Covering the coverages
Let's take a look at the coverages used in the 4-2-5. If you can recall from part 1, the front 6 in the defensive alignment are totally distinct from the back 5 as far as coverage schemes are called. When you watch the Notre Dame Fighting Irish this fall, realize that there are 2 guys in the back 5 responsible for calling the coverage. This is another element unique to the 4-2-5 and one that Coach Elko has used through his career. The design here is to give two calls as the field is split in two parts with sometimes different coverages from one side to the other. The divide starts at the center on every snap and your two guys in the back making the calls are your weak and free safety.
Again, rather than get lost on all the technical aspects of this defense, you should start to see it as a common sense approach to best combat the spread offense. Take it in as a whole if you will, that it allows them to adjust to any formation with what they have on the field.
Now let's start with an offensive formation that is strong (to the defenses left the free safety will call 'read' or 'red' left. During this process the FS is talking to the left cornerback, strong safety and read side linebacker. The weak safety calls the other side aligning the right corner and right side linebacker.
Remember, in the 4-2-5 your outside linebackers function in coverage as much as in run defense. As it was used in the old 4-4, they functioned closer to the line and worked on pushing or containing the option plays run out of those offenses that we used to see in the 60's, 70's and 80's. The beauty of the 4-2-5 is that it can function against any offensive philosophy and not get lost in translation. You know who is responsible for what area of the field and who falls under each call.
When you configure your defense in this setup you go in realizing that when you split your secondary down the middle, there are only 3 formations the offense can give you. They can go trips to one side, twin set with 2 wideouts to either side, or a pro-set with a tight end and wideout. Unless an offense goes into the wishbone or flexbone ( i.e. Navy, Georgia Tech), this is the only setup and offense can show you. So basically with this info you introduce this to your defensive guys and immediately the simplification process starts.
Alignment for offenses are now broken down into 3 possible formations. With that established, Elko will begin branching into coverages. There are basically 3 of those: Cover 2, Cover 5 and Man. Now, every coach will use different lingo, but most stick to these 3 in principle. When an offense does go into a 2-back run heavy set you slide down a safety, making it pretty much a 4-3 and call a coverage out of this alignment. This is done mainly when the offense your playing has an edge in the line play and you need the run support.
Now, in the three coverages mentioned above, you have 3 zone coverages divided between the two parts of the secondary. Put this together with the number of possible offensive sets (3), you have 9 total coverages for each half to remember.
The 3 zone schemes are generally run out of Cover 2 (where most of the mixed coverages are found) and Cover 5 (a traditional cover 2 with your corners heavy in run support). In the call (say Cover 25 is called) the first number is for the FS side and the second number is for the weak side.
In man coverage, which is a matchup zone read, usually a blitz package where anyone eligible to catch a pass on your side is covered head up. The remaining DB shifts to the deep middle, and the inside linebackers come in to bring pressure. The main thought here is that there are only 9 variations of coverage that need to be learned and a simple numbering system to remember. Keeping in mind that the front 5 call is separate, your back 6 is looking at the formation not the offensive lineman. Each however, is running in concert with each other, just with totally different responsibilities.
In context this is easy to grasp, and that's what makes this defense very effective against the spread. These fundamentals are simple to teach and instill in your players. Once that is done, a comfort level exists for your defense that you can then introduce special packages that may be exotic in nature. What we saw for the Fighting Irish the last few years was ass backward from this approach. BVG would throw 10 different coverages, coupled with 10 different blitz packages against each of the three offensive sets. Do the math and that'll leave you with ....yep, around 300 possible defensive calls to identify.
I read somewhere that going into the Texas game the Notre Dame defense went in with around 50 defensive play calls. That might have been true or maybe not, but if it was even close to accurate that is an insane amount of information, when you realize that is not accounting for the formations run by Texas that each "play call" had to match up with. Another math equation that better illustrates what you get when a defense is overwhelmed with too much scheming and never being able to play without thinking... 4-8.
In the next installment, we'll take a look at the 9 coverages and talk about the specifics in each one. The best thing about all of this is that most of it can be taught in the spring- especially the general concepts that have been written about here. This leaves time for Coach Elko and his staff to work on fundamentals and technique, things that have been severely lacking within the Notre Dame defense over the past few seasons.
It's a welcome approach and a good start to build on for success in 2018.