Written in Chalk: How to Attack Loose Alignment Tite/Mint Defenses in Run Game

Tite and Mint continue to be the defense du jour among Twitter followers, and as college teams start looking at what some of the best defenses did last year, I anticipate even more will start to implement the front into their package in some form or another. As it becomes more prominent, offenses are going to need to start adapting playcalls for the defense in order to maximize their output. But, of course, you don’t know necessarily a defense is going to run Tite on a given down or stay in that basic look post-snap, so you have to work within your system and not have plays that blowup if you see anything else. This post is going to look at ways of tagging specific base plays and adding wrinkles to better run your base scheme against 4i-0-4i looks.

Duo or Jab Power/Dart with Short Motion Kick Block
If you run Power you don’t want to get rid of Power. It’s God’s play after all. So how do you maintain your angles while not getting to the point of bad match-ups that plague running power against the Tite front? The answer is to add a kick blocker with short quick motion. This will allow an H-Back to be responsible for kicking out the overhang, as you need to account for him as a box defender. Depending on the matchup, adjust the split of the playside slot receiver to either reduce the space that overhang is playing in (more safety type overhang) or widening him (more defensive back like overhang).

The easiest play to block up front is Duo. With the DL position, you are afforded to playside double teams vertical right into the LBs lap. Short motion from the H can act as the kick block of the EMOL or playside overhang. It’s the simplest means being physical with this front. (Note on Duo, I would expect the vast majority of the time it's going to bounce outside which is fine as long as you get movement with the playside Double)

For Power, with how many teams lag the NT back toward RB alignment, when presented with a 4i-0-4i, make the Center responsible for the NT. This maintains a solid, playside double, and with the backside 4i you can be confident in hinging the BST to cut him off (this will be the hardest part of blocking this, because the Center may need to step playside at the snap to ensure he leverages the NT, so your BST is almost going to have to scoop that backside).

Alternatively, you can swap assignments between the BSG so that you are pulling the BST and run Dart, as the jab step gives him time to clear.

To account for that swapping of assignments and the risk of the defense auto blitzing off the short motion H, a backside slant RPO is a fairly easy addition into the area where the backside overhang would typically reside. Just make sure your slant receiver is identifying the will and adjusting his slant accordingly; the QB is reading the backside overhang to determine pass/read, the receiver needs to make sure he’s not slanting right into the BSLB undercutting that route as the backside overhang and BSLB exchange potential gaps.

The jab in the backfield not only presents some counter flow, but it also holds that backside overhang temporarily to give the blockers time to clear, while also slowing the LBs from fast scraping playside and really forcing the play wide right into the overhang (if they are managing to still spill everything, reduce the playside, think of starting in 2x2 with a reduced split from the slot, pushing the overhang further inside and allowing him to be logged, getting the play outside the overhang.

What makes both of these plays difficult is the backside 4i, for the same reason Inside Zone struggles vs this front. But the gap blocking allows you to handle the playside doubles a little easier once you add the the playside kickout from the motion man. Because the front makes it so difficult to run between the tackles, another thing to think about is adding a crack block on the playside LB. This will likely force the safety into the fit but with the motion kick out, will help widen that C gap to make it more difficult to spill to the overhang and shut down that space.

Counter OT with Same Direction Jet Motion
We have angles within the box if we can find a way to account for the overhang. Again, quick motion limits the time for the backend to adjust. The motion receiver will then read the overhang, if he stays wide, the motion man can stay on his sweep path, if the overhang triggers, the motion man can kick.
There are two schemes here that fit. Everyone and their brothers, fathers, sisters, mothers, uncles, and aunts loves Counter OT these days. At this point I’ll probably go to my grave not trusting it unless I have a backside blocker (rather than a read), but because people are running it, let’s find how to tag it. 

If we want to run a Counter OT Read, we need to block the backside 4i, we cannot read him. Why? If the 4i chases the pullers and the WILL folds back, we can’t account for both the BSLB and the backside overhang. So we need the center to block back on the 4i (a tough ask, but possible). This leaves the BSLB as the QB read. If the WILL triggers on the blitz or follows the pullers QB keeps and runs. A backside bubble gives the QB a third option off the backside overhang (note, the backside safety can still allow the defense to account for everything on the keep read, so if at all possible we want to hand the ball because we are confident we can at worst get a RB vs CB playside; nevertheless, you can maximize your space and force that safety to really attack his fit, which can open up other aspects of attacking Tite fronts, such as the free release of the slot to the safety, pump-and-go, etc.). Our main threat here is the PSLB shooting the playside A gap and blowing up our pullers. The backside Tackle needs to find the playside LB pre-snap and potentially break off his pull to handle him.

If we have a mobile QB we have better options, because the RB can account for the backside DE. By doing that, we allow ourselves to adjust the OL the same way we adjusted for Power above, get a playside double on the 4i and really cave him in. That going to make life clear for the pullers to really effectively kick LBs out who have to scrape over the top or log them inside if they try really hard to spill. That playside double also can combo off directly to the MIKE if he gets sent on a playside blitz.

Outside Zone with Quick Motion
We have a few ways to adjust our outside zone scheme to account for life in the world of Tite. How we adjust will depend on if your QB is a run threat, how the backside LB is reacting, and what our offensive line is best at (quicker OL vs a mauling OL, a OL great at working combos vs one that is less effective, etc.).

The hardest part about running outside zone against the Tite front is reaching the backside ILB. Often, the NT will lag into the backside gap, forcing the center to release against a fast scraping LB, and he can't get there before the backside LB gets over the top. 

Let’s start with basic Outside Zone a same direction jet fake to hold the playside apex (or quick motion an H-back and lead block). If he widens with the jet, keep running the sweep threat. If he triggers, block him with the motion man (always block with an H-Back). The idea of starting in 3x1 and utilizing quick motion is an effort to keep those ILBs further to the 3 man side pre-snap. With the playside overhang accounted for, we can treat this zone scheme similar to Lead Outside Zone with our double targets moving back a man. This allows the playside OT and OG to combo to the lap of the PSLB and the Center and Backside OG to combo through the NT to the BSLB. Most importantly, it's significantly more wash for the backside LB to have to fight through, as you can hard set the edge and then work up to the second level. (If the 3x1 isn't providing enough insentive to push the ILBs to the 3 man side, consider starting in 2x2 and crack blocking the ILB with the playside WR, adding more wash for the backside guy to fight through and forcing the safety into the fit). Set your RB’s aiming point at the butt of your OT and let your OL react to the flow of the LBs to determine where he cuts. Simple.

I’m relatively critical of motion opposite the direction of the attack. Unlike against some other defensive structures, it really doesn’t put anyone is a significant bind. The backside overhang simply has a person running at him which he isn’t in conflict from. But you also don’t want to tip the direction of the play based on always motioning in the same direction, you need to have the ability to motion opposite. To do so, you have two real options.

First, like I’ve said, you need to account for the playside overhang, so now the PST’s job is to block that man. This is likely easier in less space, so you will adjust your receivers position in order to get that defender to come closer to the OL. This can be done by either motioning from 2x2 if the teams overhang moves further inside when he only has one receiver to his side, or it can be done by starting in 3x1 and reducing the same side split of the slot receiver staying to that direction (your choice will depend on your QB’s capabilities more than likely). This then means the PSG has the playside 4i and it is the backside double team from the BSG and Center that has to work up to the PSLB. This is a long track and likely means the play is going to need to cut back behind the PSLB. As such, you need to focus on washing the DL down the line and then reading the BSLB with an RPO scheme, which sometimes mitigates some of the issues dealing with fast flow from the LBs. Reduce the split of the backside slot in order to get into that window post snap to attack the WILL flowing to the run game or sitting in his zone.

And, as we've covered, the QB run does so much for equalizing numbers that it allows us to combine these two ideas. Here, you can run Lead Q Outside Zone, effectively match numbers playside, and utilize the split flow to influence the backers. Whether you want to combo to the LB or simply pin and pull it is up to you.

Update: We have an example

The second option is really not to run Outside Zone at all, but instead a wind back zone (also known as a gap counter). In this way, you are using the motion man as the wind back lead blocker back to what will be the playside overhang. The initial zone path of Outside Zone will cause the LBs to flow, so that when the doubles work to them they can simply keep them stuck to that side, only for the RB to wind back to the “backside of the play”. This again will take advantage of the fast flow LBs. Here, we are starting in a 2x2 and motioning to the 3-man side to try to force the ILBs to shift further to strength and improve angles for the combos to work to the 2nd level on the wind back.

Now, if your team is going to struggle working those doubles to the LBs and you really want to attack that C-gap, consider a G scheme. Note: a common idea on paper is that pin and pull is a great scheme to run vs Tite. Given the angles presented by the front, on paper it is absolutely perfect. The downside is that it is extremely difficult to account for the PSLB shooting theplayside gaps vacated by the puller, so if it’s used, it needs to be used as a changeup. A more permanent option is a Stretch G scheme.

In this case, we’ll vertical combo the playside DE with the OG/OT working toward the PSLB; the PSLB blitzes inside you move off that combo to account for him. The backside OG then needs to really work to reach the NT, with a possible cut on the backside, while the Center pulls around front side. This frontside vertical double is going to set a hard edge while the Center wraps around and takes any scraps that find their way to try to spill the play further outside.

Notice in this example that the pull actually comes from the backside of the play. Between the guard and the center you have to feel the NT and what he's doing to determine who to pull. Pulling the Center is nice as it allows you to get an additional blocker off the edge and account for most dangerous, but if the DL is moving with the doubles you have to wash those guys down, and the play will cut back in (the puller has to feel where the hole to the 2nd level exists). Moving it back to the Center more or less forces it to be an inside run, but a stretch G scheme can improve your angles when handling the backside flow.

Another option would be to pin down on the NT with the PSG. This eliminates the front side double, but allows you to safely pull the Center to the front of the play. This does violate some basic pin and pull rules, so those rules would need to be adjusted for the front (traditional rules would have the center reach a heads up NT rather than the PSG work back to him), but by pulling the Center, you keep the FSLB in the pullers vision, allowing him to check for the run thru.

G Lead with Short Motion
If you do want to run a form a pin and pull, I’d recommend limiting it to a G-Lead scheme, the C-BSG will combo toward PSLB in case the PSLB tries to blitz that frontside A gap, even though if the PSLB does anything but trigger down, the combo won't reach him (and should hope just to be able to reach the backside LB).

If you wish to motion opposite the direction of the play, consider cracking down on the ILBs to help seal the defense inside and wrapping to the overhang.

Crack Block with Duo, Power, and Down G
We’ve run away from alignment a lot now, and we’ve utilize short motion to get an additional blocker to the opposite side of the formation numerous times. So now, rather than cross the formation, will short motion to crack. This allows us to utilize motion as an option of changing angles and gaps, rather than always having the motion work the overhangs.

Given we’ve what we’ve seen above with running opposite alignment, let’s break that tendency and look at a Toss Read version. Here, the motion man will combo with the PST down on the DE back to the BSLB. The FSG will lead around to the overhang defender to lead the toss play. The BSG is going to pull around to the FSLB. If the FSLB widens with the RB, the QB will keep and run like Power. If the FSLB stays inside, the QB will toss to the RB in an effort to get to the edge.

Here they don't utilize utilize a read element playside, instead favoring to fake a mesh point and move the RB out into a lead block (so blocking instead of reading, though this may allow you to push the read element elsewhere since you no loner have to read the toss element). It also allows the playside puller to pull to the PSLB, as the lead blocker has an angle to block the overhang.

If we want to read the End we can now crack block the LB. But to do so, we don’t necessitate the short crack motion (though we can always utilize it). Now, instead, we can utilize the motion man as a runner and add blockers for the give. Here, we’ll utilize the playside slot to crack the Inside LB and the RB and PST can lead to the overhang/safety. The double of the NT to the backside LB combined with the arc path of the OT will force the playside DE into a lot of space.

Note that you can utilize the WR to run and the RB to lead or lead with the motion man and give the RB the run tack, you can utilize Toss Read or Power read fairly interchangeably. It’s all ways of doing the same thing from an offensive perspective but finding the alignments that provide you the best angles or at times to break tendency.

Here's OSU running to a 4 man side to really emphasis numbers to the BASH threat.

Influence Wham
Again, we want to use our H-back in a variety of ways to force the LBs to think rather than trigger at the snap. The use of an H allows use to create new gaps at various points along the LOS. Here, we’re going to Wham the backside 4i. This is “Wham” rather than “Split” because the OT is going to fan out to the overhang. Here, we’ll show it run back toward alignment.

We can also influence pull to get to a similar picture, get the Guard out on the overhang and OT to the LB level.

Tight Counter OH
Another way to get into Counter OH is to widen the B gap. Here, the PST is going to pass set before blocking the playside EMOL or overhang. The pass set will trigger the End to get up field and widen, which will make him easier to kick. Then the H pulls through to the playside LB.

If the defense prefers Mint, you can even get into 12 personnel to find the advantage.

Pin and Pull
If you love the angles of pin and pull, I recommend utilizing 12 personnel and getting into TE-Wing combo. Why? The idea of Mint/Tite tends to be to spill to the overhang. Spill, spill spill. So let’s get in a nub set and push a mass of bodies outside so that it becomes increasingly hard to spill. Here, we get a Down Pin and Pull scheme.

Find ways to forces space defenders to play in a phone booth and overload the numbers. Eventually, defenses run out of spill, spill, spill players.

Belly Zone with Orbit Motion
There are two same side Belly Zone schemes. Again, we must account for the playside overhang, and in this case, it means arcing the OT. (Note: you can also go with the basic BASH plays, utilizing the RB as the outside threat and the QB as the inside run threat).

 In the first case we will read the BSLB. This would mean if the BSLB gains width, you will have the RB running a belly zone right at the frontside leg of the Center. Depending on where the Nose goes, the RB will run away. If the BSLB shoots down, the orbit swing should have multiple blockers in front of it to account for the safety and overhang.

In the second case, we will read the End. From a 4i this is a bit trickier, so we’ll want to stress the bend back. Because of that, we may need to account for the backside overhang folding inside. Because of this, we’ll actually set a pull call for the OG, which will force the bend back, with the pull and the RB reading the clear path to the second level.

For what it's worth, I'm not really a huge fan of either of these because Inside Zone is so difficult to run against this front and not get spilled into overhangs. So if you insist on running it, I think you need to have the ability to not just run with the QB, but utilize triple option keys to gain back any sort of advantage. Blocking angles, especially on the inside, are just very difficult to make work.

I'd been toying for a while with away to attack the front with midline out of 10/11 personnel), but struggling to get the blocking angles the way I wanted them to run away from the Jack. My initial thought was to run it away from the Jack, and I toyed with two options:

  • Option 1
    • Read PSDE
    • OT arc to the Overhang
    • Zone PSG/C to NT-> PSLB
    • BSG/BST to BSDE-> BSLB
  • Option 2
    • Read PSDE
    • Utilize quick motion to get blocker to overhang
    • Down block PST to PSLB
    • PSG/C to NT -> BSLB
    • BSG/BST to BSDE hinge to Jack
With Option 1, I was really worried about how any NT push technique would quickly blow up the play(overall, the angles for a quick hitting play are generally poor anyway, as you wouldn't have time to reach the NT and move the PSLB to actually generate a good crease).

 For Option 2, I really struggled with the angle of the PST getting out to the PSLB through the PSDE. Either the PST has to step vertical and around, which if the PSDE widens, then the OT won't have time to get into his block before the PSLB and DE can manage the read element; or he has to cross the DE's face which would likely meet resistance as the DE's thought will be not to get sealed.

Turns out, Blitzology had just the answer ready. I love the cross block between the OT and Y-TE (could also utilize an Off-Y) to maintain the lead block to the Will element that I was missing when I was toying with it, but getting a slightly quicker player out to the second level. The downblocks, which I prefer to get more movement up front, really widen that gap, and force the WILL to react, opening up the read.

Follow the link to view a clip of this in action.

WR Alignment
The WR alignment will largely depend on a few things: 1) The QB’s mobility; 2) The QB’s ability to make post-snap reads; 3) The QB’s ability to run triple option.

Q run, itself, gives the offense a significant numbers advantage. The RB is an added player that can cutoff backside pursuit or be used as a lead blocker. Additionally, it allows you not to have to incorporate motion to get to some of the areas I diagramed above, preventing the defense from reacting in unique ways. If your QB is a capable runner but struggles to make post-snap reads, plan on using the RB as a blocker for QB runs, similar to the ones above.

If your QB is a capable runner and can make post-snap reads, you want to provide means of handling the backside games that defenses play to trick the QB on his give/keep reads. To do this, you may think about cracking the Backside ILB with a backside receiver and/or find ways to get into triple option. The defense has an advantage on the backside as they will typically have the CB, Overhang, plus safety, and have the option of flowing the BSILB to the play. So the ability to force it to be 3v3 in space is key.

One trick is to slow the safety from triggering down. Bubble from #2 will quickly result in the safety filling the alley. But a Now screen may slow the safety a bit more and still allow you to play triple option.

If your QB can’t really run, then you don’t want to spend resources holding the backside overhang. The backside overhang may fold back inside opposite flow, but for the most part it will be difficult for him to generate negative plays from his backside alignment (he’s limiting damage if it comes back to him). So what you want to focus on is adding blockers playside to better account for safeties and biggest threat. Reduce the split of the single side receiver to be able to RPO the backside ILB.

The power of Tite and mint is that it gives the overhangs the ability to play everything inside out, and still be in position to play the pass when they see pass sets up front. As the OL pass sets, the DE’s widen into the C-gaps in an effort to rush the passer.

But what this means is that if you can get the defense to key pass, you’re back to 5 on 5 in the box (or 6 on 5 if you have a mobile QB), and that is advantage offense.

An Angle screen from the RB hard sells the pass. RB releasing into the flat, OL pass dropping. DEs widen but are unable to chip the RB, allowing him to get width easily, keep the overhangs and LBs in pass drop mode, before the interior OL releases up to the LBs with the RB fitting behind. Pictured below is a double screen.

Similarly, Gut Draw can be the same type of hard sell. Get a lot of depth with your OTs and then fold up to the LB level. You can run it with your RB, or, again, if you have a mobile QB you can Swing the RB to hold the overhang or simply utilize your RB as an additional lead blocker at the point of attack (the inside release similarly selling pass first).

The following is a summary of how to treat a loose alignment side in Tite or Mint:
  • Account for the playside overhang as a box defender
  • In gap schemes, the NT is a “backside” defender that the center will block back to, allowing you to double the playside End
  • “Tight” or A-gap calls can specifically be used to adjust the double back to the NT if the defense starts overplaying the spill
  • Utilize quick motion to alter post-snap numbers and create additional gaps. Alter your tempo if defense is in a front you aren’t expecting. Remember, motion should be an advantage, it becomes a disadvantage when your guys don’t know their assignments due to defensive reaction to the movement.
  • Figure out how you're going to account for playside run through from LB level
  • Adjust your receiver alignments to benefit the playcall. Think about
    • How do I ensure loose alignment?
    • How do I widen overhang?
    • How do I reduce overhang?
    • What triggers ILBs to shift out of 20 technique?
    • How does short-side vs wide-side impact defensive alignment?
    • How is defensive alignment impacted by 3x1 short-side vs wide-side?
    • How do I change WR splits so I can time routes to read particular defenders in RPO game?
Update: Great thread here from Coach Vass

There are a few aspects here. From an OL perspective, we are tagging plays to account for the soft edge overhang as a box defender. This is a “Loose” alignment adjustment, and if you get a hard edge, you will run the schemes as you typically do with an end involved. This is how we play Mint vs Tite, understanding that the overhang outside the Jack in Mint isn’t often going to be in the run fit, and if he is, can often be accounted for with the playside receiver.

The second adjustment is calling a head-up NT a backside defender in gap schemes so that your center is accounting for him rather than blocking all the way back to 4i (an exception may apply when you run Counter OT because of the lack of backside blocker). So it’s a slight adjustment to your rules, but it is not an overhaul of your existing system and it isn’t drawing plays specifically for static defenders in a Tite front. And of course, if the defense starts over-playing the spill and getting wide, you can always come back with a “Tight” or A-gap specific call to move that double back onto the nose (see: Tight counter OH).

Then there is the concept of utilizing quick motion. If you know what you’re getting, quick motion to add blockers, either lead blockers or jet motion or whatever, is great. Depending on the player that is impacted by the motion will determine if you sweep or lead block. But based on the defensive alignment, you run quick motion or you can slow things down. Either via a “Check with Me” or the QB’s ability to diagnose a defense, you can call the same plays, but “slow” the motion. If you expect Tite and get Tite, you can run your quick motion. If you expect Tite but get a 4-3 Over front, slow the motion, bring the H into his wing alignment or sniffer alignment and stop and give your front an opportunity to communicate how to block the scheme. You don’t have to move like lighting all the time.

It’s always important to remember, as I’m often reminded by my friends on the defensive side, defenses aren’t static. Your pre-snap motion will cause them to adjust. Post-snap they may blitz or twist. These adjustments are designed to handle that. If your motion causes the DL to shift, you have to understand how to block your scheme. Hard edge vs soft edge, bringing down another defender to LB level, overhang to Mint, who don’t we account for in the front, etc. Understand your built in rules so when the defense shifts out of the generic Tite, you know what to do, it’s fine to simply force them to communicate the motion, that gains you an advantage on defense. Also, you control the tempo of your motion. Quick motion is great because it limits the defense’s ability to shift and communicate but gives you the ability to add blockers to a variety of places, but always remember you can slow it down.

Lastly, understand what your threats are with each play call. I talked about defense shooting interior gaps vs Pin and Pull. How are you prepared to protect against that, because no one is lining up and always playing base. With these things, you can effectively attack Tite/Mint on the ground within your base offense.