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Defending the Run

This is an excerpt from Football's Eagle & Stack Defenses by Ronald Vanderlinden.

Defending the Run

Your defense will see a variety of running plays in the course of a season. The most important aspect of defense is being able to defend these different types of running plays in your base defense. As a coaching staff, after we have studied our upcoming opponent, the first step in our game-planning process is to make sure we have adjusted our base defense to defend the opponent's running plays. Then, as we begin our practice preparation on Monday, we are careful not to use any stunts or blitzes. Instead, we have the players stay in our base defense until we are sure they are prepared to stop the opponent's running attack.

This section provides diagrams of various running plays being defended with the Eagle defense, along with descriptions of each defender's read and responsibility against those plays. The diagrams include plays run with the tight end to the call side and away from the call side. The illustrations in this section will provide you with a basic understanding of each defender's role and fit in the Eagle defense versus common running plays.

Field or Strong Eagle Cover 5 Versus a Power Play to the Tight End Side

The strong safety is aligned in a five-by-five relationship outside of the rush end. He is responsible for containing the football. As the strong safety reads the outside path of the fullback, he should accelerate to the line of scrimmage, constricting the running lane outside of the rush end. He should stay square and keep his outside arm free. If the tight end uses an arch block on the strong safety, the strong safety should squeeze the tight end back into the hole, staying square and keeping his outside arm free.

The free safety is aligned nine yards off the line of scrimmage, over the tight end. His key is the tight end. When the tight end blocks, the free safety should initially bounce in place. The free safety should then approach the line of scrimmage until he is at linebacker depth off the butt of the rush end. This will put the free safety in position to make the tackle inside of the strong safety and off of the butt of the rush end. If the tight end blocks out on the strong safety and the fullback attempts a kick-out block on the rush end, the free safety must be aware of the potential for a pass. In this situation, he should initially honor the potential release of the tight end and should clear the pass before supporting the run and fitting where needed.

The rush end is in a 7 alignment. He is responsible for controlling the 5 gap. His read is the tight end. As the rush end feels a base block from the tight end, he should attack the tight end and lock his arms out, gaining separation from the tight end. Feeling an inside path from the tailback, the rush end should maintain control of the 5 gap. If the tight end blocks out on the strong safety, the rush end should get his eyes and head back inside and look to squeeze and constrict the first blocking threat (this will most likely be the fullback).

The defensive tackle is in a 3 alignment. As the defensive tackle attacks the offensive guard, he will feel a double team from the offensive guard and the offensive tackle. The defensive tackle should shock the offensive guard, grab him, and perform a seat roll into the legs of the offensive tackle, creating a three-man pile in the 3 gap.

The eagle linebacker is in a 3 alignment. As the eagle linebacker reads the double team on the defensive tackle (by the offensive guard and offensive tackle), hears a “pull” call, and feels the full-flow path by both backs at him, he should press tightly off the butt of the defensive tackle.

The noseguard is in a 1 alignment. The noseguard should attack the center with his inside foot. As the noseguard feels the center blocking back on him, he should work to drive the center back into the far 1 gap while controlling the near 1 gap. The inside linebacker is in a 3 alignment. As the inside linebacker reads the offensive guard on his side of the ball pulling across the formation, he should call out “pull.” As the inside linebacker feels the downhill path of the tailback, the inside linebacker should shuffle in the direction of the pulling guard, staying on the back hip of the ballcarrier. He will be in position to attack the far 1 gap if the ballcarrier's path is toward the 1 gap or to pursue the ballcarrier if he takes a wider path.

The defensive end is in a 5 alignment. As he reads the offensive tackle's inside helmet placement and cutoff block, the defensive end should squeeze the offensive tackle's body into the 3 gap and work to stay on the line of scrimmage. The defensive end should be aware of a potential reverse or bootleg pass. After quickly clearing those two threats, he should spill across the face of the offensive tackle and take a deep pursuit course to the ballcarrier.

The Sam linebacker is in a hip alignment, four yards deep and two yards outside of the defensive end. On this play, the Sam linebacker will read the offensive tackle releasing inside on a cutoff block, and he will feel the downhill path of the tailback. The Sam linebacker should shuffle and stay on the back hip of the ballcarrier for a possible cutback. He should maintain an outside-in relationship on the ballcarrier.


Learn more about Football's Eagle & Stack Defenses.

More Excerpts From Football's Eagle & Stack Defenses