Question received by e-mail this week:
Coach Dave, I’m considering running your system with an age 11-13 team I will be coaching this year. The problem is we will only have 10 returning players and we play in a very competitive league. Most of the teams have adopted a “bring everyone” every play philosophy on defense. All the teams use it and it seems to be universally effective. Can your system work with this age group and in a league like this?
First of all let me start off by saying 95% of the people that e-mail me say they are in a very competitive league. The problem is there is no way 95% of us are playing in competitive leagues and many have no frame of reference outside of their league. Most teams don’t play outside competition, play in outside tournaments or go out of town to play, how would they know if they are truely playing in a competitive league or not? That’s why I always try and schedule at least 2 out of league games against teams from 2 different leagues as well as play in out of town tournaments if the parents agree to raise the money. Don’t fret because someone says or you think you are playing in a competitive league, it really doesn’t matter if your youth football league is “competitive” of not, competition is relative.
My teams have played in leagues where teams from our league have won National Unlimited Select National Titles ( Top Gun Division) in Daytona, Florida, considered by most to be THE most competitve tournament in the Country. This league has produced players like Dave Rimington (Outland), Ahman Green (NFL), Eric Crouch (Heisman) and countless others. We have won plenty of out of town tournaments ourselves at several age groups and always fare well against outside competition. We do just fine playing “competitive” teams, in fact we have a heck of a time getting teams to accept those games these days. My system has been successfully used from age 6-14 by hundreds of youth football coaches nationwide and came just a single point away from winning the Jr. Pee Wee Pop Warner National Championship last year in Florida.
So in a nutshell, yes the system works in competitive leagues in the age group you coach and against the tactics you mentioned. In the above example just because all the teams in this youth football league utilize an unsound but aggressive defensive tactic does not mean they are somehow well coached or “competitive”. Competitive may be the descriptive word used to describe the mental nature of these coaching staffs but to be “competitive” there has to be competence. In my mind the opposite would be true, if all the defenses in this league are the same and they all use the same unsound tactic every play. Those defenses and this youth football league seem to be very predictable and would be quite simple to beat with any reasonable amount of competent coaching. You often see this in youth football tournaments, beasts from XYZ league who have manhandled everyone in their league but who get creamed in the out state tournaments. They play in leagues where there is little “out of the box” thinking and many of the teams are intimidated by unsound but aggressive tactics. You would be quite surprised at how many blowouts there are at these things when these bully teams face a well coached team or one that is not intimidated by such tactics.
By not defending the entire field and massing all defenders in tight and coming every down, there are not levels of defensive pressure. A simple wedge play is usually quite effective against teams like this, even when they have 10 men on the line of scrimmage. Once the initial line of defense is breached it is usually a huge gain Tight splits like we use negate defensive presssure like this and many plays end up looking like a scene from the movie “The 300”.
We like to use these types of defenses aggression against them using “no plays” to mess their blitz timing off and running plenty of trap plays, screens, tight end dump passes ( off of an off-tackle fake) and straight ahead off-tackle runs. What doesn’t work are straight sweeps, deep reverses and deep drop back passes, football plays many youth football coaches run regardless of the effectiveness of the play. Running right at these types of defenses is almost always effective and something this offense does quite well.
Motioning against teams like this often give you lots of numbers advantages and either takes the defense out of the all-out blitzes or gives you wide open hitch, flat or screen plays. We’ve even been able to Jet Sweep a number of these type teams. I enjoy playing youth football teams like this that come in with a lot of bravado, makeup and jumping up and down antics, but usually have their tails between their legs by the 2nd quarter. They get very frustrated when they don’t get a bunch of negative yardage plays right off the bat or intimidate the offense. Obviously I’m not a fan of this backyard tactic, it works against only the poorest and least prepared youth football teams out there. You never see this type of defense at the big tournaments, those teams almost always get bounced early.
What is required in your team to defeat this tactic is confidence in your execution based on perfecting a base set of complementary plays in football practice and running everything north and south. A truly well coached team would have a field day with these types of defenses. Having 10 players back would be sufficient and a luxury for many of the youth coaches I know.
Best of “luck” coach, you are in an enviable position.