Flushing the Quarterback
On 3rd & Long, bringing the heat isn't always advisable, so when defenses want to get the QB off his point, they use 'Flush' concepts to bait him into breaking the pocket.
Every defense needs to have a clearly defined 3rd Down plan, and not every 3rd Down scenario is built the same. As the offense inches closer to the 1st Down marker, the percentage of success goes up, which changes how the defense will attack.
The big conversation piece the past several years regarding Down & Distance (D&D) has been going for it on 4th Down. As more offenses use analytics to determine when to go for it or when to punt, the defense should be mirroring that data as well. For instance, a 3rd & 6 past the 50-yard line should be treated much like a 2nd & 6—it is now considered a ‘normal down.’
With six yards to go and across the 50, most offenses will see the 3rd & 6 as two-down territory, treating it as a ‘mixed’ or 50/50 down. Understanding how an opponent views 4th Down is vital to the overall 3rd Down plan. Winning the early downs helps the defense win on 3rd.
Above is a slide from my ‘Football School: Situation 101’ lecture that I gave to my defenses in the offseason. During the doldrums of winter, teams should take that extra time to teach the game of football, not just focus on the weight room and scheme. Situational awareness and the importance of certain concepts must be cultivated; the only way to do that is to talk about them.
Most college football programs will have a slide like the one above, explaining the percentages of conversation by the distance the offense needs to gain on 3rd. Win on 1st usually means a defense will win on 3rd. Incorporate that most offenses are keen to go for it on 4th Down in certain areas of the field, and the need to understand situations is amplified.
As the chart shows, the offense controls the situation once they pass the six-yard mark. In 2020, only a third of NFL offenses converted from the seven to 10-yard mark. At 11+, the total conversions nosedived to 16%. Understanding the situation allows the defensive staff to cultivate a clear game plan for each level of the distance to gain. Not every situation calls for that really cool max blitz.
Most defenses have the same goals when it comes to 3rd Down; it is the execution and calls that change depending on the coordinator. All defense want to ‘attack’ the offense on 3rd Down by manipulating the protection or punishing a match-up or deficiency. Presentations are a big part of that planning, and even in long-yardage situations, adding multiple defenders on the line of scrimmage can stress an offense’s protection.
» Author’s Note: As coaches, we all borrow and ‘steal’ from one another. Mike Elko, the Head Coach at Duke and former Texas A&M DC, has one of the best 3rd Down clinic talks I have ever seen. Many of my philosophies in this article's slides are modified from that talk.
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