Ron Roberts puts on a Creeper Clinic (Auburn vs. Cal '23)
The godfather of replacement pressures, Ron Roberts, was in his bag vs. Cal.
Less than a week after their loss to Texas to conclude the regular season, Baylor Head Coach Dave Aranda fired long-time mentor and friend Ron Roberts. Many were shocked at the dismissal of Roberts as Baylor’s Defensive Coordinator, as the Bears defense had played well in his three-year tenure. The ’21 team finished 10th in DFEI (rates overall efficiency), according to BCFToys. The Bears sputtered to a 6-7 finish, losing their final three regular season games and an embarrassing performance in the Armed Forces Bowl against Air Force.
It didn’t take long for Roberts to land on his feet. Less than two weeks later, Hugh Freeze tabbed him to be the next DC at Auburn. The Aranda/Roberts scheme is arguably the second most popular tree in college football behind the Saban/Kirby system. One concept that stems from the Aranda/Roberts philosophy that has become increasingly popular in recent years is its deep pocket of simulated and replacement pressures from various packages.
According to PFF, the ’22 Baylor team led the Power 5 in simulated pressure usage at 54.5% of their calls. Aranda calls these pressures “coordinated cut-offs” and are mainly used as run-stopping tools. Depending on where you are anchored philosophically, replacement and simulated pressures can be defined as the same thing.
In broad terms, a simulated pressure is when a defense appears to be sending five or more but only rushes four defenders. In a replacement, or ‘Creeper,’ pressure, the defense sends an off-ball defender through the B- or C-gap and drops the DE opposite the pressure into coverage. Like a see-saw, the defense creates pressure on one side, only to ‘release’ pressure on the other.
For analytics companies and coaches alike, creating a singular bucket for concepts can make it easier to track and coordinate, which is why some refer to these types of pressures as simply ‘Sims.’ Off-ball Sims (no pre-snap presentation of pressure) have become integral to many modern defenses. Static pre-snap looks give way to post-snap action that forces the offense to recalibrate in real time, causing doubt in run blocking and pass protection. Adding post-snap movement can wreak havoc on offensive coordinators and QBs alike.
The central philosophy for Creeprs is that they cut off the run with pin-point precision while giving a DC fluidity in how he calls coverages. Since the defense only sends four defenders into the box, all traditional coverages are on the table. Utilizing multiple coverages keeps OCs honest while applying passive pressure on the QB, who has to recalibrate his vision post-snap.
» Looking at coverage data from last year, Baylor ran multiple coverages:
Cover 1 = 3.7%
Cover 2 = 18.1%
Cover 3 = 21%
Quarters = 30.2% (includes Bracket)
Cover 6 = 10.6%
Simulated pressures are sexy on 3rd Down when the defense presents a loaded front only to drop defenders into a zone or overwhelm the protection with a Hug Rush, but their real purpose is to stop the run. Blitzing a second or third-level defender can also force the RB to stay in protection. Simply put, it changes the math in favor of the defense.
The offense can only send five players out on routes. When utilizing a sim pressure, the defense has a +2 advantage in coverage (7-5=+2). If the defense can use the blitzing of an off-ball defender to keep the RB in to protect, the defense now has a +3 advantage (7-4=+3). The pressure also accelerates the read for the QB if he were to execute a play-action pass.
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Delving deeper into the scheme, Creepers are nothing more than a ‘force-fit’ Tite Front. The defense can morph into odd spacing when presenting an Even Front (Peso). In an Even Front, there is a natural ‘bubble’ in the B-gap. That gap is the lifeline for the modern offense. When left open, the defense creates conflict because someone has to fit that gap. That conflict is where offenses use concepts like RPOs and play-action to create voids in the defense.