This is a short question, but it is in regards to a situation I have found myself in often lately. Much has been written previously about how to throw a team out of their pull play with different team defensive looks. Something that I haven’t seen discussed though is how to set up as an individual to stop the first cut of a pull play. I am thinking about a case where it is very obvious once you are running down the pull that your mark will be isolated on the pull play. Being that you don’t truly get a chance to set up a good defensive position from a stopped disc and a static cutter, what do you look to first take away to minimize or shut down the gain from the play? How can one best reduce the cutter’s advantage (i.e. lots of space to work with and a head start) in this situation? Assuming team defense is out the window at this point and it’s essentially one on one.
You took away my main suggestion by removing team defense. Even a simple last-back from the defenders in the stack can make a huge difference. But okay, I’ll give it a shot. The essential skill here is not a physical one, but mental. You must quickly assess the circumstances and decide how vulnerable you are to getting beat deep – giving up a two-pass goal is the worst possible outcome in this situation – it is far better to yield a big comeback than a goal. There is a lot more to assess than the man you’re marking. You’ve got a great view of the thrower and the marker – what does the thrower have? Do you even need to worry about the huck? What kind of help are you getting from the marker? Are they flat (pressuring the huck) or steep? Are they tight (pressuring the huck but giving up the through) or loose (the reverse)? I know I’m not supposed to talk about this, but the next thing to assess is how much help you are getting. In this case, none, but you still add that into the assessment. Now assess the physical and technical abilities of the man you are marking. Typically there is a mix of advantage and disadvantage so that you may have the edge in height, but not in speed. Or maybe you are yielding quickness, but have strength. (If all the advantages are on one side, this isn’t much of a question.) You will want to use your physical tools to minimize theirs. The last pieces to look at are the circumstances like weather, tendencies, team style, previous play, etc that will give you some hint as to what the offense is going to try to do. That’s a lot and it has to be done really quickly – you’ve probably got about 2 seconds to do this. Let’s look at a couple examples.
In my own time as a player, I often had to cover players who were taller and faster, while my defensive edge was strength. If I didn’t have help, I would take up position right on the back hip with my chest against their outside shoulder blade. In this set up, I’ve got no chance of stopping the under unless the throw is terrible, but I am also preventing the out and the out-and-under. Stopping the out-and-under is big because every step the cutter can take out is another yard they gain on their comeback cut so by making the cut a straight under, I’ve limited the yards gained and put the next cutter at a positional disadvantage. The other thing this positioning does is set me up to mark right away – there won’t be a free throw after the catch, which will further help the next defender.
One of Sockeye’s great defenders, Mark Stone, would use a different tactic. His edge was speed and quickness. While his technique was technically unsound, it worked for him because he was a step faster than almost everyone he covered but typically gave up 20-30 pounds. There is no way physical fronting defense would work for him. Mark’s strategy was literally to just chase his guy around. Because he was quicker and faster, he lost less yardage on any change of direction and had the ability to make those lost yards up quickly.
The last piece of advice I have is to get this work done ahead of time. You should go into a game knowing the other team’s throwers, their skills and their tendencies. The same thing applies for the cutters and particularly the kind of stars that take that initiating cut role. The weather isn’t a last minute assessment either – it is ongoing. So as you are running down on the pull, you aren’t figuring this stuff out for the first time, but putting together the pieces you already have.
The PoNY-Garuda game makes a nice case study in the recent conversation here about upsets and pressure. Despite the fact that Garuda won without winning (they had disc in the endzone to win with a 6’5″ receiver with position on a 5’10” defender!!), this game is a classic study in an underdog wilting under pressure. From 10-13 onward, PoNY played with an increased sense of urgency and with great defensive pressure while Garuda was just hoped to hold on. Once they were no longer the aggressors, Garuda faded quickly, giving up 6 of the last 8 points. The message to all you underdogs: expect the pressure and attack, attack, attack.
NFL football is the one big time sport I follow, so it’s a fun time of year for me. I really enjoy Greg Easterbrook; he always makes me wonder if chasing legitimacy is what we really want – legitimacy looks awfully sordid….This article on the Cover 2 had some interesting tidbits about zone. My favorite: “Every zone coverage has holes. (If there were a zone coverage that didn’t have holes, defenses would play it on every snap.)”….If anyone out there knows of good analytical blogs/sites, please drop them into the comments; I am always looking for more strategic stuff.
Question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m still guaranteeing answers, so send yours in before it’s too late!
Feature photo by Brandon Wu – UltiPhotos.com