Roses are red, violets are blue... and so are defensive schemes
So far in the analysis of Mike Elko’s 4-2-5 defense that the Notre Dame Fighting Irish started installing this spring, we have gone over the basic schemes of the front 6 and back 5. In essence, you have two distinct parts of the defense; the front and the back. In this alignment, you also have a splitting of the secondary right down the middle of the defense, allowing for coverages to be taught in each half of the field, giving the Fighting Irish the advantage of varying looks, but keeping the learning process simple.
Today, in an attempt to show just how this works we will analyze one particular defensive coverage call and breakdown the responsibilities of each player in the back 5.
Let’s say the offense decides to line up in a shotgun single-back set with twins to the left, and a single wideout to the right. Once the offensive set is recognized the defensive backs read and align in conjunction to the match-up. In this case, the Free Safety will call read or red left. The Weak Safety calls the other side. In this offensive setup, responsibilities to the left side begin with the WR to the outside belonging to the CB. The slot falls to the strong safety, both of which are playing up on the line of scrimmage. The free safety is playing half-deep with his read being the back. On the right side, the CB is playing up and the weak safety is playing zone, your classic cover 2 look. At this point your beginning coverage look is very basic, the variations and beauty of this defense show up once the ball is snapped.
In this case, we will go with a defensive call of cover 25, as discussed in the previous article. 25 is a mixed bag of coverage responsibilities, 2 meaning coverage call “2” to the left (or strong) and “5” being coverage to the right (or weak). In this instance, these are the 1st reads:
- LCB- Has the outside WR post and deep routes.
- SS- Reads the slot and covers the curl and flat routes.
- FS- Reads back and will pick up the slot if he goes vertical, allowing for the SS to remain in position to cover underneath and short. Also allows SS to drift back under the outside WR to undercut and give the CB support.
- RCB- Has short zone on his side.
- WS- Has deep zone on his side.
Now, out of this look you get the general idea, but hopefully see where this would be tough on a QB to read correctly. The reason for this is that every route is accounted for on the left (or pass strong side).
For instance, lets say the slot runs a straight “go” pattern. The FS assumes coverage and allows the SS to secure the shorter routes near the line of scrimmage. The CB is already in man coverage on the outside WR, so that opens up a variety of things that you can do with your SS. Elko at this point could call for his left ILB to assume coverage of the back if he flares, and will allow for a SS blitz or, in what Bill Belichick likes to do in his coverage packages, have the SS fall back quickly with the outside WR providing double coverage with the LCB. The SS now has underneath responsibilities and will often times cause the QB a bad read in result of the switch off between the ILB and SS on the back. In normal progressions the QB assumes he has 1 on 1 on the outside to either throw a fade or stop route. Both are covered in this situation and if he goes with the stop, the SS should be deep enough to either defend or intercept.
Elko, as he showed often at Wake, emphasize this method to give the QB a read that in reality, isn’t there.
The 4-2-5 gives you this flexibility. If the SS stays ‘base” in his coverage the CB always has the ability on a slant to call “in”, meaning the SS can take a step back and be right in the throwing lane of the QB to the outside WR. The CB in this case would just pick up the slot on the outside with FS help to the deep middle. Again, giving the defense an excellent chance at a pick while still playing disciplined coverage to that side of the field.
In this defense there is definitely a flow to the conceptual nature of it, but also a simple aspect: there is only one read to make based off any route run. Confusion can be generated in this system without the defensive guy completely losing his ability to be aggressive and attack.
Lets look at the right side of this coverage call- the “pass-weak” side if you will. The CB and WS are basically playing a traditional cover 2, which often will be called “blue” or “back”. In most 4-2-5 nomenclature, a “5” call is a cover 2 look.
Now, to clarify, every coach has his own vocabulary to call his defense and label what he wants to do. Here, I’m using the base wording to what the majority of 4-2-5 looks use. A cover 5 is simply a high/low look. In this scenario with the above mentioned offensive formation the cover 2 design is definitely where you start.
The CB in this case has run support responsibilities as well as the short routes ran within the 8 yard barrier from the line. The weak safety picks up everything beyond that marker. The premise here is you can vary calls from this side much like you can from the left side. Elko can call for a corner blitz here, and bring the WS up to man the wide-out. Or, as in most cases, keep things as they are to aid and balance out the short field coverage of the back, slot and TE. In other words, take away as much of the short passing game as possible to allow for the pass rush to get through to the pocket.
If you watch any film of Wake Forests defense last year, a number of their turnovers were forced from backside pursuit and pressure. This is a strong indication that the QB is taking too long in his deeper reads based on the coverage underneath. This also shows that run plays are being strung out by having guys up on the line in run support to allow for backside pursuit to strip the ball. Smart football.
In the end, this all adds up to why Mike Elko was the most important “on field” hire this year. I can’t say the most important overall, as Matt Balis is evidently remaking the Fighting Irish into a horde of Gregor Clegane look-a-likes. What I do believe, is Elko brings much needed common sense to a defense that has really never has a “sense” of itself.
Hopefully in 2018, we will recognize a Notre Dame football team that plays defense with an identity. One that signals the beginning of a culture that leads to success. After all, you can’t really be good at anything, until you can just be yourself.