A misunderstanding I had in my rookiest of rookie days was that the defense just tries to stop the offensive play. While this is their job, it’s important to know that they aren’t passive about it. They have their own aggressive strategies, too.
A Chess Match, Baby
I think of football like a chess match. The coaches are the real players – the masterminds behind the movement. The players are more like pieces, moved and set up, strategically.
The human element complicates things: I set up a pass, and he didn’t catch it, so my play didn’t work! But it would have! Now you can see why coaches get so angry.
(I know, Coach Mike, this is all an over-simplification).
In chess, one player can’t have all of the strategy, while the other just reacts. The same goes for football.
Here are the basic types of defensive strategies you might see this weekend:
Also called Zone Coverage, this defense is about areas of the field. Each defender is responsible for a broad area, and anyone who enters his area will be his responsibility to cover. Because of this, when they set up, there will be a lot more guys further back when they line up, so they can quickly get to their respective zones.
Because defenders have to anticipate who will be entering their areas of the field, and what they’ll be doing, Zone requires a lot more reading by the defense. This just means that they have to make good predictions off of the offense’s set-up and movement.
It also means that the defense will be watching the quarterback, and not just their own players to defend, so that they know where the ball is going. And, more eyes will be on the ball once it is in the air.
In this strategy, defenders are assigned offensive players whom they must cover at all costs. No matter where the player goes or does, he is your guy.
I think of Richard Sherman when I think of Man-to-Man. He likes that one on one smack talk and individualized competition for the ball within the context of the larger game. Remember, Sherman is a Corner, and he wants to stop the Wide Receiver (WR) from catching the ball. But if he can catch it instead, all the better!
Eight Men In A Box
I love the name of this one!
When the defense lines up, usually there are 7 guys up front (in the box). But if the secondary is really good (the Corners and Free Safety), you might feel confident enough to put an eighth player up there (8 men in a box). Then the Corners will play man-to-man, and the Safety will be the last line of defense.
In this strategy, less guys are on the line to start, because it’s all about stopping the pass. So 4 linemen are in front, trying to sack, or at least harass the quarterback. Then, there are 2 linebackers behind them. Then, there are 5 (five!) guys ready to cover receivers.
One of the linebackers who drops back to cover a receiver is called the Nickelback, which must be where that band got its name, right?
Back to Chess
When an offense sees that the defense is superior at one type of defense, they have to avoid the plays which are best defended by that strategy. When a defense sees this, they can anticipate the next type of play that might be run, and set up accordingly. It’s all about anticipating the Other.
But with concussions.