Updated: Sep 7, 2019
The last element to stopping the run out of the spread is what we call "close the gap". As the defensive end (DE) on the play side is being engaged by the defender "setting the edge" and while the middle rusher is "mirroring the runner" and engaging the other blocker then the unblocked defender which is the backside DE must "close the gap" (Figure 1)
The defender who is unblocked and chasing the play is being taught to work in tandem with the other two players. He can not overrun when chasing the running back so as to insure the RB can not reverse field. He is to chase the runner funneling him into the edge and mirror defenders. In Figure 1, when the RB realizes he can't jump outside or run between the boundary defender (LDE) and the mirror defender (LB) he will be forced to slow his momentum and cut back. At the moment the RB drops his hips and pivots to cut back he is at his most vulnerable position because he has no leverage when changing direction and having lost speed. The chasing defender then attacks the outside leg of the defender with a form tackle.
The position of the DE pre-snap is crucial to the success of either setting the edge or chasing the defender. In Figure 2, both DE have set up at a distance further away from the ball. You often see players do this if they feel as thought they can not get outside fast enough to set the edge. The problem is this means they have further to go when chasing the runner when the play sweeps away from their side. They are usually unable to close the gap as a result.
Coaching tip: When you have slower players at DE the faster of the two always should line up on the wide side of the field. Coach your DEs to play either side of the ball.
It is important the chasing DE also does not over pursue the RB. In Figure 3, the chasing DE sees the RB make a move to get outside the DE setting the edge and makes the crucial mistake of trying to jump around the mirror back to meet the back at the sideline. The LDE will do his job and take away this option and the result will be the RB reversing his field to a now vacated spot as the chasing DE is out of position.
Coaching Tip: You must instill a belief that everyone will do their job. The players must understand WHY they are being asked to not make a tackle first and instead play a positional assignment. When there is a breakdown in the process. Stop and walk through the breakdown in assignment.
The proper relationship for the chaser is to be behind the runner so as to insure there is not an immediate cutback and to be within about 5 yards when the RB drops his hips to reverse field. Each player has to determine for themselves as to how best to pursue the RB. Faster players will be able to close running deeper into the backfield whereas slower players will need to be closer to the LOS.
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