Copyright 2000, 2007 John T. Reed

Coaches who are not familiar with the gap-air-mirror defense invariably make the following criticisms:

They’re nuts.

First, if you want to learn about the gap-air-mirror defense, you should talk to someone who has run it or at least faced it. In every case, the coach who makes these criticisms has never run the defense and probably has never even faced it. But he’s an expert on it. Go figure.

I have run these defenses. Fortunately for me, I have never faced them. If I were still coaching, I probably would have faced them by now because my books have won thousands of converts to the GAM philosophies. I have also talked to dozens, maybe hundreds of readers who are running the GAM.

You CAN’T break through the middle!

If the defensive linemen stay low as they must, you cannot break through the line. I have been in dozens of games where the opposing coaches were working on that theory. They banged their heads against the middle of our line again and again the whole game. Those plays probably averaged less than one yard per carry.

I have a video of a 1993 game at the Manteca Delta Rebels. On the audio portion of the tape, you can hear the Rebels’ fathers sarcastically yelling out at their coach to stop trying to run up the middle against our team. They say something like, “Hey, Coach. Forget the middle. It’s locked tight. Hermetically sealed.” If any visitor to this site can tell me how, I will put an audio of that tape right here on this Web site. I do not know how to get audio on the Web at present. We won that game 33-6.

Like running ropes

On the rare occasion that a ball carrier does get through, it’s like he’s running ropes. He is trying to step over the bodies of the defenders and his offensive line. As he is doing that, he is hit by my middle linebacker, who led my team in assists. My other linebackers and corners will also soon arrive because they are released from their man-pass-coverage responsibilities when the ball crosses the line of scrimmage. In all the years I ran the 10-1, I never saw an opposing ball carrier gain more than about six yards between the tackles.

In 1992, we beat the excellent Vallejo Generals 13-6. In that game, my assistant showed me our point-of-attack success chart during the game. It showed several runs up the middle for five or six yards. That never happened to us so we immediately watched our down linemen. I had put two new guys who were excellent athletes in the middle of the D line. They were standing up. On the next play, we replaced them with mediocre athletes who knew not to stand up. End of problem.

So the only problem I ever recall between the tackles was in the Vallejo game, and even there, Vallejo's excellent running backs were not “gone” when they penetrated. They only got six yards at best. Plus the problem was easily fixed by putting ordinary players who were disciplined to stay low into the game.

One of the benefits of the gap-air-mirror defense is that the opponents think it is a dumb defense that is easy to defeat. They then spend the whole game trying to run up the middle, which is suicidal against that defense, or they try to pass.

Here's an email I got from a reader:

I used the 10-1 defense in combination with a 6-2. We actually called our whole offense a 6-2, but our 6-2 doom defense brought everyone up on the line into a 10-1. I had coaches from other teams saying all we have to do is break through and he’s gone like you said in your book, but that didn’t happen like they thought. In one scrimmage we were running 6-2 and went to 10-1 for a play and switched back. The other coached asked us if we could run that other defense again to see if they could punch through. They never did. David Lanthier

I no longer euse or recommend the 10-1. Rather I recommend my Gap-Air-Mirror Defense for Youth Football which is only a 10-1 if the offense aligns in a one-back formation.

Easy to pass against

The typical youth-coaching “genius” says it would be easy to pass against the GAM. In general, we were the best pass defense in the league when we ran the GAM. We had games where the only passes our opponent completed were interceptions to our dbs. The reason is there are three ways to stop the pass:

The one youth players do best is rush the passer. They are second best at plugging receivers at the line of scrimmage. They stink at covering receivers, especially if you are dumb enough to use zone coverage. We wanted our opponents to pass against us because we were more successful against the pass than we were against the run.

Hey, if you believe the gap-air-mirror is easy to pass against, I suggest you try that approach next time you face a gap-air-mirror team. The typical league now have one or two such teams so you’ll probably get your chance. If you do, I expect I'll be getting a thank you from the defense coach.

Still the sweep

Let me tell what the problem really is with the gap-air-mirror. It’s still hard to stop the sweep. In the 33-6 victory mentioned above, Manteca scored their 6 on a 95-yard sweep. My right defensive end fell for a dive fake and let the excellent Rebel running back outside. I doubt there is any better defensive scheme against the sweep than the GAM, but the kids still have to execute. See my article about the sweep.

We lost some games.When we did, it was the sweep that beat us, which is the exact opposite of what the coaching geniuses who have never seen the GAM think. We had no trouble with inside runs and almost no trouble defending against the pass.

We did not lose those games because the GAM is weak against the sweep. We lost them because the play-side defensive end decided not to run the GAM on that play. He decided he would slant into the backfield instead of boxing, or that he would not bother boxing all the way to the depth of the ball carrier, or that he would retreat in the face of sweep blockers. Each of these mistakes is explicitly prohibited by the GAM rules.

If you get beat by the sweep when you are using the GAM, it’s because you have the wrong kid playing wide-side defensive end or because you failed to impress upon him the need to do exactly the correct boxing technique as prescribed in my book. The only alternative to the boxing technique that I have ever seen work against the sweep at the youth level is to put two contain men on each side, typically a defensive end and a cornerback. That is unsound.

We used to laugh at coaches who did that against us. Did we sweep against them? Hell no! We were not stupid. We stayed inside the tight ends where we outnumbered the opponent 11 to 7 because of their unsound, overly-sweep-conscious, four-contain-men defense. Or we would throw a tailback pass because the cornerback cannot contain and cover a receiver at the same time.

GAM is best possible sweep defense

The GAM is the absolute best defense against the sweep known to man. I designed it first and foremost to stop the sweep. In the GAM book, I quote experts who never heard of me on how effective the boxing technique is at stopping the sweep. At least one coaching book for higher levels advises offensive coaches to forget sweeping if the defense boxes their contain man. I quote that book in the GAM book.

The fact that the GAM is the best possible defense for stopping the wide-side youth sweep does not mean a coach who claims to be using the GAM will never get beat by the sweep. You can’t just say you run the GAM. You have to actually coach it as prescribed and demand that the wide-side defensive end do what he is told. You have to make sure your most obedient player plays that position. If you have no such adequately obedient player, there is no defense you can use that stops the sweep.

Gotta coach it

You cannot just line up in a gap-air-mirror and win. You have to coach your line to stay low. You have to discipline your contain men and trailmen to use correct technique. You have to achieve good pursuit angles, tackling technique, etc. The gap-air-mirror is clearly the best defense you can use in youth football. Basically, you put your defenders where you think the offense is going to go. In fact, the offense in youth football is going to run the ball. They are not going to pass. And if they do pass, they will just kill their own drives with incompletions and interceptions.

The gap-air-mirror puts the defenders where the ball is going to go in youth football. That's why it works so well. Other youth defenses, like the 5-3-3 which is the most common, implicitly say by their alignment that the main threat in youth football is the pass and the best youth pass coverage is zone. The 5-3-3 has most of its players back in pass coverage too far away from many receivers to use man coverage.

The only youth defense I ever thought might be better than the 10-1 was the 11-0. But I tried that and it convinced me you have to keep one guy back. If there is a better youth defense than my gap-air-mirror it’s probably somebody else’s gap-air-mirror. In other words, it may be better to modify my approach slightly by moving the defensive tackles to a nose-up position on the offensive tackle or some such. But there is no logic to the notion that you can improve your defense by moving guys back off the line of scrimmage.

The so-called arguments against the GAM are really just all various versions of, “We want to do it the way it’s always been done regardless of the fact that that only works when you have the best athletes in the league.”

Good luck,

John T. Reed