Just Play Sports Solutions: Match Quarters Defense

Match Quarters Multi-Pronged Approach On Defense

Before we get into the “why” behind Match Quarters, let’s talk a little about your general approach to designing a defense. When designing your defense, there are many variables that go into making your decisions. Two of the most important questions you need to ask yourself are:

  • What do you need to stop to win?
  • What do your best players do well?

You build your defense by understanding which coverage will best fit your team. Once you know what you will be able to do coverage-wise, it is very easy to find blitzes and/or movements that do not change much on your end, but will be perceived as different by the offense.

It is pretty obvious, but I have seen many defenses playing press man with cornerbacks who have no chance of winning that battle. Or maybe, they have athletic linebackers and refuse to blitz them. These are the same defenses that won’t make changes based on the players they have.

Do what your best players do well. It is much easier for a coach to change up a few schemes and technique issues from year to year than force more than 50 young athletes to change what they are comfortable doing.

The way we run match quarters fits our team perfectly. It allows us to put our defense in the best possible position to defend any team we face. It allows us to be very simple and dynamic. It gives us the same pre-snap look with the versatility to change once the ball is snapped.

Understanding The Defense

Our conference has a wide variety of offenses you see throughout the year. We will play anything from the “Wing T” triple option to “10 Personnel” spread RPO offenses. We want to ensure that we are prepared every week, and this defense allows us to be in great position against all personnel.

We do not need to install a new defense every week, and this allows our players to play fast and confident. With our “4-3” defense, our No. 1 rule is: Don’t get beat by your alignment. Going back over the years and watching all the big plays that I have seen given up, the majority were caused by alignment issues. Pre-snap alignment is one of the most overlooked parts of the game.

Over a season, we see our fair share of plays from many offenses: all types of inside runs, outside runs, quick passes, deep passes, play action, and all the trick plays you can think of. We understand we cannot stop everything an offense can do, but we can focus on how to stop their top runs or pass plays. We want to take away the things our opponents are comfortable doing and make them work for points by not using their best options.

Match quarters is a great way to match the offense and what personnel they are using without changing your defensive personnel. I believe this is crucial because of the use of the hybrid tight end/ fullback/superback.

Match Quarters

Everything in our scheme starts up front and this means being gap-sound and making the ball spill to our speed. I do not like the phrase “building a wall” because I want our guys to penetrate the offense. We want our linebackers playing fast and downhill to their responsibility. On the back end, we want to look uniform and disguise what we will be doing post-snap. Last, we want to be the fastest defense our opponents will see.

In our defense, we can very easily get nine in the box when needed. We want to take away the easiest path for inside run and extend the play side-to-side. We want the ball to bounce outside to use our speed to make the play. On outside runs we want to be able to set the edge and bounce it back inside. At the end of the day, we want to force the offense to go against what they want to do.

On the defensive line, we want to attack the line of scrimmage. We do not sit back and read, but rather attack the line of scrimmage and react to the movement of the offense. The linebackers read their keys and react off of the movement. The main thing for the linebacker is to believe what he sees, and react as fast as he can. See it, feel it, trust it.

The safeties read their keys and play run/pass. I probably should rephrase that to say pass/run. However, we play run/ pass especially if the No. 2 receiver is in the box. If they take the No. 2 receiver out of the box and split him wide, we play pass/run. Our defense is taught to understand that more guys in the box for the offense means we need to pack the box and stop the formation. On the opposite side, more guys spread out means we need to spread out and defend space.

When we play match quarters, it allows our linebackers to run. As long as the linebackers are in the box, the safeties play the cutback lanes. If the linebackers are out of the
box, they have the cutbacks. The coverage is great against screens and takes away underneath windows. Linebacker drops will stay consistent no matter the formation presented by the offense. The two outside backers are looking to rob slants, hooks, and curls. The only thing taking them to the flats is something from the backfield or No. 3 receiver. The linebackers are sitting on the quick throws and the corners are reading and working with the safeties to stay on top of the deep passes.

Safeties Calls

The “Tight” call allows us to have our safety read the tight end for run/pass read. If the tight end releases for pass, our safety will have him. If the tight end blocks to add another gap for run, our safety will come downhill and be responsible for setting the edge/cutback. If the tight end adds to the pass protection, the safety will look to rob the post/dig zone. (See Diagram 1)

Chalk Talk Defense - Diagram 1 DIAGRAM 1

The “Split” call allows our safety and corner to the same side to combo the two receivers. They are both reading the No. 2 receiver. If he goes out under five steps, the corner takes him and the safety gets his eyes to the No. 1 receiver.

The “Back” call is made when the safety has no second receiving threat and the offense has two backs in the backfield (20 or 21 personnel). The safety then will take the second back if he releases his way.

If the back goes strong, he knows the the strong-side outside linebacker has him. If the back inserts to block, the  safety will fit where the back does to take care of the extra gap created. This also allows the linebackers to concentrate more on the run. (See Diagram 2)

Chalk Talk Defense - Diagram 2 DIAGRAM 2


Corners align inside the No. 1 receiver. We take this alignment to help force outside release. In our defense, the worst thing the corners can do before the snap is misalignment. That alone can result in a first down or a big play. The shoulders are square to the line of scrimmage. The corner does not want to give the receiver his outside shoulder.

As the receiver releases downfield, the corner gives ground. When the receiver moves outside, the corner goes with him. The outside foot being back allows the corner to open his hips to the outside easier. He wants to prevent the inside release, open his hips toward the outside, and jam the receiver with his inside or off hand as he leaves the line of scrimmage. If the receiver tries to release inside, or to crack block, the corner rides him inside and is in position to take on the run. Corners are on their man-to-man “island” much of the time. That is one big reason I have the safeties make the calls.

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Match quarters is a multipurpose coverage that allows you to have a uniform defense and it can very easily match the offense if they want to throw different formations at you. No matter the defense you run, it needs to start with your defensive line and stopping the run.

With match quarters though, it allows your linebackers to flow freely and just play football. The linebacker group is so often over coached and this coverage allows them to read easy and play fast.

Lastly, the defensive backs get their pre-snap read by the wide receivers and the backfield. Cover 4 allows the defense to keep the 2-high look and have a sound alignment. In the end, I revert back to a previous statement, “You have to do what your best players do well.” I place a great amount of pride in my defense and making sure the players and myself are constantly on the same page.

This article was written by John Michaletti, Former Defensive Coordinator, Kansas Wesleyan University.

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