Written in Chalk: Attacking the Tite Formation - Pre-snap

Now that I’ve touched on how the Tite formation works, I want to take a look from the other side of the ball and how it can be attacked. While the focus of this post is primarily on the run game (because the backend coverage can be largely modified), it is important to keep in mind the common pass responsibilities, as we will draw from that conflict. Before getting into specific plays, I first want to look holistically at the formation and how to put an offense in position to exploit it. Then we can get a bit deeper into some actual play calling.

Before we Start

I mean, sure, we could just draw up a bunch of 22 and 31 personnel plays against a Tite front that go for at least 6 yards a pop and someone will complain that we should have passed the ball anyway because it’s more efficient. Nevertheless, if a defense wants to chill in Tite against your heavy formations, by all means just run it down their throat. I’m going to assume defenses won’t do that, though, and instead the focus of the Tite front is against offenses that maintain at least three receivers on the field. Super Power would be fun.

The one actual takeaway here isn't so much that you can go heavy and the defense won't match personnel. But if defenses can take advantage of hybrid players, you can also on offense. Use your QB at the Y-position and split him wide. Use your TE at X, your WRs at Q, W, Z, and RB at A, and you can theoretically get the defense in their Tite formation personnel and find a way to force them to play out of their comfort zone.

Attaching the Bubbles
Most define bubbles as the open gaps in a defensive front due to the alignment of the defensive line. While those certainly are the obvious defensive “bubbles”, there are also what I would consider “vertical bubbles” in any defense. Most don’t talk about them in that way, they talk about them as “defender conflict” where a defender has a coverage responsibility and run responsibility, and is pulled in opposite directions by those responsibilities. We attack them in modern football with play action and RPO. In many ways, the Tite formation attempts to take away those conflicts, and that’s one of its great strengths. But they still exist, we just have to figure out how to get there. Let’s discuss.

Pre-snap C-Gaps: The Tite front accounts for all interior gaps via DL and a downhill MIKE filling the remaining A gap. Those interior gaps, largely, are going to be difficult to attack. Where there is an obvious wide gap is in the C gap, which is closed off from outside-in by the overhangs and filled by a flowing ILB. But this means, at least initially, there is a relatively large bubble. We need to find a way to maintain that bubble and exploit it.

Post-snap B-gaps: The overlooked vertical bubble is the post-snap B gaps. One of the general weaknesses of the Tite front is its pass rush abilities. In an effort to mitigate those issues and still contain the QB in the pocket, when the DEs see high-hat, pass blocking OL, they widen, or even twist. ILBs typically have coverage responsibility, and don’t shoot down, but instead hold their water or even drop. This creates a possibilities to get free releases to the second level through now wide interior gaps.

Pre-snap Formation
Bypassing the “run heavy formations” argument, the intent of this post is that we want the defense to be in a Tite front because if they are predictable in that front, we generally can know how to attack it. So let’s stay in 11/10 personnel.

The first thing I want to focus on is how best to attack the overhangs. We see a lot of modern offenses spread out as far as they can in an effort to force these overhangs to be responsible for as wide of a gap as possible. In theory, great, I get it. In reality, it does very little to conflict those players. They apex the slot and the EMOL, any outside throw they pursue and take away, and any run their direction they play outside-in. Going 10 yards wider is only 5 yards wider for the defender, who is still in good position to collapse the C-gap. So the reality is, you haven’t added to their conflict in the way you think you have.

Instead, the solution is to actually reduce the slot split. Instead of getting wider, get tighter to the LOS. That doesn’t mean line up in a wing or in-line TE, it means half splits, ~7 yards from the EMOL. In this way it is an inverse of a "Nasty" split. In a Nasty split, you widen away from the EMOL as far as you can while still maintaining the DE outside of you. Here, you tighten your split as far as you can while maintaining the overhang defender in an apex position. Why? There are a few reasons.

First, still split from the formation, you maintain an outside vertical threat; the apex still has to align inside of you, and you still have a free release to the safety and still maintain your horizontal threat to the sideline, not just via bubbles, but quick outs, etc. And still, he now puts more stress on the LB level for coverage responsibilities, because he is a clear threat to settle in the middle of the field or cross the field to the opposite side. This all serves to maintain the safety's responsibilities in coverage vs a free releasing receiver, while actually forcing the LBs to see the entire field in coverage and be more cognizant of the pass threat while doing so.

Second, you are now a block threat from the receiver position. If the defense is able to play from a hybrid, apex position to put themselves as quasi block players, the response should be to do the same with receivers. From a reduced split, you are actually a threat to make a block on the apex defender, which threatens outside of him (forcing him to keep his width and threatening his eyes if they merely stay into the backfield). This reduced split also puts you in better position to contribute as a crack blocker on the ILBs. If you want to widen the C-gap, you need to keep the ILBs inside and/or hold the apex defenders out.

Third, you force an “apex” defender to play in tighter space, without losing your basic spread principles. So we want to keep the apex defender outside, one of the best ways to do that is force him to stay in an “apex” position, but put him in a more vulnerable spot to be blocked from inside-out by OL. Let OL ID him, let them know his positioning, don’t let him get to face an OL 1v1 in space. Put him in a box and blow him out of the hole or completely dance around it. You widen the C-gap by keeping the box players inside, and kicking the apex out.

Account for the Playside Apex as a Box Defender
The apex player isn’t aligned over the slot. You can’t just stalk block him or move to the safety level and forget about him. He’s there to force the defense into their tiny box by keeping everything inside. He’s the force defender that everything is spilling toward, and if you don’t account for him in your box numbers and with you block count, you are giving free hitters at the point of attack, and playing right into the defense and mitigating a basic spread tenet of reducing free defenders.

Utilize Short Quick Motion Pre-snap
The Tite formation is a relatively balanced one. But to account for motion or change in strength, rather than shift the LB level, it often forces the rotation of movement of the third level, or the change in alignment of the DL. This is to the offense’s advantage when it applies to quick motion. Long motion, moving from a wide split to another location, tips the movement and gives the defense an opportunity to communicate and adjust accordingly.

Short motion forces the defense to often make an adjustment essentially as the play starts rather than give them an opportunity to spoke (1-high; they rotate as if the 3rdlevel defenders are attached to a single wagon wheel, ie a spoke) or “pull the chain” (2-high; maintain spacing between safeties but adjust width based on new formation), in this way they are in conflict at the snap attempting to work to their new position and maintain their post-snap responsibilities.

To be clear, short quick motion doesn’t just have to work in the inward direction. Starting from a condensed position and quickly working outward forces the apex defenders to widen at the snap or risk being out of position for quick threats in the flat. So now you are forcing the apex defenders to push out, making momentum work against them as they try to work everyone “outside-in” from a mostly static apex position (i.e. now you force them to redirect in order to maintain their force assignment).

Likewise, here’s an example of a DL adjusting on the fly due to the threat of an added lead blocker.

What this means is that your short splits can come from a WR or an H-back, how you utilize them post-snap will be discussed in the next article. But the idea is that short motion forces this reaction to occur quickly, while the H can simply cross the formation to create shift the passing strength, start pre-snap from a position that can attack either edge, or even yo-yo back to his initial position.

Keep the "Slot" on the LOS
The last aspect works counter to the short motion in some ways, particularly with how it will fit into the run game, but it serves a purpose in the pass attack. With Apex defenders in a position to struggle to reroute the slot, there is little reason to play them off the LOS in the pass game. Instead, put them in a position where they can get vertical quickest to threaten the safety. This allows you now to put your outside WR off the LOS, possibly utilizing short motion from there, and makes it more difficult for the defense to utilize press coverage on the outside.

Next we are going to look at what we can do post-snap, and specifically look at attacking the Tite formation with gap blocking schemes.