Yesterday, Real Football Network posted an interesting video on seven-man protection. Essentially, the Cleveland Browns’ offensive line coach, Bob Wylie, explained how to block “solid” and “slide” pass protections with a split backfield.
A couple of thoughts on this video:
As someone who has coached a 2×2/3×1 pistol over the last two years, I figured I could help explain a concept that is closer to what you see in college football in 2016/2017. A friend of the Edge Hermanos, @WheresTheCeph, was even able to call it out after coaching high school ball on the opposite coast as me.
One of the most common protections that you will see on Saturdays is a six-man protection with a “big on big” (BOB) concept to the principal passing concept and a “slide” concept to the opposite side. That’s the five offensive linemen, with the sixth man being the running back, who helps on the BOB side.
First of all, we need to explain what type of defensive looks you get against a spread offense. For the sake of shortening this piece, I’m just going to use a 2×2 pistol as an example.
This is what a 2×2 pistol looks like. Personnel doesn’t matter right now. Just think of it as two receivers to each side, with the outside receivers all the way on the start of the numbers and the inside receivers splitting the tackles and outside receivers in distance. The center (OC), quarterback (QB) and running back (T) are all aligned in a straight line.
Against most spread offenses, you have to play an even front, as you can’t disguise as many blitzes with receivers spread out that much. That is why you don’t even see NFL teams building around true 3-4 defenses anymore.
So if you are playing a two-high defense with an even front, there’s really only two ways to do it. You’re either going to have or not have overhang defenders.
This is what a two-high, five-man box looks like against the 2×2 spread. Again, don’t worry about personnel. In terms of alignment, this is what you’d think of as a dime defense.
The problem with a five-man box is that there is one less box defender than there are holes for the running back to run through. From the outside of the left tackle to the outside of the right tackle, there are six gaps. That means if you run a basic gap play, like power, you have a massive advantage on the offensive side of the ball.
The other way to line up with an even front defense against the spread is by not using overhang defenders, the extra defenders who lined up over the slot receivers in the dime defense. Essentially, you’ll be playing what most would consider a base 4-3. It gives you a seven-man box, one more defender than there are gaps for the offensive line. In the ground game, the advantage clearly goes to the defense.
In the passing game, though, you’re leaving two-on-two matchups with high safeties and cornerbacks on the outside. If you run basic quick concepts, like slant-arrow, you should be able to eat this defense up by ligament. The same could be said about a six-man box with two high safeties, as that still leaves one side of the field without an overhang defender.
Because of that, you’ll most often see a single-high defense line up against spread offenses of this nature.
This alignment naturally balances against the offense. In the box, you have six defenders who can stop six gaps. On the outside, you have tighter one-on-one matchups than two-high looks. You also still have that middle of the field safety, who can help to either side of the field.
Welcome to the modern nickel defense, somewhat of an answer to the spread. On the back end, you can play Cover 1, sometimes called “Man Free” by actual coaches and not Twitter X & O gurus, Cover 3 and Quarter-Quarter-Half concepts pretty easily, and that’s just base looks, not blitzes.
Now, on to the pass protection. We can dump the outside receivers and cornerbacks out of the equation now. If you’re blitzing cornerbacks from the numbers against a spread offense, you’re going to lose your defensive coordinator gig pretty quickly.
We need to breakup this protection into its two parts. Let’s assume the passing concept is going to the right here, so we’ll work the backside of the play first. The front side is the big on big/BOB blocking concept, while the backside is a simple slide concept.
The center through backside tackle are responsible for any and everything coming at the quarterback off of the backside. This means that they need to take care of the defensive end (6) and nose tackle (1), while keeping their eyes up for one of the off the ball players coming free. We’ll call the overhang defender a Rover (R) and the box defender a Will (W) for now.
You may ask, why are those three linemen in charge of potentially four defenders? The answer is simple: If all four of those defenders blitz, and the slot receiver (H) makes a sight adjustment, typically some route that looks similar to a slant, then the single high safety, who is incredibly far away, has to make a play in the open field. This isn’t Madden. Teams don’t all-out blitz like this regularly. They are essentially risking a touchdown whenever they make that call. Out of this look, you’re rushing two to three from the backside.
So, what are the rules for slide protection? Every lineman controls the gap to their outside. The center can’t let anything come through the A-gap, the guard can’t let anything come through the B-gap and the tackle an’t let anything come through the C-gap. It’s very simple.
In a base look, where the line of scrimmage defenders just rush the holes that they’re lined up in, this is how the protection would pick up the rushers. The center takes the nose tackle. The tackle takes the end. The guard is free and gets to look for work.
Here’s a more exotic look that this protection can pick up on this end. The nose slants into the B-gap to open up the A-gap for the blitzing Will. Either way, it’s three on three and the rule is simple: Take what comes to your outside.
Here’s an example of the overhang defender blitzing. The end has to slant inside for this play to work. You have a three-on-three matchup, and it’s likely that the Will, who is beat a bit by alignment, has to cover the slot receiver (H) in the passing game. Advantage offense. No matter how you draw it up, three on three is three on three. That’s why you want it to your quarterback’s blind side.
Now that the backside is settled, let’s talk about the front side-big on big/BOB protection. This is sort of similar to the slide side, as there are three blockers to the side, but with the center going to the left, that extra third blocker has to come out of the backfield in the running back (T.)
The front side tackle, guard and running back have to block the end (6), under tackle (3) and keep an eye out for the Mike (M) and Sam (S) on a blitz.
Instead of assigning gaps like a slide concept, a BOB concept demands that you block specific players. Count the players on the line of scrimmage from the outside in and assign them to players. The end (6) is the first man with his hand in the dirt, so he’s the tackle’s man. The under tackle (3) is the second man with his hand in the dirt, so he’s the guard’s man.
It’s that simple. What this concept does demand, though, is that the defender who an offensive lineman is assigned to cannot cross the pass protector’s face. The offensive player has to go where the defender goes. That should be easy, though, considering the fact that both of the defenders are on the outside shade of the offensive linemen and offensive linemen’s stances, with their inside foot up, are designed to give them an advantage in these situations.
Basically, the running back (T) has to be on constant alert for the Mike (M) or Sam (S) blitzing.
The running back doesn’t just scan randomly, flipping his head between the two, though. There are rules. The running back first checks the A-gap, then checks the B-gap and finishes looking for someone coming off of the edge. The first two are essentially checks for the Mike, while the edge pressure check is mostly for the Sam, though the Mike can also loop around.
What happens if there’s no one for the running back to pick up, though? Does he find work like the guard did on the slide side? For the most part, a running back will just find a spot to sink in near the line of scrimmage as an outlet for a check down throw.
Watch Green Bay Packers running back James Starks on this play when he sees a four-man rush and realizes there’s no one to pick up in protection. He floats to the line of scrimmage and looks at the quarterback. That’s basically what you should ask for a running back when given the opportunity to look for work.
200-pounders aren’t looking for the same kill shots that 300-pounders are. Don’t treat them the same.
Here’s what a base rush attempt would look like against BOB. With no Mike or Sam pressure, the back should find a hole in the coverage and sit.
From that base look, the Mike can easily blitz. That’s a pick up that the running back has to make. It’s also his first read, as it’s through the A-gap.
The second read would be the running back picking up the Mike blitzing through the B-gap, which would be open if the under tackle (3) tried to slant into the A-gap. Again, the guard has to follow the defensive tackle wherever he goes.
The third read for the running back would be edge pressure, which likely is accompanied by the defensive line slanting inside. It can come from the Mike looping or from the Sam on a straight rush, but the back needs to pick it up either way. If the Sam does blitz, the slot receiver (Y) is in a position to beat the Mike in the passing game by alignment.
So that’s that. That’s one of the easiest and most common ways to block up a blitz. If you see some sort of a four-receiver look, there’s a good chance that you’re look at this protection in action, unless there’s a moving pocket.
This is what both sides of the protection look like with the inside linebackers coming on a blitz.
This is what both sides of the protection look like with the overhang defenders coming on a blitz.
No matter who comes, under this set of rules, if you have a three-on-three or better matchup on each side, this protection should hold up. That’s why it’s so popular out of four-receiver looks, which is more modern than split backs.
UPDATE: Good question
This question actually shows critical thought, so it’s worth pointing out. Yes, I’ve always coached up the front side blocking big on big. I understand why you’d wonder why it matters, though.
If you have three on three on both sides, why would it matter? The only reason why it would matter in six-man protection is when the running back finishes his reads and becomes a visible check down option. Other than that, it’s not that big of a deal.
With that being said, if we set the big side to to front side, it makes it easier to set up a five-man protection. If we have a five-man protection, that means that the quarterback would be responsible for a free blitzer on the BOB side, and it would benefit him to see that blitzer coming off of his initial read rather than having the blitzer barreling down his blindside.
Some passing concepts, like a three-man snag, ask for a running back to come out of the backfield as an option on a triangle concept. Your six-man and five-man concept can be the same word, since only the running back and quarterback really need to know the difference. The running back needs to know he’s not in pass protection, and the quarterback needs to know that he’s throwing hot if he sees any color blitz. Keeping the front side as big on big, and keeping the quarterback’s blindside secure, is important.