Updated: Jun 18, 2019
The game of six man football has evolved to being more spread as has the game of 11 man. One might think six man was always wide open but the truth is the use of spread formations like the "Diamond", "Trips" and "Twins" has really been a newer phenomena. In 2018, we faced only one team which did not line up in some form of spread formation more than 50% of the time. Ten of the 13 teams we played were either 100% or almost 100% spread.
From a defensive perspective, the key to stopping the spread offense is no different than stopping a tight offense. You have to stop the run. The lack of an offensive line means the defense has an advantage when discerning whether a play is a designed run or a designed pass. This is the first key we teach players. They must learn to discern quickly if a play is a designed run. (a topic that will be covered in another blog post).
Once it has been established as a run play we defense all run plays the same way and the elements are as follows:
1. Set and edge on the lead blocker
2. Mirror the second blocker (if there are two blockers)
3. Close the gap
This post will be concerned with what we call "setting the edge". It is important to note that while the sixman field is narrower than 11 man it has far more ground per player to cover than in 11 man. This is why technique is crucial to defending the run out of the spread. The goal is to shorten the field. To do this you must have a player engage the lead blocker and the sooner the better. The player must take on the lead blocker and keep his outside arm free and can NEVER get hooked or allow the runner to get outside of him!
This concept works regardless of the defense you employ be it a 2-3-1, 2-2-2, 4-2 or any variation of these schemes. For discussing in this post I will use a 4-2 defensive front a shown below in Figure 1.
The 4-2 makes it very difficult for a team to run the ball up the middle as there are 4 defenders on the line of scrimmage (LOS). We prefer this attack when we have the personnel because it almost forces the offense to run sweeps to either the left or the right. It is the Left Defensive End (LDE) and the Right Defensive End's (RDE) to set the edge in the standard sweep (this assumes the receiver on the sweeping side is not cracking down on the DE). So a sweep to defense left would look like this (Figure 2):
The LDE has the responsibility of taking on the lead blocker. The faster he can engage the shorter the field is for his assisting defenders and the less room with which the RB has to work. The optimal player is one who can take on a physical blocking back while being quick enough to engage early. Slower DE's will have to move more lateral at the snap before they can engage the lead blocker and this causes more space making it harder to defend (but still very doable if the DE executes correctly).
The player setting the edge (the LDE in Fig 2) is instructed to keep his outside arm free. In this case it would be the LDE's left arm. He is never to allow the lead blocker to turn him inside. He is NEVER to try and "peek" inside in an attempt to make a tackle because in so doing he WILL give up outside leverage and he WILL get beat.
Coaching Point: We like to rep just the act of taking on the lead blocker and we have a runner and lead blocker try to get outside. You need someone to run the ball so the defender can A. be tempted to make a tackle B. understand the spacing and C. realize first hand what can happen if he gives up outside leverage.
In Figure 3, the three defenders are participating in a drill we call "3 Man Rabbit". The runner is thrown the ball but the defenders have no idea which way the sweep is going (right or left). The defenders are to react and the DEs are to set the edge if the hard sweep is coming to their side of the field.
In Figure 3c, you can see how the trailing RDE has been cut off from the tackle because he runs into the back of the LDE who was hooked by the blocker. This particular breakdown was because the LDE believed he could cut inside of the oncoming blocker and make a tackle.
Another common mistake is for the DE to set the edge to "hard". What we mean by this is that the defender is allowing the blocker to turn him parallel to the sideline (90 degrees to the LOS). This gives the runner the ability to make one cut and explode up the field. In Figure 4, you see the DE out of position.
The defender setting the edge should position his body 45 degrees to the LOS while staying on the outside shoulder of the blocker. By doing this, he is enticing the runner to consider a move outside and takes away the make one cut and go north south. A disciplined runner will not fall for this technique but the vast majority of runners want the edge, take the bait, and will hesitate long enough for the other defenders to close the gaps.
Coaching Note: We stress (to the point of running sprints!) it is never your job to make a tackle on the field. Your job is to get in position. Do your job and the by product of that might be an opportunity to make a tackle.
When we run any form of spread offense we coach our runners to dip a shoulder inside as they approach the defender who is setting the edge. This move is intended to coax an undisciplined DE to try and slip inside. We then coach the lead blocker to "ride" the defender inside and watch him grasp at air while we break off a run outside.
The importance of setting the edge can not be stressed enough. While conceptually simple, it is one of the hardest techniques to teach given the nature of the defender to want to make a tackle. Teams who can get their boundary defenders to "set the edge" will have a much greater likelihood of defending the run against spread teams.
2 Man Rabbit
3 Man Rabbit
Rip & Swim
------> Part 2 Mirror the Runner