First of all, I would like to apologize for not being able to blog and contribute as of recent. Due to personal issues back here over the pond my time I could give to writing had to be drastically cut down. However, you should be hearing more from me from now as the season comes to a close and we look towards the playoffs.

I will also let you into a bit of history on myself. I had the fortune of playing over here in England for five years before my¬†career¬†got cut short by a head injury outside of the sport. I have had experience playing at all levels,¬†including¬†at a top flight team with experience of competing in Europe. My first ever role was a QB in a wishbone option offense, similar to that of Navy’s, and therefore I would like to share my thoughts on how we may look to defend any of it thrown at us on Sunday. I had a similar style of running to Tebow, not being the most athletic but absorbing the hits thrown at me. For those interested, I am now a coach.

I have been somewhat fortunate over here. I don’t have to listen to the constant¬†droning¬†on of Boston, Denver and National media constantly referring to Tim Tebow and ‘Tebow Time’, something which I don’t envy you for having to go through. I have actually refrained from posting on forums as much as I usually do this week as a direct result of the Tebow Mania that is sweeping the sport and even avoided ESPN America and the talk shows I enjoy watching so much such as Pardon The Interruption, Sports Nation and Around The Horn.


Stopping Tim Tebow should be an interesting task on Sunday. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

My take on Tebow is as much the same as may other’s. He’s a below average QB (albeit a¬†tremendous¬†leader of men) who’s mechanics make me cringe beyond belief. However, he has this self belief that you have to kind of admire despite being ripped on an international level. The problem is teams are playing right into his hands and Detroit is the only team I have seen defend him properly for 60 minutes. Teams playing him softly late in games is something I will go back to at the end of this post.

The first thing you have to respect is the option and I will start by saying that the belief of some fans that this is all he runs is completely wrong. As Tebow’s tenure as a starter this season has gone on, you have seen him pass more and more, dropping back a little more often…even if he has been doing a terrible job of it for 3 quarters of the game. However, fail to respect it from the outset and you can kiss goodbye to the win.

The Option is pretty basic; the QB rides the gut of a Fullback and reads the unblocked defensive end to the play side…if the end crashes down, he keeps the ball and goes around him but if he stays outside, the QB gives the ball off to the FB whilst the tackle who has¬†completely ignored the defensive end moves down field to block one of the linebackers out of the play. However if the defensive end does crash down and the QB keeps the ball he has another read; the pitch read. The defensive player who the QB reads off of can be different depending on the type of coverage but, ultimately, if the pitch read attacks the QB he pitches it off to his Running Back who is sustaining a 5 yard ‘pitch relationship’. It’s then in the hands of a Running Back and, if your gap responsibility is just slightly off on defense, you’re going to get torched until you stop it.

To start off, I think the 43 over is the best defense to stop an option style offense. We have seen the Patriots play a 33 stack style of personnel however, what they have been doing with Ninkovich effectively makes it look more like a 42 front even when he is in his two point stance (as¬†opposed¬†to having his hand in the dirt). You could still see the Patriots utilise a 42 style front to defend the option…it has been done with some degree of success…and by bringing up a safety into the box to be the ‘pitch read’ on the weak side.

For those interested, in the 43 overs I have faced and played with the Defensive Ends play a 5-technique (outside of the Tackles) and a 9-technique if there’s a Tight End tight to the line on the strong side. The strong side tackle will line up in a 3-technique¬†(shading the outside shoulder of the Guard) whilst the the weak side Tackle will play a 1-technique, slight shading the center. Gap responsibilities are the C gaps for the DEs (on the¬†strong¬†side the Sam Linebacker takes the C gap), the strong side Tackle will take the B gap whilst the weak side Tackle takes the A gap…the Mike Linebacker is responsible for the A or B gap left open depending on the flow of the play. The Will Linebacker is effectively an extra defender if the play flows to his side and should check for the cutback if the play goes to the opposite side.¬†Ultimately, the Will will ensure that the play doesn’t bounce outside in his direction.

There is a way of shutting down the option believe it or not despite the fact it has so much success. The sole reason being is that there are very few defenses disciplined enough to prevent it and, no matter ho much you drill it into your players, there will always be one ¬†of them out of position. So you break it up; the first thing to worry about is the dive. The Defensive Tackles and Mike Linebacker ¬†are responsible for the A and B gaps…the two tackles must hit the gaps hard and the Linebacker must flow to the play side and hit his equally as hard…providing they stay responsible to their assignments you should have no problems. Spikes would be ideal to have back for such a game however, even if he does make it back, it’s hard to imagine he will be very effective.¬†If you can’t eliminate this then you are going to get pounded up the gut for 3 or 4 yards a play all¬†game¬†and get thoroughly demoralised.

The next step is to stop the¬†Quarterback¬†and this comes down entirely to the Defensive End.¬†In theory the DE (C gap defender) is going to be unblocked however he cannot get caught waiting for the QB or else the ball will be given off tot he dive back and the Offensive Tackle (who has moved on to the next level) will¬†be¬†down field and laying a block on the Linebacker. He needs to squeeze (or hug) down the Line of Scrimmage with the Offensive Tackle and force the QB to think whilst at the same time keeping his shoulders square to the line. He needs to remain disciplined enough in this task in order to force the QB to think without turning his inside shoulder up-field; if he breaks discipline and turns his shoulders, the QB is keeping the ball all the way. The¬†key¬†here is that by keeping the DE’s shoulder square, you’re forcing the QB to think more than he wants to and holding the Offensive Tackle at the line, not allowing him to block down field. The DE needs to be¬†alert¬†to who has the ball and be ready to make a play on the dive back if the QB gives it off or the QB himself if he decides to keep it.

Effectively, you are trying to convince the QB and OT that you are crashing down, whilst maintaining enough¬†discipline¬†to make a play on the QB if he keeps the ball. ¬†If the QB does keep the ball, this is why it becomes important you haven’t got your inside shoulder turned up field, as you will need to come off of the OT and close the gap down between you and the QB. This is his second read and, as soon as he sees the end coming towards him, he will pitch the ball off to his Running Back.

It’s worth noting that on the strong side of a defensive formation, the Sam Linebacker is usually responsible for the C-Gap. However this doesn’t change much in the sense you can get your DE to squeeze the TE down whilst the Sam is left to handle the QB. If this happens of course, it becomes the responsibility of the safety to come up and make the play on the pitch read (depending on the coverage that is, which I will get to in a second). The same applies on the weak side if the DE gets stuck inside; the Will will assume responsibility for the QB and the safety must come up on the pitch player.

So that brings me to defending the pitch. The defender covering the pitch will be defined by coverage. In a traditional cover two, it is the corners responsibility for the flats and therefore he will be responsible for the RB receiving the pitch. If you’re in a cover 3 it becomes the responsibility of an outside backer (or an overhang if we continue to see more 42 style fronts from the Patriots). As I mentioned in my previous paragraph, failing either the corner being able to get off of his block or the Linebacker getting caught up with the Quarterback, the safety becomes a true safety valve in that instance and must make the play….Chung being out could hurt us a great deal if Ihedigbo can’t handle that responsibility. If the Patriots choose to play Quarters coverage, the safety is always responsible for the pitch man.

The final rule? Get off of your blocks and pursue to the ball carrier. There are a lot of 1-on-1 matchups that are left open when defending the option and if that one player misses his assignment, it can get ugly very quickly.

Now as I pointed out earlier, Denver and Tebow aren’t all about the option. Expect to see some similar tactics applied which we saw against the Eagles. The Patriots will not be aggressive, they will aim to contain Tebow in the pocket. Belichick was being generous in the week when talking about his throwing abilities; if you can keep Tebow in the pocket he’s of no threat. You cannot allow him to run to his left as, in these cases, he can be a deadly passer on the run. If anything you should flush him to the right therefore ¬†expect to see the few blitzes we run come from our defensive right side/Tebow’s left.

Against a team like Denver I would expect to see more zone coverage, with little man. ¬†It’s simpler to defend the option in should the Broncos chose to use it. Man coverage can get you drawn up field…whilst I would expect to see examples of it and some combinations, don’t anticipate a lot.

It’s also important for our defensive backs to remember one thing…there is such a thing as an option pass! It’s easy as a corner or safety who is not responsible for any of the reads to get draw towards the run play however, they must¬†stay¬†within their zones until the ball has been pitched off to the RB or the QB has decided to keep it.

I expect to see a lot of 4-3 this weekend…more so than we have seen for a while this season. In order for this to be successful, and we have heard this word a lot this week in Patriots Nation, they need to remain ‘disciplined’ . An option style offense effectively leaves two¬†unblocked¬†defenders, and it is easy to get over excited. This is becoming¬†somewhat¬†of a cliche within Patriots Nation ¬†but the team must ‘do their jobs’ to perfection.

When it¬†comes¬†to the fourth Quarter, we need to not play into Tebow’s hands which so many teams have done. Detroit played him¬†aggressively for a full 60 minutes. If we are only up a couple of scores in the 4th Quarter, we must not go to a prevent style defense. Giveing him time, especially if you can’t contain him, will be suicidal.

Finally, I would like to say that I am fully aware that this is a team sport and not about Tim Tebow however, if you fail to stop him or the option, the game could get very ugly very quickly. Whether we like it or not he is a huge part of that offense and we are facing one of the better rushing teams in the league against a style of¬†offense¬†we don’t see very often in the NFL, and that can work¬†against¬†you.

A few people have asked me about this topic this week, so I felt it would be a perfect time to re-kick start my blog with an explanation on how I feel we should best defend the option and the style of offense the Broncos tend to run under Tim Tebow. I hope it has enlightened some of you….I have had the fortune of playing in a wishbone offense myself and wanted to share my knowledge of playing it, and knowing how defenses liked to counter it.

Like what you read? Check out the rest of my blog ’4th & Long’ for more! If you would like to comment and offer your insight into this article, feel free to leave your thoughts! You can follow me on twitter; @DamoJarrett

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