Attacking Zone Runs with 5-Man Pressures
The modern game is a passing one, so when defenses attack the box on early downs, it is essential to understand the offense's blocking scheme and attack accordingly with 'utility' pressures.
As offenses evolved in the early 2000s from ‘Pro Style’ to Spread, using the open B-gap put the defense in conflict. The modern-day Triple Option, or Zone Read with a WR screen, became the most popular way to attack today’s antiquated 4-2-5 and 4-3s. 3-4 teams had to adjust by eliminating a hybrid EDGE for a hybrid Ni, but their Odd Front did help them close those pesky B-gaps.
The Tite Front became a popular way for defenses to shut down the B-gaps that are the lifeblood of Spread offenses. As offenses morphed from Power to Spread, Odd Front defenses quickly transitioned to a hybrid Tite Front to eliminate RPO reads for the offense. In the front, two DEs sit in 4i’s or on the inside shade of the Tackles. Their job is to hold the B-gaps, force the Guard to double them, or compress the open A-gap. Against the pass, the 4i’s are responsible to ‘Cop’ or work to a contain rush.
The latter is why many teams now are moving towards running more four-down fronts and opting to use the Tite Front versus four-open or 10-personnel formations. The issue with the Tite Front is in the pass rush. To create one, a defense has to bring a defender off the edge or rely on a lesser pass rusher to hold contain.
A four-down front allows the defense to create a better contain rush and not rely on pressure to add numbers to the box. It also gives the defense the illusion of even spacing (B-gap ‘bubble’), only to morph into odd spacing (closed B-gaps) post-snap through reductions or simulated pressures. Finally, the front also shifts personnel. The defense in a four-down can now have two hybrid edge rushers and only needs two interior D-linemen (iDL).
Offenses, at all levels, are shifting to a more pass-centric style of play. Doing so has pivoted the defense’s focus back to stopping the pass but with lessons learned from defending the Spread. Playing from a four-down defense amplifies the pass rush.
In the Tite Front, the defense needs a space-eater at Nose, and the two 4i’s are more iDL than edge rushers. Against the pass, the 4i’s have to work out instead of in, which adds difficulty to their pass rush. The Jack hybrid OLB is now the only true pass-rush specialist on the field.
Transitioning to a four-down front (above) allows the defense to have two pass rushers on the edge, a hybrid 3 tech. to challenge a Guard and a more fluid Nose that can take on doubles or challenge a Center in the pass rush. The defense also has natural walls on the edge of the box. When the defense does want to blitz, the spacing can create issues for the offense, creating one-on-ones for the D-linemen.
At the NFL level, play-action has become a standard way to attack defense on early downs and increase the EPA (Expected Points Added) of a pass play. RPOs and play-actions are mixed for lower-level offenses to make everything on an early down look like a run. So, if a defense is sitting in the Tite Front, it is harder for them to convert to a pass rush without sending a predictable edge pressure since it is increasingly hard to determine high-hat (pass) versus low-hat (run) blocking.
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