Fitting the run from a 3-High defense.
I examine how Iowa State uses their Middle Safety to fit the run.
I wrote my very first Iowa State article in 2017, but amazingly, it took until 2018 for the football world to start seeing the legitimacy of the three-safety system as a way to combat the Spread. Most teams before that year were focused on more traditional approaches. You were either a 3-4 or a 4-2-5 and some were still stuck in basic 4-3/3-4 schemes.
Related Content: Running a 3-Down/3-Safety Dime as Your Base – The Front (‘18)
Iowa State’s John Heacock looked around and felt that for the Cyclones to win, he needed to see defense differently. Once he unlocked the brains of many coaches, the explosion of the three-high system accelerated. Early on, most coaches saw the concept as novel but nothing more than a Dime package fad that would fade away. I even referred to it as Odd Dime when I started to write about it.
Until ’18, most coaches utilized an Odd Dime package that leaned heavily into Swipe or Tampa 2-style coverages (above). It’s no wonder that when the system started to be talked about, the scheme was referred to as Tite Tampa, which was far from the truth—even the SEC dabbled in the look in ’19 when the LSU offenses exploded into the league and an eventual National Championship.
Looking at the Big 12 (above), which features many different three-high systems, you can see that Baylor, a standard Tite Front defense, led the league in Cover 2. The notion that three-high equals a Tampa 2 defense is a farce. Seven years removed from its “birth,” we see the diversity within the structure.
The 2022 iteration of Heacock’s defense was heavily based in Quarters. Cover 2 usage has fallen dramatically within the past two years. I assume this is mainly due to how offenses have adjusted to the three-high system.
Beginning in 2020, the Cyclones raised their Quarters usage by 17.8 percentage points and lowered their Cover 2 reps by 16.3 percentage points. That is a giant swing. Interestingly, the Cover 3 percentages have fluctuated from 28.8% in ’20 to 41.6% in ’21, only to fall back to the 20s in ’22. The 2022 Iowa State coverage matrix is shown below.
Some coaches that dabble in the three-high system use it to get into Fire Zones. A great example of this has been Oklahoma’s Brent Venables. Even last year, under newly appointed DC Wes Goodwin, the Tigers used the Odd Stack to run five-man pressures. Iowa State has an extensive pressure package, but blitzing is not the primary objective.
The past five years have seen the Cyclones fluctuate in Blitz Rate. Last year, the unit had its highest mark at 21.7%. That means Iowa State called a blitz on over a fifth of its downs. The defense has shown a significant change in how it moves its front. Heacock has risen his Stunt Rate from 9% in ’18 to 19.9% in ’22.
The movement of the front probably coincides with defense utilizing more middle-of-the-field-open (MOFO) coverages. In Quarters, the defense can either play nine-man spacing or seven-man spacing. The latter version, illustrated below, allows the defense to play more zone-match principles. One aspect of seven-man spacing is the need for movement, explaining the rise in the Stunt Rate.
A powerful platform used on Microsoft® Visio & PowerPoint to allow football coaches to organize, format, and export Playbooks, Scout Cards, and Presentations efficiently.