By Joey Lozano Jr.
Every team, no matter how many long touchdowns it scores, eventually finds itself near the opponent’s goal line or in a short-yardage situation where getting a yard or less means the difference between six points, a first down or losing momentum.
It also can mean the difference between winning and losing.
In these short-yardage situations, defenses usually go into a scheme that is different than their base in an attempt to shorten the field and maximize penetration. Let’s look at how best to attack goal line and short-yardage defenses.
Strengths of goal line defenses
- Goal line defenses usually place quick pressure in the gaps along the line of scrimmage.
- The defensive backs are usually aligned close to the line of scrimmage, enabling them to provide run support and pursuit much quicker than when they are in their base alignment.
- The alignment allows all 11 defenders to be part of the forcing unit against the run.
- Because of the limited field depth (near the goal line), it is easier for the secondary to defend against the pass.
Weaknesses of goal line defenses
- It is difficult to play assignment football because the defenders are overly concerned with covering the gaps and not allowing a ball-carrier through the line.
- The defense is usually so concerned with not allowing penetration through the middle that it is vulnerable to the off-tackle play or outside Houston Veer triple option.
- Down linemen are often preoccupied with penetrating the backfield, making them vulnerable to trap blocking.
- Low-charging linemen are vulnerable to over-the-top leaps by a quarterback or running back.
- The defense is so concerned about stopping the run that it is vulnerable to the play-action pass (especially in short-yardage first down situations with a longer field behind them).
- Pass receivers usually only encounter two types of pass coverage: man-to-man or short zone.
- Run off-tackle with the outside Houston Veer dive play or the outside Houston Veer triple option.
- Run quick-trapping plays if the defensive linemen can penetrate the line of scrimmage.
- Run play-action passes against defenders with dual pass-run responsibilities.
- Run pass plays that use crossing patterns to confuse man-to-man secondary coverages.
Running the triple option against goal line defenses
The best play to run against a goal line or short-yardage defense in which the down linemen are tightly aligned is the outside Houston Veer. Most defensive coaches hate to defend against this play because a goal line defense often does have enough players to account for all of the options.
And because of the proximity of the end zone, the defense cannot afford to employ certain tactics, such as a feathering defensive end, to try and string out the option.
More often than not, the defender being optioned on the dive phase will tackle the dive back because he is the first threat to score, so this play usually is a quarterback keep. The block of the tight end and playside tackle are critical to the success of this play. But the tight end may have to block down onto the middle linebacker because the presence of defenders in both A gaps may limit the center’s ability to reach-block the middle backer.
To strengthen the blocking on this play, send the fullback in motion to a wing position. From there, he can block down on the second level and wall off the strong safety or other defenders pursuing from the back side.
In addition, the split end’s alignment should be adjusted inward so that he is closer to the backside tackle, which will facilitate his getting upfield more quickly to try and block the free safety.
Running the I triple option to the back side by putting the halfback in short motion is another good play to run against a goal line defense that aligns the strong safety to the tight end side of the formation.
Depending on how the Number 1 and 2 defenders are aligned respective to the center and playside guard, either the playside guard or tackle should have a favorable blocking angle on the middle linebacker.
If the play is run to the split-end side of the formation, the motioning halfback also can load block the end man on the line of scrimmage to strengthen the threat of the quarterback keep and prevent that defender from penetrating the backfield and disrupting the option play.
The inside Houston Veer can be an effective play against a goal line defense, depending on how many linebackers the defense employs in the goal line set and where they are aligned.
Against a 6-1 alignment in which there is only one linebacker aligned over the center, the normal triple option blocking rules can be employed with one recommended adjustment. The offense should have the tight end man-block No. 3 or else load block him with a motioning fullback to prevent this defender from employing a jet or crash technique against the quarterback after he disengages from the dive option ride.
In addition, if the defense puts six or more defenders on the line of scrimmage, running a double tight-end keeps the backside down lineman from chasing the option down from behind.
Although the preceding diagrams show six down linemen, the defense often uses the same players as in its base defense but align them as down linemen. For example, a 4-3 defense can quickly shift to a 6-1 front by bringing both outside linebackers down to the line of scrimmage, leaving the middle linebacker as the only second-level defender.
In addition, a frequent tactic of defensive coordinators forced into a goal line defense is to cover all the offensive linemen, leaving one or more linebackers free to quickly attack to either side. The 4-3 lends itself to such an alignment.
Despite covering up all the offensive linemen, this defense will usually dictate to the No. 3 defender not to get hooked inside, resulting in this defender playing an outside shade over the tight end. As long as No. 3 plays on an outside shade, the offense should continue to attack this defense with the outside Houston Veer because No 3’s outside shade alignment will enable the tight end to double-team No. 2 with the offensive tackle or block down onto the middle linebacker.
Certain goal line defenses, such as the 6-2 and 6-3, will sometimes present a gap in the defensive alignment. A general rule is if a gap exists, the offense attacks the gap.
A gap usually presents one of the offensive linemen with the opportunity to double team a troublesome defender or work up to the second level to wall off a linebacker or secondary defender aligned close to the line of scrimmage.
The next two diagrams below show how the fullback trap from the freeze option series can exploit the gap presented by the 6-2 and 6-3 goal line defenses, respectively. The third diagram below shows the freeze fullback dive run against a 6-5 wide alignment.
To maximize the fullbacks’ scoring threat, the halfback should load-block the end man on or off the line of scrimmage to enable the tight end to block one of the safies.
Because of the alignment of the defensive tackles in the A gaps to either side, the center may be asked to block one of the tackles. If the defense is in a wide 6-2 alignment, this will not be an issue when running inside. If, however, the offense is facing a 6-3 or 6-5 alignment with a middle linebacker, the center may be unable to block the middle linebacker because of the defensive tackles’ A-gap alignment.
In these instances, it is nearly impossible to run the inside Houston Veer haflback dive or fullback belly from the frontside I or Wishbone series because there are not enough blockers to account for all defenders. So the best inside running play is the tailback isolation play to either side of the formation, because the fullback can function as the additional blocker needed to account for the middle linebacker.
It is easier to run the inside Houston Veer half back dive against a 6-2 defense when the defender aligned over the guard squeezes down to the outside shoulder of the center. This alignment should allow the center to reach block this defender while the guard blocks the inside linebacker. The playside tackle and tight end man block the defenders aligned over them.
Against this defense, the halfback’s aiming point on the dive should be the inside foot of his playside tackle in order to avoid an arm tackle by the defender being blocked by the center. To facilitate this play, the guard and tackle use a cross-block technique to clear a path for the halfback. Motioning the fullback until he is behind the tight end before blocking No. 3 also enables the tight end to block downfield on the middle safety, if more than five yards is needed for a touchdown or first down.
Joey Lozano is a former writer and spokesman for the Texas Education Agency and the author of the only two books ever written about the I-Bone offense. This excerpt is from his second book, “Attacking Defenses With Football’s I-Bone Option Offense,” published by Coaches Choice Books and Video. Click here for more information on his books about the I-Bone.