Modified by Michael Fornal
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Defense in a Skilled Owner League
This article is in response to a trend I already see developing in the CCF. The "blowout" syndrom has already started and I’d love nothing more than to see it go away so I thought I’d jot down some ideas for consideration.
As a closet military historian, let me begin with a general statement about defense from a military perspective…there is no perfect defense. (At this point, James [Never] says to me, "well DUH"). Simply put, the defender is always at a disadvantage because they are responding to or guessing as to where an attack will occur, and are therefore far more likely to loose than win in any given conflict. In fact, if you look at the historical outcome of major engagements through history, the attacker actually wins about 67%. This number might seem obvious from one stand point - attackers attack when they think they can win and so they should succeed a fair amount. But, from another perspective, that means that at least 33% of the time, the attacker attacked BELIEVING he could win and was wrong!
What does this have to do with football? The offensive player will invariably attack in such a way as to maximize their chance of success. For most coaches, this means pounding on the gimic (or some minor variation) that has worked well in the past. Gimics are not bad things unless they cheat the game programming (which is why the league rules exist) - they are successful strategies. This fact is one reason why you will often see BLOWOUTS. When a good gimic comes up against a bad defense… BLAP. You notice I said BAD DEFENSE? That’s right…blowouts are generally the fault of bad defense, not great offense. They can be avoided or at least mitigated with some thought and planning. I still occasionally loose 44-10 and that sort of thing - bad days will always occur…but not that often.
There is only one goal in organizing a defensive strategy: The focus of the defense is to minimize the opponent’s offensive attack to the best degree possible.
That’s it. Anything more is a statistician eye-candy. Sacks are irrelivant unless they lead to punts, etc.
Remember that FBPRO is a simulation - it is a game that roughly corresponds to the rules of NFL football. Designing strategies the work for NFL teams are irrelevant in FBPRO - the strategies must work within the framework of the programmed environment. However, within any gaming context, there are generally three principle factors in deciding the outcome of any contest - they are a) Material b) Position and c) Tempo.
Material - this is the nuts, bolts, hammers, and drill presses so to speek. In FBPRO terms, it’s your roster. It is also one of the easiest things to control. Great players can help make up for poor defensive planning but good defenses do not require great players.
Position - this is where you put your players on the field. A great pass rusher is useless if he’s not in position to rush the passer. It’s also the area where the defense has a slight advantage for two reasons - a) the field contracts the closer you get to the defensive goaline, and b) the offensive play always begins behind the line of scrimage (hey, any boat in a storm!).
Tempo - this is timing. This is where the offensive player usually has a HUGE advantage over the defensive player since the offensive player can dictate when passes occur, who runs where, etc. The defense must anticipate and respond. However, there is a cavaiet - three successful defensive plays in a row can stop most offensive drives. Within a play, the offense has an advantage - within a series, it’s generally even.
In most cases, control of any two is sufficient for victory. If you have better players and do a good job positioning them, this is sufficient to overcome the tempo advantage of the offensive player. However, sufficient domination over any one is sometimes adequate to gain the advantage - particularly tempo. As the cliché goes, "Timing is Everything".
So, on to designing a defense. There are two aspects that must be considered - a) within any given play and b) within any given series.
The Play Defense
Remember, within a play, the offensive player has a big advantage in tempo and to some degree position. The defense must attempt to wrest some control back to gain advantage. There are many defensive strategies but I’ll try and list out a few of the major schemes below starting with some general comments:
M2M coverage - Assigning m2m coverage can be a little tricky for several reasons. For all m2m coverage schemes, only bump-at-the-line coverages will encourage the defender to move TOWARD the offense. In all other cases, the defender will move away from the offensive player and allow him to ‘catch up’. This means that a defender with m2m coverage on a RB will be moving AWAY from that RB on a running play until he crosses the LOS or unless bump-at-the line logic is assigned. For covering RBs, it is useful to include a 0.3 sec delay in the defending player logic.
Reads - LBs tend to read fast and run deep. A WR on a fly pattern will often get the read coverage from an interior LB leaving your LB out of position to cover runs. Look below for the cure!
Persuit logic - Remember, agressive persuit means STRAIGHT at the offensive player. For all but the fastest defenders, this is usually flirting with disaster - Middle linebackers persuing RBs will charge right into the line and get blocked or fall behind and have to chase and catchup. In MANY cases, "conservative persuit", particularly for DBs, can be the difference between a 4 yard gain and a 40 yard breakaway. If ya aint got the horses, don’t romp on the gas!!!
Specific Defensive Schemes:
The blitz: This is the most obvious and widely used defensive strategy. The old IFL1 was absolutely the most ‘blitz-n-bump’ league I ever belonged to. It’s pretty simple - Line up 6 guys on the LOS, give em all move to or blitz commands, and have the other 5 guys run m2m coverage. Using the language from above, this is a sacrifice in position in an attempt to regain the tempo advantage from the offense. And it does work, particularly on unprepared coaches.The maximum number of offensive players that can reasonably go out is 5 so everyone is covered. The two major permutations are to either a) have most m2m defenders bump-at-the-line or b) have them shade under/long. The major difference is this: m2m bump-at-the liners move toward their offensive players at the snap - the ‘shaders’ move in the direction of the offensive player (usually away from the LOS). The infamous ‘bighurt’ defense was a 7 man rush with 4 guys in medium zones but it’s the same idea.
Advantages: Slow plays can get MAULED by this defense. The middle blitz can help shut down middle running plays and the outside blitz applies excellent pressure. Disadvantages: Several - on the m2m bump coverage, there is a significant possibility that a ‘fly’ receiver will get behind the coverage for big yardage. For this reason, the blitz-n-bump is sometimes modified by having 4 m2m coverage guys and one middle linebacker doing a delayed read (I’ll get more into the delayed read below). This is better but can get burned by the ‘meandering safety valve’. For me, this is typically a slow, reliable (e.g., decent hands, strength, endurance) receiver wander out 5 yards, look for pass, then go post. He’s not covered (cause his stats are usually poor, making him the 5th receiver) and is not the primary deep threat so the ‘read’ linebacker leaves him alone.
Usually, this is done in response to a noticed tendancy. Does your offensive opponent like to throw to the flats? Does he like the 15 yard out? 25 yard out? 15 yard comeback pass? Deep pitch?
Basically, it works by assigning ‘zone coverage’ to a tiny area of the field (a pixel!) The defender will then move to that spot and largely ignore anything until the ball is thrown or run. If the ball’s thrown in his area, he’ll try and bat it down. Remember, with 4 guys rushing and 5 guys in coverage, that leaves 2 guys to pick spots.
Advantages: Allows for defense of specific areas of the field. This is particularly useful against opponents who go in heavily for swing passes and 15 yard out routes (two of the more successful offensive gimics). Disadvantages: Gives up material for position. Basically, the player on the ‘wrong side’ does nothing to help stop the play.
This is one of the better linebacker and sometimes lineman strategies. Basically, the linebacker is positioned either a) in the middle of the field or b) on a wing, and is given "wait for 0.6 sec" orders then is told to "read". What happens in practice is this: The ball is snapped. If it’s a handoff, the linebacker will come out of his pause about the time the ball is handed off so he’s in good shape to at least make some attempt at the carrier. If it’s a pass, he’s gotta play catchup which is actually not always a bad thing - particularly if the offensive player likes to throw outs or cutbacks.
Advantages: Leaves the LB in good run support position. Disadvantages: Should not be construed be a primary means of coverage. Sacrifices tempo to maintain position.
The Jello Defense:
The this is exactly the opposite of the blitz. Basically, the line is completely sacrificed in order to maximize coverage. I’ve seen defenses with one lineman 5 yards back and 10 DBs all at least 10 yards of the LOS. Sometimes this will even induce an audible in the offense (which is usually awful!). I think this is a bit of overkill but I do have several 3 man rush, 8 dbs zoning defenses.
Advantages: good pass coverage over wide areas of the field. Disadvantages: Generally medocre run support. Succeptible to flooding - running 2 receivers on fly routes then dumping to a slant receiver underneath the cleared zones.
Read/Zone Combo -
Actually, I owe this one to Allan Rossman of the IFL2 Saints. He asked me to take a look at a defense and I noticed a picularity so I optimized it. At that time, I liked to throw an 6-8 yard out pattern on 2nd and long. He had a defense that was 4 DBS all doing read at 4 yards off the LOS. It was killing me! Some of his defenders would move to where the ball was gonna be thrown before my receiver even made his break! The problem was that the reads generally took about 0.5 seconds. On a straight fly, I was killing him. So, I added 2 (or 3) DBs or LBs line up in deep zones, about 15 yards out, to cover the flys.
Advantages: Works well against the 5-10 yard out patterns and against most comback routes. Disadvantages: Medocre run support (read) and some succeptibity to flooding.