There are 5 reasons why you need levels to your defense. Having three distinct levels of defense will allow your players to pursuit to the ball carrier, it will help defend against passing plays, and it will allow you to utilize the different physical skill sets of your players. What do I mean by having levels to your defense? There are three levels of defense, the fist level is the defensive line, the second level is the linebacker level, and the third level consist of defensive backs.
Most defenses consist of levels, the 3-3, 3-4, 4-3, 4-4, 5-2, 5-3, and the 6-2 all have 3 levels of defense. Defenses like the Gap-8, 7-Diamond, and 6-3 all commit several defenders on the line of scrimmage. The philosophy of every player has a gap makes sense, however, this leaves you with no pursuit, weak pass coverage, and it limits the stunts and blitzes you can execute. I know a few coaches that run the Gap-8 defense with success, but personally, I would never run these types of defenses for these five reasons.
5 Reasons Why You Need Levels to Your Defense
Reason # 1: For pursuit
When you have three levels of defensive players it much more difficult for the offense to break a big play. Listen, athletes are going to make plays, but when you have three levels, that means they have to break through three levels of defenders in order to score. Whereas if you have all your players on the line of scrimmage playing gap control, if a ball carrier breaks past the first line of defense, there are no defenders left to pursuit and tackle the ball carrier. Having three levels of defense will also force the offense to have to account for three levels of defenders (their blocking scheme). It’s much more difficult breaking past three levels than it is breaking past one. When we run rocket sweep and get the one contain player blocked, there is no one left to pursuit the ball carrier because they are all caught up in the mix on the line of scrimmage. Rocket sweep only requires you to block 1-2 defenders against gap defenses, which means 8-9 of your defenders are useless.
When you have three levels you will have much better pursuit to the ball carrier. It will give your defenders better pursuit angles so that they can close the distance and take away the field. The biggest mistake a defensive coordinator can make is putting all his players on the line of scrimmage. I understand the idea that if every player holds his gap, then the offense has no where to go. It’s simple and it makes sense, on paper. However, if the offense is sending two lead blockers through the C-gap and you only have one defender, the defense is in trouble. Every defense has a defender responsible for a gap, but the offense will attack an area that consists of one or two gaps, which puts all the pressure on those two gap defenders. Also, you will generate less turnovers on defense because you have no defenders running to the ball carrier!
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Reason #2: Better Pass Coverage
When you have three levels of defense you can play a variety of different coverages. You can play man to man and/or zone coverage. Whereas in a Gap-8, you are very limited in regards to coverage. Having levels to your defense also helps with pursuit. Pursuit to the ball carrier doesn’t just apply to run plays. We hammer home the idea that regardless if it is a run or pass, our defenders need to run to the football. Having a safety (free safety) level will allow you to bracket (double team) certain receivers if they are studs. Having safety help will take pressure off of the cornerbacks and/or coverage linebackers because they know they have safety help. When you have no levels and your coverage player gets beat, it’s pretty much a touchdown because there are no other defenders that can try and tackle him. This really puts your coverage player on a lonely island. If you coach the older levels of youth football you absolutely need levels to your defense. Having levels will help deter big players against.
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Reason # 3: Allows you to Utilize Your Player Skill Set
When you go with a defense like the Gap-8 you have 8 defensive linemen on the line of scrimmage. So that means you need 8 starting defensive linemen. Many times a kid will be a much better player in space, so putting him in a gap makes no sense. Sometimes you’ll have a real good athlete that can fly around and when you put him in a gap that makes him useless. If you took that athlete and put him at middle linebacker or safety, he would be much more effective. Some kids are good linebackers, some kids are good defensive linemen, and some kids are good secondary players, so it makes sense to put those kids in the positions where they will thrive.
I can’t tell you how many times we played gap defenses that have kids out of position. When we watch the scouting film it’s easy to find one, two, or even three kids out of position or uncomfortable playing in a gap. I’ve also seen straight studs wasted playing in a gap. They do get penetration, but we will just run the opposite way, which makes him a non-factor in the play. Whereas, if that stud was a linebacker or safety he would be able to run to the ball carrier and have an impact on the play. What happens if you have an undersized team? Are you going to be able to find 8 defensive linemen that have to play in a gap? They will get pushed around. If you have an undersized team but have levels to your defense you get the defensive line on the move with slants.
I will say that one of the good thing about gap defenses is that you can put minimum play player in the A-gaps to get their plays done. This is good because they won’t weaken your defense as much playing in the A-gaps, unless you run wedge like we do!
Reason # 4: Blitzes and Stunts, Being Deceptive
With only one line of defense you are very limited with the types of slanting and blitzing that you can execute. When you have 7, 8 or even 9 defenders on the line of scrimmage you already have them declaring where they are rushing. When you have defensive linemen, linebackers, and defensive backs you can install all sorts of blitzes and stunts that will create confusion for the offensive line. It keeps them guessing and gives your defense several different pressure options. When you have three distinct levels of defense you can install blitzes that stop interior runs, blitzes that stop off-tackle runs, and blitzes that defend against outside runs.
(See Also) 5 Reasons Why You Should Run a Stacked Defense
Reason # 5: Easier to Adjust to Unbalanced Formations, Motions, and Formation Shifts
With so many teams going with Spread Formations you have to have levels to your defense. You must have a defense that can adjust to multiple formations and defend against mobile QBs. When you have all your defenders playing on the line of scrimmage it is very difficult to adjust to unbalanced formations. In gap defenses you have to move all your players to adjust to unbalanced formations. Whereas, if you have levels you can move one or two players and be adjusted to the formation. When teams motion a player across what do you do in a Gap-8 defense? These defenses will do one of two things, the assigned defender will not run with the motion player or the defender will run with the motion player. If he doesn’t that gives us an extra blocker at the point of attack. If the defender (in man to man defenses) runs with the motion player we use our motion to clear out that side and run that way.
It’s difficult for gap defenses to defend plays like Jet and Rocket Sweep. What we do is go unbalanced and run jet and rocket sweep and it kills these gap defenses all game long.When you only have one line of defense it’s almost impossible to adjust to motions, unbalanced formations, and formation shifts. Gap defenses create several one on one match ups that the offense can take advantage of. You are really putting a lot of pressure on kids to make individual plays.
If you are facing a superior offensive line you get eaten alive if you play a gap defense. They’ll get a push at the point of attack and the ball carrier will break through the first level on his way to an easy score. Having everyone on the line of scrimmage will leave you with no defenders left to pursuit to the ball carrier, and it will leave you very vulnerable in pass defense. Play-action passes kill these defenses.
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