Sunday, September 27, 2009

FTL: Your Questions Answered, 2nd Edition

Over on twitter this evening there seemed to be a misunderstanding about what constitutes a prevent defense. Since this is a topic that will come up frequently at the end of close games I felt the need to explain the concept of a prevent defense and when it should be employed and when it shouldn't.

The basic premise of a prevent defense is that Team A has the lead and are on defense against Team B with the clock running down either at the end of the first half or the end of the game. The basic tenants of a prevent defense is that you only rush 3 or fewer defenders at the quarterback and your secondary along with your linebackers take much deeper drops than they normally would in zone defense. The mission of a prevent defense is, as is implied in the name, to prevent a team from being able to move down the field and score in just a few plays in just a little bit of time. The thought is that you keep everything in front of you and come up and make the tackle in bounds so the clock continues to run.

Now when, if ever, should a prevent defense be employed? Generally if a team is 50 yards or more away from the goalline and Team A is up by more than a touchdown, with 45 seconds or less to go, and Team B has one or no timeouts, then that is the time to use a prevent defense. It may also be employed if there are 30 seconds or less before the end of the first half.

In each of those situations the easiest thing for an offense to do is complete one or two long passes to get in the endzone and win the game. The hardest thing for them to do is to complete 3 or more passes with the clock running down and getting everyone lined up and on the same page without an offensive player jumping and still overcoming all that to get into the endzone.

Now the problem comes in when a Team A tries to employ a prevent defense when Team B has more than a minute on the clock and or has 2 or more timeouts. Inherently when you play a prevent defense you allow Team B to complete passes underneath without much if any hassle because everyone is dropping back deep and the likelyhood of pressuring Team B's quarterback with just a three man rush are very low. Therefore if they have more than a minute they will have the ability to complete 2 or 3 passes and be threatening your redzone, especially if they have more than one time out.

For that reason, when a team goes to a prevent defense outside of the proscribed instances when its called for they are basically seen as playing not to loose and many times will end up getting beat. I know for myself that is a pet peeve of mine when I see teams using a three man rush with lots of time left on the clock. The truth is even with 8 people dropping back in coverage Team B's wide receivers will eventually get open if they have enough time, and by virtue of the fact that three men will have a hard time getting to the quarterback, they will have all the time in the world. Hell I am a proponent of blitzing at least once if a team has more than a minute on the clock just to make the quarterback make a play under duress. Make that guy make a quick decision with the game on the line or, in the case of right before the half, with the clock ticking down. Pressure busts pipes as the saying goes...

Now here is one takeaway I want to leave you with. Just because Team A is playing zone defense at the end of the game does NOT mean they are in prevent defense. It would be idiotic (in my opinion) to try to play man to man every play in a two minute situation. If there is no deep safety help then you are almost asking for a disaster and one will surely come. All it would take is one person in the secondary getting beat and the next thing you know Team B has scored on one play on an easy throw and catch by the quarterback and receiver and somebody might be looking for a job.

So there is nothing wrong with playing zone in a two minute situation as long as its regular zone drops with a four man rush or more. Now the thing to remember is that even in say a regular cover 2, there will be routes that are open. But the mission is not to keep Team B from preventing ANY passes, its to make sure that if they do complete them that they are short and Team A can tackle the wide receiver in bounds.

Of course Team B is coached too and they are allowed to make plays that they aren't technically supposed to be able to. Football will always be a game that is decided by one on one battles inside the game. But its wrong to suggest that a team employing a four man rush and zone coverage as going into a prevent defense. Even though my personal preference is to blitz at least once, even if a team only rushes four its still not justified to call it prevent. And I can promise you that more times than naught rushing four or more and playing coverage works to keep Team B out of the endzone in those situations.

Now if you got confused at any point in this explanation just remember two things.

Team A is the team that has the lead and is on defense with the game on the line.

Team B is the team that is down and has to score at the end of the game or the end of a half.

Then go back and reread it again. If there are any other additional questions about this specific game time situation feel free to ask and I will make sure to answer your questions.

Hope this was helpful.

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