In this article, we will investigate how to defend Empty formations and how you
can be multiple in the looks that you want and get the same results.
You must decipher what the offense is doing in the Empty formation and break down the tendencies to see what particular front is right for your program.
Is the offense getting into empty to run it or throw it?
That will be the key to see what front and pressure (or no pressure) is the right fit for your defense and what your players can execute at a high level.
Defending Empty with a 3-Down Front
We will start with an Empty Pressure out of our Apache front, which is our 3-down front, this is run with 3 safety personnel.
The drawing below will show how we can get a 6-man pressure showing only 3-down and mixing the coverages up, as well. We called this pressure Lightning and we were playing Blue Coverage to the 3-receiver side, with the Rover having #3 control vertical. This is with either trap or invert on the back side, depending on the down and distance.
Again, this is out of our 3-down Apache Package, and it is getting you a 6-man pressure with only 5 to block for the offense. This pressure can be used against the pass or run.
A coaching point for the Rover is that if #3 motions, he needs to follow, and the coverage will switch depending on whatever side that the Rover is on against the offense.
The next pressure that we will discuss is another 6-man pressure out of our 2-4-5 called Zorro.
We will play Cover 0 or our Black coverage to the empty set, and again send 6 with only 5 to block us. As stated previously, when building your pressure packages, you need to have a fundamental foundation, and this is building your multiple looks.
In Zorro, we will make a lucky call to set the 3-technique to left and have the DL as the shade in the weak A-gap. As described in the diagram below, we will have the Mike LB walk up in the strong A-gap, and the Will LB walk up in the weak B-gap.
The Anchor and Jack will be in 5-techniques, and C-gap defenders can’t allow anyone to get outside of them, since we are in Cover 0.
Coaching Points for your Secondary is that throws will be quick, and coverage should be no longer than 3 seconds, unless the Anchor or Jack lose contain. You need to stress that and go over situations in different formations, motions, and areas of the field.
Zorro from 2-4-5 Personnel
As you are building your pressure package, you may not want to play Cover 0 against Empty but want to confuse the offense and have the same look.
As a coordinator, this is something that you need to have a change-up in building your pressure package against Empty. In the diagram below, you will see that we give the same look as Zorro in our 2-4-5 Nickel Package.
We show a 6-man pressure, but we are only rushing 2. We will play a press/bail Cover 3 behind what we call our “Tiger” Check.
This is a great change-up for 3rd and medium-to-long, or 2nd and medium-to-long yardage situations. The droppers, Anchor, Jack, Mike LB, and DE will need to keep their eyes on the QB in any QB run game.
Then the Anchor and Jack need to get their eyes to the nearest receiver. Depending on what pass routes you may see, the Anchor or Jack will need to carry #3 vertical, if you are seeing a Cover 3 beater route.
Any of these pressures can be adapted to your scheme, whether you are in 2-, 3-, or 4-down situations. You should always have a plan on how you are going to defend empty formations.
As a coach, you need to find out what your players can handle and what they can execute at a high level to be successful. Handling the empty formation is not easy, especially with an athletic QB, if the offense is going to incorporate a TE in the formation, or if the offense going to reduce their splits and squeeze the formation.
Make sure you have concrete rules for your players to follow, and stress that they must communicate on all areas of the field.
As a coach, this is something you need to go over in practice to assure that your players are prepared and ready to execute your game plan for that specific week.