defensive zone
11. Do you have defenses that stop plays to every player?
12. Do you have plays that can control an opponent's strengths?
13. Do you have plays that can attack an opponent's weaknesses?
14. Do you have plays that fully utilize the talents of your best
Here's a form to help keep track of plays and their purposes.
Type.......: Run defense
This play uses read logic to build a 33 Zone defense with stong run
support. The three safeties provide good, but not great, coverage
deep. And the stunting ILBs and linemen produce a bit of pressure up
the middle against medium and long passes. The coverage is also fair
against out routes if the cornerbacks set up wide. Short passes to
the left seam and middle are virtually uncovered and can lead to an
easy first down. Medium passes over the middle are not covered well
unless the receiver comes from the right slot position and so is picked
up by the ROLB immediately.
33R33SIL can be used on 1st down or 2nd and 6-10 against running
teams or those with low-percentage passing attacks. Especially in
the offense's end of the field. The spread out formation, stunt, and
delayed read by the safeties make it unsuitable for short yardage
situations. It is a "bend but don't break" call.
S N S
10 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
C L C
E T E
0 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
W T G C G T E
10 - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
LE - Rushes outside and upfield 2 to 5 yards and attacks the ball.
NT - Lines up on C's left shoulder, crosses into the C-RG gap and
attacks the right C-G gap.
RE - Rushes straight at RG's outside shoulder. Or simply attacks
the ball from the snap.
LILB - Attacks the left G-T gap.
RILB - Crosses behind the NT and attacks the left C-G gap.
ROLB - Reads (covers short middle zones).
LCB - Reads (covers left flat and seam).
LS - Waits 0.2 seconds, then reads (covers deep left).
NB - Waits 0.2 seconds, then reads (covers deep middle).
RS - Waits 0.2 seconds, then reads (covers deep right).
RCB - Reads (covers right flat and seam).
LILB - Attacks the left C-G gap.
RILB - Crosses behind both the NT and LILB to attack the left
Cory S. Ridgway (firstname.lastname@example.org)
"Numerical precision is the very soul of science."
- D'Arcy Wentworth Thompson
"It is not enough to have a good mind. The main thing is to use
- Rene Descartes
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